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FIRST-PERSON: The hot topic

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–In Baptist media circles, the hot topic these days is a report and recommendation from a nine-member study committee working for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The committee studied the SBC’s relationship with the Baptist World Alliance. The bottom line? Terminate the SBC’s membership. Why? Simply put, for some time, we have not walked in fellowship with this particular organization of Baptist denominations.

In the context of institutional and organizational life, relationships need regular study and evaluation. Here in Oklahoma, for example, Baptists have taken the time to study how our cooperative ministries can be more intentional and strategic in fulfilling our purpose of assisting churches in accomplishing their biblical mission and providing channels for cooperative ministry in Oklahoma and around the world.

Currently, a healthy study is underway with our BGCO affiliates — Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma, Baptist Villages Retirement Communities of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Baptist University. While many state conventions are struggling with their institutional relationships, Oklahoma Baptists have experienced health and cooperation. Such a study nevertheless is a matter of proper stewardship.

Being part of a larger denominational family helps local churches do great things for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Note what is written at the SBC website, www.sbc.net, about the potential we Baptists have: “Denominations allow churches to be a part of a larger enterprise, pooling their resources to establish and advance Great Commission work. A denomination can have an impact larger than the sum of the impacts of the individual churches.”

While belonging to a large denomination, Southern Baptists have ferociously supported the Baptist principle of local church autonomy and independence. However, local church autonomy doesn’t mean churches can embrace “every wind of doctrine and practice” and remain connected to the family of cooperating Baptist churches.

At www.sbc.net, we also read how our diversity does not equate with theological and moral compromise: “Within the Body of Christ, there is a great diversity of gifts, temperament, taste and experience. Churches benefit from this range of qualities within their own fellowship and across the denomination. Churches learn from and complement each other. This is not a matter of moral or doctrinal compromise. You cannot believe and do just anything and remain a part of the Southern Baptist fellowship. All Baptist bodies have limits. But within those limits, there is room for significant cooperative diversity.”

Part of Southern Baptist’s DNA is the reality that we look at interdenominational alliances with an eye of suspicion. We are willing to work with other faith groups on matters of social concern, humanitarian aid and religious liberty. Yet, under no circumstances do we want other groups speaking in our behalf. We are open-handed with our resources and our willingness to work with others as long as they do not compromise our theological or fiduciary integrity.

Part of our generosity was illustrated by the fact that of all the 211 member bodies of the BWA, Southern Baptists gave more than two-thirds of the BWA’s total receipts. Yet for some time now, Southern Baptists have had very little input in formulating the direction and policies of the BWA. As a matter of good stewardship, Southern Baptists must look at other options for global interaction.

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board and a member of the SBC study committee, issued a statement to Baptist Press, “The BWA has continued to embrace, under the Baptist banner, a ‘diversity’ beyond what Southern Baptists can feel comfortable with.”

Defunding the BWA doesn’t mean Southern Baptists are withdrawing from participation with other groups to reach the world for Christ. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, dispelled the idea of isolation, “If the Southern Baptist Convention adopts the recommendation this summer, it will put in motion a new effort by Southern Baptists to build an even stronger relationship with conservative evangelical Christians in the United States and around the world.”

Southern Baptists have been at this juncture before with an organization. Many of the same issues of a theological and ethical nature collapsed our relationship with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Southern Baptists tried to make the relationship work, but there are some issues not up for debate, such as sanctity of life and religious liberty for all. We had no options but to respectfully withdraw from BJCPA membership.

Neither should Southern Baptists be condemned for the report on severing its relationship with the BWA. Instead, we should express gratitude to the study committee for making a prudent, carefully examined and decisive report that protects Cooperative Program interests and gives us an even greater opportunity to facilitate new opportunities of fellowship with other conservative evangelical groups.
John Yeats is editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • John Yeats