Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Open Letter and an Open Response

Last week, at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Convention adopted an amended proposal from the Giving Plans Study Committee that did away with the multiple giving plans of the State Convention in favor of a single giving plan with options beginning in 2010. During the discussion, the proposal was amended, removing the option that allowed local churches to designate a portion of their offering to go to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Below, you will find an open letter sent out by Milton Hollifield, Executive Director - Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. I received this letter via email on Tuesday, November 18. Below Mr. Hollifield's letter you will find the response that I sent back to Mr. Hollifield via email on Tuesday, November 18.

An Open Letter to North Carolina Baptists from the EDT

November 18, 2008


The 178th annual session of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) was an occasion for encouragement in many ways and for many reasons. Messengers observed a gracious spirit of unity and resolve to press forward together as a denomination committed to missions. I communicated in my address to the messengers that we could no longer move forward with a business as usual mentality. The messengers also recognized anew that the energies of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina reside in her churches as fellow believers view one another as "partners in the gospel" ministry (Philippians1:5).


A dynamic of Christian fellowship emerges from a relationship rooted in our love for and obedience to Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-4). As a result, every initiative and ministry of BSCNC must now be carefully reviewed as to its viability in service to local churches across this state. We have taken great leaps forward to prayerfully position the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as a servant to local churches. North Carolina brims with change as the state's population increases with people from other nations and cultures. It seems that God is bringing the world to our doorstep, and we must learn to live as missionaries in our own state.

This reality was clearly seen in our resolve to usher in a new day of unity through an increased emphasis upon missions and the subsequent approval of the proposals which the Giving Plans Study Committee (GPSC) recommended. Allan Blume, President of the BSCNC Board of Directors, appointed a group which represented all facets of North Carolina Baptist life in hopes that a consensus could be achieved regarding our future together. The recommendations of the study committee sought to simplify the multiple Cooperative Program giving plans which currently facilitate the cooperative ministries budget of many churches with differing perspectives. The Giving Plans Study Committee sought to facilitate a way whereby the strength of the Cooperative Program might find new ways of accomplishing the desire of the majority of North Carolina Baptists - convictional cooperation through the extension of denominational support. It was a move which had been prayerfully sought by many and endorsed widely by Convention leadership.


The discussion surrounding the five recommendations of the study committee and the subsequent amendment revealed both the strength and weakness of Baptist polity. Any messenger at any time may question anything for any reason. This is a hallmark of our life together that no Baptist should seek to diminish. However, despite the unanimous approval of the Giving Plans Study Committee report by the BSCNC Board of Directors in September, an amendment was proposed from the floor on Wednesday morning, November 12 and approved by the majority of messengers present. This amendment removed recommendation #3 from the final GPSC report. The original recommendation #3, if approved, would have simply included a convenience for churches to designate 10% of their gifts to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship by selecting a box on the remittance form.


This action of approval by the Convention establishes direction regarding this matter. I am disappointed that the rhetoric emerging from both perspectives during the discussion on the convention floor and in subsequent conversations may have rendered our corporate Christian witness as something not honoring to the Lord Jesus. It is our prayer that in future days all conversations which take place as a result of this action will be done seasoned with respect and grace.


Each member of the Giving Plans Study Committee was committed to strengthening trust in the overall ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and they represented the finest our churches could offer. They were respectful of each other; prayed for each other; talked with each other; and worked to advance the issue forward with no false caricature of the other's position. At no time during their deliberations did anyone ever feel demeaned or personally disrespected. There were and are differences of opinion. Yet, the report sought to forthrightly reconcile the procedural and financial requirements currently in play with the over 80 possible combinations of the giving plans.


The committee was commissioned to study the giving plans and recommend any proposed changes to messengers regarding their findings. This they did with excellence. In no way did they seek to serve as referee of various theological perspectives or dare to speak for any local congregation. The confusion which has followed the passage of the amendment has been to such a degree that I must inform North Carolina Baptists of the facts this change renders to the report and the recommendations. Following this letter are the Giving Plans Study Committee Report FAQs.


As we press forward together, it is my prayer that we will allow the love of Christ to motivate us and renew our efforts to fulfill the great commission and the great commandment.


May Jesus Christ be glorified through our lives, our churches, and our Convention.

In His service,
Milton A. Hollifield, Jr.
Executive Director -Treasurer
Baptist State Convention of North Carolina


Giving Plans Study Committee Report FAQs


1. What was the amendment which was passed by Convention messengers?
On Wednesday morning November 12, 2008 a messenger stated "I move to remove the CBF from the giving plan as proposed." The effect of the amendment is the removal of recommendation #3 from the Giving Plans Study Committee proposal. All the remaining recommendations were approved by the Convention.


