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In 2013 Marc Bertrand and I (Paul Carter) co-founded a renewal movement called CLRA (pronounced like the lady’s name “Clara”) within the CBOQ (Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec). Our goal was to call our association back to its historical values and commitments. We did this mostly through conferences, blogs and resource sharing.

However, in 2017 a line was crossed which required us to take a more direct and confrontational approach. A church in our association stated publicly that they would now accept LGBTQ2 people into positions of leadership within the congregation. As such, later that same year, a group of CLRA churches collaborated on a motion, now known as “The Orillia Motion”, that reads as follows:

“In recognition that our current covenant, membership requirements and policies are not adequate for the new challenges we are facing as a family of CBOQ churches we propose that a committee be struck with the following mandate:

  1. To study, discuss and detail how churches can reach out to LGBTQ persons in love and Gospel concern without contradicting the clear teachings of the Bible concerning the sinfulness of homosexual behaviour and the essential goodness of God’s design for sexuality and gender.
  2. To adapt and update as necessary the document known as “This We Believe” towards the end of it serving as a summary of our core doctrines and practices and as the standard for church and clergy discipline within the CBOQ.
  3. To submit updated policies, covenant agreements and membership requirements in light of the above.

It is further proposed that said committee have representation from the full spectrum of CBOQ churches and that it be chaired by the Executive Minister Tim McCoy. The committee to report and to present the above requested documents for general discussion by March 1st 2018 towards the end of affirmation and adoption at Assembly 2018.”

Assembly was not given the opportunity to discuss the issue at length as a motion was made to refer the matter directly to the Board.

At that point we thought we had hit a wall.

It appeared that the leadership of the CBOQ was determined not to allow this discussion to take place. However, an interesting thing took place as many delegates from churches in the theological middle of the CBOQ became concerned by the obvious maneuvering on the part of the leadership to shut down and sideline this conversation. They began to make calls and to our great surprise, the issue made a surprise comeback on the following day’s agenda. The CBOQ Board released the following statement:

“Given the range of questions and suggestions that the CBOQ Board of Directors has received, it has tasked Executive Minister, Rev. Tim McCoy, to direct CBOQ staff to develop a plan addressing issues and challenges which may include social, philosophical and theological perspectives related to CBOQ identity and beliefs. Such options may include forums and/or consultations throughout the constituency. The Board is scheduled to receive and discuss the Executive Minister’s proposed plan at its fall 2017 meeting.”

Over the next two years committees were struck and meetings were held that honoured the spirit of that statement. Feedback was received, convictions were shared, conversations were facilitated and a massive underlying division was revealed.

When it came to ministry and outreach to the LGBTQ2 community, the CBOQ was a house divided. We had churches that were not welcoming, we had churches that welcomed without affirming, we had churches that welcomed and affirmed and we had churches that welcomed, affirmed, celebrated and that would ordain if that option were to become available. We even had one church actively working to ordain LGBTQ+ individuals independent of denominational sanction. Our diversity on this issue was patently unsustainable and for better or worse, everyone in the denomination was now aware of it. The new question became: what are we going to do about it?

CLRA’s argument, essentially, was that some church autonomy would have to be sacrificed in order to ensure and maintain Gospel integrity. The CBOQ had a number of theological statements and policy statements that laid out what we considered to be the foundation of a faithful and workable approach to ministry and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. The problem was that none of these statements and guidelines were binding upon member churches or licenced pastors. We were simply asking the CBOQ to police what they had approved.

Our ideological opponents within the denomination argued that local church autonomy was the primary Baptist distinctive and therefore any attempt to police or even confront churches acting according to their own conscience and conviction was inappropriate.

The matter came to a head at the 2020 Assembly. The discussion was complicated by the fact that COVID19 had forced us to meet online; thus the 2020 Assembly actually took place in 2021. Regardless, a number of clear motions were presented that would effectively force the denominational leaders to discipline churches and pastors that departed from our agreed upon policies and standards.

All of those motions were voted down.

The votes were not as one sided as I had anticipated – many were in the 40-60 range – but they were, nevertheless rejected. The CBOQ as an assembly had decided to prioritize local church autonomy over Gospel fidelity. Case closed. (For a more detailed review and analysis of CBOQ’s 2020 Assembly see here)

For me and for the church I pastor, that decision marked the logical end of our struggle. We had done what we had set out to do: we had tried to shine a light on some things that we felt were happening in the dark. We tried to call people back from a road we believe leads to ruin. We tried to push through the wall of bureaucratic interference to give the delegates a clear choice and a clear opportunity to declare themselves on the side of fidelity. And by the grace of God, we were able to do that. A conversation was facilitated, and a choice was made. It was not the choice we had prayed for, but it was a clear choice, and now, we felt, it was time for us to move on.

