Vestal confident as CBF passes through adolescence
    May 3 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

    With the death of founding coordinator and (spiritual) voice Cecil Sherman and the approaching 20th anniversary of its birth, the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is reaching a point where its viability into the future will either be cemented or proven unlikely.

    Current CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal, 65, wonders why CBF viability would be questioned, though one of the prime movers in CBF’s formation said years ago he considered CBF to be a “one generation movement.” “I disagree,” Vestal said between revival services at First Baptist Church in Marion on April 18.

    “We were born out of the fires of conflict and a struggle for freedom, as was nearly every other Baptist organization I know,” Vestal said. “The principles that birthed us — the love of freedom and the love of mission — have found new expressions for a changing culture and a changing world.”
    Some Southern Baptists upset with the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in 1990 in Atlanta to discuss options and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which launched officially the following May. The CBF will hold its annual meeting June 23-26 in Charlotte.

    “The SBC became a convention that had a command and control culture,” Vestal said. “Either you conformed to that culture or you didn’t have a place of influence or leadership … even fellowship. That was contrary to the Baptist spirit of freedom, autonomy and priesthood.”

    BR photo by Norman Jameson

    Daniel Vestal believes the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has a bright future.

    Originally CBF was founded simply as a missionary sending agency but has since offered a financial and spiritual impetus for the starting of other ministries.

    Its admission to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) was a significant factor in the Southern Baptist Convention’s withdrawing from that worldwide Baptist body.

    One reason Southern Baptists protested CBF’s admission to the BWA was that the CBF is not a denomination. Such distinction is “not important” to anyone under age 40 said Vestal, and the CBF is “an association of Baptist churches and individuals.”

    Although CBF “functions in many ways like what in the past we called a convention,” CBF elects no trustees, and owns no institutions. When asked his own denomination, he said he is “Baptist.”

    CBF quickly matured beyond “reacting” to things SBC and developed its own identity apart from being “anti-SBC.” When asked about several current issues in the SBC, Vestal professed unawareness.

    The common denominator for CBF churches, he said, is that, “We share a passion for the Great Commission and Baptist principles of faith and practice.”

    Members “want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Vestal said. “Many want to honor and live out the Baptist tradition that nurtured them. But they want to do that in very different ways than convention Baptists, so we are fellowship Baptists more than convention Baptists.”  

    CBF commitments
    Vestal believes CBF is the “face of the future” and that denominations that survive into the future will look and function more like CBF, which is committed to the local church as “the center of the missions enterprise.” “We’re committed to women in ministry, which is the future,” he said. “The Southern Baptist culture that denies women can be pastors is not only out of touch with the Spirit, it’s out of touch with scripture.

    “Thirty percent of the churches in China have female pastors.”

    CBF also is committed to “biblical justice.” Vestal said, “Our understanding of the gospel is that commitment to justice is as important as personal salvation. The Kingdom of God is coming, it has come.”

    State organizations have sprung up around the national CBF movement. The North Carolina chapter, led by Larry Hovis, former pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, is the largest state chapter, although CBF national still receives more money from Texas than from any other state, according to Vestal.

    While the N.C. chapter functions independently, field coordinators for CBF chapters in Virginia and Texas are actually on Vestal’s staff, which numbers 55. He said CBF has 160 missionaries, although some are funded by CBF partners.

    North Carolina Baptists until 2010 contributed to CBF national through Plan C of their Cooperative Program budget. In 2010 N.C. Baptists reverted to a single giving plan that excludes CBF.

    “We were very grateful for our partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina,” Vestal said.”We affirm the right of the BSC to make this decision, but we regret the loss of this partnership.”

    Most partner churches of North Carolina CBF remain marginally connected with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The same is true of CBF as a whole, where “churches that are a part of CBF are still in some way related to, or partnering with SBC or state Baptist conventions,” Vestal said.

    He believes local churches affiliating with multiple partners is a feature of the future.

    He said, “the day is over” when local churches can be expected to operate exclusively within a certain structure identified by a denominational tag. Instead they will partner “with whoever they choose to partner with to fulfill their mission.”

    Although Vestal doesn’t expect the CBF to become a “majoritarian movement” anytime soon, he said, “I think we have a bright future.”  

    Age of adolescence
    At age 20, he said his organization is “barely out of adolescence” and “what God has done in the last 20 years is really remarkable.”

    Vestal 65, has recovered from prostate cancer. He said it is natural at his age to think about his future and that of CBF, although he has no “clarity about when I’ll retire.”

    The son of a pastor, Vestal was a youth evangelist, and became a pastor at age 25.

    He pastored churches for 27 years before spending the last 13 at the helm of CBF, which was a toddler when he took it by the hand.

