Even after the terrible bombings that have left the city of London on edge, more than 10,000 undeterred Baptists from around the world gathered in Birmingham, England, last week for the centennial celebration of the Baptist World Congress.
Even if you are Baptist, you may not be familiar with this 100-year-old organization. Although others had advocated the idea of bringing Baptists throughout the world together, in 1904, A. T. Robertson, a Southern Seminary scholar, promoted the idea of a world conference in his column in the Argus. The idea caught fire and one year later in London, a Baptist World Congress was organized.
In July of 1905, delegates voted to form an organization known today as the Baptist World Alliance. Today the BWA consists of more than 210 Baptist unions worldwide, representing some 31 million Baptists.
The BWA seeks to:
–Promote Christian fellowship and cooperation among Baptists throughout the world.
–Bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and assist member bodies in their divine task of bringing all people to God through Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
–Promote understanding and cooperation among Baptist bodies and with other Christian groups in keeping with our unity in Christ.
–Act as an agency for the expression of biblical faith and historically distinctive Baptist principles and practices
–Act as an agency of reconciliation seeking peace for all persons and uphold the claims of fundamental human rights, including full religious liberty.
–Serve as a channel for expressing Christian social concern and alleviating human need.
–Serve in cooperation with member bodies as a resource for the development of plans for evangelism, education, church growth, and other forms of mission.
Sadly, this year marks the first Congress that the Southern Baptist Convention had no official representation at the Baptist World Congress. The SBC withdrew its membership from the BWA citing a perceived liberal drift of Baptists throughout the world.
However, the main reason for the withdrawal came after the BWA voted to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a new member, taking its influence and its much needed contributions of $425,000 to the annual budget with them as they left.
Although great diversity exists among Baptists throughout the world, there has always been enough common ground to bring us together and for us to work together. In leaving the BWA, the SBC clearly said they had no intention of promoting Christian fellowship and cooperation among Baptists who did not agree with them on all theological issues, especially among their own brothers and sisters in the United States.
As an indication that not everyone in the Southern Baptist fold agrees with the SBC’s withdrawal from the BWA, prominent Baptists like Henry Blackaby and Rick Warren were featured speakers at this year’s Congress.
In addition, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia petitioned the BWA to become members.
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz told the group’s General Council Wednesday that Baptists in North America more than made up for funding lost when the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew its membership from the body of Baptists from around the world.
The actions of the leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention remind me of the woman watching the band marching on the field. She made the comment that her son was the only one out of the entire band that was marching in step.
Sometimes the leaders of my own denomination seem to feel they are the only Baptists, and sometimes the only Christians, marching to the Master’s cadence.
The BWA was birthed from the vision of a Southern Baptist. Nonetheless, the BWA will survive without their presence.
We can hope that one day the SBC will realize they made a mistake in leaving the BWA and will reapply for membership and join their Baptist brothers and sisters from around the world, which were a part of for almost 100 years.
We are divided over too many things in this world as it is. Surely there’s enough common ground left among Baptists throughout the world to stay united for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.