Monday, March 22, 2010

The Time is Right: Dissolve the State Conventions

On February 27, 2007 I published an article questioning the need for both State Conventions and Associations, alluding to possibility of state conventions as inefficient anachronisms.

Today I want to revisit that topic and examine the purpose of state conventions and associations.

Associations have traditionally been the guardian of doctrinal integrity. Associations, which are generally organized geographically, are near autonomous entities subject to the executive board which is comprised of representatives of the local member churches. They may have an executive whose purpose it is to implement the work authorized by the body.

Membership is expanded when a local church petitions to join the association, and after examination by those so authorized, the local assembly is accepted into the fellowship of the association, or has its petition rejected. Such rejection is ordinarily based on doctrinal weakness or heresy. Should the church be accepted, the customary practice is to place the church under watch care for a period of time in order to observe the faith and practice of that church.

Should such a church have its petition rejected, a committee is usually appointed to work with the church to ascertain if it desires to conform to the requirements of the association. Such work can continue until such time as the committee determines it is ready to once again petition the association or decides the church is not serious enough about becoming a member to change the doctrine and/or practice deemed unacceptable.

Associational churches can be disciplined by the association for matters of doctrine and/or practice by placing them on probation and/or withdrawing fellowship from them; a practice tantamount to expulsion.

Recently local associations seem to have evolved more into the establishing of programs. Such actions appear in some instances to be in competition with the local churches. The Birmingham Baptist Association provides opportunities for individuals to sign up for twenty-nine different programs and to give directly to the Association. That seems to violate the spirit of the Association as being an instrument of the local churches. Should the association become self-sufficient, that is not dependent upon the gifts of the local churches, it could become an entity apart and follow the course of such institutions as Baylor University, or Mercer University; which voted to divorce themselves from the local entities which owned them and stole the property, influence, and good will of Southern Baptists in their respective states.

I believe the preponderance of gifts should come through the local church, and not from disaffected church members looking for an avenue to advance pet causes in defiance of the local church leadership.

While state conventions have served Southern Baptists well, by providing a venue by which churches from disparate points of the state could work together on mission projects, training, and ministry; contemporary communication and transportation allow the local associations to do every thing the state conventions do. State conventions, especially in the Deep South, now seem to spend more time promoting projects than anything else. Untold millions of dollars of missions monies are absorbed in the bureaucratic morass of the state convention.

Why local churches need a state convention to convince them to utilize a particular program, or participate in a particular activity escapes me. The local church needs a resource entity which is available lend its expertise to a particular need, not someone to try to convince the local church to follow a particular path of ministry. Neither the state convention, nor the association have the responsibility to “care for” the local churches. Local pastors do not need a “pastor to pastors” to serve as an associational executive.

The local church is responsible for setting an agenda to minister to its unique congregation and community. That is made easier by having assurance that a sister church is ministering effectively in an adjoining community, and throughout the state.

Time and again pastors are requested to turn in the names of leaders to the association and/or state convention so that those entities might communicate directly with church members. As a pastor, I don’t want those entities communicating directly with the members of the local church. If the pastor and church leadership have a plan for reaching their Jerusalem, they shouldn’t have to spend time defending their plan against one put forth by the state convention or association. The state conventions and associations work for the local churches, and it is unethical to by pass the local church leadership to promote a different agenda. Sometimes the associational executive acts as if he is an employee of the state convention. That was, in fact, the case in Louisiana until just a few short years ago.

I believe the time has come to dissolve the state conventions, thereby increasing the amount of funds available for mission efforts, and making the association a more effective entity. State executives and staff are certain to oppose any attempt minimize their position in the convention hierarchy (Baptists don’t have a hierarchy right?), but there is reformation in the air, and now is the time to act.

© 2010 Mike Rasberry

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cohabitation is a Blight on the Christian Church

The crass statements of my youth justifying premarital sex like, “Never buy a car before you try it out,” have given way to socially acceptable cohabitation in the name of protecting the institution of marriage. Time and again the reason is given by both the couple and their supportive parents that they need to make sure they can make it before entering into the permanence of marriage.

This attitude, especially among Believers, demonstrates a total lack of understanding of God’s plan and leadership. When two Believers come together as one, they should have a sense of God’s working in their lives, and that alone should be enough to help them maintain their commitment through the inevitable tough times.

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky; said in a recent article, “Many young adults tend to believe they are wise to try living together before committing to marriage, but actually they are undermining the institution they hope to protect.”

Dr. Mohler went on to say, "They do not know that what they are actually doing is undoing marriage. They miss the central logic of marriage as an institution of permanence."

That marriage is a gift of God is fundamental to Christian belief, yet there seems little practical difference between those who claim to be Believers and those who do not. Not only do young people openly engage in such behavior, but parents and extended family often seem to facilitate it. Even the local body of Believers known as the church seems little inclined to deal with her members who adopt such lifestyles lest someone be offended.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Mohler’s assertion that cohabitation weakens marriage. I also believe that weakened marriage weakens the Christian message. However, I see little opportunity to combat the problem as long as the local body of Believers refuses to see cohabitation as an affront to Holy God. When the local assembly begins to deal with those who claim to be Believers, yet live their lives as if God’s Word and way is unimportant, I believe there will arise a dedicated, disciplined, and Spirit-filled church where the power of God is evident and the influence of the church is expanded.

© 2010 Mike Rasberry