Two letters to members of Canberra Baptist Church in Australia
This week I received sad news about the Baptist World family. An evaluation committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the USA (the largest Baptist Union in the world with 16 million members) has recommended to their executive that they withdraw membership and funds from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA).
Their charge is basically four fold. Firstly, that their theological convictions are not given enough attention; secondly that "liberal" theology is tolerated at BWA meetings; thirdly that the BWA does not oppose women pastors; and fourthly that the BWA admitted a break away group from the SBC, the Co-operative Baptist Fellowship, into membership.
It is really a sad state of affairs. At a time when we need unity and togetherness and solidarity we get division. The BWA leadership - Denton Lotz, Billy Kim, Tony Cupit and many others - have tried everything possible to keep the SBC within the fold. But to no avail.
The issue is not theology. On the whole Baptists are evangelical and Bible believing Christians, and within BWA meetings a free exchange of opinion has always been possible.
The issue is the arrogant hunger for power and the lack of humility. Because Southern Baptists have numerical and financial power, therefore they want to rule. If they don't get their way, they threaten and withdraw.
They will now start a world wide fellowship of conservative evangelical Baptists.
It is a sad day, especially given the fact that the BWA will celebrate its centennial anniversary next year in Great Britain and also given the fact that many prominent and committed Southern Baptists have been influential in creating the world wide family.
What can we do?
I hope that our leaders in Australia will affirm our long standing commitment to the BWA and refuse to join an alternative alliance.
"How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore." (Psalm 133)
Last Sunday I told you of the intention of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance. In the meantime there have been protests and pleas from all over the world, including from Australia, encouraging Southern Baptists to stay with us.
We have said to them in many ways: you are part of us. Let us affirm our unity in Christ and our commitment to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and then let us work and witness together.
I hope that our pleas will find some hearing and that our Christian brothers and sisters from the SBC will recognise the seriousness of their break of fellowship.
On the other hand it has to be said. Not only their arrogance but also their theology is in many ways unacceptable. If there is something like truth and heresy, and if the church through the ages is right by defining truth and heresy with reference to the humanity and divinity of Christ and with reference to the trinitarian understanding of God, then the fundamentalism of the SBC is a heresy just as claiming that the infallibility of the pope is a heresy. I have no problem associating with heretics. We are all on a journey.
I remember the days in Switzerland [while he was a professor at the International Baptist Seminary] when some SBC missionaries underhandedly walked out of our bi-lingual church -- where I was a deacon and Jill ran the Sunday School -- so that they could only speak English (in a German speaking context!) and report to home the founding of a new church. And I remember being interviewed (investigated!) by a delegation of people from the SBC Foreign Mission Board (who partly supported our Seminary and who had made a written promise to maintain decreasing support for another 15 years) who had no theological education but who wanted to find out whether I and others were "liberal" or "conservative". For us it was quite a strange and somewhat embarrassing experience.
I prefer good news like this. Denton Lotz, the General Secretary of the BWA reports that in Cuba since 1995 there have been 2,500 new meeting places, mainly house churches of about 50 to 60 meeting in homes. The government is no longer preventing this!
Since none of us is perfect, let us focus on Christ and thereby share our lives with each other, rather than be suspicious of each other.
pastor, Canberra Baptist Church in Australia
Lorenzen, a German by birth, taught systematic theology and ethics at Ruschlikon from 1974 until 1995. Before that he taught New Testament three years at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an SBC school in North Carolina. He has been senior minister at Canberra Baptist Church since 1995. He was a member of the BWA Human Rights Commission for 25 years and its chairman twice, 1985-1990 and 1995-2000.
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