September 29, 1999

SBC Executive Committee
won't study ecumenical links

___NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) --The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has declined to meet the demands of a Louisiana pastor who wanted the denomination to cut off cooperation with an ecumenical evangelistic initiative.
___After lengthy discussion during their Sept. 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Executive Committee members voted by a wide margin not to approve the request of Jerry Moser for a study on whether cooperation in ecumenical efforts such as Mission America 2000 compromises Southern Baptists' beliefs.
___Moser, pastor of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Church in Theriot, La., has been a frequent critic of Southern Baptist conversations with other faith groups. In 1995, he confronted then-Home Mission Board President Larry Lewis at an associational meeting for endorsing an "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" statement drafted by religious leaders.
___After the incident, the church sponsoring Moser's mission fired him for insubordination. Moser's congregation kept him as pastor but lost use of its building, owned by the mother church, over the dispute.
___This time, Moser took his case to the floor of the SBC annual meeting in Atlanta in June, where he asked for the study of ecumenical efforts. That motion was referred to the Executive Committee.
___Asked to give an example of the kinds of affiliation he believes ought to be studied, Moser cited the North American Mission Board's involvement in Mission America.
___Mission America is a coalition of more than 360 national Christian leaders who represent 70 denominations, more than 200 parachurch groups and 57 ministry networks. Its goal is to present the gospel to every person in America.
___NAMB's main financial involvement in the effort is paying the salary of Lewis, who is serving as a liaison between Mission America and the SBC.
___Gary Frost, pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio, and a former SBC vice president, said he was concerned the discussion might cause people to become suspicious of the Mission America movement, which he supports.
___"Our Northern cities are not going to be evangelized by Southern Baptists," Frost said, but Southern Baptists can help other Christians witness by supporting Mission America.
___He said he has "not compromised anything" by working in his community with United Methodists, Presbyterians and others.
___Jerry Spencer, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Dothan, Ala., said the effort is no different from a local church taking part in a Billy Graham crusade.
___"We cooperate with other people we may not agree with theologically," Spencer said. "I've been doing that 25 years, and I don't think it's a real issue."
___Yet others disagreed, calling for a purer form of doctrinal identity.
___"We have spent 20 years dealing with doctrine," said John Click, a retired pastor from Goddard, Kan. He said he is suspicious of any involvement with parachurch groups, which he said resort to "dumbing down doctrine and blurring doctrinal distinctives" in order to gain wider appeal.
___"When the media get hold of this and we find ourselves lumped with people who doctrinally are far from where we are in many respects, the public at large is not going to be able to make these distinctions," Click said.
___Ultimately, Executive Committee members declined to call for the study Moser requested and in fact passed a resolution affirming NAMB's participation in Mission America.
___Moser said he was "pleased" the Executive Committee discussed his motion, but he believes further study is needed. "This issue is not over Mission America," Moser said. "This issue is over ecumenism."
___Moser said he worries that linking with "sacramentalist" groups such as Episcopalians or Roman Catholics in evangelistic efforts dilutes Southern Baptists' proclamation that salvation is attained through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He said those churches embrace "another gospel," which says that grace can be received through sacraments.
___"Some of these groups ... are more liberal than anybody we got rid of or fired," he said.
___Acting on another motion referred from the SBC annual meeting, the Executive Committee also declined to recommend a study of the impact and influence of Southern Baptist churches involved in "unbiblical" worship practices. The committee cited local church autonomy as the reason for declining to act.
___The motion specifically was intended to cause an evaluation of how the SBC should relate to Baptist churches engaging in charismatic worship practices.
___This has been a growing issue of concern across the country, but has been dealt with most forcefully in Georgia, where the Georgia Baptist Convention has ousted churches over such practices.
___"This is a great concern for us in Georgia," said Gerald Harris, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. "It seems like it is drawing churches away from our convention. It is causing a great deal of disruption in our associations. It seems like somewhere this ought to be addressed."


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