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CBF modifies constitution; removes reference to Jesus in purpose statement

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GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–Participants at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly adopted a contested provision in a revised constitution despite the objections of some that the new wording of the CBF’s purpose statement likens the group to “another organization” of Baptists.

Under Article II of the CBF’s previous constitution, the purpose of the Fellowship was described as that of bringing “together Baptists who desire to call out God’s gifts in each person in order that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be spread throughout the world in glad obedience to the Great Commission.” The revised article in the constitution describes the Fellowship’s purpose as that of serving “Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.”

The revised article also does not reference the “authority of the Bible without the aid of creeds,” as did the original. Instead, the revised article cites the CBF’s belief in “soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom and religious freedom.”

Jay Robinson of Lexington, Ky., made a motion to refer the entire constitution back to committee because of problems in the wording of the article. Dick Allison, chair of the CBF’s legal committee, said the revision in the constitution was intended to bring the article in line with the language used in promotional materials from CBF’s headquarters. His explanation, however, did not satisfy some participants.

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“There is no reference to Christ, no reference to evangelism in this new article,” said Bob DeFoor, a CBF participant from Harrodsburg, Ky. “A few years ago, another organization did just that … they left Jesus out. We need to make our commitment to Christ explicit. We need to make our commitment to evangelism explicit. We don’t need to leave Jesus out.”

DeFoor may have been referencing the Southern Baptist Convention, which amended its statement of faith in 2000, to omit a sentence, which read, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” to instead affirm that “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

The SBC Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee issued a statement at that time explaining that liberal biblical interpreters abused the deleted phrase to put Jesus in opposition to the Apostle Paul and to argue for an interpretation of the person of Jesus against the teaching of Scripture.

The motion to send the CBF entire constitution back to committee failed, but DeFoor again made a motion that at least the contested article be considered a separate item and referred back to committee.

Joe Harrison of Washington, D.C., an original member of the committee that formed the CBF’s constitution in 1996, said the General Assembly should avoid “nitpicking.” “You must look at the whole document to get the sense of it,” Harrison said.

Cynthia Holmes, immediate past moderator and a member of the CBF Coordinating Council, said that fears about the absence of language referencing Jesus shouldn’t be a concern. The document, she said, “reflects our strategic plan.”

“Inherent in being a Christian is being a Great Commission Christian … what differs us is the desire to be the presence of Christ in all the world and the desire to practice missions holistically.”

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CBF spokesman Ben McDade also issued a statement echoing Holmes’ explanation. “The purpose statement of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s constitution and bylaws was changed to reflect the Fellowship’s mission statement — serving Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. This mission statement is intended to capture the spirit of the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ,” McDade wrote in the statement.

The motion to refer the constitutional article back to committee failed after two standing votes. More than 2,300 participants then approved the constitution.

Moderator Bob Setzer Jr., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., said he was appreciative of the “spirited debate” and the fact that participants were able to speak their minds as “free Baptists.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., asked by Baptist Press for comment, said, “My central concern is what this means about the true nature of the CBF and its commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The nomenclature of a mission statement sets forth an organization’s central convictions and commitments. How can any organization of churches redefine itself without evangelism without intending to send a message about a larger theological shift?”

Russell D. Moore, Southern Seminary’s theology school dean and senior vice president for academic administration, told Baptist Press, “This sad discussion is part of a long-running trend in the CBF, a trend I found at the CBF General Assemblies I attended from the year 2000 onward.

“This represents the eclipse of Christ in the moderate Baptist movement,” Moore continued. “For years, CBF leaders and divinity schools have rejected the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. What we are seeing here is a generational struggle between older CBF leaders, who wish to hold on to more traditional Christian language, and younger CBF activists, who have learned well the radical theological lessons of the older generation and now wish to apply them consistently. It is part and parcel with the ongoing division over homosexuality in the CBF.

“Sadly, this is what happens when a group seeks unity around what they do not believe,” Moore said.
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Art Toalston contributed to this article.