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German theologian confirms liberalism’s influence on BWA

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (BP)–German seminary leader Helge Stadelmann has issued his counsel to Southern Baptists — be aware of liberalism’s influence on the Baptist World Alliance.

Stadelmann, rector of Freie Evangelische Theologische Akadamie (Free Evangelical Theological Academy), an interdenominational seminary in Giessen, Germany, said in a telephone interview Jan. 27 that he has witnessed in Germany the influence of liberalism on the BWA and the negative impact this influence has had on evangelism in his home country.

“In a country like Germany, home of the Reformation, one can clearly see how liberalism in the form of higher criticism has damaged the Lutheran church,” said Stadelmann, an ordained Baptist minister who was a guest at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., in late January. “I cannot understand why German Baptists are open to this same kind of liberalism. But they are. It has damaged the Baptist church in Germany,” he told the Missouri Baptist newsjournal The Pathway.

“The German Baptists want to be recognized, but they don’t want to be different. Having liberals in a church is no good for a church,” said Stadelman, who also is vice chairman of the Association of German Evangelical Theologians.

Higher criticism is a term used by scholars to describe the study of Scripture. The discipline was misused by liberal 19th-century German scholars and led them to question the truthfulness of Scripture. Their misuse ultimately spread across Europe and to scholars in the United States.

A nine-member study committee, working on behalf of the SBC Executive Committee, has issued a recommendation that the SBC terminate its membership in the BWA at the start of the coming fiscal year (Oct. 1). If approved by the Executive Committee, the recommendation will be voted on when Southern Baptists convene for their annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Theological concerns have been cited as the core reason for the study committee’s recommendation.

The theological problems cited by the committee involve “an increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines.” Also cited were positions “being advocated in the various commissions and committees of the BWA” — stemming from a number of European and North American conventions with prominence in the BWA.

SBC President Jack Graham, a Dallas-area pastor, has endorsed the proposed withdrawal from the BWA. The Dallas-area pastor described the BWA as “becoming a marginalized organization which is having a smaller and smaller influence for the Gospel of Christ around the world.”

“There are strong, missionary-minded churches in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Stadelmann said. “I’m quite sure if it is permitted, this liberal theology will spread here [to the United States] and the evangelistic outlook will be lost.”

Stadelmann said 64 percent of the population in Berlin does not belong to any type of church. Only 26 percent of Germany’s 80 million citizens belong to a Protestant denomination, including only 80,000 Baptists in the country.

Commenting on various pleas for Southern Baptists to stay in the BWA, Stadelmann said, “I would think that any evangelical-minded denomination, being criticized for what it stands for and is only good for paying into the organization, would want to take this into consideration.

“If it reaches a point where Southern Baptists cannot be understood and the BWA does not want to listen to what the real aims are, I would say it is time to pull out,” Stadelmann said.

“It is my understanding that the BWA supports groups in the Southern Baptist Convention who are there to change Southern Baptists to a more liberal direction,” he added, referring to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization formed in 1991 by opponents of the SBC’s conservative resurgence. “I would also say that if I had to give money, I wouldn’t give it for such groups.”

The BWA General Council voted last summer to accept the CBF’s application for BWA membership. SBC leaders, as an example of the theological direction of the CBF, have pointed out to BWA leaders that during a breakout session at the 2003 CBF General Assembly meeting, a speaker raised questions about the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ to save all, and only, those who come to God through Him.

Stadelmann said Southern Baptists have come under strong criticism in Germany because of the BWA recommendation.

“The last four weeks in our Baptist journal, they have criticized Southern Baptists. A former member of the board of the German Baptist Convention stated that ‘it is true that Southern Baptists are just for negative people’ and ‘we can’t get along with them.’

“But I know them [the German critics of the SBC],” Stadelmann added. “They are different, because of liberalism. We have a vast influence in Germany that is diluting the Word of God.”

Stadelmann, speaking at a Midwestern convocation, encouraged the seminarians to “be thankful and grateful for the ministry they have.”

Using 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 for his text, Stadelmann said the Apostle Paul was thankful for his ministry even though it was a difficult time.

“Paul didn’t see himself as a volunteer,” Stadelmann said. “He was called by God. And you should not consider yourself a volunteer because you have been called by God. You have been called by God and placed in the right place.”

Stadelmann also expressed his gratitude for Southern Baptist seminaries and the stand they have taken for the Word of God.

“Your job is not to peddle the Word of God,” Stadelmann told the seminary community. “Do not dilute God’s Word. Just stick to the Word of God as God has given it.”
Bob Baysinger is managing editor of The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HELGE STADELMANN.

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  • Bob Baysinger