CBF leaders adopt identity statement
October 25 2002 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

CBF leaders adopt identity statement | Friday, Oct. 25, 2002

Friday, Oct. 25, 2002

CBF leaders adopt identity statement

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press

ATLANTA - The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is a "Baptist association of churches and individuals" separate from the Southern Baptist Convention, but the group declines to define itself as a convention or denomination, according to a new statement by CBF leadership.

The statement, adopted by the CBF Coordinating Council Oct. 19, responds to a request by a Baptist World Alliance (BWA) membership committee that the Atlanta-based group affirm publicly that it is not an "integral part" of any current BWA member - specifically the SBC.

The CBF, which formed in 1991 as a result of SBC controversy, first voted in 2000 to apply for membership in the BWA, a worldwide fellowship of Baptists. A BWA membership committee denied the group's first application last year, saying the Fellowship did not appear to qualify as a traditional Baptist convention or union for membership.

A second application this year, however, got a more favorable hearing when the BWA General Council met in Spain in July. The group overwhelmingly approved a report that the CBF could qualify for membership by next year if its leaders would "affirm publicly ... that they have separated themselves from the structures and organization of the SBC, and have a distinctively diverse understanding to the SBC of what it means to be an organized body of Baptist churches and individuals in covenant relationship."

The CBF council responded with a statement listing 20 indicators that the Fellowship is "no longer integral" to the SBC, including the fact that the SBC has in effect recognized CBF as a separate entity by refusing to accept funding from the Fellowship for the past seven years.

The CBF also has its own organizational structure, missionaries, foundation and benefits board and endorses chaplains. More than 150 CBF churches have no formal membership in the SBC. The United Nations recognizes the CBF as a non-governmental organization, and several Baptist state conventions allow churches to give to CBF through their budgets.

Consistent with earlier statements, however, leaders of the Fellowship insisted the moderate breakaway group is not a denomination.

"Though fully independent of the SBC or any other union, we do not declare that we are a denomination or convention," the statement says. "Rather, we are Baptist by conviction and we are a partnership of churches and individuals by philosophy. We have chosen instead to define ourselves as a 'fellowship,' which means that we are a 'Baptist association of churches and individuals' in partnership for the advancement of God's kingdom."

Founded in 1905, the Baptist World Alliance represents more than 200 Baptist unions and conventions that include 44.5 million baptized believers in 193,000 Baptist churches around the world.

CBF leaders believe membership in the BWA would expand opportunities for ministry through overseas partnerships and add legitimacy to the CBF by affirming it is more than a "splinter group."

"I believe it is important for us to be a part of the BWA," said CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal. "I believe it is important for the BWA, and I believe it is important for the kingdom of God."

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention oppose the CBF's membership application. Members of the SBC delegation voted against the BWA membership committee report in July, commenting that the Fellowship should first declare itself a new convention in order to sufficiently separate from the SBC.

"I think there are some people who desperately want us to declare ourselves a convention of churches rather than a fellowship of individuals and churches," Vestal told the CBF Coordinating Council. "I don't think we want to go down that road."

CBF leaders said the new identity statement is significant not only for the BWA application, but it also gives the organization a chance to define itself more clearly to the general public.

Jim Baucom, past CBF moderator and pastor of Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., said before attending the BWA General Council meeting in Spain, he assumed everyone understood that the organization is not "an integral part" of the SBC.

Baucom said he soon discovered, however, that "almost no one outside of our movement understands that."

"They believe we are part of the SBC, sort of a shadow organization, but not a separate organization," Baucom said.

SBC leaders have indicated they might leave the BWA or reduce funding if the CBF is allowed to join. The SBC is the largest BWA member, with 16 million members, and provides funding for about 20 percent of the BWA's $2.1 million annual budget.

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10/25/2002 12:00:00 AM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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