Mike Corley and Local Church Autonomy

Mike Corley broadcasts a talk show radio program out of Vicksburg MS. I met Mike through the Mississippi Founders Fraternal and we share a high view of scripture, a dedication to expository preaching, an aversion to man-centered methodologies, a passion for the doctrines of grace, and a propensity to sound super-critical. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed downloading his program to my ipod and I highly recommend his show.

Earlier this week he followed the events surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio TX. As much as a I love Mike and agree with him on several issues, I had to wince when I heard him slamming the important baptist doctrine of the autonomy of the local church.

With all due respect, I think he misunderstands local church autonomy and the nature of Southern Baptist Cooperation. He bemoans the fact that SBC resolutions do not have dictatorial power over local churches. He goes so far as to deem SBC resolutions futile, since they are not binding on any church. With that logic, he just classified his own program and preaching as futile because it also is not legally binding on anyone.

Corley said, “For example, if at the annual meeting of the SBC, a resolution was introduced that said all members of Southern Baptist churches cannot drink alcohol and remain Southern Baptist, and that measure were approved, it would have absolutely no effect whatsoever. In fact such resolutions have been proposed and many Southern Baptist drink alcohol.”

Actually, no resolution of that nature has ever been introduced or passed at a Southern Baptist Convention. I think we have had several resolutions that speak to the consumption of alcohol, but no resolution has ever been linked to church membership or implied a mandate. If someone would offer a resolution of that nature, the committee would rule it out of order.

Does Mike really want someone from Nashville requiring his church to teach the Prayer of Jabez, the Purpose Driven Life, or Your Best Life Now? Should a church look to Christ and his word as their supreme authority or should they bow to a denominational ruling?

On one of his programs Mike said that an autonomous Southern Baptist church is not accountable to anyone. I must differ. The members of an autonomous Southern Baptist Church are accountable to Christ, his word, and each other.

Southern Baptist resolutions serve to shed light, open discussion, and make statements on various issues. While they can not dictate action, they can encourage, promote, endorse, and recommend. While I confess that the vast majority of Southern Baptists did not even know the SBC met this past week, much less know what the resolutions detailed, that does not mean that we ought to throw out centuries of Baptist polity and interject an extra-Biblical mediator between Christ and his church.

Like me, Mike sees much in the SBC that needs change and reformation. I understand his frustration. The answer, however, does not lie in top-down mandates sent from Nashville to the local church. We do not need a Baptist pope. We need a Spirit led reformation where God called pastors boldly proclaim the word of God and tenaciously uphold the gospel of grace.

The Southern Baptist Convention operates in the tradition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Paragraph 15 of article 26 explains that associating churches ought to “meet to consider, and give their advice” on various issues, however, the rulings do not have binding “jurisdiction over the churches themselves.”

In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.

( Acts 15; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 John 4:1 )

I pray that my differences with Mike on this issue do not put me on his black list. I hope Mike and I have occasion to meet again, especially since we minister in the same state and hold to very similar theological convictions. I plan to continue listening to the Mike Corley Program and recommending it to my friends.

Mike, keep up the great work. I love you brother.

3 Comments

Hi brother,

I am not against the autonomy of the local church. In fact that would ultimately exist whatever the denomination. But I think we must be willing to accept the fact that the argument of church autonomy is tragically called into play in far too many instances where an individual or church body chooses to do their own thing.

Yes, we are accountable to our Lord and His Word, and to one another. I pray we have the humility to submit to God’s absolute truth.

You are not on my black list and I thank the Lord for your faithfulness.

Off Topic somewhat:

I regret I didn’t get to meet Mike Corley at The True Church Conference at FBC Muscle Shoals, AL. I will, however, start listening to him based on Don’s recommendation.

Jeff