The Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance
I sent the following letter to the SBC Executive Committee regarding the recommendation that the SBC sever ties with the BWA. It is posted here in hopes that all Southern Baptists will have an opportunity to consider the situation wisely and prayerfully so that they can make the right decision.
What the SBC is being urged to do:
The SBC study committee's recommendation, if approved by
the Executive Committee during its Feb. 16-17 meeting in Nashville, Tenn., would
be forwarded to messengers at the SBC annual meeting June 15-16 in Indianapolis.
What the BWA thinks of the proposed action:
We are extremely sorry at this tragic decision which alienates 16 million Southern Baptists from the rest of the 32 million Baptists of the world! Unfortunately, this breaking of fellowship with Baptists of the world destroys the unity of Baptists and thus brings schism into the life of Baptists worldwide.
Schism is defined as “the willful act of separating oneself from the unity of the Church…. A schism is a sin against love….” (Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms, p.217)
Baptists of the world love the Southern Baptists. We love the Southern Baptists for their missionary zeal, and their great concern for evangelization. Since the conservative resurgence in 1978 BWA leadership has bent over backwards to accommodate the concerns of the present Southern Baptist leadership, but alas now to no avail. SBC leadership hold significant positions in the life of the BWA, including a vice president, chairs of Study and Research, Officers Search Committee, etc. Indeed we love the amazing commitment of the Southern Baptist laity in the pew who sacrifice daily for Christ and His Kingdom. We are so sorry, however, that so many of our SBC brothers and sisters are uninformed about the BWA and the worldwide family, even though in 1905, the SBC played a leading role in founding the BWA! The present media coverage of the BWA is not only misleading but at times false. SBC leadership in the past and present have played leading roles in the life of the BWA including E.Y. Mullins, A.T. Robertson, Herschel Hobbs, Ted Adams, Baker James Cauthen, W.A. Criswell, Marie Mathis, Porter Ruth, Duke McCall, Harold Bennett, Billy Graham, Bill Hogue, Lewis Drummond, James Leo Garrett and countless others!
Unfortunately, I believe, this decision will bring a schism within the life of our worldwide Baptist family and thus it is a sin against love! The scripture commands us to love one another! Henry Blackaby just spoke to the ambassadors from many countries in Washington, D.C. Those who attended this wonderful event sponsored by the North American Mission Board, listened as Dr. Blackaby spoke from I John 4: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” What message is this schism against love sending to the non-believing world?
What the European Baptist Federation thinks:
Leaders of the European Baptist Federation, one of six regional organizations of the Baptist World Alliance Baptists are “deeply hurt” by the stated intention of the Southern Baptist Convention to withdraw both its money and support from the Baptist World Alliance by October 1, 2000, a step they say, of the largest Baptist denomination in the world that “will have important consequences in the future.” “We need to stay together for the sake of our witness to unbelievers … for the sake of persecuted Christians, for the sake of Human Rights and religious freedom,” they say in a statement from the EBF Executive, released January 12. The EBF represents approximately one million Baptists in 36 countries in Europe and five in the Middle East and is led by President Billy Taranger, Norway and General Secretary Theo Angelov, Bulgaria. The EBF committee emphasized the length of time that Baptists in North America and Europe have worked together for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “We as Baptists have been together for many centuries spreading the Gospel on our continent,” they wrote. Focusing on the last century, they praised the work of Baptist missionaries from North America who worked with Baptists in Europe in church planting, theological education and charitable ministries.
What Other Baptist Leaders Think:
Former Southern Baptist leader Duke McCall said the SBC proposal is the result of "rivalry, jealousy and pride."
McCall served as BWA president in 1980-85 and was a predecessor of SBC Executive Committee president Morris Chapman. He also was president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., for 30 years.
Noel Vose of Australia, also a former BWA president, expressed "great sorrow" over the SBC proposal to cut ties to BWA. "The unity of all who gather around the cross and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead ... is of absolute importance," Vose said. "The difference and disruptions between believers must give place to the Holy Spirit of reconciliation, that the witness of Christ's body be not besmirched."
Knud Wumpelmann of Denmark, who also has served as BWA president, noted that "for almost a hundred years we have as Baptists had a fast-growing, worldwide fellowship. It is now being threatened because one of the most prominent members of our group wants to dominate." As BWA leaders prepare to celebrate the organization's centennial congress next year in England, Wumpelmann added, "We are for the first time most seriously threatened by one of our own, even one we had learned to respect and love for inspiring leadership and thoughtful support over so many years."
Ken Manley of Australia: "The consequences for our region of the SBC breaking with our world Baptist family are difficult to contemplate. It is perhaps difficult for a convention such as SBC, where they form such a powerful majority in their own country, to appreciate what it is like to live as Baptist Christians where we are in a minority. On behalf of all Baptists throughout this region, I appeal to SBC leaders and people: please think again! You are valued and needed for the sake of God's Kingdom and by God's people. ... I find it hard to believe that you can turn your back on your Baptist brothers and sisters around the world."
Dorothy Selebano of South Africa: "I was shocked at the news about the SBC withdrawing membership, but when I recovered I remembered God's Word, which says: 'All things work together for the good to them that love him.' We may not be able to comprehend it now. Let us leave this issue in the capable hands of the living God. We will continue praying for our brothers and sisters in the SBC and for the BWA."
Brian Winslade, national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand: "Coming from a small Baptist union way down in the South Pacific, I continue to be appalled at the attitude and behavior of SBC leadership. ... Historians will one day judge the attitudes of current leadership within the SBC as a blatant denial of Baptist principles and destructive of Christian unity. We can behave better than this. Our prayer for the SBC is that they will breathe deeply, behave as mature followers of Jesus and reverse their decision."
Theo Angelov, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation: "The SBC churches, believers and missionaries were an important part of the building of a 'New Europe' after the Second World War and the falling of the Communist regimes. ... We cannot believe now the relations should be broken and the links torn apart. Any attempt to break this relationship and to separate brothers and sisters in Christ should not prevail over the Christian love that must exist between one another."
Nripen Baidya, Bangladesh Baptist Aid: "We are praying for the SBC leaders and believe God will guide them to change their decision to keep the global Baptist harmony. ... May God bless BWA and SBC leaders to come in a mutual understanding to keep the Baptist harmony alive."
What I think about this issue:
At the June meeting of the SBC in Indianapolis, Southern Baptists will be asked to do something that is, in my opinion, harmful to our witness as believers. The messengers will be asked by a segment of the leadership to sever ties with the Baptist World Alliance. This we should not, and must not, do. There is simply no compelling theological reason to act in such a disintegrating manner. Baptists around the world have a witness to bear and if we vote to sever ties we vote to tell the world that political agendas are more important than proclaiming the Gospel. The claim by the SBC committee report that the BWA is theologically errant is simply wrong. Baptists in Europe are, if anything, even more conservative than American Southern Baptists! Further, The German theologian who is cited in the SBC committee's statement has replied to the accusations made against him by saying, "What is being presented as a direct quote is neither my language, nor could I identify with such a statement which I would dismiss as theological trash." With that in mind, I hope and pray that messengers will vote to continue cooperation with the BWA because the world, at this time, needs us to be unified in preaching the love of Christ.
Dr Jim West
Pastor, Petros Baptist Church
Online since April 7, 1999
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