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On Sunday June 14th Pastor Justin Joplin from Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga preached a sermon on “The Pearl of Great Price” in which he announced that he was coming out as a transgender woman. The climax of the sermon contained these words, which came as a surprise to most of the people in the congregation, “Hi, friends. Hi, family. My name is Junia. You can call me June. I am a transgender woman, and my pronouns are she and her.”

You can watch the sermon here.

You can see the CBC article celebrating the sermon here.

For many observers of the CBOQ this development did not come as a complete surprise. The denomination has been trending leftward for the better part of a century and it has now landed more or less where many predicted that it would.

Full Disclosure:

I have been a pastor in the CBOQ since 1999. I was an Associate Pastor at Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga from 1999-2006. At the time Lorne Park was generally known as a middle of the road evangelical church with a commendable passion for works of charity and benevolence in the local community. It was that reputation precisely which attracted me to them.

In 1999 I was a middle of the road evangelical myself, however near the end of my time there my convictions were leading me toward a more traditional hermeneutic with respect to the text of Scripture and a more classically reformed understanding of soteriology (how people are saved). As such I amicably parted ways with the church and took a position as Lead Pastor within a more theologically and missiologically aligned congregation.

In 2013 a fellow CBOQ Pastor and I began a renewal movement within our denomination seeking biblical reform. We were both alarmed by the rather rapid leftward drift within our association. We identified a root that we believed would lead to precisely this kind of fruit.

How We Went From There To Here:

In 2014 my colleague and I wrote an article called “Canaries In The Coalmine”[1]. In it we detailed two current manifestations within the CBOQ that provided compelling evidence of an underlying theological rot that demanded urgent attention from the association as a whole. One of those manifestations had to do with a pastor in our denomination who had preached a series of sermons suggesting that the Bible is not concerned with the matter of homosexual behavior. In one of the sermons the pastor boldly asserted that the Apostle Paul was biased and his counsel was not to be taken as authoritative and should not be considered infallible or applicable to the current conversation about human sexuality.

My colleague, Marc Bertrand, attempted to deal with this pastor personally, but to no avail. He then attempted to deal with the situation through the local association and was rebuked for so doing by two different CBOQ denominational officials. In the end, his motion at the local association to discipline the pastor failed to pass. Many of the delegates said that while they agreed with Marc and disagreed with the pastor in question, they did not feel that it was the role of the denomination or the local association to police member churches.

What we discovered through that process was that we were drifting theologically and we had no mechanism in our polity that was capable of addressing that drift. While a strong leader can always work wonders with a weak polity, we further discovered that there was no will whatsoever within the executive leadership structure to make use of the admittedly feeble mechanisms that were available. We were adrift and we were without sail, anchor or rudder.

For the next few years most of our efforts as a renewal society focused on foundation building. We identified the root problem as hermeneutics. Our people had begun to adopt a way of reading the bible that allowed them to alter, edit and avoid texts which brought them into conflict with cultural norms. To combat that we began hosting conferences on hermeneutics and biblical studies. We brought in a variety of professors and teachers in the field in an effort to build up what had largely fallen down.

However, in 2017 a line was crossed in our denomination which required us to take a more direct and confrontational approach. In an article I wrote called “Has A Rubicon Been Crossed In The CBOQ?” I reviewed a statement that had been released by one of our churches on LGBTQ2 issues. You can find that statement here. In the statement, the church made it clear that they would now accept LGBTQ2 people into positions of leadership within the congregation.

As such in 2018 I co-authored a motion that was presented to our annual Assembly and is now known as “The Orillia Motion”. You can find it on page two as linked here. The full text of the motion 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.”

To read a full summary of that Assembly and how this matter was handled, see here.

The Board did not allow an extended discussion of the issue and immediately entertained a motion to have the matter referred to the Board. They subsequently 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.”

Given the long history of quiet complicity on these matters on behalf of the leadership and the several conspicuous uses of the word “may” in that statement, most of us associated with the renewal efforts went home thoroughly discouraged. We had very little confidence that anything of substance would be done, though we were encouraged that a few conservative-minded pastors were included on the subcommittee that was put together to advise the Board on these matters.

At this point, a few of our churches began to migrate out of the denomination into more conservative associations. I have nothing but respect for those who made that decision. Most of us, however, resolved to fight on to the end. As a result of pressure from a larger than expected number of churches, the leadership was forced to provide assurances that documents, resources and associated policies would be presented at the 2020 June Assembly for discussion and adoption. Therefore, we felt it incumbent upon us to stay the course, make our case, and quite possibly, be thunderously shouted down by the masses.

In November of 2019, the Executive leadership of the CBOQ was kind enough to meet with our renewal group as a whole in Hamilton, Ontario. While we were asked not to publish the minutes of that meeting, in substance, we were told that the CBOQ did not have a robust enough polity structure to restrain churches and pastors who determined to embrace and affirm LGBTQ2 issues in a way that was at odds with our own previously affirmed statements and the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. When asked if they would be willing to undertake a significant renovation of our polity, we were told that such an effort would likely destroy the denomination wholesale. In essence we were told that they would rather sacrifice truth and faithfulness than risk an apocalyptic showdown over polity.

