Issues behind church exits nowhere near as serious as decades ago: Land

Issues behind church exits nowhere near as serious as decades ago: Land

Issues behind church exits nowhere near as serious as decades ago: Land

Another megachurch has exited the Southern Baptist Convention. Elevation Church made the move unilaterally – and while the North Carolina church didn't offer an explanation, it does have a woman who preaches there regularly.

Earlier this year, the SBC kicked Saddleback Church out of its fellowship because they ordained and hired women pastors. That action was formalized at the denomination's annual gathering, held last month in New Orleans. Now, Elevation Church – a multi-campus church with 20 locations and an estimated 27,000-plus weekly attenders – has withdrawn their affiliation. Holly Furtick, wife of lead pastor Steven Furtick, is on staff there as a pastor.

Dr. Richard Land, president emeritus of Southern Evangelical Seminary, says Elevation Church did the right thing. "I applaud Elevation Church for maintaining its integrity," he tells AFN. "If it no longer believes what the [Baptist Faith & Message] says, then they ought to voluntarily withdraw."

Much has been made of the issue of women in the pulpit within the SBC. But Land contends while the matter is important, it's not essential to the faith.

"Well, it's certainly not a salvific issue. It is an issue of each Baptist group retains the right to determine for itself what it's fellowship parameters will be," he explains.

Land, Dr. Richard Land

But while the two megachurches appear to have gone the way of other mainline denominations, Land argues they haven't completely abandoned the faith – yet. So, he offers a warning:

"It is my observation as a church historian that when people begin to pull up the anchor on one issue, they begin to float – and there's no telling where they're going to float to."

All in all, however, Land says he's encouraged about the health of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"I left the [SBC] Convention in New Orleans feeling optimistic about the future," says the Southern Baptist historian. "The disagreements we have today are nowhere close to the disagreements and the debates we had in the 1970s and the 1980s in what was called the 'conservative resurgence.'"

An estimated 1,900 churches departed the SBC following that debate which saw theologically moderate and liberal leaders voted out of Southern Baptist seminaries and mission groups.