Baptist churches in America organized their first local association (the Philadelphia Association) in 1707. That group soon grew to include congregations all the way from Connecticut to Virginia. As it grew it birthed a number of daughter associations. Subsequently, Baptists have founded yet others.
Eventually the local associations within particular states or other large regions formed a second layer of associations. These second-layer associations incorporated both the individual Baptist congregations and the local associations within their geographical territories. They were known as general associations or conventions.
The Minnesota Baptist Convention was organized in August of 1859. The organizing messengers came from twenty-five churches in four local associations. Minnesota had only achieved statehood a year earlier.
Later still, in 1907, religious liberals led in organizing the Northern Baptist Convention as a third layer of association. From its beginning the NBC was troubled by doctrinal controversy. The years between 1920 and 1946 were especially vicious. Almost all of the state conventions took the liberal side. One of the exceptions was the Minnesota Baptist Convention. Under the leadership of W. B. Riley it was a powerhouse of conservative theology, and under the leadership of Richard V. Clearwaters it became one of the very few state conventions to separate from the Northern Baptist Convention.
During the subsequent years, most of the old convention machinery has been dismantled, but the organization still exists. Reflecting a profound repugnance to “conventionism,” with its connotations of hard-ball politics and theological skullduggery, it has renamed and restructured itself as the Minnesota Baptist Association.
About fifty churches have been received into fellowship with the Minnesota Baptist Association. The president is Gerald Stephens of New Prague. The state missionary, Robert Fuller, Jr., has held that position for about a year. The association sponsors church-planting missionary work jointly with the Minnesota Association of Regular Baptist Churches, a sister fellowship. Four local associations operate under the auspices of the MBA: one each for Southeast and Southwest Minnesota, one for the Twin Cities, and one for Northern Minnesota.
Minnesota is a big state, which creates a problem for those who travel to the association’s annual meeting. Two years ago, the association met in Prior Lake, on the southern edge of the Twin Cities. Last year the MBA met in Marshall, which is located in the southwest corner of the state. Since the Twin Cities are centrally located, this year’s meeting was held near Saint Paul.
On June 17-18 the Minnesota Baptist Association met at First Calvary Baptist Church in Inver Grove Heights. This year’s speaker was Brent Belford, who was leaving the position of provost at Central Baptist Theological Seminary to become the senior pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Belford’s doctoral work has focused on the Corinthian epistles, and he chose as his theme “Keeping Your Church Faithful: Lessons from an Unfaithful Church.” His three-part exposition from the Corinthian letters was exceptional.
The business sessions were deliberately abbreviated this year. Years ago, the Minnesota Baptist Convention was famous for its parliamentary brawls. Now the emphasis is upon fellowship, and the fellowship is good.
To be sure, there is a bit of diversity among the churches and their pastors. Some churches invite speakers that others would not. Some churches play music that others would not. These differences tend to run along generational lines. Interestingly, the younger pastors actually make up a majority both in the association and in its leadership. Yet nobody is willing to push the association in a direction that will damage its fellowship.
This makes sense, because fellowship is grounded in what is held in common. When a group like the MBA gets together for fellowship, it needs to focus on what everybody holds in common. Because of the autonomy of the local church, each congregation makes its own decisions for its own use. When the messengers gather for fellowship, however, they focus on those things that they own together, and they deliberately avoid what others might find offensive.
Two resolutions came before the messengers this year. One was a position statement on church offices. This resolution was tabled because it cited an out-of-date version of the association’s confession.
The other resolution was a position statement on “Gender Identity and Biological Sex.” While the Minnesota Baptist Association does not see itself as a vehicle for the culture wars, there was a consensus among the messengers that such a statement could provide pastors with a useful tool for instructing their congregations. This resolution passed unanimously and can be found on the Minnesota Baptist Association web site.
Greg Huffman, the last president of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, has been invited to address the 2017 meeting of the Minnesota Baptist Association. The date for the meeting has not been set, but it will be held at the site of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cottage Grove. Since the MBA places a maximum of emphasis upon fellowship and a minimum upon ecclesiastical politics, it welcomes churches of like conviction, whether or not they have formally affiliated with the association.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
from "Bless the Lord, O My Soul!"
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
God grant that we should live to see better days. But if perilous times should come in these last days make us faithful. Raise up in every country where there has been a faithful church men that will not let the vessel drift upon the rocks. O God of the Judges, Thou who didst raise up first one and then another when the people went astray from God; raise up for us still (our Joshuas are dead) our Deborahs, our Baracks, our Gideons and Jephthahs, and Samuels, that shall maintain for God His truth, and worst the enemies of Israel. Lord look upon Thy Church in these days. Lord revive us. Lord restore us. Lord give power to Thy Word again that Thy name may be glorified.