In a narrow victory for autonomy and an enormous defeat for Biblical authority, a Richmond, Virginia church has escaped ouster from a local Baptist Association. Ginter Baptist Church, which last September ordained an openly gay man, Brandon Scott McGuire, to the Gospel ministry, had previously been expelled from the Baptist General Association of Virginia last November in a vote that, by more moderate Baptist standards, was not even close (426-164). As a former pastor of a church affiliated with the BGAV, you could have added my one vote to the overwhelming majority of messengers who did not allow autonomy to trump Biblical authority in the state convention.
While I am a strong proponent of autonomy — whether in the local church, association, state convention, or national convention — this cherished Baptist principle simply cannot be used to eviscerate another cherished Baptist principle — the authority of God’s Word! Unfortunately for the churches of the Richmond Baptist Association, the majority who voted to allow Ginter Baptist Church to remain in good standing have said to a watching world — not to mention their fellow Baptists — that embracing a church that ordains a homosexual man is more important than embracing the truth of Scripture. In fact, the members of a special ad hoc committee charged with bringing a recommendation to the RBA to deal with this issue apparently did not resort to Scripture — much less embrace it — when arriving at their recommendation:
The committee’s recommendation, presented March 19 at a meeting called expressly to receive it, affirmed “historic Baptist principles of soul competency, congregational autonomy and voluntary cooperation” and the RBA’s mission to spread “the gospel of Jesus Christ by encouraging and facilitating congregational witness, fellowship and cooperation with others.” The recommendation acknowledged “that many RBA congregations would not choose to ordain a person who is homosexual and might wish to discontinue fellowship with Ginter Park Baptist Church,” but maintained that the association’s churches could nevertheless “continue to work together in the RBA’s common calling to cooperative ministries” and urged that the association continue “to embrace Ginter Park Baptist Church as a sister church.” emphasis added (Religious Herald article)
This would be sad if it were not so infuriating. The historic Baptist principles of “soul competency, congregational autonomy and voluntary cooperation” are principles which are supported by Scripture. However, none of these principles can support the non-Biblical ordination of an openly gay man to the Gospel ministry. How can a church possibly spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ when it abandons the authority of Christ and His Word? Even many moderate Baptists understand that ordination — as opposed to even “welcoming and affirming” gay church members and/or attenders — is beyond the pale:
Committee members were not unanimous in support of the recommendation and one member — Craig Sherouse, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Richmond — resigned. Sherouse was among nearly 30 church representatives who spoke for and against the recommendation during over an hour of discussion at the called meeting.
“Since I opposed it I resigned before a [committee] vote was taken to be freer to speak against it,” Sherouse said.
Ginter Park has “crossed the membership boundary of maintaining New Testament principles, and that requires our autonomous response and a stronger one than this recommendation calls for,” he said. The issue was not about being “welcoming and affirming,” he added. “It is about ordination.”
Although I vehemently disagree with Richmond Baptist Association’s decision to affirm and embrace Ginter Baptist Church and its clearly unBiblical action, I nevertheless would defend the RBA’s right to be wrong in the exercise of their own autonomy. Just because a local church or association is autonomous does not mean that they will always make the right decisions. In fact, churches, associations, state conventions, and the SBC make decisions that others would deem ill-advised or foolish. Sometimes associations make the right decisions, but go about it in wrong (and graceless) ways. That is both the blessing and curse of autonomy.
However, autonomy can never be used to trump Biblical authority, regardless of the issue. When that happens, then we cease to be “people of the Book.” And, when we cease to be “people of the Book,” we cease to be Baptist in any real sense of the word. Richmond Baptist Association has now staked out a position that is clearly at odds with the Book. That is their right. The least they could do now, though, is to remove the word “Baptist” from their name. Autonomy or not, that would be the principled thing to do!