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SBC’s cooperation with other groups recapped in historical study by Mohler

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention has “a remarkably consistent pattern of cooperation without compromise” with other denominations and religious groups, according to a study by seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Mohler, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., prepared the study for the SBC Great Commission Council of SBC agency chief executives. The study also was distributed to members of the SBC Executive Committee during their Feb. 21-22 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Mohler’s paper, to be posted on the seminary’s sbts.edu Internet site, recounts various junctures in SBC life from 1890 to 1963 when the convention deliberated over its cooperation with other denominations and religious groups.

The matter of ecumenical relationships was discussed during the February Executive Committee meeting as well as its September 1999 meeting.

The Executive Committee approved a motion Feb. 22 to ask each SBC entity’s staff and trustees to review their “cooperative endeavors with other denominations and religious groups and report in writing on the status and implications of these endeavors to the Executive Committee” no later than Sept. 1 of this year.

The request related to a recommendation adopted during the September 1999 Executive Committee meeting that SBC entities “maintain the historic position of Southern Baptists as they cooperate with various other groups in appropriate evangelistic enterprises or moral advocacy initiatives … .” The recommendation additionally asked SBC entities to “avoid committing Southern Baptist resources, personnel, or ministries to relationships which would compromise the historic distinctives or the unique witness of Southern Baptists to the world.”

Mohler, in his study paper, listed four conclusions:

1) “Southern Baptists stand unalterably opposed to any ecumenical or interchurch union not based upon common convictions and practices drawn from the teachings of the Bible,” such as church membership of born-again believers and church autonomy.

2) “Southern Baptists are nevertheless committed to the unity of the churches — but this is a spiritual union until such time as others convince us that we are in error, or join us on the basis of common conviction.”

3) “Though opposed to movements toward federation or organic union, Southern Baptists are committed to work with other evangelical denominations in common causes, and count all those who know the Lord Jesus as Savior to be true Christians and our true brothers and sisters. While we differ on important issues such as church government and the nature of the ordinances (i.e., opposing all sacramentalism), we nonetheless consider these brothers and sisters to be true Christians with whom we can work toward legitimate spiritual ends (i.e., evangelism and missions).”

4) “Though considering non-Christians and the Roman Catholic Church to be the objects of our spiritual concern and evangelistic mission, we are nonetheless committed to work with ‘all men of good will in any good cause.’ Thus, we can work with secular Americans and Roman Catholic leaders in common cause for the abolition of abortion, the defense of marriage, and in contending for religious liberty, these offered as examples only.”

Included in Mohler’s study is a review of the SBC’s decision not to join the World Council of Churches in 1940 and, later, the National Council of Churches.

At the 1940 SBC annual meeting, messengers adopted a report from a committee led by the late George W. Truett, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, declining the invitation to join the World Council of Churches from two standpoints. As recounted by Mohler: “First, the Convention lacked any ecclesiastical authority. Second, the Convention resisted ‘totalitarian trends’ that threatened the autonomy of local churches.”

Mohler added that the SBC stance “proved to be most wise, for those two councils have fulfilled the worst fears of the Southern Baptists who first declined to join them. A ‘sham union’ [a phrase used in a 1938 report adopted by the SBC] has come to characterize these two councils and the larger ecumenical movement. Both are now in captivity to their most radical and liberal elements, and both have rejected biblical Christianity in favor of a modern post-Christian apostasy. The councils have moved from a ‘lowest common denominator’ of theological conviction to the outright repudiation of the Gospel itself.”

Both the 1925 and 1963 versions of the SBC’s statement of shared beliefs, the Baptist Faith and Message, have included a statement on cooperation, Mohler noted.

The 1963 statement reads: “Co-operation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is in itself justified, and when such co-operation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and his Word as revealed in the New Testament.”

The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message was expanded to include an article on “The Christian and the Social Order,” Mohler noted. The article, in part, notes, “In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all persons of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and his truth.”