Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance on Friday announced that the upcoming Centenary Baptist World Congress will proceed in Birmingham, England, despite the July 7 terrorist attacks in London.
“We believe in the face of appalling evil we need to show our strong faith in Jesus Christ as Lord,” BWA president Billy Kim, General Secretary Denton Lotz and incoming president David Coffey said in a joint statement.
“In this period when many of our brothers and sisters are suffering from religious persecution and who live daily with the threat of terrorism, what better way to show our solidarity with the suffering of the world than to attend the BWA Congress?” the leaders said.
More than 11,500 from 107 countries are registered for the Congress, according to a BWA press release, and leaders expect that number to grow between now and when the Congress gathers July 27-31. Almost a third of those registered so far are reportedly from Africa.
“We are very excited about hosting this event that unites Baptists from around the world, especially in the centenary year of the Baptist World Alliance,” Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said in a statement last February.
The Congress, which meets every five years, has only been held in Britain twice before: in 1955 and at the very first BWA global gathering in 1905.
Participants plan to re-enact a feature of the first Baptist World Congress by a corporate reading of the Apostles Creed in the opening session. Just as Scottish Baptist leader Alexander McClaren led delegates in reading the creed 1905, Lotz said, the statement would provide an opportunity for Baptists to reaffirm their orthodox faith in Christ.
The Congress will also see the launch of “Christ the Living Water,” a five-year strategy to enlist the Baptist family for the tasks of evangelism, making disciples, baptizing and integrating new believers into local congregations.
Keynote speakers include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.
About 800 women from 63 countries are expected at Aston University in Birmingham for the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Leadership Conference on July 23-26. The BWA Women’s Department sponsors these conferences every five years in conjunction with the Baptist World Congress.
Another pre-Congress gathering, called “Freedom in Christ–Freedom for the World,” will bring Baptists to Highgate Baptist Church in Birmingham on Tuesday, July 26, to reflect on the Bible’s call to freedom, peace and justice.
The conference will explore questions like how Baptists relate to state authorities, whether Christians of different traditions can co-exist in freedom and what it means to witness to Christi amid violence and poverty.
The Congress will also feature afternoon workshops on topics including poverty and human trafficking.
A reception on Saturday evening, July 30, will honor Billy Kim, president of the Baptist World Alliance from 2000 to 2005. Another reception on Friday night will bid farewell to two retiring executives, evangelism director Tony Cupit and communications director Wendy Ryan.
Cupit, who retires in July, will be succeeded by Fausto Aguiar de Vasconcelos, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vasconcelos was recently invited to become new director of evangelism, education and study and research for the next five years.
Ryan’s position will be merged into a division of advancement to combine and streamline communications and fund-raising programs.
Eight hands-on opportunities for missions in Birmingham, described as “Europe’s most multicultural city and a center for pioneer mission,” will also be offered to congress visitors.
The BWA General Council is also scheduled to vote on recommendations to accept the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia as BWA members. If accepted the two groups, which related to the BWA through the Southern Baptist Convention before the SBC voted to leave membership last year, would add about 3 million baptized members and about 7,000 new churches to BWA membership rolls.
“Baptist attendance at the BWA Congress will not only be a sign of solidarity with our British brothers and sisters but our presence will be a confirmation of our strong faith that Jesus Christ rules and our faith is in Him,” the leaders said in their statement.
They called on Baptists worldwide “to continue to make plans to attend the congress as an act of fellowship” for those not yet registered to make plans to attend now.
“Our security is in the God of peace, justice and love,” they said. “Come celebrate with thousands worldwide in a great festival of faith, courage and love.”
Meanwhile, expressions of sympathy for victims of the London bombings continued to pour in from the global Baptist community.
Lotz wrote a letter expressing sympathy and condolences to the British people for “the horrific and evil attack upon innocent men and women in London.”
BWA president Billy Kim of South Korea said he asked his people to pray for “both those who are injured and the families who have lost loved ones.”
Regina Claas, general secretary of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany, told British Baptist leaders that German Baptists were deeply moved by the news of the catastrophe.
“It is just unbelievable for us how people can do such a cruel thing,” Claas said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you and especially with our sisters and brothers in London at this time.”
Representatives of a Baptist convention in Bangladesh decried terrorism as not just an attack on the UK but against “human civilization.”
Baptist leaders in Nepal, which continues to suffer from political instability, also pledged to pray for “peace and normality” in the United Kingdom so that the BWA Centenary Congress will go on smoothly.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.