MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–To the chant of aboriginal singers and dancers from Australia’s outback, the 18th Congress of the Baptist World Alliance opened Jan. 5 in Melbourne at the southern tip of the continent. Their presentation was preceded by the traditional roll call of Baptists by nations, as a representative of each nation carried a national banner into the Melbourne Exhibition Center.
The BWA was organized in 1905 for Baptists to find fellowship among themselves, transcending nationalities, cultures and local Baptist conventions and unions. A world congress is held every five years (in years ending in 0 and 5). Through 1998, there are 42,310,591 Baptists in 159,878 local churches affiliated with the BWA in 196 Baptist conventions and unions around the world. Those BWA affiliates account for about 80 percent of the world’s Baptists.
“Our languages and cultures are various,” outgoing BWA President Nilson do Amaral Fanini of Brazil said in a written welcome to the congress. “Yet as God’s Word affirms, there is but ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ The bonds which unite us are stronger than the differences that identify us.”
‘Jesus Christ Forever. Yes!’ is the theme of the Jan. 5-9 congress.
The Warlpiri performers who opened the congress have communicated their beliefs for thousands of years by drawing, dance and song. As each presentation of music, dance and art, or ‘corroboree,’ unfolds, the singers tell their story in rhythmic repetitious form, accompanied by the clapping of boomerangs. The dancers’ movement stretched from reflections of alienation to togetherness in Jesus Christ.
H. Beecher Hicks Jr., senior minister of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., was the evening’s keynote speaker.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is an invitation” (Matthew 11:28-30), Hicks proclaimed — a message for “a world where technology blesses us but moral vision escapes us.” It is “an age when anti-intellectualism and a contentious spirit now rages against large segments of the church.”
“Consider the nations of the Pacific Rim, consider the sweatshops of developing countries where countless thousands suffer under the oppressive yoke of forced labor and little pay, fueled by American greed and materialism,” Hicks said. “Jesus is speaking now to more sufferers than ever before.”
“Believers cannot take on the yoke of Jesus until they reject whatever personal yokes already bind them,” Hicks said.
“Underscoring the work of the ministering church, however,” Hicks pointed to wonders, miracles, healing and anointing “that God pours out on those who are faithful to God’s Word.”
“We are not here for a theological tea party. We are here because we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Satan is waging state-of-the-art warfare against the church while at the beginning of a new century the church is still using arrows and slingshots.”
The invitation Jesus offers, Hicks said, is, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Say ‘Yes!’ to Jesus’ invitation,” Hicks urged, “and take his yoke, his burden, which fits well and leads to liberation and rest.” As Hicks concluded by repeating ‘Yes!’ in nearly a dozen languages, the congress audience picked up the cry, likewise voicing ‘Yes!’ in each tongue.
Hillhouse is editor of the weekly newspaper Hi-Riser in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area and a member of First Baptist Church, Deerfield Beach, Fla.