2. Did the amendment to the GPSC proposal change in any way the relationship of cooperating churches with the BSCNC?
No. A church's cooperative relationship with the BSCNC is based upon their financial support of the Cooperative Program, and their desire to participate in the missions and ministries efforts of the Convention (Article VI. A. 3 BSCNC Articles of Incorporation). The autonomous decision by any church to direct a portion of its missions budget, whether through use of the remittance form or through direct contributions, to organizations outside of the BSCNC does not result in a change of relationship with the Convention.


3. What is the impact of the approval of the four remaining recommendations of the GPSC on churches supporting missions through the Cooperative Program?
Recommendations approved by the messengers do not take effect until 2010. The four Cooperative Program Giving Plans, known as Plans A, B, C, and D remain unchanged for the remainder of 2008 and all of 2009. All churches currently in friendly cooperation with this Convention who desire to continue their voluntary association with the various outreaches, ministries, programs, institutions, agencies and financial support of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina are encouraged to continue their support through the Cooperative Program. The Convention has given the Budget Committee a framework upon which to build the 2010 budget. This budget must still move through presentations to the Executive Committee, the BSCNC Board of Directors, and ultimately the Convention meeting in annual session.


4. Were the members of the GPSC, the Executive Committee, the BSCNC Board of Directors, and those messengers who voted against the amendment to exclude CBF from the new remittance form supportive of liberal theology and unsupportive of the doctrine of inerrancy?
No. A vote against the amendment was not a vote against inerrancy. A vote for the amendment was not a vote for inerrancy. The GPSC report was never intended to be a referendum on inerrancy.

5. Why was an option to include a check box allowing the 10% designation to CBF in the GPSC recommendation?
The GPSC discovered in its research that 40% of NC Baptist churches utilize one or more of the alternate giving plans (known as Plans B, C, D). Survey data identified a great desire from North Carolina Baptists that any changes to the alternate giving plans provide some measure of options for churches to designate their giving. The recommendation of the GPSC removed the CBF allocation from the convention's budget and returned the CBF funding decision to the local church.


6. Does the amendment's passage prohibit any church from affiliating with the BSCNC?
No. The amendment effectively removed a checkbox from the remittance form that was provided by the GPSC for churches who desired to designate 10% of their gifts to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The amendment does not impact church affiliation with the BSCNC.


7. What is the value of continuing to cooperate with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina?
For over 175 years, this state convention has stood as a testimony to the faithfulness of local churches to intentionally, passionately, and effectively cooperate together in impacting this state and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through many trials, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina which presently consists of more than 4000 local churches and 80 Baptist associations has emerged resilient and capable of extensive ministry and mission outreach within this state, throughout North America and in numerous countries through church planting and the mission boards which provide for career missionaries all across the world.


This is my response


Mr. Hollifield,

I have just finished reading and re-reading your open letter to all North Carolina Baptists. I want to thank you for taking the time to address the events of Wednesday, November 12 publicly. I am sure that you have spent much time in recent days considering the most appropriate response to these events and their impact on Baptist life in North Carolina.

I am a pastor of a church that decided several years ago to no longer align with the Southern Baptist Convention on a national level. This church made the choice to partner instead with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Though this decision was made before I became the church’s pastor, I wholeheartedly support that decision. The theology and polity of the Southern Baptist Convention no longer represents this church. While this decision was not an easy one for this church, it was decided in a spirit of prayer that CBF not only represented a better theological partner for our church but also provided a relationship that would allow us to focus more on serving Jesus Christ and building His kingdom and less on denominational politics. The church desired to maintain a relationship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and our local association because of a desire to continue to cooperate with local churches to reach our state with the love of Christ and the gospel of grace and salvation. At that time, our partnership with a national organization like CBF was not deemed an obstacle to these other partnerships. This message was most clearly communicated through the existence of the multiple giving plans of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

I will be the first to admit that the multiple giving plans were confusing. I know many people right here in my own church did not necessarily understand the difference between Plan A and Plan C. I recognize that having to develop 4 different giving options was a difficult task for the Budget Committee every year. Therefore, I was not opposed to the Study Committee’s recommendation of a single giving plan that sought to maintain the options that the multiple giving plans embodied. I feel they did the best job they could with the circumstances they had to work with, and I commend them for their efforts.

