Dear Members of Calvary Baptist in Mount Airy,
As many of you have heard, messengers of the Surry Baptist Association voted in their most recent meeting to withdraw fellowship from the Flat Rock Baptist Church. The reason for this action was Flat Rock’s recent decision to call a woman as their pastor – a move which the messengers ”present and voting felt placed the church outside the boundaries of appropriate biblical leadership.
Because of the significance of this decision, a little context might be appropriate. When association leaders learned of Flat Rock’s decision to call a woman as pastor, they requested a meeting with the church – apparently in an effort to dissuade them from this course. The members of Flat Rock declined this request, feeling that it was the church’s place to discern the directions in which God was leading them. Of course, associational leaders felt a similar duty to discern the directions in which God was leading Surry Baptists, and this is why they brought the motion to withdraw fellowship. It is worth noting, however, that this motion was made without giving any advance notice to Flat Rock Baptist …without giving any advance notice to the churches of the association…and with only 5 minutes allotted for discussion.
I think it’s fair to say that the issues involved here are numerous and complex. Examining the role of women in ministry forces us to consider the ways we think about scripture, church, and God’s call (to name a few)…along with our interpretations of many specific biblical passages. Because of this, I doubt that all of us in this church (and certainly not all of us in the churches of the Surry Association) are likely to see eye-to-eye on all the matters that are involved.
For my part, I am affirming of women in ministry—including pastoral ministry—and I am led to this conclusion by what I feel to be the weight of biblical evidence. I do not share this with you, however, in the hope that you’ll adopt my position. If anyone wishes to chat about the biblical and theological particulars, I’m happy to do so. But when it comes to our shared life as brothers and sisters in Christ, I think that our goal should be to live by the maxim (attributed to St. Augustine): “In essentials, unity…in non-essentials, liberty…in all things, charity.” (Of course, the very fact that I’d quote this line reveals that I consider the issue of ‘women in ministry’ to be a ‘non-essential’…and that, in itself, is something about which we could disagree.)
I also do not share any of this information with you in the hope that our church will take some action related to our relationship with the Surry Baptist Association. The last thing I’d want is for a “non-essential issue” to distract Calvary Baptist from our core mission of “glorifying God by being a Christ-centered, caring church through worship, discipleship, missions and ministry.” What’s more, because I feel like it’s appropriate for Christians to “agree to disagree” on certain issues, I have no problem whatsoever in partnering with individuals and churches whose views differ from mine. Finally, since I think that it’s often better to “stop to pray” rather than “rush to act” (see my previous post: Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There.), the only action that I could possibly recommend at this time would be that of prayer and dialogue, conducted in a loving spirit that seeks understanding.
But I will ask you to pray. The question of “women in ministry” might be for you a minor issue or a major one, but I would hope that the way brothers and sisters in Christ treat each other ranks up there as being fairly significant. And while I affirm the right and the responsibility of the Surry Baptist Association to take the actions that it deems to be appropriate, I am disappointed by the way that our brothers and sisters at Flat Rock have been treated in this situation.
The work of the local association is important. The mission of God’s kingdom is too big for any one church to handle on its own, and so we need the partnership of other local congregations. I’m grateful for all the good things the Surry Association is doing, and I’m grateful for Calvary’s long history of fruitful cooperation with the Surry Association. I look forward to this relationship continuing to bear fruit for God’s glory as we discern His will together.