February 23, 2004

 

To:        BWA General Council Members, Committee, Commission Members

 

From:   Denton Lotz, BWA General Secretary

 

Re:       Sorrow over SBC Executive Committee Recommendation to withdraw from the  BWA

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

 

    May the Peace, Joy and Love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your household! Greetings from your brothers and sisters around the world in Jesus’ name!

 

    It is with great sorrow that we announce to you that the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee on Tuesday afternoon, February 17th at 4:50 p.m. in the afternoon, voted 62 to 10 to recommend to the SBC Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana next June 2004, to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance. It is a very sad day for all of us, particularly since one of our founding members, and the largest Baptist world body, by withdrawing from the BWA is de facto, in spite of denials to the contrary, symbolizing their withdrawal of fellowship from the 210 other member bodies.

 

    We are sad because, as we have stated previously, this brings schism to our world fellowship of Baptists. Schism has been defined as “a sin against love.” With the Apostle Paul we lament disunity in the Church and ask: Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose….Has Christ been divided?” (I Corinthians 1: 10f.)

 

    At the SBC Executive Committee discussion on withdrawal it was very moving that the Women’s Missionary Union of the SBC gave a strong defense of the BWA and notice of their intention to remain in the BWA and work with their sisters worldwide! We have received hundreds of letters of support from many conventions, churches and individuals. Indeed, we are moved by the strong support that we continue to receive daily. Yes! We do belong together, because we belong to Christ!

 

    The Apostle Peter reminds us not to be intimidated “but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…” (I Peter 3: 15)

    Unfortunately, there has been so much misunderstanding, so many generalizations and actually false accusations that I feel it is necessary to write to you and give a clear defense of the sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ of our Baptist World Alliance conventions and unions.

 

     In addition to the recommendation of the SBC/BWA Study Committee Report, the further information given to the SBC Executive Committee, on which their decision to withdraw from the BWA was based, was a Baptist Press release dated February 4th, written by Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

 

   Hinkle gave three basic reasons for SBC withdrawal from the BWA: 1.) The perceived Anti-Americanism of the BWA, 2.) Theological Concerns, and 3.) The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

 

    At our BWA Executive Committee in March, BWA delegates will be able to respond in an open forum to these charges. Let me briefly make some comments but first say that the accusations, it appears to me, are laced with generalizations, second hand information, guilt by association, and a misinterpretation of the facts of what actually happened. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Hinkle nor a number of the members of the SBC Study Commission, have ever attended a BWA meeting and thus the accusations are hearsay and prejudicial.

 

    1. Anti-Americanism: I am very sorry to hear such a statement. The other 10 conventions from North America of the BWA have never felt this way.  We are a global organization representing 211 Baptist conventions and unions all over the world, in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America.  By its very nature the BWA represents Baptists all over the world.  As Irmgard Claas of Germany wrote, “We are not anti-American. It’s just that we are not Americans!”

 

     The BWA is accused of anti-Americanism because of statements made by Archbishop Tutu, not at a BWA meeting, but on other occasions. Tutu spoke to the BWA at the invitation of the South African Baptist Convention. He was not “wooed” by the BWA as the accusation states. He was invited to speak because of the great leadership he had given to fighting the sin of apartheid which had destroyed the lives of millions for decades. His later views on human sexuality were not part of any BWA discussion, rather he was invited to speak because of his stand for human dignity in the face of a state-sponsored racist and tyrannical system.

 

    Another example of so-called Anti-Americanism was contained in a sermon by the outstanding African American pastor of Washington, D.C., H. Beecher Hicks. At the BWA Congress in Australia, Hicks was preaching prophetically of the tragedy of many poor workers in the sweatshops of the Pacific Rim countries who were underpaid and not treated properly. Hicks spoke of the materialism and greed of American capitalism. And thus Hicks was accused in this SBC report of being anti-American. It was an example of the “blame America” crowd. The question we must ask is whether or not it is anti-American to state facts gleaned from one’s own country’s congressional hearings? Certainly the prophets of Israel such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah railed against the sins of their own country. Are we to muzzle our preachers and the Sprit of the Lord? Are we to take one sentence out of a sermon and condemn the whole BWA? This was a prophetic pastor’s sermon and not a BWA statement or resolution!

