Disappointed by Baptists in Western Kentucky

This article probably will not matter much to readers who are not Southern Baptists.  For those of you who are Southern Baptists, the actions of the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Western Kentucky should disappoint you.  According to the Western Recorder (the news magazine of Kentucky Baptists), this association recently denied membership to another Baptist church.  Pleasant Valley Community Church had applied for membership to join the work of Baptists in their geographical area.

Baptist entities, including associations, have the right to admit or deny any church so choose.  However, having the right to do something does not make it wise.  In this case I believe the exclusion is extremely unwise.

The primary reason for the exclusion was stated by the credentials committee:

Our concern in the initial stages of our investigation revolved around the fact that Pleasant Valley Community Church’s confessional statement is one that (is) Calvinistic in nature.  It affirms the doctrine of election and grace.

–Quote taken from Western Recorder (October 25, 2011)

Let’s stop there for a moment.  From the beginning of the existence of Southern Baptists, Calvinists have been a strong part of the identity of the denomination.  Calvinists and non-Calvinists have joined together for the primary purpose of taking the gospel to the world.  Why in the world would the folks in Western Kentucky try to change this now?  My church is Calvinistic.  So am I.  Obviously, I would not be welcome in this association and neither would my church.  That is sad.

What is even more puzzling is the statement that the confessional statement affirms the doctrine of election and grace.  Really?  Even if you define these words differently, surely you must affirm these doctrines.  They are in the Bible.

As they went past the initial stages of investigation, they found another reason to exclude the church.

Ultimately, we were not satisfied that Pleasant Valley Community Church would be sympathetic with the purpose and work of the body of the DMBA.

Exactly what is the purpose and work of this association?  If it is anything remotely close to what most associations state as there purpose, I would bet that this church would indeed be sympathetic.

The committee then had the nerve to say of the church that it had an overall lack of the key elements of cooperation found in patience, humility, kindness, compassion and gentleness.

I could write much on this, but will let this common saying suffice.  That is the pot calling the kettle black.

In my pastoral experience, I participated heavily in the work of local associations.  We were able to do more together than individually.  I served as moderator of a metro association.  In fact, I might have been the only Calvinist pastor in the association.  My experience was richer because of the folks in these other churches.

I did have one negative experience similar to what has happened in Kentucky.  When a church was considering me to become their pastor, the paid leader of that association lobbied the church against me.  Why?  Because of the seminary that I was attending.  I did become the pastor of that church and eventually helped a few other churches select men from that same seminary.

Yet, it is actions like this that cause many to wonder if the day of Baptist associations is something that should be relegated to the pages of Baptist history books.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • About this situation, I would simply say that it may indeed be disappointing, though no outside observer is likely to know all the facts. But I’m grateful for associations that take seriously doctrinal issues.

    I am more disturbed by a trend I noticed in Oklahoma of associations unquestioningly receiving “cowboy churches” into their fellowships. I served on a committee tasked with making a recommendation to the association regarding one such “church,” and found that they had a decidedly non-baptist structure and polity. Worst of all, however, was the fact that none of their “elders” had a clue how to answer the simple question, “What is the gospel?” when I asked it. This tragic ignorance was displayed in the preaching I heard when I attended services there in fulfillment of my committee duties. The committee voted, over my objections, to recommend this “church” be received by the association. They argued that this lack of gospel understanding and preaching could be found in so many of our churches that it would be unfair to ask more of a new member. “Churches” with this same boilerplate structure are in associations all over Oklahoma, and are likely in other states, as well.

    So while I agree that there may be cause for concern in Kentucky, I can’t fault an association that is serious about doctrine, and certainly not without knowing all the facts.

    The state convention is no help in Oklahoma, as they’ll receive CP from any so-called “church.” Associations are the only entities in Baptist life that have the potential for exercising doctrinal accountability, and I pray that they do not simply fade into history.

    • Wes, thanks for your comments. I admit that I know little about the cowboy churches, so I will have to avoid commenting about them. However, I sometimes have questions when I see “non-baptist structure and polity” and then “elders” in quotation marks.

      In the case in Kentucky, it seems to be a clear matter that the committee indicated that Calvinism was the primary reason for the exclusion. Even if there were other issues we know nothing about, they played the Calvinism trump card. That is the basis for my disappointment.

  • Understand where you’re coming from, and based only on what was presented, I likely share your disappointment. My hesitation is because of the mention of the candidate church being “uncooperative.” This may be because the committee tried to dissuade them from their Calvinistic convictions and were unsuccessful. That would be unfortunate. But it could be entirely unrelated to their theology, and there may be much unknown with regard to the interactions that took place. This is why I’m hesitant to condemn the association.

    With regard to the cowboy churches, the terms I put in quotation marks are ones that they have filled with very different meanings. I have no problem with a church using the biblical term “elder” for those who have spiritual oversight and teaching responsibilities within the church. This is good and biblical. But these churches make no provision for the biblical office of deacon, and their “elders” have authority unchecked by congregational oversight. Only the elders can install or remove an elder, and the finances of the church are theirs alone to administer. There are many more examples, but be assured I was not disparaging something I perceived as Calvinistic, nor would I do so on that basis alone. These groups are decidedly non-Baptist in their polity and practice, and the absence of gospel understanding in the one with which I’m familiar makes me hesitant even to call them a church.

    • Well said and fair enough. Thanks for expanding your thoughts.