Christ Tabernacle Misisonary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, has called sex-predator Darrell Gilyard as a pastor. The Jacksonville Baptist Association besought the church to resign its membership from the association, and apparently the church has agreed to withdraw from the JBA (see story in the Florida Baptist Witness).
Southern Baptists are non-connectional. The actions of the local association have no automatic impact upon Christ Tabernacle's relationship with the Florida Baptist Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention. It is imperative that both of these bodies act quickly to encourage this errant church to correct its mistake or to leave Southern Baptist life at all tiers. Following are several reasons why:
Withdrawal of fellowship is the only punitive action open to Southern Baptist cooperative structures. We have no authority to remove Gilyard, to replace the church's leadership, to seize the church's property, or to end the church's existence. Local churches in Southern Baptist life are autonomous. We do, however, have the authority to determine which churches are those with whom we walk in cooperative fellowship. Unless they repent, Christ Tabernacle must be removed from that fellowship.
Church action is the appropriate subject matter for the withdrawal of fellowship. In most cases of sexual misconduct, the congregation is more of a victim than is the association, the state convention, or the SBC. Of course, the actual individual victims have suffered more than the congregation has suffered, but usually the entire congregation has been deceived and wronged. In most cases, the congregation will mourn, grieve, and suffer for years to come for the way that they all have been betrayed. Sister churches should assist and encourage one another in such situations rather than excluding one another.
In this case, however, the church is not being deceived. with full knowledge of Gilyard's past, Christ Tabernacle is deliberately placing this man in a position to continue his predatory ways.
Historically, gross error in the selection of pastors has been among the most widely recognized grounds for disfellowshipping churches from Baptist associations. The first Baptist Association in this country, the Philadelphia Baptist Association, gave on the day of its formation this reason for its existence:
It was then agreed, that a person that is a stranger, that has neither letter of recommendation, nor is known to be a person gifted, and of a good [moral lifestyle], shall not be admitted to preach, nor be entertained as a member in any of the baptized congregations in communion with each other.
It is a late, flawed idea in Baptist life that a local congregation's decision to call a pastor is no business of the other congregations in fellowship with that church. The PBA later wrote a lengthy essay on "the authority and power of an association of churches" in which they said, in part:
Independent churches…entering into an agreement and confederation…must be agreeing in doctrine and practice, and independent in their authority and church power, before they can enter into a confederation, as aforesaid, and choose delegates or representatives, to associate together; and thus the several independent churches being the constituents, the association, council or assembly of their delegates, when assembled, is not to be deemed a superior judicature, as having a superintendency over the churches, but subservient to the churches, in what may concern all the churches in general, or any one church in particular; and, though no power can regularly arise above its fountain from where it rises, yet we are of opinion, that an Association of the delegates of associate churches have a very considerable power in their hands, respecting those churches in their confederation; for if the agreement of several distinct churches, in sound doctrine and regular practice, be the first motive, ground, and foundation or basis of their confederation, then it must naturally follow, that a defection in doctrine or practice in any church, in such confederation, or any party in any such church, is ground sufficient for an Association to withdraw from such a church or party so deviating or making defection, and to exclude such from them in some formal manner, and to advertise all the churches in confederation thereof, in order that every church in confederation may withdraw from such in all acts of church communion, to the end they may be ashamed, and that all of the churches may discountenance such, and bear testimony against the defection.
Such withdrawing from a defective or disorderly church, or that ought to be towards a delinquent church, is such as ariseth from their voluntary confederation aforesaid, and not only from the general duty that is incumbent upon all orthodox persons and churches to do, where no such confederation is entered into, as 2 Cor. vi. 16, 17. Now, from that general duty to withdraw from defective persons or churches, there can no more be done, than to desist from such acts of fellowship as subsisted before the withdrawing, which is merely negative, and in no wise any thing positive. Churches, as they are pillars of truth, may, and ought to endeavor to promote truth among others also; which endeavors, if they prove fruitless, as they are but mystico modo, they may be withdrawn; the withdrawing, therefore, must be accordingly; which is only to cease from future endeavors, leaving the objects as they were or are. But if there be a confederation and incorporation, by mutual and voluntary consent, as the Association of churches must and ought to be, then something positive may and ought to be done; and, though an Association ought not to assume a power to excommunicate or deliver a defective or disorderly church to Satan, as some do claim, yet it is a power sufficient to exclude the delegates of a defective or disorderly church from an Association, and to refuse their presence at their consultations, and to advise all the churches in confederation to do so too…
-Benjamin Griffith, "Essay," adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association on September 19, 1749, in Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, form A.D. 1707, to A.D. 1807; Being the First One Hundred Years of Its Existence, ed. A. D. Gillette (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851; Reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer), 60-63.
What any individual member does is a matter for church discipline within the local congregation. What a congregation does is a matter for associational disfellowshipping. The church's action to hire Gilyard is precisely the sort of thing to which Southern Baptist cooperative bodies can and must respond.
Gilyard is not qualified to serve as a pastor-elder-overseer in a Southern Baptist church. Yes, he can be forgiven. Yes, the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient even for gross, detestable sin (indeed, all of our sin is gross and detestable to God). Yes, he needs to be a MEMBER at some church somewhere, and that church needs to help him by keeping a careful watch on him and guiding him toward restoration and spiritual growth.
However, he is not qualified to be a pastor and will NEVER AGAIN be qualified to be a pastor. He is not above reproach. He is not prudent. He is not respectable. He does not have a good reputation with those outside the church. He does not meet the biblical qualifications. To call him as a pastor is to sin flagrantly against the will of Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church. Any church that does such a thing and refuses to repent of their action is no church with which FBC Farmersville enjoys or wishes to enjoy fellowship.
Disfellowshipping in this case has started with the local association, and that's how it is SUPPOSED to work. Too many of our local associations are compromised dens of iniquity who can't see their Bibles for having covered it up with the financial statement. The Southern Baptist Convention has had to take the lead in withdrawing fellowship from too many local churches in recent years. State conventions have courageously taken the lead in some circumstances. Local associations need to be the leaders in cases like this. Praise God for Jacksonville Baptist Association. They have done the right thing. The Florida Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention need to act quickly to affirm them in this.