 

    The BWA General Secretary was accused of being cozy with Castro. On the contrary, our visits to Cuba were to affirm the Cuban Baptists. We rejoice that since our visits Bibles are now readily available and that in the past ten years the Baptist community has grown from 40,000 to 200,000. We rejoice that whereas five years ago house churches were not permitted, today there are 2,500 house churches and 1,500 churches and missions! We rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Cuba and oppose all tyranny and subjection of religious freedom!  One of the responsibilities of the BWA is to defend religious freedom all over the world. That we have done in the former USSR and Eastern   bloc countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America! Conversations with political leaders, no matter their ideology, are many times helpful for guaranteeing religious freedom!

 

2. Theological Concerns:

    a.) Salvation through Christ alone: The BWA is accused of not wanting to affirm that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Yet, in the Baptist World magazine which appeared before these accusations, we stated very clearly, “Our message is Jesus Christ!” This is a false accusation that arose out of an incident at the General Council meeting in Rio. Actually the original press release about this was written by someone who was not in the General Council meeting room at the time and who was told later by a former SBC executive that his report was erroneous and should not be printed. But this slanderous report became the basis of unsubstantiated accusations.

 

    What really happened? I was leading a panel discussion reviewing the Swanwick Summit on Mission in the 21st Century dealing with mission methodology in the 21st century. The panel was in the midst of explaining the Swanwick Declaration when we were interrupted with a question from a young pastor from North Carolina, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation?” I responded very clearly, “Of course we affirm that Jesus is the only way of salvation! Why else would we have a ‘Summit on Mission in the 21st Century’ if we did not believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation? However, the purpose of this panel discussion was one of mission methodology and not one to discuss theological questions or to make a Statement of Faith.” Others on the panel agreed. Out of this context the young pastor questioned the orthodoxy of the general secretary and panel members. Many general council members objected in an audible gasp of frustration at the arrogance and false insinuations of the question. There was no vocal mocking! 200 General Council attendees would attest to that! Unfortunately, this incident became the basis of the false accusation that we did not believe in the necessity of a conscious decision to receive Christ! (At the BWA Executive Committee in March a White Paper will give further background and quotations from panel members!)

 

    Further accusations implying BWA theological liberalism were again statements questioning Archbishop Tutu’s orthodoxy. The South African Baptist Convention recommended that the archbishop address the BWA General Council because of his working with Nelson Mandela for the defense of the dignity of all people and his fight against the tragic and oppressive system of white supremacy known as apartheid. There was excitement in the air with the fall of apartheid and a new beginning in South Africa. African Baptists and Baptists from around the world who had fought so long for an end to racism were pleased to hear this Nobel Peace Prize winner tell of the new South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation process! It is a stretch to accuse the BWA of liberalism because we hear an outstanding world figure report on reconciliation and the end of racism!

 

    Another example cited concerning perceived BWA liberalism occurred at the council meeting in Seville, Spain. Samson Chowdhury, President of the Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship, expressed his concerns about the mission methodology of the IMB. Of course we are an open forum and when BWA President Billy Kim called on him he had no idea of what he was going to say. We do not control people’s statements. But, we are Baptists and do believe in freedom of speech. We do not encourage, but rather discourage, anyone to speak ill of another member body. There are occasions, however, when frustration from the Two-thirds world is expressed about many Western missionary policies. Is that theological liberalism?

 

    Other examples of BWA’s so-called liberalism were the reported personal views of George Younger, BWA representative to the United Nations in New York. Dr. Younger has since died and cannot defend himself. Needless to say his personal views, nor those of any delegate, did not or do not represent those of the BWA nor of the church or convention from which he or others come. Younger represented the BWA at the United Nations on religious freedom issues and received much gratitude from Two-thirds world Baptists for the defense of freedom he made to hostile governments!

 

    The BWA is criticized for the report on the Baptist-Anglican conversations. The BWA constitution encourages that the BWA hold conversations with other Christian communions. The effect of such conversations over the years has decreased religious hostility in countries where Baptists are a minority. We are Baptists and defend our theological and evangelical views. Is speaking with other Christians and discovering our agreement on historical Christian beliefs such as the trinity and the divinity of Christ liberalism? The Anglican Consultative Council is not the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire and repudiates the actions of that body as do the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide!

 

    3. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The report to the SBC Executive Committee by the chair of their BWA Study Commission stated “that much has been made about the inclusion of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) into the BWA as having been the cause of our present recommendation to withdraw from the organization. One soaked by a rain need not blame the last rain drop.” On the other hand, the Baptist Press’s analytical report of why the SBC favors withdrawal states very clearly that in fact the issue of CBF membership is the central reason for withdrawal. Hinkle states “…CBF leaders have been reluctant to publicly announce a split from the SBC, and that is important because it is at the heart of the disagreement between the SBC and the BWA.”

