BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Nearly 1,500 registered participants at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly appointed two emissaries to the Baptist World Alliance during their annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., June 25, signaling closer ties between the CBF and the world Baptist body. The group also voted to become a founding member of “Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A.,” an ecumenical organization.
Also during the assembly’s opening sessions, in Birmingham, Ala., June 24-25, participants approved a $16 million operating budget and listened to sermons on “being the presence of Christ.”
During an auxiliary meeting, the Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society presented “The Courage Award” to Molly Marshall, a former professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
CBF & BWA
CBF National Coordinator Daniel Vestal and Emmanuel McCall, a member of the CBF Coordinating Council and pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in College Park, Ga., will represent the CBF in upcoming BWA sessions.
“The BWA is going to find a new vision and new life. I believe there is a way and opportunity for the worldwide Baptist fellowship to rediscover its mission,” Vestal told the CBF’s Coordinating Council June 23.
The BWA admitted the CBF last year despite objections by Southern Baptist Convention leaders that the CBF had not declared itself a body separate from Southern Baptists. The acceptance of the moderate fellowship was the last straw in a long list of unanswered concerns that included the leftward theological drift of the alliance and resulted in the withdrawal of the SBC from the BWA during the SBC annual meeting June 15 in Indianapolis. The departure of the SBC from the BWA leaves the organization without $300,000 in funding that had been contributed by the convention.
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz said he is not worried about the shortfall in funds because he anticipates that 1,000 churches will come forward to offer the BWA $1,000 each. “I am not worried about the money. I am worried about schism. Schism is heresy,” Lotz said.
Participants at the CBF in Birmingham collected $33,495 in an offering for the BWA during their evening session June 24. Anita Snell, associate coordinator for mission teams with CBF Global Missions, said before the offering that the BWA should be supported because it “has refused to bow to control.”
Twice during CBF auxiliary events, Lotz said that he would no longer discuss the departure of the SBC from the BWA. At a BWA breakfast June 25, Lotz said he was not interested in living in the past. “We are going to move on into the future,” Lotz said. “A complaining and angry church will be an empty church.”
Twice, however, Lotz said that BWA had not come together to “police beliefs” or to be dictatorial. “We did not come together to tell you what to believe. But we came to affirm what we do believe — that Jesus Christ is Lord. BWA is a home for everybody. We do not want Baptists to feel excluded,” Lotz said.
It is that open door policy for all who call themselves Baptists that has created much of the stir among Southern Baptist leaders. For example, while the BWA does not condone homosexuality, the American Baptist Convention, a member body, tolerates gay and “affirming” churches. The ABC has approximately 50 churches that welcome practicing homosexuals into their fellowships. The ABC also provides some of the leaders of the BWA.
“What happens in the BWA is networking. We don’t police one another; we network with one another. We are here to say, ‘What do you need to accomplish your work?’” Lotz said.
Lotz said the BWA exists to break down walls created by human beings. “God will have his wrath on all the walls…. God is going to judge history, nations, churches and Baptists,” he said.
Lotz also said the BWA would be introducing a new category of membership at its next session in Seoul, South Korea. Individual churches will be allowed to join the group as “associate members,” he said.
The 2003 CBF General Assembly approved a $17 million operating budget for 2003-2004. But, because of early trends in receipts, CBF staff restricted spending to $16 million.
The fellowship will take in approximately $750,000 more than what the CBF staff executed of the actual operating budget –- marking the first time in two years the CBF will conclude its fiscal year with more revenues than expenditures, said Philip Wise, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas and chair of the CBF’s finance committee at a CBF Coordinating Council meeting.
“The last two years … the finance committee reported that we would have to dip into reserves to meet our budget,” Wise said. “The controls we’ve put in place have worked. We anticipate closing out the year in the black and meeting our goal for the Offering for Global Missions.”
The General Assembly approved a $16,008,000 budget for fiscal year 2004-2005 during a business session June 25.
In addition, the Coordinating Council approved a not-to-exceed operating budget of $16,470,000 for fiscal year 2005-2006.
The Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society honored Molly Marshall with “The Courage Award” for “living out the Baptist ideals of freedom and faith in the face of any and all would-be tyranny.”
Marshall, who resigned from her position at Southern in 1994 amidst allegations that she violated the seminary’s abstract of principles, received the award in a June 24 ceremony.
Past recipients of The Courage Award include Jimmy Carter, Walter Rauschenbush and William H. Whitsitt.
The award is “a reclamation of some very hard years,” Marshall said. She thanked former Southern Seminary President Roy Honeycutt, “who had the courage to hire me and stood faithfully by on his watch.”
Marshall compared herself to Whitsitt as she accepted the award.
“We both believe in academic freedom, which led us to challenge prevailing, regnant views among Southern Baptists,” she said. “He challenged Baptist views of Baptist origins. I challenged prevailing views of the role of women in ministry and patriarchal perceptions of God.
“… I was a tenured professor but resigned for the sake of freedom.”
NEW ECUMENICAL PARTNERSHIP
On June 25 the General Assembly voted to ratify CBF involvement in Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT), a new ecumenical group involving religious organizations from five traditional faith families — mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Orthodox.
The CBF will be a founding participant in CCT when more than 25 religious groups launch the effort in May 2005.
“I think it is a historic opportunity for CBF,” said CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal in statement released by the CBF. “I believe God is doing a new thing. God is bringing together some new convergences. We’re not running it. We’re not in charge of it. We are participating in it, and it is a joy to be a part of this effort.”
CCT offers “a new space inclusive of diverse families of faith in the United States,” said Sonja Phillips, co-pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a member of the committee that discussed the proposal to join the group.
A representative of “Call to Renewal,” an anti-poverty advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., spoke to the Coordinating Council June 24 about a potential partnership between CBF and Call to Renewal.
Vestal told council members that the CBF has been involved in poverty issues on a “micro” level through its rural poverty initiative, “Partners in Hope.” Call to Renewal, however, provides CBF with an opportunity to combat poverty on a “macro,” he said.
“Poverty is the one issue with a biblical imperative that churches can agree on,” Yonce Shelton, national coordinator and policy director of Call to Renewal, told the Coordinating Council. “We’re trying to have a prophetic voice on public policy and poverty issues.”
Call to Renewal is an “intentionally bipartisan” effort to combat poverty, Vestal said.
The foundation fellowship in the CBF is Jesus Christ, Vestal said in his coordinator’s report to the General Assembly June 25.
Some claim that a group of cooperating churches must adopt a creed or authoritarian leadership structure to achieve unity, Vestal said. But the only requirement for biblical fellowship among churches is a common relationship with Jesus Christ, he said.
“Our personal experience of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ is what binds us together,” he said. “It is this common experience of faith in Jesus Christ and relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord that is the basis of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Is that enough? I contend that it is.”
As the CBF enjoys fellowship with Jesus, it must also “be the presence of Christ to the world,” Vestal said.
Being the presence of Christ to the world requires Fellowship Baptists to focus on serving others rather than establishing denominational hierarchy, he said.
“This fellowship exists to serve, to encourage one another in service, to enlist and empower servants,” Vestal said. “We are not a hierarchical denomination that dictates to churches or makes pronouncements … or passes resolutions. We are not here to lord it over anybody or to make statements, but to serve.”