Saturday, September 09, 2006

An Uneasy Association

From a recent Christianity Today article Two Degrees of Separation we read:
The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) voted in June to sever ties with Cedarville University. GARBC said the school's "public relationship with Southern Baptists was not considered to be in harmony with the GARBC purpose statement.

Earlier this year, the Council of Eighteen, the GARBC governing body, adopted a statement on why the association should separate from the Ohio school. At the 2006 annual conference in June, GARBC messengers ratified the statement 311 to 283. They concluded that "Southern Baptists are inclusivists and permit the presence and ministry of liberals within the convention."

When you do the math, the percentages run 52% for, and 48% against this resolution. By any reasonable calculation it can not at all be said there was any great degree of unanimity in the GARBC regarding its relationship with Cedarville. On the contrary, there is a clear division. The GARBC itself is an uneasy association.

"John Greening, GARBC national representative, said during the June conference that Cedarville's relationship with the SBC would change the association's boundaries. The GARBC has 1,359 churches in the United States, Canada, and overseas. Greening declined to speak to CT, saying the decision was a "family matter."

John Greening's use of the term "family matter" underlines the nature of the issue that faces the GARBC. Is or is not the GARBC a part of a much wider family, the Evangelical family, the family of God encompassing all who love and embrace fundamental orthodox Christian truth? If so, it is to that broader Evangelical family that the GARBC owes, if not ecclesiastical accountability, at least a moral accountability.

David Warren, a Council of Eighteen member and Cedarville trustee, said council members disagreed on the issue of second-degree separation. "The other side—the side I took—was that Cedarville was not associating with or assisting liberals in the convention," Warren told CT. "Rather, they were helping conservatives."

Craig Miller, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville, said the decision will make his and other local churches' affiliation with the GARBC problematic. "It is difficult for us to maintain membership in an organization that has broken its ties with the alma mater and employer of half the congregation," Miller said. "The issues discussed [during the conference] sounded ludicrous. Second-degree separation isn't biblically warranted."

"Second-degree separation isn't biblically warranted." The operating term here is "Biblically". It is not an issue of what the GARBC has or has not done historically in the past. The issue is faithfulness to what the Bible says about separation, and not making the principle of separation any more or any less then what the Bible itself makes it.

The local church I go to happens to be associated with the GARBC. For myself, my church's association with the GARBC is an incidental, though not unimportant, matter.

It remains to be seen what the long range impact of this decision will be on the GARBC itself as well as the state associations and individual congregations. Whatever the case, at this time the GARBC is an uneasy association.

Sola Gloria Deo!

~ The Billy Goat ~ Ecclesiology

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