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!