Showing Concern for Outsiders in Mayberry

After the ouster of Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, NC from the Surry Baptist Association for violating Scripture (see Association Letter which cites 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Timothy 3) by calling a 28 year-old woman, Bailey Edwards Nelson, as their new pastor, one must ask the question, “What other violations of 1 Timothy 2 and 3 will cause a church in good standing in a local Baptist Association to be kicked out?”  If you answered none, you would most likely be correct.

William Thornton, a conservative Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia, writes on SBC Plodder:

“Of the list of requirements for overseer in 1 Timothy 3, referenced in the document linked above, at least half a dozen are always, always, violated by some pastors of some churches in every association I have ever been around. There’s not an association in the SBC, anywhere, that this very day does not have at least one “quarrelsome” pastor in it. So, they get a pass? And you wouldn’t have to look hard to find a pastor who is a “lover of money.” Greedy with impunity?  Guess so.”

I wouldn’t look for Surry or any other Baptist Association to use any other qualifications — save the gender of the pastor — to go after any other churches whose pastors may not pass muster according to the Scriptural standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  I would certainly concur with William that every Association that I have ever been a part of had at least one “quarrelsome” pastor (and usually more than one).  But, I’ve never heard a church being disfellowshipped because they had a mean, quarrelsome pastor. 

Each of those qualifications are important, but each one ultimately fleshes out what it means to be “above reproach” or “blameless.”  I still remember Dr. David Dockery, who was my theology professor at Southern Seminary, teach that each of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 were specific examples of what it meant to be “above reproach.”  Furthermore, these examples were present tense, meaning were we now:

“above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be recent convert or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”  1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)

As pastors (and even non-pastors), we are not called to be perfect, but we are called to be blameless, not only before God, but before other Christians and even those who Paul calls “outsiders,” unbelievers who are outside the faith.  The ESV Study Bible note on 1 Timothy 3:7 puts it this way:

“The concern for the opinion of outsiders emerges again.  There is a concern throughout this letter for how the church (and therefore the gospel) is portrayed to the watching world (cf. 2:2, 10; 5:7, 14; 6:1).

In other words, not only is God watching what we do, but an unbelieving world is watching what we do.  And, the stakes could not be higher, for eternity hangs in the balance!  Therefore, it is vitally important for Christians — particularly pastors — to live in such a way that their lives are seen as “above reproach.”

What happens when we do not live our lives “above reproach?”  The church’s reputation in the community — particularly with outsiders — takes a hit and the gospel witness is damaged, sometimes beyond repair (for instance, in churches where a pastor/minister has sexually abused children).  Most of the time, our actions which do not meet the “above reproach” standard are done because of sloppy boundaries and poor judgment, not because of any malicious or willful intent on our part.

I believe such is the case with the Surry Baptist Association’s hasty decision to disfellowship Flat Rock Baptist Church because they had called a woman as their pastor.  With additional information now available (here) and a timeline of events established (here), it has become even more clear today than it was last week that the way that SBA chose to disfellowship FRBC was not only graceless, but the procedure did not even rise to the level of “above reproach.”

How can I be so bold in making that statement?  While I’m quite sure that there will be many who will continue to strongly disagree with my conclusions, I simply cannot comprehend how Surry Baptist Association approached this issue in such a way as to be “well thought of by outsiders,” which is a clear qualification of pastors (of which the Association is loaded).  Now there will be some who will argue that what SBA did was just swell and that they showed a backbone in taking such swift and decisive action.

That’s all well and good, but I don’t see how SBA’s actions adhered to 1 Timothy 3:7.  I would be more than happy for someone to share with me the reasons why they believe the process — not the outcome — was handled in a manner which showed concern for “how the church (and the gospel) is portrayed to the watching world.” 

Some pastors in the SBA were so concerned with a woman pastor coming into their midst that they rushed a vote to disfellowship Flat Rock within 16 days of Pastor Nelson’s arrival.  Would that they had been as concerned with the outsiders all around them that were watching this sad spectacle unfold!

15 comments for “Showing Concern for Outsiders in Mayberry

  1. Tom Parker
    August 10, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    Howell:

    One word really reasonates with me in what you wrote–Process.

    Also, I have yet to see very few act as if Ms. Bailey Nelson is a human being instead of just some “lady”.

  2. Mary Ann
    August 10, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    This post brought to my mind an article I just read about an incident in the Mobile, AL, area. I don’t know how to insert a link, but this is a cut/paste from my browser: http://blog.al.com/live/2011/08/mobile_county_sheriffs_office_8.html. I don’t know if the Baptist church in this article is Southern Baptist, but when I read it, I couldn’t help but think of the situation in “Mayberry”. I’ve never heard of an association kicking out a church that is full of strife (whatever the reason) or one that is a revolving door for pastors. It seems that there are some sins that are “protected” and some that are not.

