'Move on,' Carter tells CBF
July 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

'Move on,' Carter tells CBF | Friday, July 6, 2001

Friday, July 6, 2001

'Move on,' Carter tells CBF

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor ATLANTA - Members of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) should take the lead in reaching out to other Baptists for cooperative mission efforts around the world, Jimmy Carter told about 8,100 persons attending the fellowship's 10th General Assembly. The former president added: "If others won't cooperate, forget them. Forget them and move on as Christians and as Baptists, just following Jesus."

The comments closed a rambling speech in which Carter reflected on his spiritual journey, his work through the Carter Center, and his hopes for CBF and other Baptists.

Carter said he has visited 120 countries since leaving the White House, and the Carter Center has ongoing projects in 65 countries, 35 of them in Africa. He said the Carter Center's work is guided by three principles: (1) "We don't duplicate efforts or compete with other organizations, but try to fill vacuums and go where we are most needed." (2) "We are non-partisan and try to work with everyone." (3) "We don't just talk. If there's not an action component, we won't call a conference."

He suggested the CBF could profit from adhering to the same principles in its mission efforts.

Carter has successfully brokered peace efforts between warring countries, antagonistic ethnic groups and rival political factions around the world, but noted that he had little success in attempting to bring conservative and moderate Baptists together. In 1998, he organized a meeting of about 25 representative Baptist leaders to search for common ground. "We had a harmonious series of meetings," he said, "but nothing much came of it that would ease the superficial differences" between the two groups. "The important things were there," he said. "It was the superficial things in the eyes of God that persisted."

The group finally issued a common statement calling for Christians to be kind to one another, to work for the protection of Christians around the world, and to reach out to racially different churches. "But not much came of it," Carter said.

Carter revealed that he had recently held private meetings with some moderate Baptist groups - he preferred to call them "traditional Baptists" - including representatives from the CBF, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia. The purpose of the meetings was to find common ground for developing partnerships to "carry out the mandate given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ," he said.

Carter read a statement he had drafted that espoused what he considered to be traditional Baptist values of scriptural authority, local church autonomy, soul-competency, the separation of church and state, and the priesthood of the believer. The statement also emphasized the importance of global missions and the education of future Baptist leaders.

Traditional Baptists believe in the right of every believer to interpret scripture, Carter said, and they refuse to elevate the scriptures above Jesus. They are known for what they are for rather than what they are against, regard males and females as equal and hold minimal differences between clergy and laity, he said.

Division is nothing new, Carter said, recalling a dispute in the early church in which some Jewish Christians believed new converts could not be fully Christian without following the Jewish law. Carter noted that a conference was held to discuss the issue (Acts 15), but it persisted, leading Paul to reject exclusive restrictions and to say "I determined that I would not know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Carter suggested that doctrinal disputes over issues like women in ministry and homosexuality might be no more significant than circumcision in God's eyes.

Carter called on the CBF to reach out to others in common cause, to magnify its financial contributions threefold, to retain its autonomy and to have a world mission vision based on a practical application of the gospel.

He said the best thing that has happened at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., where he is a member, is that Jerome and Joanne Ethridge went out of the church as missionaries to Togo. Jerome was a peanut farmer, Carter said, but the Ethridges were assigned to teaching English in the Togolese capital of Lome for seven years.

Ethridge got permission to transfer to a remote area in northeastern Togo where there were only five religious entities within 80 miles. Etheridge partnered with N.C. Baptists to obtain and use well-drilling equipment so that every village within 80 miles had good drinking water. N.C. Baptists also assisted in providing a bulldozer used to dig ponds to catch rainwater and raise fish for food, and in building a 230-foot concrete bridge across a river that flooded and interfered with travel for months each year.

That practical ministry contributed to 5,000 baptisms and the establishment of 81 new churches, Carter said. Ethridge was "just a peanut farmer, inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, using what he knew in humble fashion."

CBF members should adopt that same spirit of humble service and willingness to follow Jesus, Carter said.

Prior to his speech, Carter was presented the "William Whitsett Award" for his contributions to Baptist life and heritage.

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7/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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