BWA leaders say Baptists of the world 'belong together'

By Ken Camp and Marv Knox

DALLAS (ABP) -- Southern Baptist Convention withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance would mean not only the loss of one fourth of the organization's income, but the loss of a unified Baptist witness worldwide, say BWA officials.

"We belong together because we belong to Christ," BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz repeated at every opportunity during a tour of several U.S. cities.

During two days in Texas Jan. 26-27, Lotz and BWA President Billy Kim spoke to a dinner at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, a luncheon at Dallas Baptist University, a news conference and staff meeting at the Baptist General Convention of Texas office building, and a rally at First Baptist Church of Plano.

The pair were scheduled to speak in Atlanta, among other stops.

Infighting among Baptists in the United States creates "confusion" among Third World Christians who do not understand denominational politics and distinctions between various Baptist groups in the United States, Kim said.

"We need to stick together," he said.

Kim and Lotz traveled with the 60-member Korean Children's Choir, representing Kim's Far East Broadcasting Company, who performed at each Texas venue.

The choir also sang at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Paige Patterson, president of the seminary, is the author of the SBC study committee proposal to cut ties with the BWA.

Kim told reporters he had talked with Patterson on the phone, but they merely exchanged pleasantries. However, Kim said he invited Patterson to preach at his church, near Seoul, South Korea, and he hoped at that time to have a conversation of "more substance" regarding strained relations between Southern Baptist leaders and the BWA.

"He is a wonderful friend, but we see things a little differently," he said.

Kim acknowledged his hope that the sweet voices and smiling faces of the children would "soften the hearts" of Southern Baptist leaders and cause them to reconsider the proposed separation from BWA.

Even so, Kim and Lotz said they are unaware of any positive response from members of the SBC study committee to an invitation they and the vice presidents of the BWA issued. Leaders of the BWA urged the SBC Executive Committee to table the committee motion to withdraw funding and membership from the worldwide fellowship, and they offered to meet with SBC leaders "anytime, anywhere to discuss reconciliation."

Lotz again refuted charges of any "leftward drift" in the BWA, saying the organization affirms historic, biblical Christian doctrine.  He said the term "liberal" is relative.  "Russian Baptists think Southern Baptists are liberal because the women wear lipstick and makeup," he said.

Charles Wade, BGCT executive director, affirmed Texas Baptist support for the BWA at several venues during the two-day tour.  Wade told the Plano rally, "No matter what others do, we as Texas Baptists shall, until Jesus comes, be partners together with Baptists around the world, and we will support the Baptist World Alliance."

The BWA leaders acknowledged the affirmation, not only from Wade but from Texas Baptists, wherever they went.  "I sense real support from you people," Kim told a group of North Texas pastors and missions and ministry leaders at the Park Cities banquet.  "We need to support each other. ... Let's be sweet and go on.  God is bigger than any organization," he said.

Kim called on Baptists to come together to take on a task with eternal consequences.  "I believe God has called us to a job as Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation," he said, referring to Jesus' command to make disciples "unto the ends of the earth."

"I believe we can do it," he said.  "If we do our responsibility, God will do his work in his own time. ... We're going to do things together."

Speaking the next day at a luncheon at Dallas Baptist University, Kim acknowledged Baptists face "problems" of relationship.  "But where there are problems, we have opportunities," he said.  "And I believe the best days of the Baptist World Alliance are ahead. ... We Baptists must band together, because we have the truth."

Lotz picked up that same theme, urging Baptists to move beyond labeling each other.  "We've got to get over that and return to Scripture and what [the Apostle] Paul tells us about loving one another," he urged.

Lotz illustrated the importance of exercising Baptist togetherness.  In the Philippines, a young boy got lost, and searchers feverishly tried to find him but could not, he reported.  Finally, someone suggested all the workers hold hands and comb the area.  Soon they found the boy, but they were too late; he had died.

"Maybe if we had held hands earlier, this boy would not have died," Lotz quoted one of the workers as saying.

"The Baptist World Alliance is Baptists all over the world holding hands so people will not die without Christ," he insisted.

