News Articles

Chapman to BWA: Respect SBC, ‘cease’ church letter campaign

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Baptist World Alliance fund-raising appeal directly to Southern Baptist churches has drawn a response from the denomination’s Morris H. Chapman, who says the effort violates denominational policy and “defies the spirit of working together with another Baptist body.”

The president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee wrote an open letter to BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz and President Billy Kim, asking them to discontinue the appeal to Southern Baptist churches.

In June messengers to the SBC annual meeting voted to withdraw from the BWA over doctrinal concerns, which meant a reduction of $300,000 from BWA’s budget. Then, in September, Southern Baptist churches received a letter from Lotz and Kim, asking for donations. The sequence of events followed a vote in 2003 by SBC messengers to reduce BWA funding from $425,000 to $300,000.

“In attempting to encourage Southern Baptist churches to include the Baptist World Alliance in their budgets,” Chapman wrote in the Sept. 24 letter, “you are violating a policy by which our entities abide for the sake of Southern Baptist cooperative world missions. Therefore, on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches, I respectfully ask you to cease immediately any fund raising appeals to our churches.

“Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and can voluntarily support the BWA financially should they choose to do so, but solicitation of funds from our churches fails to honor the Convention’s cooperative plan for supporting missions, and thus, defies the spirit of working together with another Baptist body.

“Although the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer a member of the Baptist World Alliance, to continue these efforts is in direct violation of a principle and practice by which the churches of the Convention cooperatively support national and international missions.”

The letter from Lotz and Kim, dated Aug. 27, includes an appeal to disregard charges made by the Southern Baptist BWA study committee, and presents the BWA as the organization which is “the presence of Christ to a world of turmoil.”

The letter says the two men are “deeply saddened” by the SBC’s vote to withdraw from the organization. The letter notes that a gift of $250 will make a church an “associate member” of BWA while a gift of $1,000 will make it a “Global Impact Church.”

Ian Chapman, BWA’s director of promotion and development, told Baptist Press that in addition to Southern Baptist churches the letter was also mailed to churches in the American Baptist Churches USA, Baptist General Conference and Progressive National Baptist Convention. He said the BWA got the names of the churches by purchasing a mailing list.

“Now that the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer a member of the Baptist World Alliance, there’s no reason for us not to send [letters to] individual churches,” he said. “Baptist autonomy means that churches can make their own decisions…. [S]ince the Southern Baptist Convention has decided not to remain a member, we have no option but to invite those churches that are in harmony with the Baptist World Alliance, who happen to be Southern Baptists, to alert them to this possibility of being able to support us and even to join us.”

In his letter, Morris Chapman said the BWA should honor the policies of each Baptist organization, including those of the SBC.

“Actions by the Baptist World Alliance that disregard policies of other Baptist bodies is unacceptable, especially if the BWA genuinely desires to co-exist in harmony and fellowship with all Baptist brethren for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of our Lord,” Morris Chapman wrote. “Had the SBC remained a member of the BWA, it would have vigorously opposed and prohibited the fund raising strategy you now have implemented with Southern Baptist churches.”

In a separate matter, the SBC’s Chapman has responded to a German professor who demanded Chapman apologize for charges made by the SBC’s BWA study committee. That committee, in a December 2003 report, claimed that an unnamed “German Baptist theologian,” appearing at a theology forum, said the following: “I am not even sure that there is any such thing as the Great Commission, but if there is I am confident that Jesus never said it.”

That theologian, Erich Geldbach, chose to come forward and challenge the report’s assertion, saying it was false. In an e-mail he demanded an apology from Chapman because, he said, Chapman had not turned from his “wicked ways.”

However, Geldbach may have underscored the study committee’s reasoning in the process. Geldbach, professor of ecumenical studies at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, released a written copy of his speech given at the theology forum, which was held in Vancouver. In the manuscript, Geldbach asserts that the Great Commission should not be the “heart of theological education” and argues that Paul did not write his pastoral letters and that they were written by another person years later.

“I do have difficulties accepting that Mt. 28 — the so-called Great Commission — is the ‘central focus of the entire seminary experience’ or that it should be ‘the heart of theological education,'” Geldbach said, according to the transcript. “Such statements present to me very serious hermeneutical questions, not the least being that in the same gospel of Matthew Jesus expressly sent his disciples not to the gentiles, not even to the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5f.).

“I also find it difficult to accept that the pastoral letters are originally by the apostle Paul. No one needs to go along with this assessment, but to me it makes more sense to interpret them within the context of a developing Christianity of the second and third generation.”

Responding to Geldbach via e-mail, the SBC’s Chapman said that Geldbach’s beliefs were outside the boundaries of orthodoxy.

“In light of these comments, your argument, in my opinion, is with God and His Word, not with Southern Baptists,” Chapman wrote. “I would also call your attention to the fact that although you were the person whose comments were questioned, you were the one to identify yourself publicly.

“Since you have continued to reference his name, Dr. [Paige] Patterson may choose personally to debate theological issues with you. As far as the committee is concerned, our work is completed, and no official comments will be made forthwith from a SBC-BWA Study Committee that is at present not a working committee.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust