Scripture's authority vs. churches' autonomy

Scripture's authority vs. churches' autonomy

Scripture's authority vs. churches' autonomy

A Christian radio broadcaster wants to remind the more than 4,000 predominantly black Southern Baptist churches asking the SBC to rethink its stance on women pastors that the denomination doesn't have the authority to change scripture.

The National African American Fellowship (NAAF) has sent a letter asking Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bart Barber to "engage in a vigorous, yet constructive dialogue" over the denomination's recent stance on women pastors.

The letter says the disfellowshipping of Saddleback Church and Fern Creek Baptist Church, combined with a proposed amendment to the SBC Constitution that would allow only men to be affirmed, appointed, or employed as any kind of pastor or elder, "undermine the tie that binds i.e., the autonomy of the local church, and are inconsistent with our shared Baptist polity."

In a statement to the Baptist Press, Barber praised the call to prayer and dialogue, saying, "What a Christ-honoring, biblical way to approach decisions when fellow believers want to find common ground and make decisions together!"

"I honor and value these partners in the work of the gospel," he continued. "I will make sure that the entire SBC family has ample opportunity for prayer and dialogue throughout the coming year leading up to our meeting next June in Indianapolis."

Barber plans to attend the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, sponsored by NAAF next week at Ridgecrest, NC, and believes the dialogue will begin then.

Pastor Willie McLaurin, interim Executive Committee president, sent a recorded statement to AFN inviting the discussion.

"The SBC Executive Committee stands ready to engage in ongoing dialogue," he says.

The NAAF has two issues it wants to talk about: First, the autonomy of local churches in deciding the issue, and second, that black churches are more prone to use the title "pastor" for staff members like youth pastors who exercise the authority scripture limits to men.

Talk host Janet Mefferd, an outspoken watchdog for orthodox Christianity, thinks the first issue should be a quick and easy fix: "If you want to be members of the SBC, then change the nomenclature."

Mefferd, Janet (1) Mefferd

According to the NAAF, the Baptist view of the autonomy of the local church means the SBC does not have the authority to require such a change. Mefferd points out that the issue is the authority of scripture, and the SBC has a duty to hold its fellowshipping churches to that standard.

"Any time you decide that you're going to do something biblical, when you have spent a long time not drawing a line in the sand, then it might get uncomfortable," she notes.

The 4,000 black churches affiliated with the NAAF are not threatening to leave the denomination, and no one, at this point, is talking about a denominational split.