SBC, BWA illustrate alternative approaches to unity
June 27 2003 by Marv Knox , Texas Baptist Standard

SBC, BWA illustrate alternative approaches to unity | Friday, June 27, 2003

Friday, June 27, 2003

SBC, BWA illustrate alternative approaches to unity

By Marv Knox Texas Baptist Standard

Credit Denton Lotz with the most ironic-yet-gracious line of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting June 17-18 in Phoenix.

Messengers had just voted overwhelmingly not to reconsider the SBC's 2004 budget. Their decision clearly ensured the convention would cut its allocation to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), which Lotz leads, from $425,000 to $300,000.

Following the set agenda, SBC President Jack Graham immediately introduced Lotz, who stepped to the podium to present the BWA report.

"Good morning," Lotz said, smiling although $125,000 poorer. "The Lord has a wonderful sense of humor, doesn't he?"

Some messengers laughed nervously, but Lotz went on to deliver a wonderfully generous message. "We Baptists ... want to stick together," he said, not a trace of sarcasm or bitterness in his voice. "We stick together because we belong to Jesus Christ."

The BWA embraces 206 Baptist unions and conventions whose membership numbers 46 million baptized believers around the globe, Lotz noted. They worship in 193,000 churches and minister in more than 200 countries.

The SBC is the largest and wealthiest affiliated convention in the BWA. Its 30 percent cutback in funding reflects strong disapproval of the BWA's openness to consider accepting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member.

The Fellowship left the SBC 12 years ago, its members disenfranchised by the increasingly fundamentalist nature of the convention. Now, the Fellowship has petitioned to join the BWA, whose membership committee has slated the request for consideration this summer. SBC leaders claim they are pulling money from the BWA because they aren't being "heard adequately" and because they disagree with the process the BWA membership committee used in considering the Fellowship's petition. The bottom line, however, is SBC leaders despise the Fellowship and are furious the BWA might allow the upstart organization to join.

This rift between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance reflects two worldviews. Those perspectives illustrate the difference between the leading approaches to Baptist unity. The SBC seeks unity based on doctrine, requiring adherence to well-defined, strictly interpreted adherence to a set of beliefs. The BWA seeks unity missionally, finding ground for relationship through a common purpose.

The SBC hasn't always utilized doctrine as its litmus test for unity. When the SBC began in 1845, affiliates checked doctrinal differences at the door. Calvinists and Arminians sat down together, as did worshippers who loved the high-church liturgy of Charleston and others who roused to the fiery evangelism of Sandy Creek. They joined together because they needed each others' strength to do missions. For years, their only institutions were foreign and home mission boards. For eight decades, they never felt they needed to write a statement of faith.

But in the past quarter-century, the SBC shifted its focus to doctrinal-based unity. In fact, the convention's "conservative resurgence" or "takeover" revolved around conformity to a narrowing set of beliefs. This trajectory reached its apex in 2000 with the adoption of the new Baptist Faith & Message statement. It describes itself as an "instrument of doctrinal accountability," or what some observers have called a creed.

The language used by speakers on the SBC platform in Phoenix illustrates their desire for firm doctrinal parameters. They described - with strong justification - the moral decay that pervades American society. But they also repeatedly talked about how Southern Baptists are oft-persecuted and much-maligned. This is ironic, since the SBC enjoys unparalleled and unprecedented access to the White House and Congress, and SBC leaders appear frequently as commentators on talk TV and other media. Their language illustrates how they feel attacked by a hostile culture. So, a rigid doctrinal emphasis creates a protective fence around the faithful, defining who can and cannot come inside. However, they have diminished the diameter of that fence and may, in time, declare the BWA, with its 205 other member bodies, outside their fold.

The BWA, on the other hand, embraces many of the poorest and most persecuted Baptists on the planet. Lotz described baptisms in bathtubs in Afghanistan, performed in secret so the pastors and new converts would not be executed. He told about ministers imprisoned in Turkmenistan and harsh sanctions around the globe. Baptists worldwide hail from many cultures and articulate some doctrinal distinctions differently. They uniformly affirm the lordship of Christ, believer's baptism, the authority of scripture and a regenerate church. But in the BWA, they rally around mission. They sacrifice to spread the gospel across the globe, to strengthen and encourage churches, to fight for religious liberty in the face of totalitarian regimes. BWA members include some of the world's most oppressed people, yet they persevere for fellowship and common purpose.

Leaders of both groups clearly articulate their rationale for Baptist unity. While the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's possible membership in the BWA is the focal point of current conflict, it really is beside the point in the larger picture. For its own reasons, the SBC will continue to delineate doctrinal demands for unity. Likewise, the BWA will rally under the common lordship of Christ and a shared heritage. This may mean the SBC drops out of and defunds the BWA (a possibility presaged by SBC Vice President Paul Pressler, who in defending the reduction in funding twice referred to the BWA as the Baptist Joint Committee, a religious liberty group the SBC defunded a decade ago).

If you affirm the SBC's doctrinal unity, you will approve the departure. If you support the BWA's missional unity, you will want to help make up the financial shortfall by leading your congregation to become a BWA Global Impact Church, which provides at least $1,000 annually to the BWA budget.

What's your basis for Baptist unity?

For information about the BWA's Global Impact Church program, contact Global Impact Department, BWA, 405 N. Washington St., Falls Church, Va. 22046; globalimpact@bwanet.org; (703) 790-8980, ext. 129.

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6/27/2003 12:00:00 AM by Marv Knox , Texas Baptist Standard | with 0 comments
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