While I deplore their failure of courage, I do not dispute their analysis of the problem. A progressive advocacy group within the denomination recently sent a letter pressuring the denomination on that very point. The letter dated April 29th, 2020 states:

“The Gathering of Baptists is not suggesting that all Baptists, nor all CBOQ churches, need to agree with its understandings and positions on sexual orientation or same gender marriage, but only that the Convention recognize that there are scripturally valid, but differing, views on these complex issues, and in that spirit cease all attempts to discipline and to judge those who differ from the positions taken at the 1988 and 2003 Assemblies.  Such actions serve only to obscure and to weaken the basic Baptist distinctives of soul liberty, the priesthood of all believers, freedom of interpretation, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Our proposal is that Board and Assembly, at the upcoming convention, re-affirm what it is to be Baptist.”

To the progressive wing of our denomination, the essence of what it means to be “Baptist” is the freedom to live and believe in rebellion against the Scriptures. That is the root that leads to the fruit being mourned by some and celebrated by others within our once faithful association.

Where Do We Go From Here?

COVID19 has delayed this process considerably. The pandemic came about just as we were concluding the circuit of townhall meetings and consultation, the last several of which were conducted online. Assembly itself is now scheduled for October and will also happen online.  Obviously, this medium could easily be manipulated to shut down conversation and to marginalize certain viewpoints, so we are prayerful and hopeful that this does not happen.

My colleague Marc Bertrand has prepared a motion, with the full documented support of his congregation, which we have been told will be discussed and voted on at this year’s Assembly. The motion reads as follows:

WHEREAS, we affirm the dignity and value of all persons and our responsibility to introduce them to the loving, reconciling ministry of Jesus Christ and the life-changing transformation described in scripture; and,

Whereas, Assembly 2003 passed a motion on the Definition of Marriage which stated, “marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5-6, Ephesians 5:31); and,

Whereas, the September 2003 Council passed a resolution directing all BCOQ pastors/chaplains/counsellors, who are registered to perform marriages, not to officiate or coofficiate at any same-sex marriage ceremony and recommended that, in situations of noncompliance, his/her permanent registration to marry be revoked; and, 

Whereas, we believe that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman only, to legitimize same-sex marriage would be contrary to the understanding of the BCOQ based on Scripture and would harm its ministries (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9)

Whereas, Assembly 2004 approved the standard that all BCOQ pastors/chaplains/counsellors, who are registered to perform marriages are not to officiate or co-officiate at any same-sex marriage ceremony;

Whereas, Assembly 2004 approved that in the event an accredited pastor/chaplain/counsellor officiates or co-officiates at a same-sex marriage ceremony he/she will be subject to disciplinary review as provided for in the BCOQ Protocol for Discipline, Reinstatement and Restoration Manual (a.k.a. The Red Book).

NOW THEREFORE be it resolved, that no CBOQ church establish a practicing homosexual as a member, leader, deacon, elder or pastor of the church. And, that any CBOQ church who elects to affirm the practice of homosexuality or to establish a practicing homosexual as member, leader, deacon, elder or pastor be removed from membership in the CBOQ by the CBOQ Board within 6 months of the discovery of such an action.

As a renewal society we collaborated on the substance of this motion in an effort to provide the entire Assembly with the opportunity to speak in a clear voice on this matter. If the motion is rejected, we will consider our efforts at an end and will leave with a clear conscience. If the motion is endorsed without significant emendation, we will continue to work with our friends and colleagues for biblical reform within the CBOQ.

How You Can Pray For Us:

Please pray for resolve in the process, grace towards those with whom we disagree, patience in the midst of inordinate delay and self-control in the context of emotionally freighted conversations with fellow delegates.

Please pray for the will of the Lord to be done. If we are in error, pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal it clearly through the Scriptures and give us the grace of repentance.

Please pray for the family members of those affected by these decisions. Marriages have already dissolved over the issues reported in this article and that reminds this author that ideas have consequences and decisions are never merely about polity, they are about people. They are about wives, sons, daughters and friends. Pray for gentleness and mercy to be evident in all who engage this process.

Please pray for the glory of Christ. The honour of Christ will suffer as a result of this coming conversation, regardless of the outcome that is obtained. It has already suffered dishonour in being associated with lawlessness and immorality. It will suffer further dishonour by being associated with dispute and contention. It may suffer still further dishonour should it become associated with moral capitulation and devastating confusion. Pray that we would all tremble before the potential consequences of these actions.

I haven’t written a great deal about these matters over the last two years, partly because there wasn’t much to say, and partly because it was so unpleasant to say it. There has been no joy in being proven right. We said there was something rotten in our foundation 7 years ago and we warned that it would lead us into this predicament precisely. But that isn’t cause for gloating, it is cause for mourning. As David said, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136 ESV).

There is nothing to be celebrated in this – and a great deal to be regretted.

May the Lord grant us help and humility and courage moving forward – thanks be to God!

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. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.

[1] This article is no longer available online. We were asked to take it down and we did.