N.M. Baptists stress 'Standing Strong'

DEMING, N.M. (BP) -- With "Standing Strong" as the theme of this year's annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico Oct. 21-22, messengers chose to take a stand in support of five Houston pastors entangled in a battle over a homosexual-transgender rights ordinance.

Elected as BCNM officers for the coming year were Jonathan Richard, left, president; Dennis Dunn, first vice president; and, not pictured, Dennis Garcia, second vice president.
Photo by John Loudat
Messengers also voted to decrease next year's Cooperative Program budget by 8.18 percent after receipts trailed the approved 2014 budget by 15.18 percent during the first nine months of the year.

Among those registered for this year's convention, which was hosted by First Baptist Church in Deming, were 260 messengers from 109 churches and 43 visitors. Affiliated with the BCNM are 345 congregations with, according to the latest BCNM Annual, 89,022 members.

Messengers from three churches that had never had messengers seated at a BCNM meeting were approved for seating at this year's convention.

New Mexico Baptists began to gather on Monday, Oct. 20, for the BCNM's annual Missions Fair and Missions Celebration that evening, and the WMU Missions Celebration and the Pastors' and Laymen's Conference the next morning. The convention consisted of three sessions: on Tuesday afternoon and evening and Wednesday morning.

Camps merger

Messengers moved quickly through each of the convention's business sessions, passing every recommendation with no discussion and little opposition.

During the convention's opening session, they overwhelmingly approved plans to merge the BCNM's two camps with the BCNM and unanimously approved an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation of the New Mexico Baptist Foundation.

The merger plans already had been unanimously approved by the boards of the convention and the two camps earlier this year in response to a motion approved by messengers to last year's annual meeting in Albuquerque. The motion asked the camp boards of the BCNM's two camps and the Executive Board "to consider the merger of the two camp corporations into the (BCNM), and if approved by the boards, then to ... submit documents to the messengers constituting the 2014 (BCNM) annual meeting for approval."

There was no opposition to a motion made by Rick Breeden, president of the New Mexico Baptist Foundation, to amend the Foundation's Articles of Incorporation.

The Internal Revenue Service told the Foundation that Article 3 in the Foundation's articles needed to be updated to include certain language, Breeden explained to the BCNM Executive Board during its meeting in September.

Breeden assured the messengers meeting in Deming that there would be no change in the way the Foundation functions.

Houston pastors

Messengers passed a resolution in support of five Houston pastors who recently had their sermons and other communications subpoenaed following the pastor's vocal opposition to a homosexual-transgender rights ordinance passed in May. See today's (Oct. 29) related story on Houston's mayor announcing the subpoenas have been dropped.

"... whereas we believe that this attempt to subpoena their sermons and church communications is a violation of First Amendment rights and of the separation of church and state, we thus resolve to state our belief as such," reads the resolution that was unanimously approved.

"... we further resolve to support them in their fight against this action; we further resolve to pray for them in this fight and aid them in any other way as is possible and appropriate; we resolve, finally, to stand in like fashion in the event that similar legal action be taken against pastors or ministers in the state of New Mexico," stated the resolution.

Opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, known as HERO, is based in part on concerns it will violate the religious freedom of business owners and others who disagree with the measure. Also, foes believe it will make women and children vulnerable to sexual predators by permitting people to use public restrooms of the gender they identify with rather than their natural gender.

Also approved were resolutions of appreciation for the host church of this year's pre-convention meetings, Bethel Baptist Church in Deming; the host church of the state convention, First Baptist Church; and this year's officers: BCNM President Tar Henderson, pastor of Gila Valley Baptist Church in Gila; First Vice President Jonathan Richard, pastor, First Baptist, Estancia; and Second Vice President Dennis Dunn, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Albuquerque.

Richard was elected as president for the coming year; Dunn was elected as first vice president; and Dennis Garcia, pastor of First Baptist Church, Moriarty, was elected as second vice president. There being no other nominations for any of the offices, the men all were elected by acclamation.

Preachers

Henderson, the BCNM's outgoing president, closed the annual meeting with his President's Address, while Alamogordo pastor Howell Scott brought the Annual Sermon on Tuesday afternoon. The BCNM's executive director, Joseph Bunce, wrapped up the Tuesday evening session with his report.

Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter was the convention's guest preacher. He preached sermons related to the convention's theme, "Standing Strong," in each of the meeting's three sessions.

"I love the theme, 'Standing Strong,'" Luter, the meeting's sole guest preacher, said at the beginning of his first of three sermons.

Luter urged New Mexico Baptists to put on the whole armor of God described by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18. Wearing that which God provides is essential for every believer, he said, because every believer will encounter spiritual warfare.

