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I would like to publicly congratulate Flat Rock Baptist Church of Mt. Airy, North Carolina for its courage in following God’s leading, even at the cost of being spurned by kindred congregations.

And I would like to congratulate a group of pastors and messengers to the Surry Baptist Association for demonstrating just how harsh and damaging an inerrantist, literalist interpretation of scripture can be in the hands of those who pursue “doctrinal purity.”

We can learn from both examples.

Flat Rock Baptist Church, feeling led by the Spirit of God, recently called Bailey Edwards Nelson to serve as pastor. Nelson, a talented and committed 28-year-old recent graduate of the McAfee School of Theology, just happens to be a woman.

Within two weeks, a group of “concerned pastors” in the association felt the need to respond, being locked into the same rigid and inadequate understanding of scripture that led fundamentalist theologians of the new Southern Baptist Convention to promote a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message statement that, among other things, removed Christ as the criterion for interpreting scripture, rejected the priesthood of the believer, and restricted women from service as pastors. 

To remain consistent with their inconsistent interpretive approach (which picks and chooses which texts to take literally), said pastors determined it was their sad duty (see article from the Surry Association website) to offer Flat Rock Baptist the opportunity to demonstrate unity with the association (possible only through firing the new pastor), or to be lovingly booted from fellowship.

Knowing a lost cause when they saw it, the Flat Rock folk declined to participate in a formal discussion with a foregone conclusion, while 80 percent of those who did participate voted to exclude the church from the association.

Those who can’t see through their inerrancy-fogged glasses will miss the opportunity to observe a vibrant ministry unfolding at Flat Rock, and that’s a shame. But those Flat Rock members who were courageous enough to risk listening to God will see blessings aplenty.

Such is my belief. I’ve seen women do incredible work as pastors, and I know too many gifted women whose leadership has been lost to the churches because too many congregations are afraid to step beyond human-forged bars and dare to hear the voice of a God who is generous and free and capable of calling whoever God chooses to the sacred service of pastoring God’s people.

May it not always be so.

[Church photo from the Flat Rock Baptist Church website, Nelson’s photo from Associated Baptist Press.]

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