S.C. Baptists build Gospel bridges spanning barriers
An emotional high point of the Nov. 13-14 gathering was an evening worship service at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also known as Mother Emanuel, a church revered as one of the oldest independent black congregations in the South. See BP's related story.
Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, a historically African-American congregation in North Charleston, hosted the remaining sessions of the South Carolina Baptist Convention's (SCBC) annual meeting.
Mount Moriah pastor Augustus Robinson Jr., welcomed messengers.
"We did not start our friendship yesterday or last year," Robinson said of himself and SCBC President Marshall Blalock. The annual meeting theme, Robinson said, reflects "the manifestations of Jesus Christ."
Blalock encouraged messengers to build bridges for the Gospel.
"This is the most polarized time I can ever recall, the most secular society in my lifetime," said Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston. "But we can trust the Savior who holds all authority, the one who has all the power" to "build bridges to lost people."
Jesus' work on the cross has prepared the way for Christians to build bridges encompassing humanity, Blalock encouraged messengers.
The "greatest bridge ever built was on a hill outside the gates of the city, on a cross, in the person of Jesus Christ, whose bridge spans gaps in the hearts of human beings to every people, language and culture," Blalock said. "Wherever you go, build bridges. He is with you."
The 2017 South Carolina Baptist Annual listed 2,138 affiliated churches and missions with a total membership of 568,519. Messenger attendance totaled 747, up from 611 in 2017.
Messengers approved an "Advance Plan" operating budget, altered SCBC bylaws, adopted resolutions and elected officers. In other business, messengers heard about the ongoing work of the convention's ministry partners, the South Carolina Woman's Missionary Union and the SCBC Executive Board ministries.
Messengers approved a 2019 Cooperative Program operating budget of $28 million, unchanged from 2018. The budget commits 41 percent of receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention and 4.5 percent to the International Mission Board, both percentages unchanged from the current budget. The 2019 percentages allocated to the SCBC's seven partnering institutions in ministry remain unchanged from 2018.
New in 2019, the budget permits SCBC officials to draw from the convention's restricted and fund balance accounts in order to supplement funding for executive board ministries. The convention may pull more than $1 million from the designated accounts to help fund $9.93 million in spending through the executive board ministries "Advance Plan," messengers voted. The plan's purpose is to help churches fulfill the Great Commission through a strategy outlined by Gary Hollingsworth, SCBC executive director-treasurer.
The budget will fund a "very clear vision" for the SCBC, executive board chairman Tommy Kelly said. "We are not a bank or a savings and loan. We are to do the work of the Kingdom.
"We need to take the Gospel to all ends of the earth," Kelly said. "I totally back this vision."
Budget, Finance and Audit Committee chairman Talmadge Tobias told messengers the SCBC has $7 million in its unrestricted fund.
Messengers also changed SCBC bylaws to require prospective institution trustees and executive board members, as well as their churches, to "affirm [in writing] and reflect in practice" the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
In floor discussions preceding the bylaw vote, messenger Steven Owensby, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Spartanburg, asked how the new requirement might affect a nominee from a church that has a statement of faith other than the BF&M 2000.
Bylaws Committee Chairman Woody Oliver said there is a distinction between a church's "affirming and reflecting in practice" the BF&M 2000 and "adopting" it as the church's official statement of faith.
Blalock noted that while churches may elect to "affirm and reflect in practice" the BF&M 2000, requiring them to adopt it as their statement of faith would be a violation of church autonomy.
Nominations Committee chairman Bryant Sims, pastor of First Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Greenwood and incoming SCBC president, endorsed the bylaw change in his capacity as a messenger.
"This is deeply needed," Sims said. A church's "friendly cooperation" with the SCBC, which in previous years was the standard under which the Nominations Committee operated, "is not enough to make sure our trustees and committee members are doctrinally accountable."
Sims, heads the 2019 slate of officers. Sims, who served for the past 12 months as president-elect, officially assumed the office of president at the conclusion of this year's annual meeting.
Josh Powell, pastor of Lake Murray Baptist Church, is the new president-elect. Powell, who will preside at the 200th SCBC annual meeting in 2020, is in the process of writing a history of the SCBC.
Other officers, all elected without opposition, are first vice president Alex Sands, pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Mauldin; second vice president Larry Baldwin, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Williamston; recording secretary Adrianne Smith, a member of Taylors First Baptist Church; and registration secretary Larry Zaky, pastor of Hemingway First Baptist Church in Hemingway.
Messengers approved resolutions ranging from opposition to the legalization of marijuana to support for religious liberty.
-- Racial reconciliation: Racial division and bias are "sin and evil" that disregard "the image of God in all people" and deny "that all believers are one in Christ Jesus," messengers said in a resolution on racial reconciliation. Messengers resolved to "advocate racial unity to create a more biblically just and peaceful society" and renounced all forms of racism "and any attempt to distort the Bible to justify the evil of racism." Messengers also pledged to "intentionally seek racial diversity" in all positions of leadership in churches, committees, associations and the state convention.
-- Purity in ministry leadership: Referencing news stories in recent months that "have reminded us of the heartbreaking moral failures of people in ministry," messengers called upon pastors, ministry leaders, entity leaders, and denominational representatives to "pursue moral and sexual purity in all relationships and to guard their hearts, minds and doctrine scrupulously, even as all believers should seek the same standards for themselves." Churches should exercise "appropriate redemptive church discipline for addressing the disqualifying sin of ministry leaders," the resolution exhorts.
-- Medical marijuana: While noting that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes could encourage and legitimize recreational use, messengers went on record in opposition to the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Non-hallucinogenic CBD component treatments that are FDA-approved, prescribed by licensed medical doctors, and dispensed by licensed pharmacies would be acceptable to help certain severely ill patients, messengers said.
-- Religious liberty: Messengers declared their "full and unqualified support for the free exercise of religious liberty" and renewed their call on local, state and federal elected officials to "ensure complete religious liberty for all, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution." Messengers referenced local governments that have violated religious liberty "by restricting churches' access to public spaces otherwise available for use by civic, political, business, social groups, and others."
-- In other resolutions, messengers urged fellow South Carolina Baptists and other Christians to abstain from sports betting; and expressed appreciation to host pastors Robinson of Mount Moriah and Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel. The full texts of resolutions can be viewed at http://www.scbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/resolutions-report.pdf.
The 2019 SCBC annual meeting is set Nov. 11-12 at Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church in Spartanburg.