  3. August 10, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    Howell, your dreams of being SBC president are officially toast, bro. Hope you can cope. 😉

    • August 10, 2011 at 8:20 AM

      William,

      That ship sailed long ago! I think I will survive. 🙂

  4. Tom Parker
    August 10, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    Howell:

    I would like to follow up about my word Process. If SBA has a process for disfellowshipping a church would this have been shared with them at some time in the past so that the 66 churches could be aware of the Process. In otherwords were is the public document that was to guide this process.

    • August 10, 2011 at 8:42 AM

      Tom,

      That’s a good question. I don’t know about what was written, if anything, in SBA’s By-Laws concerning process. However, the process that was initiated, apparently by the DOM, was to refer the concerned pastors to the Membership Committee. In most Associations (including my own), it would probably be the responsibility of the Membership or Credentials Committee to handle situations like this. After reading Tim Rogers’ post last night, about how the Chairman of the Membership Committee basically took it upon himself to bring the motion to disfellowship without any Committee Recommendation, I am even more perplexed as to the process. With at least one “moderate” on the Membership Committee and with three out of six members (therefore not a majority) not having read Flat Rock’s response to the invitation to meet, there does not appear to have been time for a Committee recommendation to have even been made. But yet, the process was still rushed thorugh like any other item of business. And that, without notice to the church being disfellowshipped, without prior notice to any of the churches that this was coming, and in a summer quarterly business meeting when many folks probably were not even in attendance. People maybe able to justify the final outcome, but I am at a loss as to how people can defend the process. This was about as far away from decently and in order as one could get. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  5. Tom Parker
    August 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    Howell:

    The respect that I have for some of those who have defened the indefensible has been dimimished.
    But they appear willingly blind to all the facts and probably just want to move on.

    There are way more questions that need to be answered and I thank you for pointing out some of them.

    What I find humorous is when folks like Tim Rogers trys to show support for the association by his blog post it only backfires. Anyone with good reasoning skills can see he only makes the whole situation look worse.

    There is just something about religious blindness that is not very pretty.

    • August 10, 2011 at 5:39 PM

      Tom,

      I do think that there are more unanswered questions, but I do not suppose that all of them will be answered. As I shared with Tim on his blog, my legal background colors how I view most subjects. The Flat Rock/Surry situation is no exception. I think that any of us — you, me, Tim, the pastors in the SBA — all come at things from our own perspectives. There are often things that I don’t see that someone else does and vice versa. It’s not that I was not looking for them, it’s just that the way I look is totally different than someone who has not had my life experiences, including practicing law and being a pastor. The frustrating part in all of this is that what we see so clearly others simply fail to see. I’m sure that is the frustrating part for them as well. In any event, we just keep trying to point out what we see and hope that others see it as well. Thanks for stopping by. Sorry it took so long to respond today. God bless,

      Howell

  6. August 10, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    Howell, Just letting you know that I am enjoying the posts and discussions about Flat Rock Baptist Church on your blog. The posts are among the most gracious. I appreciate the sanity and dignity.

    • August 10, 2011 at 5:28 PM

      Marg,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and for the kind words. I’m guessing that it is already Thursday morning in Australia? Hope you have a wonderful day. God bless,

      Howell

  7. Tom Parker
    August 10, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    Howell:

    I continue to be amazed that very few if any who post blog comments dares to agree with you that what was done to this young Pastor was graceless. I really think they are afraid of losing their SBC “conservative credentials” like you have.

    • August 10, 2011 at 8:34 PM

      Tom,

      As I shared in my previous response to you, I wish that other people interpreted the facts like I have, but I know that is unrealistic. We all have our blinders — even me — on some issues. Women in ministry, particularly women serving as senior pastors (and for most, serving in any “pastoral” position or even as a Deacon), is one of those issues. In blog time, this subject has had a long shelf life. People continue to talk and write about, even from half-way around the world. I was watching the end of “Dead Poets Society” the other night and was reminded of the incredible pressure that is put on people to conform, even when they know what they are doing is not right. I think there are some (not all) well-meaning, conservative pastors who probably look at what happened to Bailey Nelson and Flat Rock and are appalled, but are under such tremendous pressure that they simply cannot say publicly that which they think in private. Maybe it’s the “fear” of losing their SBC “conservative credentials,” or perhaps there are other issues at play. As to me losing my “conservative credentials,” thankfully no one else can take those away from me. In my church, Association, and State Convention, my conservative reputation and credentials remain intact. Now, if I ever try to go back to the South, that might be another matter entirely. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. God bless,

      Howell

  8. Bennett Willis
    August 11, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    Conservative credentials and scales on your eyes are both things that anyone should be pleased to loose.

  9. August 15, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Howell, does your real last name begin with an L?

    Just wondering… 😉

    • August 15, 2011 at 6:00 PM

      Mark,

      Some days it feels like that! 🙂

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