By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
The convention started off on the right foot with the Sunday night service at First Baptist and an All Nations celebration service at nearby Long Hollow Baptist Church. Bartholomew Orr preached an outstanding message at First Baptist, the first of many good messages throughout the week.
At Long Hollow, those in attendance got a glimpse of what heaven will no doubt look like. Christ-followers from all races and nationalities gathered together for an incredible night of worship. It never ceases to amaze me when people of all languages gather and sing our time-honored hymns in their own language. It’s overwhelming.
There is little doubt in my mind that those two services set the stage and the atmosphere for the rest of the week. Yes, there was the potential of some divisive issues during the business sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, but everything was handled in a way that I felt honored Christ.
Messengers had to decide first thing on Tuesday (Nov. 14) whether or not messengers from First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, could be seated. The church called a woman as senior pastor earlier this year. The Committee on Credentials met in October and agreed that a church with a woman pastor does not fit the definition of a “cooperating church” as defined by convention bylaws (see full story).
The church sent eight messengers, including new pastor Ellen Di Giosia. They were given guest badges along with materials given to messengers except for ballots. I was in the registration area when they arrived. They were treated with respect and the First Baptist contingent was respectful as well. There was no “ugly scene.”
When the Committee on Credentials presented their recommendation that the church’s messengers not be seated, there was ample discussion and views on both sides of the issue were presented. When the vote was taken, First Baptist messengers were not seated.
Again, Pastor Di Giosia and the church members acted with dignity and class. Di Giosia met with media and did not “bash” the convention action. She was gracious and noted the church needed the clarity that the vote provided.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, also met with media and was equally gracious, calling Di Giosia a “good and godly sister in Christ.” He acknowledged there is “a theologiocal difference in how we interpret Scripture that relates to the female being the senior pastor of a local church.”
It all boils down to autonomy. First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, had every right to call whoever they wanted as pastor.
But autonomy is not a one-way street. Baptist associations and conventions also have the right to set doctrinal guidelines for membership. The Tennessee Baptist Convention did not establish a guideline to exclude First Baptist from membership when they elected a woman as pastor.
The TBC has been operating under the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (which specifically states that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture) since 2006 and has affirmed it on at least four occasions since then. The convention simply voted to uphold its own bylaws.
The secular media (and some Christians) have criticized the convention for “kicking out” a church with a woman pastor. That’s simply not the case. The convention did not “kick” anyone out. First Baptist chose a route that differs from the majority of Tennessee Baptist churches. The church exercised its autonomy and the convention exercised its autonomy. What matters now is that both First Baptist and all Tennessee Baptist churches continue to bring people into the kingdom.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches I am thankful for a convention where different sides of an issue can be heard and even debated. I am also grateful for a country that provides for freedom of religion. That’s not the case in many parts of the world.
Count the blessings that God has given you. You will be “amazed at what He has done.” Happy Thanksgiving!