By Tom Pryde (in black) and Ken Fields (in red)
NOTE: This entry is part of ongoing reports from the 2006 GARBC Annual Conference in Lansing, Michigan. It is cross-posted at The World From Our Window and NeoFundamentalist.
John Greening began the meeting with an overview of his work over the year and giving a vision for the churches (which included some good suggestions and some potentially unworkable solutions, but at least he proposed a proactive vision – that is a step forward). After the treasurer’s report he introduced the Big Issue and began the discussion with an excellent statement on the situation, however in his statement, Cedarville was the central issue. He said that the dilemma we face has no easy answer, and said we “seem” to be at odds with each other. That would be an understatement.
I agree with Tom’s assertions, but I would like to add that Dr. Greening did remind the messengers that, years ago, there was a proposed merger between the GARBC and the Conservative Baptist Association (CBA). The merger failed to materialize due to a disagreement on secondary separation. The CBA, while adhering to primary separation, was at odds with the GARBC’s practice of secondary separation as presented by the association founders, including Dr. Ketcham. This was a major revelation to us young fundamentalists, demonstrating the trajectory of the GARBC.
That actually took me by surprise as well, and served to underscore the point that the GARBC has historically held to some form of secondary separation. The idea that secondary separation is not taught in the Bible at all is completely foreign to the GARBC, until recently. He also stated that our association has always enjoyed a doctrinal unity mixed with a diversity of practice, and in this one concept, he actually undermined his own position. Separation is inextricably tied to application.
He concluded with a plea to unity saying, “ I ask that you remain committed to the family.” But this is only possible only if the family remains committed to both doctrinal and practical adherence to the teaching of Scripture. On this question, you cannot divorce the two.
Brad Quick, the Chairman of the Council of 18 and Pastor of First Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio, moderated the meeting. Pastor Quick explained how this issue and vote came to pass, reminding the messengers that essentially this vote was foisted upon the Council by Cedarville and its supporters (this was made evident particularly in a later discussion by Cedarville supporters). Pastor Quick also reminded the messengers that the Council had reaffirmed its agreement with the separation statement of the 1980s, explaining that this was both a necessary and healthy process. He then proceeded to share guidelines for the discussion that allowed the dialogue to proceed with much Christian grace and charity!
Well, for the most part that grace and charity marked the conversation, and I say for the most part, because we have one rather outspoken and occasionally vociferous individual who always seems to grate on people. He is a supporter of Cedarville, and if I were on his side of the fence, I would try to find a way to keep him from speaking. He discredits his own position by his tactics and attitude. Other than that, the discussion for the first part (the Council’s statement on separation) was remarkably uneventful with no voiced opposition. I was really surprised.
Following the vote on the separation statement, the line behind the microphone formed rather quickly. It soon became apparent that, while Cedarville was not the underlying issue, it was treated as such. Those, who in principle were in disagreement with the statement on separation, used Cedarville as a wedge to undermine the secondary separation portions of that statement (which were admittedly vague).
The majority of commentators, who were “pro Cedarville,” capitalized on this vagary. Several luminaries stood in opposition to the Cedarville question. The first was Dave Warren (The Ohio State Representative, and a member of the Council). Dave is a very gracious man, but I had to disagree with his characterization of the issue. Mainly, he asserted that the Bible does not teach secondary separation. He said secondary separation promotes an environment of fear and disunity (and even that it was unreasonable). Like those who followed him in dissenting from the Council’s decision, he made the issue about Cedarville.
The emotional pleas were prevalent in the opposition. For example, one man commented that a vote against Cedarville was like saying that every Cedarville graduate was unwelcome in the GARBC. This is not only fallacious— it is manipulative. There were some other arguments, but the last guy really overstepped the bounds of reason and made a statement that is at least misleading.
He is a member of the Cedarville Board of Trustees, and he asserted that Cedarville had always supported the position of the GARBC and was in agreement with the partnering policy. As evidence, he cited that they did actually sign the statement, but the Council did not accept their signature as valid. This is only partially true, and it leaves out one very significant point. Cedarville’s published statement regarding the partnering agreement says that they would be unethical and dishonest to sign it. This leaves me to wonder whether the published statement or the signing of the partnering agreement was untrue, but in either case, both can’t be true.
Although the majority of the comments came from those opposed to the Council’s recommendation, several men eloquently defended the Council’s decision. Tom Pryde, after quietly sitting on his hands for nearly three minutes, quietly but purposefully walked to the mic and proceeded to verbalize a biblical perspective pertaining to both the issue of separation and Cedarville. Tom stated that if separation is a biblical command, to not practice secondary separation is both inconsistent and unbiblical (you all would have been proud).
I was encouraged by what I saw and heard in this what could have been contentious meeting. I consider today’s meeting a victory for biblical fundamentalism, and am convinced that our association is headed in the right direction. Yet I am still left a bit perplexed by the association’s unwillingness to publicly address the dangers of unbiblical and anthropocentric models of ministry (i.e., integrationist psychology, Purpose-Driven paradigm, etc.). These issues must be addressed in the near future. Until then, I remain cautiously optimistic that our association is on the right track. Now for Tom’s final words…
There was a stand up vote on a proposed amendment supporting Cedarville that was soundly defeated, and if this is an indicator of the general direction of the association, I am also optimistic, though I may not be quite as optimistic as Ken. By the way, the votes were…
Vote 1: In regards to the adoption of the Council of 18 statement on separation –
The messengers of the GARBC voted to adopt the Council of 18 statement on separation.
Vote 2: In regards to officially separating from Cedarville as an association –
The messengers of the GARBC voted to officially separate from Cedarville as an association.
Looking at these results it seems clear to me that we still have some work to do, but we have a real opportunity to clarify and apply a solidly Biblical and reasonable position on separation.