My friend and CLRA co-founder Marc Bertrand made the decision, along with his church leadership, to remain in the CBOQ, at least for a season. We thought it might be useful to explain why we each made the decisions that we did. We intend to do this over the course of 2 articles. This first one will attempt to set forth the reasons why I felt compelled to leave and why Marc made the decision to stay. The second article will explore what we learned over the course of this nearly 10 year long struggle about ourselves, the process of confrontation, the cost of conflict and the benefits of free will association.

Why I Left (Written By Paul Carter):

We voted unanimously as a congregation to leave the CBOQ in the fall of 2021 and we voted unanimously to join the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists (FEB) about 60 days later. While there are always innumerable factors speaking into a decision of this magnitude, the following 3 seem to have been uppermost in my heart and mind at the time:

Life is short

Marc and I began this journey almost a decade ago. It started out as a series of personal conversations, meetings and prayers. CLRA was born in 2013 but the struggle began, at least to some degree, back in 2011 and a decade is a really long time to be engaged in this kind of enterprise. As soon as we started knocking on this door we were blacklisted within our denomination. I remember Marc joking sometime around 2012 that there was a small file somewhere at head office labelled “People Who Must Never Be Allowed To Serve On The Board” and in it were just two names: his and mine.

In 2012 that might have been dismissed as paranoia but by 2019 it was considerably understated. We were mocked from the platform, jeered by colleagues and generally disdained by about 30% of the delegates at every Assembly. It was not persecution, by any stretch, but neither was it edifying or encouraging. I developed the habit of staring at my phone as I walked through the lobby at Assembly so that I wouldn’t see people pointing at me, though I could still hear them whispering: “There he is! That’s Paul Carter! He’s the guy who doesn’t want women or LGBTQ+ people to be ordained to the ministry.”

It was worth enduring that in order to facilitate a long overdue conversation – but once that conversation had been had and once the outcome of that decision had been recorded, to my reckoning, it was time to move on to greener pastures.

I was eager for fellowship.

I was eager to walk into a room filled with brother pastors who were happy to see me and who were eager to engage in conversation about positive, life-giving things. I missed talking about the Bible! I missed sharing stories about evangelism! I missed having someone ask if they could pray with me.

If I felt like we were making real progress, or if I felt like we were just one more Assembly from turning this whole thing around, I would have stayed. But I didn’t. I don’t. It looks to me like the CBOQ has made a choice and with conservative churches escaping out the back door I don’t see – apart from a miracle of God – any chance of renewal and reformation in my lifetime. So, I made the decision to move on and most of my board and many within our congregation wondered what had taken me so long to get there.

Conflict is bad for the soul

Conflict is necessary at times, but it is never pleasant. It calls out to something dark in the human soul. The Apostle Paul seemed aware of this danger. He said:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

The simple truth is that we believed that some of our pastoral colleagues were sinning in terms of what they were teaching and affirming and some of our denominational leaders were sinning by protecting them and stifling all attempts at discussion and discipline. We felt compelled to address these matters but doing so was hazardous to our souls – at least, it certainly was to mine.

The warning at the end of Galatians 6:1 felt entirely prophetic:

I felt tempted toward arrogance.

I felt tempted toward excessive anger.

I felt tempted toward outright disdain.

I felt tempted toward revenge.

I felt tempted toward self-pity.

I felt tempted toward slander.

Prolonged exposure to any of those temptations is detrimental to faith. I can honestly say that I was aware of those temptations more or less constantly for the almost 10 years we were engaged in this struggle. I wish I could say that I never gave into them, but that would be a lie. I said some arrogant things. I wrote a humdinger of a letter that I would really like to have back. I felt superior to certain people. I was angry – really angry – on a couple of occasions. There was a phone call I wish had never happened. There are a few conversations with friends when I was definitely whining about my very insignificant sufferings.

It felt at that time like we were engaged in a real-life Kobayashi Maru. How do you write a blog intending to undermine a position you consider illogical and short sighted, without sounding arrogant and dismissive? How do you take a stand against your denominational authorities without appearing disrespectful and rebellious? There is probably a way to do that but I definitely struggled to find it and I spent a great deal of time over those years reviewing with suspicion my own actions, attitudes and ambitions.

Overall, I think I would give myself a C+.

I did what I felt conscience bound to do – horribly at first, then marginally better, then with a certain level of dignity and proficiency toward the end before ultimately failing to achieve our objective – and moving on.

Hardly a performance to write home about!