 

    In 2001 in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and in 2002 in Seville, Spain the BWA Membership Committee twice rejected CBF’s application for membership. The BWA membership committee under the leadership of veteran missionary leader of Australia, Ian Hawley, stated in Seville, Spain that the CBF would be eligible for membership only if they stated that they had separated from the SBC and were a distinct and separate Baptist body. In October 2003 the CBF announced their independence from the SBC and gave 21 reasons. On the basis of this decision the membership committee then recommended CBF membership in July, 2003 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The General Council by a vote of 75 to 28 accepted CBF. Immediately after the vote, SBC leaders came to us and said very clearly, “If they are in, we are out.”

 

    The international leadership of the BWA may not have completely understood the implications of accepting CBF but understood that as Baptists there are divisions and that we must recognize a small dissident group that has become a separate member if it met the criteria of membership. Much has been written by SBC leaders that CBF did not meet the BWA constitutional or bylaw requirements. Who interprets the BWA constitution and bylaws? The final authority is the General Council. Obviously the General Council felt very strongly that in fact CBF did meet the criteria.

 

    It needs to be said very clearly that this was a democratic decision and was not at all staff oriented. No BWA staff was involved at all in this decision. In fact, BWA President Billy Kim wanted the staff not to be part of this decision to protect us from precisely the attacks that are presently being made! It is a part of Baptist history and ecclesiology that often Baptist conventions split. It is also true that these conventions then often become members of the BWA as separate entities. The list of Baptist conventions worldwide that have split and are now full members of the BWA are manifold and include: The Baptist Convention of  South Africa, a break off of the Baptist Union of South Africa; The Brotherhood of Independent Baptist Churches of the Ukraine, a break  off of the Baptist Union of the Ukraine; The National Baptist Convention of the USA, Inc., a break off group of the National Baptist Convention of America; The Fraternidad of  Baptist Churches of Cuba, a break off of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba;  and the list goes on!  It is a fact of Baptist life that sometimes we grow by division instead of multiplication!

 

    As we began, so we end. We are very sorry that a schism has occurred. The BWA loves the SBC and wishes that we could stay together and to that end are still contemplating conversations with SBC leadership. We are pleased that part of the recommendation presented to the SBC Executive does accept the BWA vice presidents call for conversations of January 22. Even though it was stated at the SBC Executive Committee that the chances of reconciliation were slim, “unless lightning strikes!” Let us pray that the lightning of the Holy Spirit will move in all of our hearts.

 

    The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses states that the call of Christ is a call to daily repentance. Let us pray that all of us in the BWA and SBC will be open to that repentance that will bring reconciliation and unity in Christ.

 

    Meanwhile, whatever the decision made by the SBC convention meeting in Indianapolis this June, we want our Southern Baptist friends to know that they will always be welcome to our conferences and congresses! Come celebrate with us our centennial! Come celebrate with 210 Baptist conventions and unions worldwide that indeed “Jesus Christ is the Living Water!” Come pray and fellowship with your friends around the world, July 27-31, 2005!

 

    Brothers and Sisters in Christ of the General Council, Committees and Commissions, God has blessed us with a world fellowship that endured many conflicts over these past 100 years. Many of you have written very kind and generous letters of support indicating that indeed you intend to remain faithful and loyal to the BWA. We are grateful for the many letters of encouragement and support. We are grateful for the many prayers for reconciliation. We remain open to the movement of the Spirit and will continue to pray for reconciliation!

 

    Meanwhile, the work of the Baptist World Alliance and our 211 member bodies continues. Do not be discouraged! God has yet great things He wants to do through you and the BWA working together in Christ! Some of you are suffering economic hardship, others are suffering from oppressive governments, and others experience daily restrictions on movement and lack of religious freedom. This is indeed a fellowship of love to which we belong. The 211 member bodies of the BWA struggle with you for freedom, justice, peace and unity. Let us continue to work with one another for Christ and His Kingdom! Let us seek that unity for which Christ prayed in John 17…so that the world might believe!

 

    From July 26-31, 2004 in Seoul, Korea the General Council will meet and we will nominate our new BWA President to be elected in Birmingham, England in July, 2005. Our BWA President, Billy Kim, has extended a cordial welcome to all of you to come to Korea! Let’s make a concerted effort to come to Korea and celebrate that unity we have in Christ! Let’s pledge to one another that we will pray for each other! Pray that He who began a good work in us will complete it! Pray for workers in the vineyard…for the fields are white unto harvest! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, Come!

 

Yours in the Joy of Christ,

 

 

Denton Lotz

General Secretary

 

 

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