The CBF and the Baptist World Alliance

by Dr. Lavonn Brown


The table of fellowship for the Southern Baptist Convention has just grown dramatically smaller.  On October 24, the Executive Committee of the SBC accepted a recommendation of a special study committee to withdraw both membership and financial support from the Baptist World Alliance.  If the vote on this recommendation is affirmative at the June meeting of the SBC, they will have effectively pushed 211 Baptist unions and conventions with nearly 47 million baptized believers from under their umbrella.


Why would such action be taken?  The BWA was accused of a growing liberalism and, according to Al Mohler, has outlived its purpose and has become an “irrelevant bureaucracy.”  The SBC wishes to “create a new worldwide organization of a conservative nature.”  Of course, the elephant in the room which nobody mentioned was the acceptance of the CBF into membership in the BWA after a three year study.  In Rio, SBC leaders had said to BWA leaders, “If they (CBF) are in, we are out.”


It should be remembered that the SBC was a pioneer in establishing the BWA and had nurtured it for nearly 100 years through prayer, finances, leadership, service and cooperation.  As a result of the above recommendation, letters of support for the BWA and dismay and sadness at the SBC decision have poured in from Baptists worldwide.


The general feeling is that our disunity is one of the biggest tragedies of contemporary Christianity and one of the greatest hindrances to world evangelism.  Denton Lotz General Secretary of the BWA, pointed out that such a decision becomes a “Schism in the Baptist World, and consequently, a sin against love.”  Brian Winslede, National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, calls the “attitude of the current leadership within the SBC a blantant denial of Baptist principles and destructive of Christian unity.”


The thought of a worldwide Baptist family that numbers about 110 million has the power to rescue us from our provincialism.  Until recent years these Baptist unions and conventions around the world have taken pride in our unity in diversity, which is best displayed in the meetings of the BWA.  Theological differences are real.  Korean and Russian Baptists are more conservative than most Southern Baptists.


My own provincialism was shattered in recent years by numerous missionaries who passed through the life of First Baptist Church of Norman.  None was more influential than Edgar Hallock who, at age 74, was invited to be the Congress Coordinator in Zimbabwe, Africa, after experiencing the joy and wonder of a night of African music, he called his daughter in Brazil and said, “Honey, if this is what Heaven is going to be like, I can hardly wait to get there.”


Why is the Baptist World Alliance important to the CBF?  For almost 100 years the BWA has worked around the world to bring unity to Baptists, to facilitate evangelism and affirm salvation in Jesus Christ alone, to promote reconciliation and peace, to affirm Biblical faith, to respond to human need, and to defend human rights and religious liberty against tyranny and persecution.  The BWA has honored traditional Baptist principles and has recognized the autonomy and interdependence of Baptist churches and member bodies.  It has been a voice that has successfully negotiated and intervened with world governments on behalf of Baptist minorities throughout the world.


Therefore, the CBF gladly enlarged its table of fellowship to recognize its relationship to this larger Baptist family around the world.  We welcome the opportunity to fellowship and partner with the 211 Baptist unions and conventions with nearly 47 million baptized believers who make up the Baptist family.  It is important to realize that the BWA has not changed.  It is the leadership of the SBC that has changed.


On July 17, 1905, Southern Baptist leaders and British Baptist leaders met with other representatives in London to form the BWA.  On July 27-31, 2005, Baptists from around the world will meet in Birmingham, England, for a Baptist World Congress to celebrate our centennial.  This provides moderate Baptists an excellent opportunity to show their support and offer encouragement to the worldwide Baptist family. 


This article will be printed in a forthcoming issue of New Directions, the newsletter of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.


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