By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
The annual meeting will take place during Summit: The Annual Gathering of Tennessee Baptists scheduled for Nov. 12-16 at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Committee on Credentials met Oct. 18 and agreed that a church with a woman senior pastor does not fit the definition of a “cooperating church” as defined by convention bylaws.
If a church with a woman senior pastor tries to register messengers, the request will be denied, but the decision to seat messengers from the church ultimately will be decided by a vote by messengers, the committee said.
As of mid-October, only one Tennessee Baptist church is known to have a woman pastor. First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, called Ellen Di Giosia as senior pastor, effective Aug. 1. First Baptist traditionally has registered messengers for the annual meeting.
The committee adopted a resolution explaining its rationale.
The resolution notes that the Committee on Credentials is directed by convention bylaws (II 16c) to “make recommendations to the messengers to the annual meeting regarding any question relative to the seating of messengers.”
According to the resolution, messengers entitled to be seated are those from cooperating Baptist churches, and such churches are defined in the convention Constitution (Article II) as “those that contribute financially through the Cooperative Program of the convention … and subscribe to and support the principles, programs, and policies of the convention.”
Among the “principles” is the statement contained in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 declaring that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Based on the Baptist Faith and Message the credentials committee opined that “a church whose office of pastor is held by a woman is not a cooperating church … and that “in the event a question relative to the seating of a messenger from such a church arises, the committee will recommend to the messengers to the annual meeting that the messenger not be seated.”
Although not clarified in the resolution, the committee emphasized their understanding that “pastor” in the BF&M refers to the senior pastor role, regardless of what the church calls the position, and does not refer to other ministerial positions on staff of a church which may include the word pastor.
“Understanding the responsibility with which the Committee on Credentials was tasked, the committee took this matter very seriously,” said Curt Wagoner, chairman of the committee and associate pastor of the Riverdale campus of LifePoint Church, Smyrna.
Wagoner said the committee took a lot of time prayerfully deliberating the many facets of the issue before deeming the matter “clearly stated” in the convention’s confession of faith.
“The committee displayed grace, compassion, and respect for any messenger impacted by the resolution. The committee believes the resolution holds true to Scripture and maintains a biblical standard for convention relationships, faithfully remaining true to the tenets established by the convention,” Wagoner said.
“It is regrettable when one of our churches makes a decision that results in a broken confessional relationship with our TBC
network of churches,” observed Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“We appreciate the efforts of all our churches to advance the gospel together. I have the utmost respect for the long held Baptist polity of the autonomy of the local church.
“But I also deeply respect and appreciate the clear convictions expressed by our Committee on Credentials,” Davis said.
First Baptist, Jefferson City, issued a statement from Di Giosia and deacon chair John McGraw. The statement noted that the church “is saddened by the decision of the Credentials Committee not to seat the messengers of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, at the upcoming [annual meeting of the] Tennessee Baptist Convention. We have been partners in mission for more than 140 years and the severance of such a connection is painful.”
The statement also observed: “The Tennessee Baptist [Convention] has the right to choose its partners just as our congregation has the right to affiliate with whomever we choose. Baptist principles require it and may it ever be so. But the number of things on which we agree is vast and the list of things on which we disagree is very small. It is unfortunate that the committee chooses to dismiss us without conversation or consultation.
“We urge Tennessee Baptists to consider the picture this paints for those who have yet to hear the gospel. Our culture is polarized and angry. We have an opportunity to demonstrate a different way of living — one that does not capitulate to the spirit of the age which says that if we do not agree on everything we cannot cooperate on anything. In choosing a different way we believe that together we can be a witness of unity which was Jesus’ desire for His people.”
The statement also said the church will continue to “pray for our brothers and sisters at the Tennessee Baptist [Convention] as they seek to be faithful to God and we ask that Tennessee Baptists and other believers to pray for our congregation as we do likewise.
“We will continue in mission with other partners and friends as we seek to be faithful to Scripture, believing that ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female’ as we ‘seek to be one in Jesus Christ.’ ”