New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, whose president Dr. Chuck Kelley, found herself  some years back in opposition with the Executive Committee’s organizational interpretation.  The reason for such opposition was the interpretation of polity in the SBC.  Each entity is autonomous and as such make their own decisions.  Add to that legal matters and the involvement of lawyers interpretations of various state laws and you have a recipe for separation plain and simple.  However, we did not separate.  This matter was resolved the Southern Baptist way.  At the annual meting the Executive Committee presented its argument and NOBTS, through Dr. Kelley, presented its argument.  Dr. Kelley asked the convention to allow him to present an alternative plan and at the following convention a plan was presented by NOBTS.  After these debates New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees voted on sole membership as the convention directed.

When the NOBTS trustees were gathering information concerning their position Dr. Kelley was asked to give them historical information.  The historical background for NOBTS’s  position was placed in a paper that clearly defines the polity that we as Southern Baptist operate within.  The Baptist Way: A Personal Perspective is the paper presented to the trustees for their consideration.  It is a fifteen page document that contains an excellent review of Southern Baptist history concerning the doctrine of autonomy.  One thing Dr. Kelley says that rings loud concerns the Priesthood of Believers.  Dr. Kelley laments the brevity of the paper concerning the omission of this important doctrine.

Enjoy the paper, it certainly is something worthy of all Southern Baptists attention.

  1. Steve Lemke says:

    Thanks for pointing out the doctrinal basis of Dr. Kelley’s concerns about “sole membership.” It was a courageous stand on what he believed to be bedrock Baptist doctrine, knowing all the time that this stand would be misrepresented as being uncooperative with Executive Committee, not wanting to be owned by the SBC, or opening a door to NOBTS leaving the SBC (which is literally impossible according to the NOBTS charter). It was this doctrinal issue that was his foundational concern.

    However, there was also another issue that was not well understood. Louisana law is different from the law in all the other 49 states. Napoleonic law is the basis of Lousiana law, whereas British Common Law is the basis for all the other states. That difference means that the details of the law go in some very different and unintuitive directions. To practice law in Louisiana, you have to graduate from a Louisiana law school. Standard contracts and documents that work well in the other 49 states don’t always work in Louisiana. So it was with sole membership. The actual effect of sole membership in Louisiana (based on the advice of Louisiana lawyers and some judges in positions of significance) is actually the opposite of what the Executive Committee sought to achieve with sole membership — it makes the Executive Committee and other SBC entities more vulnerable, not less vulnerable, to a lawsuit with ascending liabiliity. What Dr. Kelley was trying to tell the convention is that it is in their best legal and financial interest to deal with NOBTS differently in this regard, but his warnings went unheeded. We hope the SBC doesn’t have to pay a big price some day for disregarding his warnings.

    Nonetheless, NOBTS was happy to comply with the Convention’s direction. We are, after all, an entity of the SBC.

  2. Tim Rogers says:

    Dr. Lemke,

    Certainly, Dr. Kelley was painted as trying to retain control. His public argument that, I believe, lost it for him was when he said if the convention ever went back to a liberal bend we would not be able to rescue the seminaries. The reason I say that, is if we would have had sole membership in place back in 1979 the very next year the trustees would have had lead the seminaries out of the convention, thus resulting in legal battles, or they would have had to begin doing what trustees are supposed to do, guard the trust for the members of the convention. However, after seeing some of the things going on in various areas of our convention I believe Dr. Kelley had a great point.

    As to “priesthood of believers” I would like to see Dr. Kelley’s take on that concerning elder-rule and even elder-led congregations.