When Luter got to the helmet of salvation, he declared, "The question of the hour is, are you saved?" Many in today's churches who sing about being saved aren't, which explains why they are unable to stand when trials come, he said.

Of the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, the pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans shouted at the top of his lungs, "Use your sword, use your sword, use your sword … and you will stand!"

"... If God brings you to it, New Mexico, he will bring you through it," he said in his final message during the meeting.

Henderson, referring to a question God asked Judah in Ezekiel 22, asked New Mexico Baptists who among them would be willing to stand in the gap.

"I want to warn us that God is still just," said Henderson, noting that today is much like Ezekiel's day, when God's judgment was being poured out on Judah because of the nation's sin.

Henderson declared that New Mexico Baptists must be committed to unity, to growing the Kingdom of God and to supporting, encouraging and helping one another.

"God wants people to stand in the gap for Him," Henderson said, asking New Mexico Baptists to make that commitment. His final action as their president was, then, to pray for them.

Using Matthew 16:13-18 as his text for the convention's Annual Sermon, Scott said standing strong is essential if New Mexico Baptists are going to impact today's culture. They will do that most effectively, he added, if they do it together.

First, said the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Alamogordo, they should stand together in faith.

"Our faith must be anchored in the Word of God … (and be) Christ-centered," he stressed.

"We must stand strong together in unity," Scott said, explaining that can be done by building up, praying for, loving, showing grace toward, and being slow to anger and forgiving one another.

"... We must stand together for God's glory," Scott said. "When we make it about (God) ... He promises that He'll draw New Mexicans ... unto Him."

Bunce, the BCNM's executive director called his report to messengers this year "a family talk" and introduced the convention's new logo and website, signed the partnership agreement for New Mexico Baptists' newest church plant and challenged messengers to support the convention's single focus.

Following the signing of the partnership agreement by local, associational and state leaders for the new congregation known as "La Compasión de Jesus" in Deming, Bunce asked New Mexico Baptists if they take seriously the mandate of Scripture or if they will continue to do business as usual. He asked them to consider if they were "busy doing potlucks and bake sales" but not the work of the church, the Great Commission.

Bunce called Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17:13-21 "a commission petition." Calling attention to verse 18, he declared, "We have been called to make disciples ... nothing more, nothing less.

Emphasizing that he does not agree with those who say that some churches simply need to die, he saidthose that return to Great Commission will experience revitalization.

"... God help us to work together, to partner together, church to church" in the work of revitalizing churches, Bunce pleaded.

Bunce concluded his message by encouraging New Mexico Baptists to rally behind the convention's single focus, that of "A disciplemaking church for every person."

After leading the congregation in prayer, Bunce reminded everyone that in recent years, the convention has sent half of the amount received by the BCNM during the year in excess of expenditures to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. He proposed sending the other half to the convention's two camps.

Budget

While messengers approved a state convention budget that will require 8.18 percent less from churches than is necessary to meet the budget they approved last year for 2014, receipts for the first nine months of 2014 were trailing the budget requirement by 15.18 percent.

Next year's budget will require $3,704,887 in Cooperative Program receipts from the churches, a decrease of $330,168 from the amount called for in the current budget.

The 2015 budget includes salary increases of 1.5 percent for BCNM employees.

After an estimated $93,250 for "exempt items" is deducted from CP contributions the BCNM receives next year, 25 percent of the remaining CP receipts, an estimated $902,909, will be forwarded to the SBC for national and international missions and ministry.

A larger amount, in excess of $900,000, was deducted for "shared ministries" in the budgets for 2012-2014 before a larger percentage of the remaining CP receipts (35.25 percent in 2014) was calculated for SBC ministries. The change this year, Bunce told Executive Board members earlier this year, was to clear up confusion about how the amount was calculated.

Exempt items are payments the BCNM makes for the church retirement fund, post-retirement benefits and Cooperative Program promotion, the BCNM's business administrator, Gerald Farley, told the Baptist New Mexican.

The other 75 percent of CP funds that remains after the amount for exempt items is removed, $2,708,728, along with the amount that had been deducted for exempt items and additional income of $1,766,989 from various sources -- including BCNM camps, BCNM children and student conferences, BCNM designated funds, the Baptist New Mexican and the SBC's North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources -- will be used to support a total operating budget of $4,568,967 for mission work in New Mexico.

Leading worship during this year's convention were worship pastors Craig Sundheimer of Rio Rancho, and Clark Henderson and Danny Marsh, both of Albuquerque, on Tuesday afternoon; the New Mexico Singing Churchmen that evening; and Damon Pearce and the praise team of Central Baptist Church in Clovis, on Wednesday morning.

The 2015 state convention will be held in Ruidoso Oct. 20-21.

John Loudat is editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Tom Strode of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Bonnie Pritchett of the Southern Baptist TEXAN contributed to this story.
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