RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (BP)–In an expected move, the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance voted July 11 by secret ballot to accept the application of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member body of the BWA.
The BWA membership committee recommended that the General Council approve the application for membership first filed by the CBF in 2001, and re-filed in 2002. The motion to approve the recommendation of the membership committee passed by a 75-28 vote.
The membership committee had telegraphed its inclination to recommend membership status for the CBF in last year’s General Council meeting in Seville, Spain.
The membership committee, meeting earlier in the week to consider the application, invited two Southern Baptist representatives, O. S. Hawkins and Paul Pressler, to express the concerns of Southern Baptists about CBF membership.
The pair reported that a principal concern was that the CBF is not a separate, distinct convention as required by the membership bylaws of the BWA which explicitly require that “each member body shall have an identity of its own, and shall not exist as an integral part of some other union or convention.” The CBF is generally seen by the SBC as a dissident group from within the Southern Baptist Convention.
In response to a question during General Council debate as to when the CBF would fully and openly publicize to Southern Baptists that they are a separate convention, and not a part of the SBC, CBF coordinator Daniel Vestal stated that he thought the group had declared as much during the fall of 2002.
A long-standing objection among SBC leaders is the manner in which the CBF counts churches affiliated with the group. While Southern Baptist bylaws require that a church be in “friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention and its purposes, the CBF counts as a member church any one in which a single member contributes to the CBF financially, as long as the church forwards the contribution to CBF offices.
In June 2002, CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal stated to Baptist Press the group had told the BWA that it has “150 churches that have no relationship to the SBC at all, but are related to the CBF.” CBF publicity materials claim between 1,800-2,000 church partners. At the 2003 CBF general assembly in Charlotte, N.C., Vestal reported that through May 1, the CBF had 1,720 contributing churches and that over the past 12 months 241 churches contributed to the CBF for the first time.
In addition, Pressler informed the membership committee that during its 2003 meeting, a CBF breakout session leader gave a lecture entitled “The Plan(s) of Salvation: When Conversion and Pluralism Collide,” thus raising serious questions about whether the CBF holds to the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ to save all, and only, those who come to God through Him.
Another concern addressed by Pressler was the tendency of the CBF to attack and misrepresent the SBC, as well as its beliefs and practices. The report of the membership committee to the General Council last year stated, “The usual practice of the Membership Committee when receiving an application from an applicant organization in public disagreement with an existing member body of the BWA is to delay acceptance until everything has been done to deal with ongoing disagreement, public conflict and hurt.”
Stating they believed this provision applied to the relationship between the CBF and SBC, the representatives presented news articles detailing speeches and presentations at the 2003 CBF meeting which demonstrate the schismatic and belligerent attitudes and actions of the CBF toward the Southern Baptist Convention.
Tony Campolo, a CBF keynote speaker, asserted that the Southern Baptist Convention is guilty of espousing an “evil” position in holding that New Testament teachings do not permit a woman to take the role of senior pastor in a local church.
Pressler’s news articles also cited the attack of David Currie upon Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, charging him with being a “well meaning theological pervert.” The head of Texas Baptists Committed, Currie is a frequent speaker in CBF sponsored meetings and a long-time proponent and apologist for the CBF.
Many of the Southern Baptist participants at the BWA meeting expressed their disappointment and dismay at the decision to accept the CBF as a full member body and observed that the Southern Baptist Convention may have found itself faced with a decision about its relationship with the BWA.
Charles Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a regular participant in BWA meetings, said he thinks that Southern Baptist involvement with the BWA should be revisited by the SBC.
“The significance of the decision in accepting the CBF for full membership may only be the last straw which finally breaks a severely strained relationship stretching back several years,” he said. “The heart of the issue is the basic understanding of Baptist identity and mission. Southern Baptists believe that Baptists are people of the Book, who historically have cooperated with others of like mind in order to call a lost world to salvation through faith in Christ alone.
“For several years, Southern Baptists have attempted to get a definitive and clear statement of the mission of Baptists to the world agreed to by the BWA, and we have been singularly unsuccessful. This is about much more than CBF membership. This decision serves to tell us a great deal about the direction of the BWA. I do not believe that it is a direction Southern Baptists intend to go.”
In outlining Southern Baptists’ objections to admitting the CBF to member body status, Patterson, a BWA delegate, said, “The CBF continues to focus on deception and criticism of the SBC while it attempts to entice Southern Baptist churches away from the SBC, and into the CBF fold.
“Also, in the absence of any clear statement of faith, the CBF has become home to a great variety of aberrant theological positions, including the acceptability of homosexual practice, the appropriateness of female pastors, contrary to New Testament teaching, and the endorsement of theological pluralism and the denial of the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. While we are grateful that not every person associated with the CBF holds these positions, it is painfully clear that many do.
“In short, the admittance of the CBF to full membership provides the ultimate confirmation that the BWA is moving toward increased antagonism against the SBC, the International Mission Board and biblical theology.”
J. D. Greear, BWA participant and Southern Baptist pastor from Durham, N.C., also sees the problem as deeper than the CBF issue. He stated that on July 10, during a panel discussion, he had posed a question as to whether the BWA was willing to unequivocally affirm that a conscious decision to receive Christ was necessary for salvation.
“I was really shocked that some other participants jeered when I asked the question, but was even more alarmed that Denton Lotz dismissed it as a ‘theological issue’ that we weren’t going to discuss further,” Greear said. “I can’t think of anything more basic or more Baptistic than proclaiming you have to consciously receive Christ to be saved.”
A climate of overt criticism and attack upon the SBC in BWA meetings also concerns long-time Southern Baptist participants and General Council members.
“In the dozen or so years I’ve been participating in BWA meetings, I have never known of another member body being subjected, by name, to open criticism and censure,” Patterson said. “During last year’s meeting in Seville, a 10-minute tirade against the International Mission Board was allowed to continue uninterrupted though it was not on the subject under discussion. Not only was there no attempt on the part of BWA staff leadership to defuse the situation, there was no opportunity given to Southern Baptists to answer or refute the charges.”
The commitment of Southern Baptists to be involved with the Baptists of the world traces back to the very beginning of the BWA. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said that it is the heart of Southern Baptists to relate affirmatively to Baptists worldwide who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus Christ and the mandate for biblical evangelism and missions.
In a February statement to Baptist Press, Chapman spoke about the openness and flexibility of Southern Baptists in relating to Baptist bodies worldwide.
“The BWA study committee has asked the Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force to consider making Kingdom Relationships a platform within the EKG focus,” Chapman told Baptist Press in February. “The emphasis will be to strengthen bilateral SBC relationships with Baptist bodies around the world. In the process we will learn whether we can best represent Southern Baptists to the world through our own efforts or through the BWA or both.
“The relationship-building initiative may well include Bible conferences and meetings about evangelism and church growth. We will visit our brothers and sisters in other countries and bring resources to share with them that have helped us in our efforts to reach the world for Christ. Likewise, we will learn about their efforts and what has worked for them.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has provided the lion’s share of member contribution to the BWA decade for decades. In the budget report distributed at the BWA meeting, the SBC was shown to have given $425,000 of the $626,926 total provided by all member bodies, which represents about two-thirds of the total.
During the 2003 SBC meeting in Phoenix, messengers approved a budget for 2004 which decreases its support for BWA to $300,000.