But I survived with my soul intact and for that I am profoundly thankful.

Would I do it again if required?

Of course! But anyone who loves conflict or who seems to go looking for it must have a screw loose, in my opinion. Conflict is, to steal a phrase, “the strange work” of the pastor and must never be his bread and butter. You do it when you have to do it, but once your duty is discharged, you move on to that which is normal and central. My heart’s call is to preach the Word and to build up the local church, so for me, once our motions were defeated and the will of Assembly made clear, it was time – glorious time – to move on.

Association matters

At first glance that might seem to be an odd motivation for disassociation, but I don’t think it is at all. I believe in association. I believe in its potential value and impact on a local church, and on a local church pastor, but one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that for that association to be meaningful, functional and edifying, it has to be undergirded by broad and comprehensive theological agreement. It can’t just be association for the sake of association. It can’t just be association for the sake of mission. In the CBOQ one of the reasons frequently given for suppressing conversation about our theological differences was that we aspired to be a missiological association as opposed to a theological association.

But what in the world does that mean?

How can we partner in the mission if we don’t agree as to what the mission is?

How can we partner in the Gospel if we don’t agree as to what the Gospel is?

For any association to have value it has to be based upon truth. It has to be based upon a shared set of values and an agreed upon set of beliefs and standards. Once you have that in place, there really is no limit to what you can do. You don’t have to do everything together, but you can do whatever you feel would be usefully done in team.

You can train pastors together.

You can plant churches together.

You can support missions together.

You can fund resources together.

I went 10 years without those things and as Grandma used to say, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

My church benefitted immediately from our change in association. Our board was able to receive training from a denominational coach. Our Associate Pastors were able to connect with a wider circle of like-minded colleagues. I was able to enjoy fellowship and training at a recent pastoral conference. We were able to adopt and generously support a special offering project without wondering what this money would really be used for.

It felt good.

It was noticeably and refreshingly good.

I’m sure my new association isn’t perfect, but it is undergirded by broad, clear, comprehensive theological agreement with a commitment to police that agreement and a verifiable track record of having done so.

I feel confident that we made the right decision in leaving the CBOQ, but I respect those of my colleagues who made the difficult decision to stay. Here to share his perspective and the factors that influenced his eventual decision is my friend and CLRA co-founder Marc Bertrand.

Why I Stayed (Written by Marc Bertrand):

My beard got caught in the door.

That was the joking comment that Paul suggested when he sent me his portion of this article, intending that I would delete it and offer a better explanation in its place. But it works as a decent metaphor to explain how I, and the church I pastor, are still part of the CBOQ.

My arrival at Assembly this past spring was met with regular surprise. Many pastors knew that the CLRA group of churches had withdrawn from the denomination over the past year, and it was presumed that I was among them. I am pleased to say that, although many expressed surprise to see me, none expressed disappointment. In fact, some, who would differ from me on a number of points of doctrine, expressed great appreciation for my continued presence.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2021 ‘Online’ Assembly (which Paul has outlined in his account) I saw no point in continuing on with the CBOQ. Not only had motions, which I believe should have carried, been defeated, but the extreme liberalism of certain churches was being openly declared both in comments made on the Assembly floor and in regularly emailed invitations to events by the group known as ‘The Gathering of Baptists’. (If CLRA was the ‘right wing’ of the CBOQ, then the Gathering is the ‘left wing’.) Neither are officially recognized or sanctioned associations, but both have existed at some point in the CBOQ, and both were unofficially recognized by most pastors.

In the months following that meeting I sat down with a number of different pastors and leaders within the denomination at their invitation. The nature of these conversations was always one of two themes. On the one hand I had leaders of significant influence within the denomination make a case for CLRA to stay and to maintain a ‘prophetic’ presence in the CBOQ. On the other hand I had a number of pastors who had never been part of the CLRA contact me with grave concern about the trajectory the CBOQ now found itself upon. These leaders were asking what had been done previously and what might yet be done to alter course. To the first group I listened patiently, but without much desire to comply with their entreaty; to the second I explained as best as I could what had been done, and what might yet be done. But in my heart I had every intention to depart and find fellowship with a like-minded body of churches.

The Lord, for his own providential purposes, has led me into a valley over the past number of years. Although my body is not afflicted, my emotional strength and mental well-being have been far from strong. I have told my wife that it feels as if sadness clings to me, rarely do I have a night of settled sleep without the sense that I have been a failure and a disappointment to many people; and I cannot deny that I have. This situation was extant before the pandemic began, and it was exacerbated by that event. Our church, like so many others, was reduced through the pandemic. We lost people who thought we were too compliant with the government in regards to restrictions; we lost people who thought we were too lax in our observations of the restrictions; we lost people who gave no reason for departure, but simply faded away. When the autumn meeting of the deacons came, I presented my case for departure from the CBOQ and was surprised that a couple of my eldest leaders warned that the church was in a fragile state, due to matters related to Covid, and would not weather well the process of changing denominations at this point.

