Autonomy Trumps Biblical Authority in Gay Ordination Fight

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!


Comments

Autonomy Trumps Biblical Authority in Gay Ordination Fight — 4 Comments

  1. I wonder if the word “abomination ” is no longer in their “Bible” either? It clear in scripture and one would think it would be clear to those who claim to know the word as well. I saw in the news yesterday that a Methodist church in S.C. Was not going to preform marriage ceremonies until the Methodist denomination recognized gay marriage.

    2 Tim 4:3-4
    3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

    4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

    God bless

    • Mike,

      I think that many churches are simply redefining what God’s Word says to suit their own agendas, particularly on gay marriage. This has been happening for the last 2,000 years, so it is really no surprise. I believe that we will see many more churches/denominations water down the truth of Scripture in order to be politically correct and/or in an attempt to show “love.” Of course, true love is defined by God and does not include open, flagrant sin. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  2. I’m curious as to your take on Jim White’s editorial at the Religious Herald on this controversy and also Craig Sherouse’s more extended commentary at the Religious Herald. Specifically, I’m interested in your take on Sherouse’s comments about the commonalities among what he calls the theological right and theological left to lump together the issues of womens ordination and homosexual ordination.

    I thought Sherouse’s distinction between affirming and ordination to be interesting. That’s a distinction often not made in moderate/progressive Baptist circles – but it is a distinction you hear much about in mainline denominations, generally hierarchical denominations like Episcopal Church.

    Don’t think I agree with that distinction – then again, I don’t really have a high view so to speak of ordination. I’m more of a T.B. Maston type when it comes to ordination – not really a big fan, it seems like everybody and their brother who graduates from seminary feels the need to be ordained. I’m in full-time ministry working for a church organization, and feel called to do what I do, but don’t see need to seek professional clergy status as many of my friends have. Of course, I’d like to see a renewed emphasis on laity and our role.

    • Aaron,

      Hope all is well with you. I took the time to read both the White and Sherouse editorials. I think they both make a strong case that even autonomous Associations must have some doctrinal boundaries or else anything goes. It would appear that RBA has said that homosexuality is now within the bounds of acceptable practice. They may not have wanted to send that message, but that is the unmistakable message that has been sent. Although many conservative Evangelicals/Southern Baptists tend to lump women’s ordination and homosexual ordination together, I personally would agree with Pastor Sherouse and make a distinction between the two. While I believe that the Biblical office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men, I don’t view women’s ordination as wrong. I do think it is theologically wrong for women to serve as Senior/Lead Pastors, but even that does not rise to the level of homosexual ordination. After all, being a woman is not a sin :-) The distinction I would make with a practicing homosexual (as opposed to someone who struggles with homosexuality, but remains celibate) is that I think that Scripture is clear that homosexual conduct or living a gay lifestyle is sin and not compatible with living as a follower of Christ (no matter how sincere that person tries to be). IMO, there is no way for a practicing homosexual to be “above reproach” as it relates to ordination and/or the role of pastor unless one takes the position that (practicing) homosexuality is no longer considered sin. There are many ways that more liberal theologians/churches come to this conclusion, but I believe it to be wrong.

      That being said, I do not believe that I would pull out of an Association if it voted to embrace a church who had ordained a woman unless the female pastor and church also held heretical positions on key Biblical issues. I do find it interesting that even the BGAV — not known as a conservative state convention — voted overwhelmingly to disfellowship Ginter Baptist Church. Even for moderate Baptists in the Commonwealth of Virginia, ordaining an openly gay man crossed a bridge such that the authority of Scripture trumped the cherished Baptist principle of autonomy. It will be interesting to see how the churches of the RBA who were in the minority will respond in the days ahead. I would assume that at least some — perhaps many — will withdraw fellowship from the Association and maybe form a new Association. Instead of the third way that Criag Sherouse advocated, it appears that a majority of the RBA has placed a sizable minority of the Richmond churches in a position of either silence in the face of open sin or withdrawal of fellowship. If I were still in Virginia and a part of an Association that affirmed a church that had ordained a practicing homosexual, I would lead our church to withdraw from the Association as soon as possible. Thanks for stopping. God bless,

      Howell

Leave a Reply