PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Disagreeing over church policy. Or is it doctrine?
Back in June, the evangelical denomination known as the Christian and Missionary Alliance voted to ordain female ministers and open up the titles of “pastor” and “reverend” to women.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Around two-thirds of delegates voted in favor of the change at the semi-annual national council in Spokane, Washington.
ALLIANCE COUNCIL CHAIR: The ayes have it, [Spontaneous applause] The motion is succeeded.
BUTLER: While the CMA retains titles of “elder” and “lead pastor” for men only, some member churches have decided to leave rather than accept the denomination’s decision. And that decision is costing some congregations more than just a name change.
BROWN: WORLD intern Caleb Welde brings us the story.
CALEB WELDE, INTERN: Alliance Bible Fellowship in Boone, North Carolina, was one of the first churches to leave the CMA in June. Lead Pastor Scott Andrews says the church’s elders disagreed with the denomination’s reasoning that a centrist stance would prove more effective in fulfilling the Great Commision.
ANDREWS: When they made this decision, all of a sudden, they're in a different stream within the pale of orthodoxy that we felt comfortable with. And we felt like it was an issue of biblical authority. We felt like it was bending to the whims of culture, if I can be frank.
As word spread of their departure from the CMA, pastors from across the country have called Andrews wondering what to do.
ANDREWS: 15 different states, multiple churches within those states. Some are, have already left, some are in discussions about leaving.
While the CMA allowed the Boone church to keep their buildings, other churches have lost their properties after deciding to leave.
In August, the congregation of Connection Point Church in Arizona voted 107 to 0 to dissociate from the CMA. Dave Hodgdon is lead pastor.
HODGDON: I think I was as shocked as anybody that it was a unanimous vote.
But the response from the district was quick.
HODGDON: We handed over the keys and there was a locksmith at the church changing all the locks right after church. I in fact, thought that was the new pastor. I asked one of the folks that was there from the district. I said, Hey, is this the new pastor? He goes, no that's a locksmith.
The Arizona congregation offered the district six hundred thousand dollars to stay on the property, but their request was denied. The congregation held services in the mountains the next Sunday.
HODGDON: 115 of us up there, sang our hearts out and and shared the Word and had a meal together.
Casey Gordon was the associate pastor at Connection Point.
GORDON: So we actually just put up a new fellowship hall. The building itself, by the time we were said and done, to finish work, new parking lot, we were in at around $800,000.
He says the congregation raised those funds with no outstanding liabilities.
The Christian and Missionary and Alliance handbook provides guidance for situations like this. It includes a “reversion clause” stating that church assets go to the denomination in the event of separation. However, if the dispute is due to doctrinal differences, the local church can appeal to keep their buildings and resources.
Terry Smith is the CMA’s vice president for Church Ministries, overseeing the denomination’s 25 districts. He says the recent vote is not doctrinal.
Welde Terry Smith Interview.wav
SMITH: It's a disagreement over polity that may or may not have roots in doctrine, depending on how you interpret it. We have always had a big tent in the Alliance. So we're not Arminian. And we're not Calvinists, but we have both in the Alliance, allowing for folks to see scripture differently on those issues. And we'll all find out the truth someday when we stand before Jesus.
Smith describes the Alliance as a family and expressed sadness over the churches that have left.
SMITH: We pray nothing but God's best for them as they continue to faithfully preach the gospel in their community.
But pastors across the country are expressing frustration at the lack of direction from the national office. Scott Andrews in North Carolina again.
ANDREWS: They led in this decision, but now they're not leading in the fallout, because they're saying, well, we'll let the districts decide if they're going to apply the reversionary clause. Well, you led in this, lead in that too, and tell them to stop, stop seizing property, stop seizing, you're putting these churches, who are the same churches that they were six months ago, you're forcing them out.
Smith says the CMA’s statement of faith covers the clear doctrinal issues, and that this issue is not one of them. Pastor Gordon in Arizona sees things differently.
GORDON: Of course it's a doctrinal decision. I mean, let's not beat around the bush here. I mean, the language that was chosen to put it out there as polity was certainly chosen for this very reason. I think it holds you hostage. It holds your congregation hostage to what you clearly see as going against God's Word.
Paul Taylor pastored Discovery Alliance Church in Montana until early October when the Rocky Mountain District enforced the reversion clause there. The Montana church now meets in a borrowed building as Redeemer Bible Church.
TAYLOR: There are some pastors in our district that are weighing these things out. And when they see a church like us lose everything, it's like, well, I don't know if we want to do that.
Other churches have decided to stay in the denomination. Jeremy Muncy and Andrew Ballach are pastors at Westwood Alliance Church in Mansfield, Ohio. After the June vote, they formed the OneNineAlliance with six other pastors. Muncy says they’re seeking to connect like-minded churches and redirect the denomination back toward scriptural authority.
MUNCY: We truly believe that if you hold firm to the truth, and you're doing it in the power of the Holy Spirit, that ultimately that is going to protect the gospel. Doctrine matters. But at the same time, we don't want to decouple doctrine from the Great Commission, and from a love for Christ and a love to just obey Him.
Ballach says they’ve had several hundred pastors reach out to them, churches that are unhappy with the direction of the denomination, yet committed to working for change from within.
BALLACH: The Lord has placed us in this denomination, we see it as a stewardship, and we want to create space for as many people to stay in the family and continue the priorities of the Alliance for as long as we can.
For WORLD, I’m Caleb Welde, reporting from Boone, North Carolina.
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