    His two sons and daughter are all ordained to ministry. “I really believe CBF is a renewal movement within the Baptist family,” Vestal said. “God’s not through yet with Baptist churches.”

    Related story

    CBF leader lauds predecessor, founder
    5/3/2010 9:18:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 8 comments

Gene Scarborough
I appreciate the issues cited and the recognition of how we have "battled over the Bible" in the past.

[b]Let's just recognize one thing:[/b] When Autonomy prevailed, we got along dispite theological differences. We COOPERATED in the COOPERATIVE PROGRAM so that missionaries could be sent and spend more time ministering than raising money personally.

Now, we have reverted to those attitudes which kept us apart and caused missionaries to spend as much time away from the mission field raising money as in ministering to those to whom they were sent.

Somehow I fail to see the validity or value of Conservative Resurgence. From Bold Mission Thrust we battled over nit-picking theology. We made "official" statements as if Baptists were not Autonomous. The most offensive was "God does not hear the prayers of Jews!" There have been similar offenses to those we were trying to reach with the Gospel, but that one takes the cake.

[b]Right now we are 600 missionaries short in funding and growth is plateaued![/b]

This is real. Face it / correct the arrogance which has led to it / try to find a bigness of spirit to admit like Peter and Paul: "We have a difference of outlook. Rather than bring dishonor to our Saviour, we will part ways and share the Gospel as the Holy Spirit leads."

[b]Is there a problem with simply agreeing to disagree in good Baptist Autonomous fashion?????[/b]
5/4/2010 11:51:02 PM

Tommy Kiker
The lack of justice often times has ushered in great periods of revival and growth in the church. There was great injustice towards believers in the 1st century church, but I can assure they had a greater commitment to the salvation of individuals than to a pursuit of justice.
5/4/2010 9:56:59 PM

Brent Hobbs
I'm all for "cease fires" between the groups. But when the gospel is being denied or obscured, whether intentionally or not (as I am convinced it is in the statement I quoted above), we have the responsibility to bring that to light. My issue isn't personal, it isn't with CBF/SBC politics. It is that the statement, 'biblical justice is as important as personal salvation' does serious injury to the gospel.
5/4/2010 12:53:47 PM

Mitch Caudill
I have been sitting here reading the article concerning the CBF and how it came into being through the vision of Cecil Sherman because of what was taking place in the SBC at them time. Whether you support the SBC or the CBF or whatever organization you want to, the fact remains that both sides have slung insults and accusations at each other. Neither side is innocent in this circumstance. I came to North Carolina from Georgia and the first time I attended a state convention i as embarrassed and ashamed. We spent all the time there debated over who should have control of the convention or giving awards to those churches who gave the most money. Well, again like so many I may be ridiculed for this comment, but I really don't care, because I only have one boss as pastor of a church in North Carolina and that is God Himself. It will only be when we take Galatians 1: 10 to heart that we will become the child of God we should be and I know that all of you know what that verse says, "Are we here to please man or to please God. If we are here to please man, then we can not be a bond servant of Christ." Until we stop doing church to please the congregation, until we stop doing business as to not insult people, we will be letting our God down. This is true for both the CBF and SBC. Lift up the name of Christ and not the name Baptist. I am not a North Carolina Baptist, I am a born-again, bloodwashed, forgiven child of God just trying to please Him. Would you like to join me?
5/4/2010 10:02:47 AM

You have read and interpreted the article and likely, the accompanying editorial, precisely. In Luke 9:50 Jesus said in response to disciples who complained about a man driving out demons in Jesus' name who was not "with us:" "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you." CBF is not "against us."

Christians who are not "with us" can still be "for" Jesus. We are to be known as Jesus followers by how we love one another. From all accounts, Vestal's ignorance of things Southern Baptist is legitimate. He doesn't follow SBC activities. He is not anti-SBC; he is "for" the ministry he leads. The ministry he leads is doing Jesus work, just not doing it like SBC does it. There no longer is any need/reason/purpose/edification in denigrating CBF work or partners, nationally or in North Carolina. CBF and SBC and BSC are separate organizations, all focused on kingdom work.

My purpose in interviewing Vestal was to update us on where CBF is. After all, North Carolina Baptists were sending CBF money until just five months ago. And about 300 North Carolina Baptist churches are affiliated with the group at some level -- churches that used to be very active in BSC life and ministry. But Brian has read it correctly: there is no reason and in fact there are compelling reasons of Christian love, to declare a cessation of insults, skepticism or resentment in either direction.
5/4/2010 9:04:40 AM

Mr. Scarborough, I just spend 20 minutes writing a post that is just as rude as yours begins when you address the poster before you and his use of words that you think are too large. I wanted to debate you on the issues you brought up and momentarily thought that if I wrote you out of anger and frustration, I would be able to magically be able to change your mind. I had a moment of clarity and I simply will not take a rude tone with someone I don't know, though we probably have fundamental disagreements.

