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Southern Baptists of Texas Consider Ties With Missionary Baptist School

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The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a group of churches that five years ago broke away from the Baptist General Convention of Texas seeking stronger ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, is reaching out to non-Southern Baptists as well.

The SBTC executive board is preparing to vote on establishing an affiliation with Jacksonville College, a 105-year-old, 200-student junior college owned and operated by the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas.

The 450-church BMA of Texas approved a recommendation at its annual meeting Nov. 10-12 allowing the college to “partner” with the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas “as a resource for their educational needs,” according to a news report on the BMA’s Web site.

The partnership agreement, which is not yet finalized, would include enlarging the size of the college’s board from 13 trustees to 15, giving two seats to representatives of the SBCT. In return,
“the convention will endorse the school, designate a portion of its budget toward it and encourage its use by affiliated churches,” according to a separate report.

Richard Smith, president of the BMA of Texas, called his group’s approval of the partnership “a great day for Texas Baptists.”

The SBTC, which first approached the college earlier this year about possible affiliation, cited the school’s “high view of Scripture” in a story in the convention’s newspaper, the Southern Baptist Texan. “Once again, we find common ground in the belief about the inerrancy¬†of Scripture and the doctrines that flow from it,” said Jim Richards, the SBTC’s executive director.

The arrangement in a sense brings full circle a schism over missions methodology dividing Texas Baptists for more than a century.

The BMA of Texas comes out of the Landmark tradition, which historically emphasized autonomy of the local church and rejected bodies like conventions and mission boards that moved authority beyond direct control of local congregations.

The first Baptist Missionary Association split from the Baptist General Convention of Texas came in 1900. The Baptist Missionary Association of America, of which the BMA of Texas is a part, subsequently broke off of the American Baptist Association in 1950, and represents a more moderate form of Landmarkism, according to historian Leon McBeth.

“Over the years they (the BMAA) have absorbed many emphases of the Fundamentalist movement, in some ways the successor of the Landmark movement among Baptists,” McBeth wrote in his 1987 book The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness.

They retain vestiges of the Old Landmark tradition, however, in their opposition to “open communion,” allowing church non-members to receive the Lord’s Supper, and “alien baptism,” the receiving of members who have not been baptized by immersion in a Baptist church.

The BMAA maintains a seminary, a radio and television ministry, an annuity and benefit agency, an Armed Forces chaplaincy committee, a research and news service, a camp ground, a bookstore, a youth department and a publishing house, according to its Web site. It also publishes a monthly mission magazine.

The SBTC, founded in November 1998, describes itself in a mission statement as “Southern Baptist churches in theological agreement, committed to missiological activity through the methodological approach of the Cooperative Program” (the SBC’s unified budget).

The SBTC lists 1,402 churches on its Web site, but many are dually aligned with the BGCT.

Lynn Stephens, editor of the BMA’s Baptist Progress newspaper, said in an editorial on the proposed partnership that it is “imperative that Bible-believing Christians not remain in isolation from one another, but seek ways to work together with those who march under the Lordship of Christ, whose manual is the Bible, God’s inerrant word, and whose mission is the Great Commission given to the church by Christ. Let’s move ahead and not look back.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.