I didn’t think they were wrong, and I didn’t feel emotionally hardy enough to press the point; gone, for the time, are the days when I felt strong enough to swim against every current. I did assert that if we are to remain, it cannot be in silent disagreement or in self-imposed isolation as a ‘pseudo-independent’ church; we must contend for truth, we must engage with the denomination to do what is right. (At that moment it very much felt like my beard was caught in the door.) I wanted to go, but it would cost me more than I was willing to pay to depart, it would mean adding division to an already divided church; and struggling against leaders I needed to struggle alongside me.

So we remained.

I think I know a little of what Elijah felt like on the day after the showdown with the prophets of Baal, when he went away and sat down and asked the Lord to take away his life.  Exhausted at the struggle, and disheartened by the result. We get an idea of what is right. We contend with all our might. But at the end of it all, it doesn’t look anything like what we thought it would look like; then the Lord reminds us that we aren’t looking at the final product yet. Our timeline isn’t God’s timeline. Our vision isn’t God’s vision.

So I returned to Assembly 2022.

A clerical error resulted in my being registered for Assembly, but without voting privileges. It is possible that I could have corrected the situation with a few calls and emails at the last moment, but with no motions being presented from the floor, I presumed I wouldn’t be called upon to cast a deciding vote on any important doctrinal matters. The Assembly, however, was far from what I anticipated.

There are no random arrows in this world (see my sermon by that title for a fuller explanation), or as Spurgeon once preached: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes”. As Assembly began the surprise announcement was the Executive Minister, Tim McCoy, had tested positive with Covid the evening before and would not be able to attend. I have a genuine affection for Tim, he has a gift of calming a room quickly, and I believe for this reason he was providentially excluded from the meeting.

The board report, given by a representative of the board, gave notice of a coming change of operation from the board. The original ‘domino’ set in motion by First Baptist Orillia a number of years ago and referred almost immediately to the Board has been slowly making its way through the process and has resulted in a recommendation to review our ‘Covenant Agreement’ (one of our official documents) and consider whether there are churches that are enacting practices that do not align with the Covenant Agreement. The framing was vague, but it felt like a movement towards reform. I believe the entire room felt the move towards reform, even in the vague language of the CBOQ Board.

This sense brought people to the microphones to ask their questions. The liberals sought some assurance that no ‘binding’ doctrinal statement would be imposed upon them. With no CLRA pastors in the room, save one, and me without any right to speak to a motion, I was amazed to hear pastors, hitherto silent on these matters, express the need to discipline and even dismiss churches from the denomination. Churches were called out by name for teaching and practice outside of our covenant agreements. The board was called to task for making statements that lead to nothing. The ‘illegal applause’ in the room reinforced my sense that reform was on the mind of many. These were my impressions of the meeting.

For nearly an hour the questions and comments flowed from the floor. The board report was finally approved, although this approval has no real bearing on the question of orthodoxy or orthopraxy, it simply means that next year we should have an official document from the board to decide upon.

What led so many to speak who had not spoken before? I believe that CLRA had a role in much of that, both in their activist state in raising the issues faithfully before the denomination, and even in their departure which alarmed the moderates at the thought that the conservative balance was being reduced. I also believe that the liberal churches had a hand in this.

During these ‘online’ years they have overplayed their hand, making statements and sending out invitations to events so shocking, that the moderates, who had managed to deny for many years that the situation was as dire as the CLRA churches painted it, were rudely awakened to the true decay of the denomination.

I am ever an optimist; so I am often disappointed. But I will state here my sincere hope that the CBOQ has the courage to recognize that ‘Baptist Autonomy’ does not mean unrestricted freedom to believe, teach and practice whatever the local church decides. There are eight major baptist denominations in Canada, and only one that has no formal statement of belief that all member churches are required to abide by.  It is my sincere hope that next year there are no baptist denominations in Canada without some form of doctrinal agreement. To that end I will continue to pray, and publicly speak, and in private conversation urge churches and pastors.

 

– Marc Bertrand

 


In the next article in this series Marc and I will try and lay out the lessons that we learned over this decade long experience of conflict. Given that we are both busy pastors who have fallen somewhat out of the rhythm of frantic blog writing, I can’t say for sure when that article will be ready for publication, but when it does come out, you will find it here.

SDG,

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.

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