Georgia Church Severs Ties with SBC
by ABP staff Vol. XIII, No. 6, June/July 2000
The historic First Baptist Church of Athens, GA, has voted to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. Church members voted 285-28 to discontinue affiliation with the nation's largest Protestant denomination at a church conference April 9, according to an announcement released to the media. The 800-member, 170-year-old congregation had belonged to the SBC since the convention's founding in Augusta, GA, in 1845.
The break follows a 2-year study, which concluded the church and denomination had been moving apart since conservatives took control of the SBC in the late 1970s. Differences cited by church members included pastoral authority, academic freedom at seminaries, and the role of women. The church "strongly favors" the priesthood of all believers, free academic inquiry, and women's ordination, the statement said.
A church spokesman said the church is one of the first in Georgia to sever ties with the SBC, but he didn't know if others would follow its example. "We can only speak for our behavior," Al Crace, chairman of deacons, told an Athens newspaper. A decision by another church would be "their decision," he added.
The congregation plans to remain in fellowship with Sarepta Baptist Association, the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The vote comes while the church is between pastors. Jon Appleton retired last year after 23 years as pastor. Crace said the vote was taken so the new pastor would know the church's position. He said a new pastor could be named by this summer. [ABP]
[Comment: From one point of view this is the honorable thing for a church to do. If they are convinced that they do not and will not agree with the direction of the SBC, they should move elsewhere. A second observation. Notice the reasons given by church members: (1) liberals object to pastoral authority (because they each want to remain unencumbered by any requirements, preferring to enjoy warm fuzzies while remaining free to do anything they can rationalize); (2) "academic freedom" is a buzz phrase meaning that seminary professors should be allowed to teach any heresy they might wish and not be accountable to the denomination which hires and pays them; and (3) the church has chosen to ignore New Testament prohibition of female senior pastors.
While it is always sad to see such a long association severed, nevertheless it is best for the church and for the Southern Baptist Convention for each to go its separate way. Any biblical conservatives among the 28 who voted against the move should seriously consider finding a church where biblical authority is honored rather than flouted.
Finally, notice that the church intends to remain a member of the local association and the Georgia Baptist Convention. That reminds us "How can two walk together less they be agreed?" That local association and state convention, as well as others throughout the nation, sooner or later will be forced by circumstances to decide whether to remain with a foot in each camp or to take the honorable step of affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention OR the liberal camp. There can be no lasting and meaningful relationship where theological differences are so great. My personal view is that it is much better to bite the bullet early and get it over, but each Baptist entity must decide for itself. May God guide in every instance. TCP]