Fourth Annual Mainstream Baptist Convocation
February 25-26, 2005
at the Downtown Renaissance Hotel in Atlanta, GA
Envisioning 'A New Day in Baptist Life'
By Robert O'Brien
What might be called the "Baptist Diaspora" -- a wide array of Baptists dispersed by a quarter century of denominational discord - will gather in Atlanta, Feb. 25-26, to envision "A New Day in Baptist Life."
The gathering, at the fourth annual Mainstream Baptist Convocation, will "begin a conversation that attempts to envision what the Baptist landscape might look like as we proceed into the 21st Century," said MBN co-chairs Bill Wilson and Bob Stephenson in a letter distributed to some 70 Baptist agencies, institutions and entities.
MBN's goal, the letter said, is to host a representative gathering of Baptist clergy and laity, along with representatives from all entities that have emerged in the last 25 years or have been de-funded by the Southern Baptist Convention across the years. The convocation is also open to churches, associations, conventions, and organizations that have chosen to withdraw from official SBC connection or have chosen to partner with the new entities or network across the entire spectrum of Baptist life.
"We will not seek to start a new organization or denomination," Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga., said in an interview. "MBN is acting as a catalyst to get an impressive array of Baptist Christians who have grown out of the conflict to explore how we can network and use our resources effectively.
"Baptists have a chance to create a positive future for authentic ministry that is proactive and focuses on the good things we can do collectively and individually - rather than on the pain inflicted by fundamentalists," Wilson said. (Click here to read Wilson's challenge to Baptists.)
Missionaries Sarah and Larry Ballew, fired by the SBC International Mission Board for not signing the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, agree with that.
"Is there life after the IMB?" ask the Ballews, who have returned to their mission field in Macau, China, focusing on a positive future. "We can answer that question with a resounding YES!" (See article at this link)
The Ballews represent just one example of what a multitude of fired, resigned or early retired home and foreign missionaries, seminary professors, denominational leaders, and others are doing in ministry - in life after the SBC.
Division Produces Multiplication
Baptists now live in an era in which division has produced multiplication of efforts that have only begun to explore the possibilities for expanded ministries in missions, evangelism, church growth, Baptist journalism and literature and publishing, human needs, religious liberty, church history, Christian ethics, chaplaincy endorsement, and theological education.
The proliferation of ministries includes a boom in theological education. More than 2,000 Baptist students are preparing for ministry at what now totals at least 16 theological schools outside the SBC. That includes five schools of other denominations that have allowed establishment of Baptist studies programs on their campuses, led by Baptist professors. (See list at this link.)
Controversy has resulted, also, in separate state conventions forming in each of three states - Virginia, Texas and Missouri. That could soon possibly affect North Carolina.
In Texas and Virginia, fundamentalists split from Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) to form the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, respectively.
The reverse happened in Missouri, where the fundamentalists maintained control of the original state convention, while moderates split off to form the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Five Missouri Baptist agencies also split from the older convention -- Word & Way newspaper, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Conference Center, and Missouri Baptist Foundation.
The original state conventions in Virginia and Texas -- the BGAV and BGCT -- have maintained a stance that their churches are free to make their own decisions about who to partner with and support financially. Those options include the SBC, the Baptist World Alliance, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The five Missouri agencies, plus Shorter College that split from the Georgia Baptist Convention, all still face court challenges to their right to split.
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