Submission to the Baptist Union regarding same-sex marriage and local church autonomy

The Baptist Churches of New Zealand is currently undertaking a consultation process with member churches in relation to the following matters:

  1. The current Assembly position in relation to same-sex relationships
  2. The current Assembly position in relation to same-sex marriage
  3. Implications and issues relating to the autonomy of local Baptist churches and limits thereof, particularly in relation to the issue of same-sex marriage

Howick Baptist Church have made a submission to the working party.

The working party will report back to member churches on the submissions that have been received at this year’s Baptist Gathering.

About our submission

Our submission consists of two documents.

The first is a members submission regarding Christian marriage and sexuality (this was unanimously approved by the church membership on 27 November 2013). You can find the text for our first document here.

The second is a short statement from the pastors and elders specifically relating to church autonomy, which was not covered in the members submission. This was approved by the HBC elders on 25 August 2014. We have reproduced the second document in full below (you can also download the text here).

 

 


Submission on Same-Sex Marriage and Church Autonomy 

From the Pastors and Elders of Howick Baptist Church

20 August 2014

 

Introduction

This submission comes in addition to our submission on same-sex marriage which was unanimously supported by our church membership. What we have endeavoured to do is send a short statement from the Pastors and Elders specifically relating to church autonomy which was not covered in our members submission.

 

Christian Sexual Ethics

Tantamount to this discussion is determining what is the sexual ethic of the Christian church.

We believe a key text is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV):

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:9-11 (ESV)

Without going into a full exposition, we understand this text to say that salvation in Christ will bring about a marked change in our lives. We understand that fornication, homosexual sex and all forms of sexual immorality are not consistent with the kingdom of God. The only relationship in which sexual expression glorifies the name of Christ is that between a man and woman, united in marriage.

Therefore we understand that those churches which promote sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage, are explicitly working against the kingdom of God. This includes those pastors who would marry same-sex couples, and those churches which allow practicing homosexuals into membership.

 

Autonomy and Sexual Ethics

We believe that as a member church of the Baptist Union of New Zealand, we are to be on mission together to see the expansion of the kingdom of God.

We submit that the pastors and congregations that promote and bless same-sex marriage have chosen to abandon this mission. Instead of promoting this mission and testifying to the salvation of Christ for our sin, they instead have chosen to promote the sin for which Christ died.

However, we recognise that as plain as this appears to many of us who hold to an orthodox, biblical sexual ethic; we question whether the Baptist Union has made a commitment to this sexual ethic a clear expectation of member churches. We also understand that local churches enjoy congregational autonomy, which we wish to uphold.

While we see great merit in confessionalism, with a full detailed doctrinal statement (for example the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Westminister Confession etc) we recognise that it would be a near impossible task for our denomination of 250 churches to adopt and agree upon such a level of doctrinal certainty. We are too diverse for that, but at the same time, we need to articulate which common truths we are defined by.

We suggest that:

  • the Baptist Union develop ‘Standards of Unity’ or a ‘doctrinal umbrella’ of core orthodox beliefs, including a biblical sexual ethic;
  • those churches which choose not to pursue unity under this umbrella, will be invited to leave.

 

The Standards of Unity

We propose that the Standards of Unity be based around the ‘Articles of Faith‘ listed in the Baptist Union Incorporation Act of 1923. They are:

  1. The inspiration of the Bible and its authority in all matters of faith and practice.
  2. The true humanity and Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. The atonement made by our Lord on the Cross for the sin of the world.
  4. Salvation by faith in Christ alone.
  5. Membership in the Christian Church for the regenerate.
  6. The immersion of believers as the only scriptural form of baptism.

We suggest that these Articles of Faith be looked at afresh, with revisions and additions to be considered in light of the challenges of the present day. We suggest the addition of statements regarding the following:

  1. The Trinity: One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in accordance with the Nicene Creed.
  2. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
  3. Marriage as being between one man and one woman alone, being the only sexual union blessed by God.
  4. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism as the only two sacraments of the church.
  5. A day where all will be judged by Jesus Christ in righteousness. The righteous receiving eternal life and the wicked receiving eternal punishment.

 

Practical outworkings

The Baptist Union will not be characterised by unity unless the terms of that unity are defined.

We do not believe the autonomy of the local church will be compromised if a church is given sufficient time to make the decision to leave the Union. As this initiative will constitute a ‘shifting of the goalposts’ by the Union, we suggest that grace be shown to those congregations who find themselves outside of the Standards of Unity.

Thus, we propose that:

  • A congregation be allowed to leave the Union and keep their buildings, land and assets; on the provision that they leave within two years of the implementation of the Standards of Unity, and receive a vote of support from 75% of the membership.
  • All existing churches should be allowed to ‘re-covenant’ with the Union. Failure to do so within two years will lead to expulsion.

We expect that if those congregations who would bless sexual sin are allowed to remain within the Union, then those who do not wish to see the name of Christ dishonoured will in time choose to leave themselves.

 

 


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