For example, the BWA supports churches in Muslim-dominated Turkmenistan, where preachers must wear hoods to protect their identities so they will not be thrown in prison.  Otherwise, none of the churches would have leaders, he said.

"We defend religious freedom all over the world.  That's what we do," Lotz said.  Baptists, of all people, should be champions of religious liberty because on many occasions throughout their history they have been victims of religious persecution, he said.

In Rwanda, the BWA brings Hutus and Tutsis -- once bitter ethnic rivals who slaughtered each other by the millions in the 1990s -- together for worship because they are one in Christ, he said.

In Cuba, BWA leaders contacted dictator Fidel Castro and gained permission to import 50,000 Bibles and to support the house churches where many of the 200,000 Cuban Baptists worship, he added.

The BWA also is providing similar support to Baptists in such countries as China, Poland, Nepal, Russia, Cambodia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Nigeria, he said, adding that the BWA helped Baptists obtain 10 radio stations in Romania to proclaim the gospel.

Noting the perilous world situation, Lotz cited the 20th century German theologian Martin Niemoeller, who called attention to how Jesus responded to persecution and unfairness.

Facing persecution, Jesus could have cursed his opponents and called for revenge at the point of a sword, he said. "But he raised his hands to the cross and said, 'Father, forgive them. ...'

"Will we raise a sword or a cross?" he asked of Baptists facing persecution across the world.  "We'd better not raise a sword, because if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.  We must raise a cross."

Christians around the globe understand this, and the Holy Spirit is causing them to multiply, even in harsh circumstances, Lotz said.

For example, 60 percent of all Christians live in the Third World, he reported, and 400 million Christians live in Africa alone.  "The center of Christianity has moved from pagan Europe to Africa," he added.  "Africa will send missionaries to re-evangelize Europe, and they may have to re-evangelize the United States."

The explosion of the gospel is happening through the power of the Holy Spirit and not the presence of Western Christians, he said.

Noting Jesus didn't give the Great Commission to white Westerners, but to the whole church, Lotz said, "The gospel is moving all over the world without white missionaries."

To back his claim, he noted Third World Christians already have sent out 20,000 missionaries to other countries, and a new church is started every day in China, where in some places 5,000 young people gather on weeknights to read the Bible together.

Speaking to U.S. Baptists who think, "We're so big we don't need the BWA," Lotz told a parable from Africa about a small elephant who couldn't cross a streaming river because of the strong currents.  Soon, some larger elephants noticed the plight and stood in the river to form a "bridge" out of their backs, so the smaller elephant could cross safely over.

"Baptists need to get the big elephants off the bank and into the river.  Quit fighting and drinking coffee and eating donuts and get in the river."

Touching on some of those same ideas at the Plano rally, Lotz pointed to the Korean Children's Choir as representative of the emerging Christian church.

In his message, Kim noted that the largest Presbyterian, Methodist and Assembly of God churches in the world now are in South Korea. "What about the Baptists?  Give us time.  We'll get there," said Kim, whose church has 15,000 members.

Christians in South Korea grew in the last 50 years from fewer than 1 million people in 4,000 churches to 13 million Christians in 40,000 churches, primarily because of prayer, Kim said.  "The Korean church has experienced revival because it has been marked as a praying church," he said.

Kim urged Baptists in the United States not only to pray for revival in their own country, but also for unity in the worldwide Baptist fellowship.

"We love Southern Baptists, and we want to stick together," he said.  We want to pray together and reach the world together. ... Pray for us over the next two months that God somehow will turn around our situation."

Dallas Baptist University President Gary Cook, who helped arrange the BWA events in the region, urged Texas Baptists to support the worldwide organization.  "We are always going to support the BWA, even if our leaders take [the Southern Baptist Convention] out," Cook said.

Baptists around the world, many of whom are desperately poor and often persecuted, need the alliance's support and encouragement, Cook added.

"Just because people in Nashville vote to remove money they've promised doesn't mean we can't give it directly," he said.

 

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