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Baptist editor, layman debate ecumenism, Catholic doctrine

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A state Baptist newspaper editor has called him a “bully” and an “extremist.”
His pastor, however, said “I thank God for men” like him and “wish we had more leaders who possessed his courage.”
The Baptist layman at issue, meanwhile, stays on course. His warnings to Southern Baptists continue against ecumenism, against compromise of Bible doctrines, against Roman Catholic beliefs that, ultimately, he maintains, will send souls to hell instead of heaven.
Bill Streich, a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and member of First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, was targeted by Kentucky editor Mark Wingfield in an Aug. 19 editorial for his role in cutting Southern Baptist participation in a Sept. 1-7 “Reconciliation ’97” conference in Coventry, England.
A memo Streich circulated June 10 prompted the executive committee of the then-Home Mission Board to prohibit funding for staff members’ travel to the “reconciliation” conference, a decision subsequently honored by the president of the new North American Mission Board, Bob Reccord, after NAMB replaced the HMB on June 19, at the end of the SBC annual meeting last June in Dallas, as part of the SBC’s “Covenant for a New Century” restructuring.
According to Streich’s memo, 13 NAMB staff members were scheduled to participate in the Reconciliation ’97, which drew an attendance of 300 people at the Anglican Church’s Coventry Cathedral.
Reid Hardin, the key organizer of Reconciliation ’97 while on the HMB’s staff, retired from the agency during the summer and continued his involvement with the conference.
Streich’s memo took note of involvement by Roman Catholics and Anglicans in Reconciliation ’97.
Concerning Roman Catholics, Streich’s memo contended that Southern Baptists are “giving credibility to the teaching of the apostate Catholic Church” by associating with the Coventry event.
Citing the conference’s theme, “Becoming one in Christ’s Spirit,” Streich stated: “This implies that both the doctrine of Roman Catholicism and that of Southern Baptists regarding salvation are equally sufficient to satisfy God’s demands for justification. … (T)he presumption is that all are already God’s children based on their respective beliefs about what it means to be saved! Does the church save? Do the sacraments adequately dispense God’s grace?”
Streich cited Reconciliation ’97 goals of building “networks through which avenues for evangelism and ministry can be created” and of resolving “otherwise irreconcilable differences, affirming the unity of the Body of Christ … (and) its diversity through loving and redemptive ministry … .”
“This implies,” Streich wrote, “that if any barrier exists, doctrinal or otherwise, we must lay it aside so as not to stifle our joint evangelistic effort. In other words, if biblical differences regarding salvation are irreconcilable, we need to disregard them for the sake of a non-biblical unity … .”
Of the Anglican Church, Streich noted in his memo: “The Anglican Church, as of 1996, officially denies the existence of a literal hell and accepts the ordination of women to the priesthood. The liberal trend typically found in many denominations is accelerating in the Church of England. Prince Charles will head the church once he ascends the throne. It is closely tied to both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches. Do we truly want to be identified with this group for the purposes of ‘reconciling the world?'”
Streich also cited a resolution passed by messengers to the 1996 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, “On Southern Baptists and Ecumenism,” which notes, “Historically, Southern Baptists have resisted ecumenism while embracing Christian brotherhood and cooperation with other evangelicals,” while, “True Biblical unity can only be realized ‘in the bond of truth,’ and never at the expense of Biblical truth.”
The resolution urged SBC entities, “as they cooperate with various other groups in appropriate evangelistic enterprises, and on issues of justice, morality, and religious liberty both at home and abroad,” to avoid “any organizational or long-term relationship which would risk possible compromise of historic distinctives or the unique witness of Southern Baptists to the world.”
Wingfield, in his editorial, charged that NAMB employees were “bullied and scared” out of participating in Reconciliation ’97 because of the persistent campaigning of one NAMB trustee, Streich.
The assumption behind Streich’s position, Wingfield wrote, was that Baptists are the only authentic expression of the Christian church in the world. “To cooperate with Anglicans and Catholics would ‘compromise’ the Baptist faith,” Wingfield said.
Wingfield lamented that “only one or two” SBC employees were likely to attend the conference in which they had been among the primary planners.
In posing the question, “What’s the moral of this story?” Wingfield then pushed Streich’s concerns into the context of denominational controversy.
Responding with his answers, Wingfield’s said the current climate of the SBC is such that bullies can get their way by intimidation if not by vote. He said this allows the “bully” to position himself as being even more conservative than all the other conservatives.
Wingfield asked, “How conservative is conservative enough?'”
And, Wingfield wrote, misinformed bullies “like Streich” keep the pot “boiling at home.”
Wingfield’s editorial prompted Streich’s pastor, Robert Jeffress, to write in response: “As Bill Streich’s pastor I can assure you that he is no ‘bully.’ Although Bill and I have not always agreed on every issue, I have found him to be a compassionate and Christlike servant who has a genuine interest in furthering the kingdom of God. In the five years I have served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Bill has never been a source of any conflict within our fellowship.”
Moreover, Jeffress wrote, “Instead of condemning Streich we ought to applaud him for having the courage to expose the hypocrisy of some of our Southern Baptist leaders who seem intent on jumping in bed with the Roman Catholic Church whose doctrines are totally incompatible with evangelical Christianity. I thank God for men like Bill Streich and wish we had more leaders who possessed his courage.”
Streich issued a statement Sept. 16 but made no direct mention of Wingfield’s editorial.
But Streich noted: “Those who proclaim the narrow way are characterized as unloving and judgmental by those who are comfortable with the broad path. They are accused of not caring for people. But the Bible says that those who nullify grace in their own lives by adding works to grace (Romans 11:6) have made Christ’s work on the cross of no effect to them (Galatians 5:4). Lost for eternity, they do not need a sweet, emotional experience of reconciliation and promises of a false unity. They need the truth.
“Contention for the faith (Jude 3) preserves the purity of the gospel in Christian fellowship,” Streich wrote, “and delivers those who have been deceived by false religious systems. We must speak the truth in love!”
Maintaining his anti-ecumenical course, Streich’s Sept. 16 statement asked: “… does the Roman Catholic Church proclaim a true gospel? If so, then it would be appropriate that participation in the sacraments would replace faith as the means of obtaining the grace of God; that Mary could be considered as Co-Redemptrix with Christ; and that Scripture would share its authority with Catholic tradition and leaders. God forbid.” Rather than “biblical unity,” it is “really an unholy alliance!” he declared.
The result of any such alliance, Streich continued, “is that we disobey God, trivialize his wonderful grace, help to secure many in their blindness, and discourage conservative grassroot Baptists as they see their distinctives erode away. Instead of leading the lost, by grace, to freedom in Christ, we encourage them to continue along the road of good works, that broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14)!”