After spending Thursday night in the cool-weather environs of Ruidoso, NM, nestled in the Sacramento Mountains, the heat of Alamogordo has perhaps got me in a contrary mood. With limited time on the internet, I’m just now catching up on some of the latest news in the nation and in our Baptist world at large.
I couldn’t help but notice a piece at Associated Baptist Press written by Norman Jameson, “NC Association ousts church with woman pastor.” As I read the article, I began to think that some Baptists simply lack that which we would all like to receive from one another and most especially from God — GRACE!
A scant two weeks after 28 year-old Bailey Edwards Nelson was called as the Pastor of Flat Rocks Baptist Church in Mt. Airy (the real-life town that was the basis of the fictionalized Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show), NC, Surry Baptist Association — a fellowship of 65 Southern Baptist churches in the area —
voted “overwhelmingly” at a regularly scheduled meeting to disfellowship the church for calling Bailey Edwards Nelson as pastor. Messengers viewed the church’s action as violating scriptural guidelines that they believe reserve the role of pastor to males.
I believe strongly in the autonomy of not only the local church, but the autonomy of the local Association, State Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention itself. Surry Baptist Association was within their rights to exercise its autonomy in this situation, but I do question the wisdom and Christian charity of autonomous organizations exercising their autonomy in a heavy-handed way with an apparent lack of Christian charity.
Now, at the risk of losing my conservative SBC credentials, let me state that I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that the office of Senior/Lead Pastor “is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (see BF&M2000, Article VI. The Church). But, the Bible clearly teaches many, many theological concepts and principles, in addition to practical rules for living. Some of the more important theological principles have been codified in the latest edition of the Baptist Faith & Message.
However, what has not been codified in the BF&M2000, but which has been on display in the summary and rather quick ouster of Flat Rock Baptist Church from the local Association, is the lack of grace that has been displayed by the majority of churches within the Surry Baptist Association. Only a week after Pastor Nelson’s first Sunday in the pulpit — on July 10, 2011 — Flat Rock Baptist Church
received a letter from the association’s membership committee citing “concerned pastors” and asking for a meeting to discuss “possible solutions” to the issue they said threatened the fellowship of the association.
These “concerned pastors” were so worried about the grave situation of a woman preaching in one of “their” churches that they had to act within a week of the young lady assuming her pastorate. Don’t want to let her settle in or even meet her before moving to oust the church. If I had to guess, these pastors would probably not be as gravely concerned about obese pastors preaching in one of their churches, as long as that overweight pastor was a man, but I digress!
Billy Blakley — Surry Baptist Association’s Director of Missions was quoting as saying that:
pastors in his association wanted to withdraw fellowship from Flat Rock as “peaceably” as possible amid rumors that an angry motion would be made at the associational meeting.
Moving to disfellowship Flat Rocks Baptist Church on July 26, only 16 days after Pastor Nelson assumed her responsibilities at Flat Rocks, is sure a funny way of “peaceably” withdrawing fellowship. Orwell would be proud. And, by the way, why would someone make an “angry motion” at the Association’s regularly scheduled meeting? Are there pastors or lay folks who have a problem with the sin of anger? A few pastors in the Association who have a problem with gluttony? Anyone who doesn’t properly observe the Sabbath?
And, therein lies the rub. Without knowing what Pastor Nelson believes and without the opportunity to dialogue with her and Flat Rocks Baptist Church (one missed meeting does not a dialogue make), the overwhelming majority of those voting in the July 26 meeting chose to allow their adamant (and apparently emotional) opposition to female pastors to inform their decision to summarily disfellowship this church and pastor.
May be that would have happened anyway. Who knows. But, in a town that was made famous as Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show, the members of the Surry Baptist Association sure could use a reminder of the BF&M codified Biblical principle that Barney, Opie, Floyd, Aunt Bea, Gomer, and even Otis experienced daily from Sherriff Andy Taylor — GRACE!