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Monday, June 11, 2007

Narrowing the Parameters of Cooperation

“The slippery slope of Coerced Conformity”

An open letter to the Pastors and Churches of the Holmes Baptist Association.

(For the full story of what necessitated this letter click here)

May 31, 2007

Dear Brothers,

I am writing to you concerning what I believe to be a grave danger to the future of our association: The attempt by some powerful individuals in our state convention to narrow the long established and historic Southern Baptist parameters of cooperation.

For over eighty years the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, 2000) has been the one document that has defined, not only for ourselves but for the world as well, what it means to be a Southern Baptist. The Preamble to the BFM2000 says:

Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.

Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice.

The Baptist Faith and Message is the exclusive “Doctrinal Contract” adopted by the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925, 1963, and 2000 to be used as an instrument of doctrinal accountability. Yet increasingly we have powerful individuals in our state convention who desire to “discipline” or “exclude from service or membership” individuals or churches who do not agree with them on doctrines and issues not addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message.

This attitude of intolerance toward their fellow Southern Baptist who do not believe precisely as they believe on every doctrine is a deadly and infectious disease that if left unchecked will cripple cooperation between our Churches. As Southern Baptist we must be clear in our understanding that Coerced Conformity is not Cooperation.

The narrowing of the parameters of cooperation to discipline or exclude fellow Southern Baptist based upon the personal opinions of a few powerful individuals in the state convention is slap in the face to the Baptist doctrines expressed in our statement of faith; the Baptist Faith and Message:

XIV. Cooperation

Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it…

When the Southern Baptist Convention meet to consider the adoption of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message it was not a sure thing that it would pass. Some considered it to broad and moderate a statement to be used as a document of doctrinal accountability. Southern Baptist statesman, theologian and President of the SBC, E.Y. Mullins address the convention with these words that still ring with great wisdom for all Southern Baptist some eighty years latter:

Members of the Convention:--

There is one thing that I believe a man can always do with safety, and without disappointment, and that is to appeal to the sense of fair play of a Baptist body. Now there are individual Baptists to whom you can not make that appeal, but there are now present a great body of Baptist people, and down in the bottom of their hearts there is honesty and there is common sense, and there is a spirit of fairness; and I come to you this afternoon simply and solely with a plea for Christ and his truth, for the work of his Kingdom, and for fair play with all the brethren.

I hope to make good the basis of that plea for fair play in a few moments, and I believe that this great body of splendid Baptists will respond to that appeal, and that is all I ask…

Now, brethren, I might say this, although I don’t suppose it is necessary to dwell on it, if we were to undertake to put our personal preferences in the doctrinal statement and insist upon our personal group preferences being put in the confession of faith, for Baptists covering eighteen states like this, where would we ‘fetch up at’ I can just think of things I know some men would put in. Some people would want to insist on a twenty-four hour day in Genesis, and some a period day. Some people would insist on post-millennialism, and some people on premillenialism. Some people would insist on church succession and some on anti-church succession. Some would insist on a universal church and some would oppose the universal church.

Why, there is no end to where we would go… Brethren, I appeal to you for fair play. I don’t believe it is fair play for a group of brethren who are particularly committed to this standpoint, to come here and inist that everybody in the conference confrom to that standpoint.

…I believe that one thing about the Baptist conscience is fair play. One thing about the Baptist conscience is straight-forwardness. One thing about the Baptist conscience is its willingness to recognize the opinions of other people and rights of other people, within gospel limits.

(The above quotes were barrowed from Wade Burleson blog: here)

Any call to “discipline” or “exclude from service or membership” any individual or church is a grave and serious matter among Southern Baptist and should not be entered into lightly.

Cooperation is at the heart of who we are as Southern Baptist and in the end if we only cooperate with those who agree with us 100% of the time on every doctrine and every issue we would soon be pretty lonely.

I close with these previous words; “Coerced Conformity is not Cooperation.”


Greg Alford
Senior Pastor

First Baptist Church
2877 Highway 81 N.
Ponce de Leon, Florida 32455


Alycelee said...

Greg, I'm glad Lee tagged you for it served as a reminder to read your blog.
I hope you know I agree with what you have expressed as a serious danger and it seems now more than ever is the time to speak out for cooperation and not exclusion.
Alyce Lee

G. Alford said...


Thanks for the heads up that Lee had tagged me... I have not had much time today to read the blogs I normally read.

And yes cooperation is in serious danger throughout the SBC at every level (local, state, and national).

The power to control and exclude is intoxicating and it would appear that many of our SBC leadership at all levels do not know when to say when :-)

Thanks for adding me to you blog roll… I have added you to mine as well…

Grace for every moment,