Report of the Southern Baptist Convention\Baptist World Alliance Study Committee

December 17, 2003

Since the beginning of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), Southern Baptists have been active participants in the programs and the fellowship, and they have been by far the most generous of all the partners involved in the BWA.   Initially, the emphasis was placed on the fellowship of the various world Baptist participants.  Southern Baptists have both benefited from and contributed to this fellowship.

In recent years, the circumstances surrounding the BWA have become more difficult.   The prominence of a number of European and North American conventions has resulted in an increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines, which is being advocated in the various commissions and committees of the BWA.  A decided anti-American tone has emerged in recent years.   Continued emphasis on women as pastors, frequent criticisms of the International Mission Board of Southern Baptists, refusal to allow open discussion on issues such as abortion, and the funding of questionable enterprises through Baptist World Aid provide just a surface sampling of what has transpired in recent years.   Repeated appeals to BWA leadership have resulted in no substantive changes and few of any consequence. In a theological workgroup, Dr. Ken Hemphill was asked to deliver a paper on "The Great Commission of our Lord."  After a superb paper, one respondent chosen by the BWA to participate replied, "I am not even sure that there is any such thing as the Great Commission, but if there is I am confident that Jesus never said it."   The moderator of the session not only did not take issue with this German Baptist theologian, but also protected him, allowing him to refuse to respond to certain questions about universalism.  This instance represents one of many but gives the reader an understanding of what Southern Baptists have been supporting by their funding for the past twenty-five years.

In the July 1923 meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, the BWA approved an excellent statement entitled, "Message of the Baptist World Alliance."   It reads in part as follows: As Baptists view it, the Christian religion finds its central truth in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, Whose sinless life and heavenly wisdom, whose Deity, atoning death, resurrection from the dead, and Whose second coming and lordship in the Kingdom of God constitute and qualify Him for His work as its Founder and Mediator.   God calls all men to salvation through Him, in Whom they are freely justified by grace through faith, and regenerated by the operation of the Holy Spirit.   Regeneration, or the new birth, is a necessary condition of church membership, since in this way alone can the churches be kept spiritual and responsive to the will of Christ.   Church membership of believers only is a fundamental Baptist principle.   However, at the BWA meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in July 2003, a paper entitled, "Call to Missions," adopted by a conference called by the BWA in Swanwick, England in May 2003 was presented.  When a Southern Baptist pastor sought clarification with reference to the absence of a clear doctrinal statement advocating the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, he was not only refused clarification, but also rudely treated by a significant number of BWA participants.   A comparison of these statements shows clearly the leftward drift of the BWA.   The problem for Southern Baptists is a complex issue.   Fellowship with Baptists from around the world is both valuable and desirable.  All participants have cherished this fellowship.  But, is it possible for Southern Baptists to continue to commit primary funding to an agency that will not allow fair discussion of issues?  Can Southern Baptists give tacit approval to an entity openly advocating aberrant and dangerous theologies?  If the answer is limited to Southern Baptists, then perhaps we could continue to participate.   It is unlikely that Southern Baptist representatives would be themselves adversely affected, although the question of stewardship and accountability for the missions gifts of Southern Baptists remains a serious issue.

Unfortunately, the larger issue is the potential impact of such an organization that gives apparent approval for such aberrant theologies on constituent bodies.   If every issue about which highly objectionable theologies are advocated were to be openly discussed with equal time provided for more Biblical positions, and if a less Byzantine form of governing the fellowship could be developed, then Southern Baptists might feel more comfortable.   Though repeated attempts to secure a just forum have been made by ecclesiastical statesmen such as Jimmy Draper, Morris Chapman, and a host of others, the situation has only worsened.

These and a host of other facts and considerations have led the specially appointed committee on the BWA to conclude that it is no longer wise stewardship to lend monetary support to an entity whose participants openly oppose many of our most cherished beliefs.   Furthermore, to continue affiliation seems, in the judgment of our committee, to lend passive approval to what is presently often emphasized in the BWA.   A fellowship that calls for religious liberty, evangelism, fellowship among believers, support for the persecuted and disenfranchised, and much else, is laudable.   Continuing to allow presentations that call into question the truthfulness of Holy Scripture, refusing to support openly the idea that all who are saved must come to the salvation through conscious faith in Jesus Christ, and promoting women as preachers and pastors, are among the issues that make it impossible to endorse the BWA as a genuinely representative organization of world Baptists.  Accordingly, the BWA Study Committee appointed by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommends to the Executive Committee the following:

(1) That the Southern Baptist Convention withdraw its membership from the Baptist World Alliance, effective October 1, 2004, and encourage the Executive Committee and the EKG Task Force to continue studying how the Southern Baptist Convention may establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world for the purpose of growing in the grace of our Loving Lord, preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, and bringing glory to His name through the advancement of God's Kingdom on earth.

(2) That, effective October 1, 2004, the contribution to the Baptist World Alliance heretofore included in the annual SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget be deleted, making the funds available in the SBC Operating Budget to develop and execute a new and innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships with conservative evangelical Christians around the world as together we witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A portion of this year's SBC Operating Budget is allocated to the Baptist World Alliance and the consensus of the committee was to continue honoring the commitment for this fiscal year ending September 30, 2004.  

In conclusion, the committee wishes no one any harm.   Our fervent hope is that the exodus of Southern Baptists from the BWA will galvanize other member bodies scrupulously to examine and to correct the present trajectory of the BWA. Whatever the case, we wish Heaven's blessings on the BWA and its constituent conventions in every noble work for the Savior.

We pray for the day when the BWA will return to the faith on which it was founded and which has been historically held by Baptists for centuries.  We pray for the restoration of fellowship that such a return will bring.  The committee also anticipates with enthusiasm the possible emergence of a new fellowship with an unqualified adherence to the absolute Lordship of Christ, the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, salvation based on the substitutionary atonement of Christ appropriated through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, commitment to the sanctity of all human life, and advocacy of absolute religious liberty for all men everywhere including an open marketplace of discussion and self-determination.   How or when this new fellowship develops will be for others to determine, but numerous Baptist friends from around the globe have indicated their hearty interest in such a fellowship which could well include preaching conferences, church planting and growth conferences, the teaching of Baptist history and theology and participation in evangelistic and missionary efforts.  And, rather than becoming another denomination or a super-denomination as the BWA seems poised to become, this new entity would doubtless remain a fellowship of like minded and similarly committed Baptists.

Committee Members:

 

Morris H. Chapman, chairman

James T. Draper, Jr.

Thomas D. (Tom) Elliff

Paige Patterson

Paul Pressler

Jerry A. Rankin

Joe H. Reynolds

Gary A. Smith

R. L. (Bob) Sorrell

 

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