"Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity." –

"Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions."
   G K Chesterton


We are not finished with FBC Jax.Within the next week there will be updates. There are also developments with the Georgia Baptist Convention and we will be dealing with those. In the meantime, we will review another sad situation.

Yesterday we posted an e-mail from a staunch critic whose identity we have kept confidential.  Although most commenters on The Wartburg Watch wholeheartedly endorse what we write, there is the occasional commenter who accuses us of “Baptist Bashing”.  That’s not an accurate label if one considers the entirety of what we have written since the blog’s inception in April 2009.  If you go through the archives, you will soon discover that we are “equal opportunity offenders”.  We have gone after prosperity preachers, opportunists like Ed Young, Jr., C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Quiverfull Movement, etc.   One of our primary objectives is to expose anyone who is an affront to the Christian faith.   


Why are we so “negative” you may ask.  Here is our candid response.


We are deeply committed Christians who are EXTREMELY concerned about the future of Christendom.  We are Christian news bloggers who are simply highlighting issues that are receiving national attention.  We don’t make the news!  We report it…


Southern Baptists are extremely proud of their “conservative resurgence”; however, there seems to be a growing phenomenon that has accompanied this movement.  Instead of SBC mega churches being led by “servant leaders”, it appears that a number of them are being led by “megalomaniacs” engaged in hyper-authoritarianism. 


In order to illustrate this phenomenon, we will focus on Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee and its former pastor Jerry Sutton.  All of the information that will be provided in this series has been obtained through internet searches, and we will provide the links in case you want to verify the information or read more.


One of our purposes in shining the spotlight on Two Rivers Baptist is to look at this megachurch as the “world” most likely sees it.  We readily admit that we have the benefit of hindsight as we unfold what happened at the church over the course of a year. 


Two Rivers Baptist Church and the Nashville Scene


With a purported membership of over 6,000 in 2007, Two Rivers Baptist Church was classified as a megachurch.  It is located in Nashville, Tennessee, which is the second most populous city in the state after Memphis.  However, the 13-county Nashville metropolitan area is the largest in Tennessee with an estimated population of 1,550,733 in 2008.


Nashville is a major hub for industries such as music, publishing, banking, health care, and transportation.  Interestingly, the publishing arms of the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church are located there as is Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest producer of Bibles. 


Because of a strong Christian presence in Nashville, it is sometimes called the “Protestant Vatican” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”.  “Nashvegas” is another very interesting nickname for this metroplex.  Two Rivers Baptist Church definitely has some friendly competition because Nashville has over 700 churches.

What happened at Two Rivers Baptist Church?


Jerry Sutton, the long-time pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, become a national figure in the Southern Baptist Convention during his tenure at the church.  He was a former vice president in the convention who came in third during the 2006 SBC presidential election.  Sutton served as president of the Pastor’s Conference in 2000 and as a trustee of Lifeway Christian Resources from 1990-1998.  Finally, he is the author of “The Baptist Reformation” which documents the history of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence.    


Despite his prestige in the SBC, Jerry Sutton came under scrutiny in July 2007. Why?  According to a Baptist Press article entitled, “Two Rivers Baptist Church members voice dissent, pastor seeks reconciliation” (August 15, 2007), a dissident group held a meeting in which they addressed eight allegations against Pastor Sutton. 

Those allegations are as follows: 
(1)   Steady decline in membership

(2)   Lack of accountability in finances

(3)   Poor stewardship of God’s people

(4)   Authoritarian style church government

(5)   Rapid turnover rate of church staff in the past 10 years

(6)   Lavish lifestyle and receptions

(7)   Questionable allegations

(8)   Serious communication issues

To read more, here’s the link to the Baptist Press article: 



Have you heard some of these allegations before on The Wartburg Watch, specifically:  authoritarian style church government? 


Some of the group’s specific allegations were made public.  The one that received the most attention was that the church paid for part of the Sutton daughter’s wedding reception.  After all, it was a church event since all members of Two Rivers were invited…  According to the above referenced article, Jerry Sutton told the Baptist Press that the church paid for only half of the food, and only because staff members felt it was important to invite everyone in the church.  According to Sutton, the budget and finance committee approved it.  Once the reception’s financing was questioned, a church member stepped up and reimbursed the church for its portion of expenses related to the reception.  Just how much was half of the food expense?  In excess of $4,000!  We assume the wedding reception was held at the church at no cost to the Suttons.          


According to an article in the Tennessean (the regional newspaper), the petition drive to remove Pastor Sutton was a reaction to something significant that occurred in July 2007.  Jerry Sutton and other church leaders sought the removal of church trustee Frank Harris from membership.  Harris had been openly critical of his pastor and called into question some of Pastor Sutton’s expenditures.  Not surprisingly, Jerry Sutton and others in leadership labeled Harris as “divisive”. 


According to the Baptist Press article, “Anyone who voiced opposition to leadership was alienated and lost any ministries they may have had in the church.”  Harris also expressed deep concern that Two Rivers Baptist Church had gone from a “people-led church to a staff-run church”.  A majority of congregants voted for Harris’ removal; however, some members called the vote invalid because church protocol for such votes was not followed.


Perhaps in retaliation to the ouster of Harris, a dissident group launched a website and began gathering signatures to move toward the removal of Pastor Sutton.  According to the church by-laws, if at least 10 percent of the membership signs a petition calling for a vote to fire the pastor, then a church meeting can be held to conduct such a vote.  The pastor’s removal requires a two-thirds majority by the church members.


Pastor Sutton claimed he was not questioning the group’s motives and explained that he was praying for reconciliation.

Tune in tomorrow as we investigate this very serious church dispute.   

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