As a dumb seminary student/youth pastor that likes to read a lot of books, I want to issue a challenge to anyone that will read this.

I think both sides, SBC and CBF, should stop insulting each other. My prayer is that all Christians, even ones in organizations I choose not to align myself with, reach a lost and dying world. There are major issues that we disagree on and neither of us are going to budge. We should pray for each other, be cordial with each other, and move on before the secular world begins to shut us off because they see us fighting with each other and think we are no different than they are.

Mr. Scarborough and Brent, let's be different. Let's be God honoring and Christ centered in how we treat each other. When it's time to debate, let's do it privately and in a manner that is fit for Christians. I would like to challenge everyone that reads this to spend just as much time, if not more, sharing their faith in Christ with the lost as they do blogging and posting and responding to posts on the internet. I am not talking about a kiss and make up scenario. I would not expect or thing we should have some sort of dramatic reconciliation, as I am an inerrentist and think that issue is huge and you really can't just agree to disagree. We can, however, stop bickering with each other, and focus more on our responsibilities as Christians and bringing the truth of a loving God that provides a substitution for our sins.

I hope I am wrong, but I am sure I will get lambasted by someone about something. My words are probably too big or too small. I probably misspelled something and I have no intention of doing spell check. I probably said something that can be picked apart and taken out of context to make me seem hateful or jaded. Maybe I will write my next post in all latin to show off next time, all while being hateful toward people I disagree with. Please try to see my heart and passion in this. We simply MUST be CHRIST-centered or we will all fail.

Biblical Recorder staff, I challenge you guys to do your jobs and simply report the news, and not get involved in denominational politics.

That is my request. I hope that no one is offended and that my challenge will at least be considered. Let us focus on how we can share Christ with the world, and not who can out blog the other.

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

5/4/2010 1:00:21 AM

Gene Scarborough
While Brent Hobbs uses his 25-cent words to try and critique CBF, it falls far short!

What I see in CBF is the spirit of what Southern Baptists were pre-1979. For a few years those of us who belived in Autonomy and Missions tried desperately to bring about a return---with absolutely no success.

Our problem was the sweet sound of "Inerrency" in a time of social transition. What was being offered was a false sense of security under the pretense of "returning to the Bible."

[b]If "returning to the Bible" meant the Pharisees once again rule and kill Jesus for daring to be different, it would be accurate.[/b]

[b][i]If "returning to the Bible" gave people permission to rant and rave and denigrate anyone "not of their exact stripe," it would be more accurate![/i][/b]

My mother is the classis example of church members who refused to believe things had really changed. She failed to see how WMU was being relegated to the closet by her Preacher who was a dictator. She was fooled by the pretty Fellowship Hall and "nice" orchestra into not realizing her beloved WMU (she is a graduate of Carver School of Missions) had no real place outside of being used to raise mission money at Christmas and Easter. Her Pastor made his own decisions with no consultation or consideration of the importance of women (just 1 issue symbolic of the Dictator Pastor).

I love my mother. I have shared with he how our father, a pioneer for the HMB in Juvenile Rehabilitation, would be turning over in his grave with the way Autonomy had been trampled and a dogmatic conservative Bible interpretation had become a Creed instead of a Guide for Baptist churches. She was enamored with her "sweet church" in suburban Atlanta.

Now she is seeing how things have really changed and how she has been fooled. Sadly, she still gives her tithe to a church which only gives to the SBC--trusting that things have not changed as much as many of us know it has.

CBF has been called every name in the book---EXCEPT---what the SBC used to be!!!

[b]Why is it they are growing by leaps and bounds while the SBC seems to have a problem????[/b]
5/3/2010 11:12:22 PM

Brent Hobbs
[quote]CBF also is committed to “biblical justice.” Vestal said, “Our understanding of the gospel is that commitment to justice is as important as personal salvation. The Kingdom of God is coming, it has come.”[/quote]

This statement isn't clear enough to draw final conclusions about what he meant, but it should throw up some serious red flags. "As important"? If I had to chose between the two, I'd rather experience injustice and personal salvation than avoid injustice and miss personal salvation. Are justice issues important? Yes. Has the conservative movement often missed how important they are? Yes. "As important"? Surely not.

I think it's just further evidence the hermeneutic applied by CBF types only leads further and further from the biblical gospel.

5/3/2010 10:33:09 PM

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