Last Wednesday, as I listened to the motion that was made to remove recommendation #3 from the Study Committee’s report and the discussion that followed, I found myself both hurt and angered. CBF was portrayed as unbiblical and un-Baptist. In these comments, people may have thought they were talking about some faceless organization. However, as I sat there and listened, I saw the faces of my congregation and my peers in ministry who selflessly serve and give and pray and witness and minister for the glory of God and nothing else. These people trust in God’s Word as Truth and authority in their life. They read and study Scripture to allow the Holy Spirit to mold and shape them according to His will. They hold strongly not only to the authority of Scripture but also the priesthood of the believer, the autonomy of the local church, and the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. These are the people who were called unbiblical and un-Baptist.

In considering the question, “Does the amendment’s passage prohibit any church from affiliating with the BSCNC?” you answer a definitive “No.” Mr. Hollifield, I believe that this answer ignores the greater issues that came to a breaking point last Wednesday. This is not just about money or messengers; this is an issue of respect. It is clear to me that the Baptist State Convention does not respect me or my church because of our affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

For several years, I carried the anger of a controversy that I was too young to really have participated in. I refused to have anything to do with anyone connected with the SBC because of that anger. However, God used a friendship with a minister in Virginia to teach me that what defines us as Christians is not denominational labels but the heart of Christ beating within us. I came to see that the SBC does not 100% speak for those who affiliate with the SBC, just as CBF does not 100% speak for those who affiliate with CBF. These relationships are true partnerships we choose to enter; they are not determinative of who we are. In the ensuing years, God has blessed me with other relationships that have taught me to respect a person not for what denominational organization they affiliate with but for who they are. Last Wednesday, I left Greensboro with the message that my church is not respected by a convention that we have supported faithfully for 60 years.

In recent years, we have been told that the portion of plan C that went to CBF was not counted as Cooperative Program giving, though money that went to the Southern Baptist Convention was counted as Cooperative Program giving. Now we are being told, “The amendment effectively removed a checkbox from the remittance form that was provided by the GPSC for churches who desired to designate 10% of their gifts to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.” Just a checkbox, nothing more. My question is this: why is their no checkbox for SBC? The message over and over again is that churches that partner with CBF and not SBC are viewed differently by the state convention. Would those who say that we are just talking about a checkbox, that we are just talking about a convenience, be preaching the same message if the name next to that checkbox was “Southern Baptist Convention”? I sincerely doubt it.

You say, “We have taken great leaps forward to prayerfully position the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as a servant to local churches.” Yet the Convention cannot seem to be bothered with a checkbox that might serve some of its local churches. The Convention can’t be bothered to save a local church an extra check and stamp. I’m sorry, Mr. Hollifield, but these don’t seem like “great leaps forward”.

If the decision that was made last week by the Convention had been made for the expressed reason that the Convention wanted to be partnered exclusively with the Southern Baptist Convention, I could have lived with it. I wouldn’t have liked it, but I could have respected that decision. However, that was not the case. Instead, the point was argued on grounds that CBF is unbiblical and un-Baptist. This is the accusation leveled against my church. How is my church to believe that the Baptist State Convention wants to work with us, wants to partner with us, when this is what the Convention seemingly thinks about us? How was the silence of the Convention serving us in the AP story about last Wednesday that focused so heavily on homosexuality, an issue that I don’t recall ever coming up in the debate last Wednesday? Why did your letter condemn “… the rhetoric emerging from both perspectives during the discussion on the convention floor and in subsequent conversations ...” without also condemning an AP story that, in my opinion, unfairly portrays CBF and its partner churches? (I would here reference the FAQ section at
www.truthaboutcbf.net).

Mr. Hollifield, I understand that my church and other churches were not officially “kicked out” last week. However, I hope that you understand that the message many of us heard last week is that we are not true North Carolina Baptist churches and are not desirable partners for the Convention. While your letter may address the technical details of what happened last week, I feel it does little to address this deeper issue.

Your letter is an open letter, and my response will be the same. I will be posting this letter on my personal blog along with your letter –
www.inamoment-mark.blogspot.com. For the sake of full disclosure, I will also tell you that I posted a blog entry last week on the CBF blog - www.thefellowship.info/blog - entitled “Demons” that shared my immediate feelings about the events of last Wednesday. I feel all of this is important to say because I want you to understand that I am not writing this letter on behalf of my church or any other group. These are my personal thoughts. I do not yet know what my church’s response to the events of last week will be. As a messenger of the church, I will report to them what happened. I will share your letter with them, and I will share my response with them. Ultimately, it will be their decision, and I will follow the will of the congregation as the Lord leads them.

