Friday, January 13, 2006

Keeping the Flock Up to Date

This is a portion of my column for the February-March edition of The Tower, the print and online newsletter of my church, the First Baptist Church of Temple City, California.

Denominational Developments

As I have reported to you over the last year, the American Baptist Churches USA, our denomination, is in the greatest crisis since the late 1940s. Last fall the Board of our region, the ABC of the Pacific Southwest, voted to begin the process of withdrawing from the ABCUSA.

The issue is a dramatically different understanding of the role of “soul liberty” verses Biblical authority. While the General Board of the ABC, to the surprise of many voted to strengthen its statement about marriage and homosexuality, the reality is that there remains no enforcement mechanism, and even more important, there is no will to even use the “bully pulpit” in defense of clear Biblical teaching.

In December, the Region Board affirmed its earlier decision, despite the appeals of two Executive Ministers from other regions—including an old friend of mine, Al Fletcher from Maine.

We have received detailed information on the vote that will be held on April 29 at FBC Pomona (satellite locations are being set up in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Luis Obispo). There is a formula for determining the number of delegates we are entitled to, and our church office has sent the Region the data needed to determine the number. Then we must submit not just the number, but also the names of the delegates well before the meeting in Pomona.

You should know that the Region’s Board, strictly speaking, has the authority on its own to withdraw from ABCUSA, but has chosen to go above and beyond by asking for this advisory vote from the churches, and that is to be highly commended.

What will happen? I expect an excess of 80% in favor of withdrawing from ABCUSA. Our churches have a high degree of trust in the leadership of region, and we have come to recognize that the vision of the Valley Forge (ABCUSA) leadership and that of our own churches is exceedingly hard to keep in the same tent.

Following the Pomona meeting, the Region Board will take a final vote, again, almost certainly to sever ties with ABCUSA. Already the “American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest” is reinventing itself. As a matter of fact, the whole denomination seems to be in slow freefall. The ABC of the West (Northern CA and NV) has renamed itself “Growing Healthy Churches”! I expect that the ABC PSW will also adopt a name that has neither a geographic or even denominational word in it—something like Transformation Churches. (I joked with someone on region staff that we ought to compete with our brothers to the north and adopt the name, “Growing Even Healthier Churches.”)

Other regions are very, very unhappy with the ABCUSA and may join us. I am aware of six regions where there are active efforts to follow our lead, and there may be others. As I stated last fall, I believe that when this is all over, up to 70% of the current ABC may leave the existing organization.

At the same time, the movement to form a new organization, coming out of the meeting I attended in Chicago last September, continues to move ahead. I expect that our region and church will affiliate with that movement later in 2006.

Sometime after that, we as a church will need to take a separate action to either remain a church within the ABCUSA or to join with what our region is doing. ABCUSA, the Region, and our church are all separate corporations and even when the Region separates, that is not “automatic” for us.

I am a supporter of following the lead of our region. I am not now nor have I even been a separatist, but instead a reformer. I have always been one to stand and stay and change things from within. But the commitment of the national leadership to principles that are incompatible with our vision of the Christian life and Biblical authority seems irreversible. For frequent updates, see my blog,

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