NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble has been charged with "problematic" theological positions and "statements that are inconsistent with the beliefs of South Carolina Baptists" by the president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), Rev Tommy Kelly.
Located in Anderson, South Carolina, NewSpring is one of the largest and fast-growing churches in the US with around 32,000 attenders, and the largest Southern Baptist church in the top 100.
Kelly's statement arose from a sermon preached by Noble on Christmas Eve in which he appeared to deny that the 10 Commandments were in fact commandments, saying that there was no word for 'commandment' in Hebrew, and offering a radical reinterpretation of them. He also appeared to use the 'n-word' at one point in the sermon.
Following negative comments about the sermon Noble issued an apology and explanation, saying: "I had no idea that I had stepped into a debate in which godly people are on both sides of the issue. I have been on the phone, on the internet and on my face this week trying my hardest to see if what I preached in that message was true, as well as seeing if I made mistakes in that teaching."
He admitted that Hebrew did have a word for 'commandment', though he said that the word was not used in the context of the 10 Commandments. However, he said he would not deny their imperative force.
Kelly said that SBCB churches had been "disturbed and puzzled" by the sermon. He called on SCBC ministers to "treat their individual ministry settings as a sacred trust void of coarse, profane language as well as choosing music that is sacred in content". He also said that ministers live an "isolated existence" and called on them to be accountable to others, and urged the importance of sound biblical exegesis.
Kelly said: "Therefore, we as South Carolina Baptists must publicly state and remove ourselves from these positions and problematic statements and call for NewSpring to correct these positions if it chooses to say that it affiliates with South Carolina Baptist churches."
While NewSpring is part of the SCBC and of the umbrella Southern Baptist Convention, the relationship is evidently not close. In a document marked for the attention of "Senior Pastors Only", Noble said: "We are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are part but not married to them. However they are kind of like the Titanic, they are sinking but instead of sinking they are just rearranging the chairs."
According to the Baptist Courier, NewSpring's 2012 operating budget was $25.8 million; it forwarded only $550 in gifts to the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
NewSpring is the largest church in the SCBC. In 2012 it baptised 2,946 people - nearly one of every five baptisms by all churches affiliated with the SCBC.