Past CBF leader says it's time to consider new convention
July 5 2002 by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

Past CBF leader says it's time to consider new convention | Friday, July 5, 2002

Friday, July 5, 2002

Past CBF leader says it's time to consider new convention

By Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

FORT WORTH - Moderates moving away from the Southern Baptist Convention will sooner or later become a new convention and should begin thinking about what form it will take, Cecil Sherman told a gathering of Mainstream Baptists June 27.

Sherman, former coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, was keynote speaker at a banquet in Fort Worth, Texas, sponsored by the Mainstream Baptist Network. The banquet was held in conjunction with the CBF General Assembly, although Mainstream is not directly affiliated with CBF.

"There is an opening for our kind of people, a window of opportunity," Sherman said.

The CBF's current coordinator, Daniel Vestal, however, disagreed with his predecessor. Asked in a breakout session if he believed a new convention is around the corner, Vestal said, "It ain't gonna happen."

"You don't just form a convention by announcing it," Vestal said. "I don't think churches are going to join a new convention."

Sherman compared the condition of moderate Baptists to the children of Israel leaving bondage in Egypt. "We are out of Egypt, but we are not in the Promised Land." he said.

Moderate Baptists formed the CBF in 1991 over differences with conservatives that gained control of the SBC in the 1980s and '90s. The new organization's leadership has insisted, however, that the group is a fellowship, and not a precursor to a denomination.

The CBF rejected a motion to form a new convention in 1995. Leaders said at the time there wasn't enough interest in formally separating from the SBC, and that taking the step would be divisive in local churches. After a study of the question, however, the CBF did vote to start appointing chaplains, a function normally done by denominational bodies, in 1997.

Meanwhile, other groupings of moderate Baptists have grown up alongside the CBF over the years, including the Mainstream Baptist Network, the Alliance of Baptists and other state-focused groups.

Sherman called the current landscape of moderate Baptist affinities "an ill-formed cluster of clusters."

He discounted the much-talked-about notion of post-denominationalism, arguing that denominations may change but will not go away. "Denominations are going to stay alive," he said.

To reinforce the point, he quoted a former Southern Baptist pastor who started a new church without the support of a denomination: "People who wonder about the future of denominations should try living without one."

Despite protestations to the contrary, moderate Baptists will end up with a convention or denomination, Sherman said. "We have been building a new denomination for 10 years."

This is not a clear-cut process, however, he added. "Getting out of Egypt doesn't solve all problems."

Among challenges he listed were "negative self-definitions," odd personalities and the obsession of some with going back to Egypt.

"We've got to get beyond negative self-definitions," he said. "What we are against will get us out of Egypt but not much farther."

Further, Sherman said, "Some of the people who came out of Egypt with us are nuts. They are fruitcakes."

Because a journey through the wilderness may not always be pleasant, "fainthearted people look back," he said. "The bigness of Egypt calls them."

For moderate Baptists to move beyond the wilderness into a Promised Land will require serious thought and intentional action by people younger than Sherman, who is 68.

"Folks like me don't have a lot of business at the table," he said. "We've had our turn."

The four people most likely to guide this process, he said, are Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed; and Vestal.

Sherman said some sort of cohesive convention structure is possible, because although moderate Baptists are not all alike, "We're more alike than we'd like to admit."

But he said that cohesion will be limited, unless the fringes see the value of promoting the center.

Sherman warned against "elitist groups" that "characterize themselves but not us." Such groups, he said, are "not very smart" in advancing the Baptist cause.

"Baptists are conservative people," he said. "If we don't present ourselves in ways that make us sound like we're like them, they're not going to join us." Sherman urged moderate Baptists to "make your case from the text," the Bible. "You can be for causes if they are truly biblical causes," he said.

Sherman recalled discussions in the early 1990s about merging the CBF with the Alliance of Baptists. In an initial meeting, an Alliance representative insisted that for a merger to work, "Every church in CBF should hold our position on the women's issue," Sherman said.

"Then we'll never merge," Sherman responded.

He said he sees no difference between that type of demand and the SBC leadership's demand for conformity on biblical inerrancy. That's not to say some issues aren't essential, Sherman said. "Some ideas are very important."

The one vital issue, he said, is "who is Jesus?"

"Christianity is about Jesus," he said. "It's looking at God through Jesus. That's the big idea. All the rest, I can talk to you, work with you."

Unless moderates make that message clear, they will not gain the trust of many Baptists, Sherman said. "A lot of people don't like the actions of the SBC, but they're not sure they want to join us."

He recalled a comment made several years ago by someone in a church where he visited representing CBF: "I don't like them (SBC), but I don't trust you (CBF)."

Though Sherman opposed the CBF forming a new convention when he led the organization in 1995, he said at the time he believed it was a question of timing. "I would be surprised if this group votes to do that next year, but I'd be a lot surprised if this group hasn't done that within 20 years," he told a reporter.

Vestal, in his breakout session at this year's General Assembly, said CBF's emphasis on partnerships with ministry groups that share common values is more appealing to contemporary church leaders than a centralized denominational body.

He predicted that currently existing denominations would in the future come to resemble CBF's "denomination-like" approach. Because of that, he said that the CBF is uniquely poised to serve churches in an era termed by many as "post-denominational."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Baptists Today Editor John Pierce contributed to this story.)

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7/5/2002 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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