The Baptist World Alliance: A personal testimony : Friday, Jan. 9, 2004
January 9 2004 by James Leo Garrett, Jr.

The Baptist World Alliance: A personal testimony : Friday, Jan. 9, 2004
Friday, Jan. 9, 2004

The Baptist World Alliance: A personal testimony

By James Leo Garrett, Jr.

I have been privileged to attend eight of the quinquennial world congresses of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the first being in Cleveland in 1950. I have known every general secretary of the BWA since A.T. Ohrn (1947-60) and every president since Theodore F. Adams (1955-60). My first assignment for BWA was at the Miami Beach congress in 1965, and with the exception of one quinquennium, I have had a responsibility with the BWA since 1968. I have edited two books for BWA and have attended BWA meetings on six continents.

These great privileges have afforded me an unusual opportunity to know BWA in a very personal way. Hence, I can say without reservation that this worldwide channel of fellowship, unity and mutual helpfulness, embracing 47 million Baptist church members in 211 conventions and unions today, is a great blessing to be cherished, guarded, sustained and extended, whatever the cost.

Baptists have never had among themselves complete doctrinal agreement. From the 17th century, General Baptists and Particular Baptists in England differed as to whether Christ died for the sins of all humankind or only for the sins of the elect. Baptists have differed throughout their history on the issue of closed communion versus open communion. At one time Baptists differed in their attitudes toward human slavery and racial segregation. Baptists during the 20th century had divergent postures toward membership in councils of churches.

Nevertheless, virtually all Baptists have held to beliefs that they shared with other Christians (such as God as Creator of all, the Trinity, the person of the divine-human Christ, the inspiration of the scriptures, the universality of sin, Christ as the only Savior and Lord, the work of the Holy Spirit, and last things) and to beliefs common among and somewhat peculiar to Baptists (such as believer's baptism by immersion, congregational polity and religious freedom).

It was therefore, an event of no little wonder in 1905 when Baptist representatives assembled, prodded largely by English Baptists and Southern Baptists, in London to form the BWA.

The unity that has characterized the BWA has been that of Eph. 4:3-6, not that of enforced uniformity. Cultural, national and linguistic differences, as well as lesser doctrinal and ethical variations, have always existed, but Baptists through the BWA have transcended those differences through a unity that enabled them to defend and befriend the persecuted, teach and enunciate Baptist convictions, render aid to those in distress, deepen their love for fellow Baptists, and extend the witness of the gospel to all nations and peoples.

The BWA has welcomed into its membership any convention or union that evidences adherence to the core beliefs shared by Baptists. The overwhelming majority of Baptist unions or conventions are presently member bodies of the BWA. Those that are not are mostly in the USA. The General Council of the BWA is a representative body with membership allocated according to church membership. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has the largest number of members. Each of the 211 unions or conventions has at least one member on the BWA General Council.

Among the leaders of the Baptists bodies outside North America there has tended to be a basic gratitude to the SBC for its extensive and expansive missionary work, especially since World War II. Many of the conventions and unions originated from the work of Southern Baptist missionaries, while others derived from the missionary work of British Baptists, American Baptists, Canadian Baptists, Swedish Baptists, Australian Baptists, or New Zealand Baptists.

But also, especially during recent years, these same overseas leaders have come to fear and to resist what they perceive as neo-colonialist tendencies from North America, especially from the SBC, according to which they feel they have become less than equal brothers and sisters in the worldwide Baptist brotherhood at the very time when the BWA has become more global than ever before.

Those who have only recently begun to participate in the BWA would be well advised to look carefully both to history and to the worldwide Baptist situation today. Mistaken attitudes and policies can have a disastrous effect on Baptist unity and the Baptist work of evangelization, whereas truly Christian and biblical attitudes and actions can be a great and decisive blessing, opening new doors in the unfolding twenty-first century.

The BWA is the only Baptist entity that can effectively defend and champion on a worldwide basis the religious freedom of persecuted Baptists and other Christians today.

The BWA is not a mission board or society, for it does not appoint or give financial support to missionaries. Yet it brings together, as it did earlier this year in England, Baptist missionary leaders from all the continents and helps Baptists together to strategize for global evangelization.

The BWA is not a publishing house, but it does provide workshops and some materials designed to strengthen the educational/discipleship ministry of Baptist churches, especially those in the smaller unions and conventions.

The BWA has regional fellowships, usually on continental bases that provide a means of Baptist cooperation on each of the continents.

The BWA has a significant aid ministry that offers onetime help for numerous crisis, benevolent, and educational projects.

The BWA world congresses and youth congresses every five years provide opportunities for all Baptists to gather in fellowship to encourage one another, to network, and to listen to and pray with and for one another. Such congresses contribute greatly to church renewal and church growth worldwide.

This international linkage that stands up for the persecuted, shares with those in need, unites Baptists with fellow believers, strengthens the educational ministry of churches, and encourages and extends the missionary imperative needs strong and steady support as we move forward in the new millennium.

In 2005 in Birmingham, England, the BWA will celebrate its centennial. Every Baptist church member, including Southern Baptists, is encouraged and welcome to attend.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Garrett is distinguished professor of theology, emeritus, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

1/9/2004 12:00:00 AM by James Leo Garrett, Jr. | with 0 comments

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