I agree that the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has made a great impact in this state and around the world for Jesus Christ. My prayer is that it will continue to do so. However, I fear that it will have to do so without some churches who have been long-time partners with the Convention in its work unless something is done to address the deeper issues that I feel your letter did not address. Though I am usually an optimistic person, recent history indicates to me that this will not happen. Perhaps there is nothing to be done; perhaps this cannot change; perhaps SBC and CBF cannot work together. I, for one, do not believe this. However, it seems the Convention does.

I appreciate your efforts to inform and hold together the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. May God give you wisdom and guidance for this herculean task.

In Christ,
Rev. Mark Mofield
Pastor, First Baptist Church of Elon

3 comments:

Tim said...

Mark,

What a thoughtful response to Dr. Hollifield's statements.

I was discouraged by the move of the convention, because like you, I serve in a church that desires to give to both BSCNC and CBF.

I think that your words concerning the CBF and SBC not 100% representing the churches who contribute to them are wise words and true words.

In the future, I don't know if churches will be able to remain "dually aligned" if that is the correct term to use.

However, I do know that churches must be thinking about how to address this issue. Do you think that BSCNC is headed down the path to reject funds from churches that contribute anything to CBF?

If so, how do you see this unfolding in local congregations?

Tim

Mark said...

Tim,
Sorry for the delay in posting a response. Been a busy weekend!

Anyway, I think if Convention officials (by that I mean employees) have anything to say about, the Convention will not reject funds from CBF supporting churches primarily because they can't afford to turn away any money! I think that is a big part of what drove the response from Dr. Hollifield in the first place. The BSCNC is already facing budget deficits and they can't afford to lose any funding right now.
That being said, the Convention may not have a choice. I have a feeling that a good number of people who work in Cary were not thrilled with this decision, and not just because of the possible financial implications. However, as we saw, all it takes is one motion from the floor to be approved at the November state meeting. If enough people can stir up enough anger and fear, then a move to completely reject funds is cannot be ruled out completely.
However, I think for local churches, the issues are less about what might happen and more about what has happened. I thought the Biblical Recorder did a good job of capturing the essence of the message and tone that surrounded the debate on the floor. As folks at my church have been wrestling with this in recent weeks, the question has become, "Why would we give money to an organization that thinks this way about us?" In a time when all of us are probably dealing with a tightening of resources, that question becomes extremely important. While I agree with Dr. Hollifield that this decision does not kick anybody out, I don't think his response really gives a good answer to this question. Therefore, I think churches are going to move on to the companion question, "Do the benefits we receive from being a part of the BSCNC outweigh the negative perceptions and assumptions that at least some elements of the BSCNC have about us and CBF?" When it gets right down to it, it is going to be real hard for a pastor or a stewardship committee in a CBF church to drum up financial and emotional support for the BSCNC when the perception many left the Convention with was that CBF would no longer be "tolerated" by the Convention.
One final thought: God has spoken through some wonderful angels in recent weeks and taught me a lesson. The actions of the Convention are not representative of everybody who identifies with the Baptist State Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention. I think that there are opportunities to still partner and minister with sister churches that may have different alliances but all still worship the same Lord. As conversations have taken place within our church, I am trying to make sure that we don't paint everybody with a SBC or BSCNC affiliation with a broad stroke, just as I would hope that no one would assume they know everything about us because we are aligned with CBF. I hope that where you are there are other ministers and churches that are more concerned with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ than denominational allegiance. That, in the end, is what matters.
You have my prayers, my brother!

Tim said...

Hey Mark,

I hope that you and yours are having a special Christmas season.

Thank you for the response. I think, at least for our church and for our family, giving to BSCNC does outweigh the consequences of making a decision to remove our funds totally.

Because CBF and CBFNC is relatively young, they cannot, at least in my opinion, compete with Guidestone on insurance and annuity.

Our church is interesting in that we never gave to the Cooperative Program to begin with, but sent separate checks to BSCNC, CBF, and CBFNC.

Being a month since the convention, no one at our church seems to be really worried about the implications of the move.

This may be another issue, but the whole convention system seems to be behind the times. Only one third of the people who attended the convention voted on the issue. I even left before the report. I think that having conventions every year, with travel expenses and the fact that they are during the week eliminates participation. Because CBF is in Houston, I will not be attending.

I think that both CBF and SBC entities need to reconsider the convention system. Internet voting on the issues could be an alternative, maybe?

Have a blessed Christmas!