Monday, November 28, 2005

Ontario (CA) Daily Bulletin Reports on PSW Churches and the ABC

Denomination dilemma hits churches

By Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Paula Slagel has no qualms saying goodbye to American Baptist Churches.

Her church, Colton First Baptist, always has been under the leadership of the liberal Baptist denomination, but it's more concerned with the community than polity.

"It's not about a denomination. It's about Jesus," said the 50-year-old Yucaipa woman.

About 300 congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona are part of the more conservative Pacific Southwest Region of the American Baptist Churches USA, which voted in September to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. Most congregations are expected to follow.

But it doesn't seem to be attracting much attention from the people in the pews.

"What is going on with the regional and national organizations has not caught them on the edge of their seats," Pastor Scott Weatherill of First Baptist Church in Chino said of his congregation. "They are more interested in what it means to follow Christ and how they can love one another and serve the community."

Such disinterest in church politics underlines a grander phenomenon: Denominations are dwindling.

"They tend to be hierarchical and controlling," said Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "Whereas the churches that are primarily concerned to be a missional [sic] presence in an increasingly post-secular society, they are not interested in the traditions of the past. They are interested in the problems of the present."

Christian researcher George Barna writes in his new book "Revolution" that church walls are rapidly breaking down for about 20 million adult Christians. To these "revolutionaries," church is not a place but a people; it is wherever Christians meet.

That's a return to Christianity's roots.

The churches detailed in the New Testament of the Bible - Rome, Corinth, Ephesus - didn't meet in beautiful buildings or report to a hierarchical leadership, Gibbs said. They interpreted the teachings of Jesus and his apostles the best they could, and they responded to the feedback of other Christians, including Paul, the prolific New Testament writer.

"Our church operates so independently of the denomination that people often don't know who we are affiliated with," said the Rev. Dane Aaker, pastor of Colton First Baptist. "We often call ourselves the "Barely Baptist Church.'"
Colton First Baptist's 400 members will decide Dec. 14 whether to leave the 1.5 million-member American Baptist Churches USA.

If it does, the congregation would remain under the guidance of the Pacific Southwest Region. Colton First Baptist also plans to change its name to Centerpoint Church, which according to a letter given to church members Sunday "will be a great reminder that Christ (not a denomination) is the center and the point of our church."

During four services Sunday, Aaker assured churchgoers that "nothing will change here."

Betty Morgan, an 82-year-old greeter, didn't care about the politics. She was just sad to hear the church's name is going to change. It's been the same since it was founded in 1887, and she has attended Colton First Baptist since she was a child.

Other people didn't think the denominational split would affect their church.
The context of the split is a disagreement regarding how the church should deal with homosexuality.

A church resolution states "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," but the national denomination holds that each church has "soul liberty," which allows them to interpret scripture as they believe correct.
Under soul liberty, liberal churches are ordaining gays and lesbians, and conservative churches are being ruffled.

"We are always seemingly butting up our heads on this issue of soul liberty versus biblical authority," Weatherill said. "Let's move on ... kind of like a Paul and a Barnabas. You minister here and we will minister there."


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