News Articles

FIRST PERSON: Open letter to a first-time CBF attendee

Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to a man the author encountered in a workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. The events described in the letter took place in a June 24 workshop titled, “Barbeque and Bagels: Engaging Baptists and Jews in Dialogue.” The workshop was led by Tom Allen, minister of education at First Baptist Church in Southern Pines, N.C.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Dear brother,

I am writing to you because I share the concern you expressed in Tom Allen’s workshop on Baptist-Jewish dialogue at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.

As I sat through Allen’s presentation, I did not hear him say anything that was offensive or contrary to Scripture. But I became increasingly frustrated as the workshop progressed and he said nothing about sharing the Gospel with our Jewish friends and neighbors. I am not sure if you saw me sitting in the back of the room. But when you raised your hand at question-and-answer time, I felt refreshed that someone shared my concern.

“I am a first-time attendee at the CBF, so I don’t know how things work here,” you said. “But are we assuming that Jewish people are OK spiritually, or do we assume that they need Christ?”

Though I was refreshed by your question, the answer that came back to you discouraged me quickly. “I’ve been where you are,” a man in the back row said to you. “But I’ve realized that I need to let God handle the Jews and Jesus issue.”

I became increasingly disturbed as other workshop participants added their thoughts to the discussion. One gentleman said he views groups that advocate Jewish evangelism as “extreme” and that he prefers groups that “are moving toward a more mature theology.” A woman told how her church places a cloth over the cross in their auditorium when Jewish people enter in order to avoid being offensive. Still another participant suggested that pastors find non-Christian rabbis to address their churches in order to give people “a new set of lenses to view the Gospel.”

Your frustration seemed to reach its highest level when Allen concluded the discussion by telling us that we need not feel consumed with sharing the message of Christ with Jewish people because “Jews already understand that we believe Jesus is the Christ.”

I wish I could tell you that your initial CBF experience was an anomaly and that passion for verbal Gospel proclamation abounds in the CBF. Sadly, however, the scene you witnessed in that workshop appears to be the norm for CBF general assemblies rather than the exception.

I have attended two CBF general assemblies, and while there are many God-honoring things that go on at these meetings, I have yet to hear a CBF speaker passionately call upon Fellowship Baptists to proclaim the Gospel to the world. I have heard many calls for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless and demonstrating a Christ-like attitude. But my concern is like yours: The CBF displays seemingly minor concern for sharing the Gospel with lost men and women.

In contrast to what you experienced at the CBF, consider some of the things that were said at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis June 15-16.

Franklin Graham exhorted SBC messengers, “When you tell someone that the only way they can come to God is through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, … that’s going to be offensive. But friends, you have got to tell the truth if we are going to be a witness. Even if it offends them, you have got to tell the truth.”

In his presidential address, Jack Graham told Southern Baptists, “If we are to complete our mission, we must walk worthily and witness intentionally. Our message must be clear — it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In addition to the discussion of evangelism at the SBC, more than 1,500 professions of faith were recorded as part of Crossover Indiana, an annual effort in which messengers share the Gospel with people in the city and state where the convention is held.

I am sorry if you felt disappointed with your first CBF General Assembly, but I know a place where you will find a group of believers that share your passion for proclaiming the message of Christ. I invite you to the 2005 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn., June 21-22 where you will see a meeting of Baptists who display an obvious burden for proclaiming the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation.

I hope to see you there.