Cecil Sherman, 82, foremost among early leaders of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship movement, died today (April 17) following what was described as “a massive heart attack” on the evening of April 15. Sherman was taken to the intensive care unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and listed in critical condition.
According to a family friend, family members including his daughter Eugenia and brother Bill had arrived prior to his death sometime this morning. Sherman had survived a serious bout with acute myeloid leukemia in 2008.
Sherman was a long-time pastor who served several churches, including First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. from 1964-1984, and Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas from 1985-1992. He was a member of the “Peace Committee” that sought some resolution between moderates and fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention, and was widely remembered for his lively debates with Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers during the mid-1980s. Sherman was instrumental in forming the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1990-91, and was elected as its first national coordinator.
A worship service celebrating Sherman’s life will be held April 20 at River Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., and a second service will follow at First Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C., on April 23. More details on the arrangements are forthcoming. Updates will be posted to www.thefellowship.info as well as www.cecilsherman.com/news.
In what sounded at the time like a farewell speech, Sherman spoke to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina in Winston-Salem on March 19. He urged younger Fellowship folk not to overlook the “war stories” of CBF pioneers. From the beginning, he said, CBF’s focus has been to provide a “missions delivery system for the churches” that defined missions as more than evangelism and church starts, to support Baptist theological education, and “to teach Baptist polity to people who have forgotten it or never knew it.”
While acknowledging that a younger generation is moving to the fore, he expressed hope that emerging CBF leaders will “stay in touch with mainline Baptists” across the spectrum of size and locality, “give missions priority because that’s what the people want,” and “get leadership who have a will to grow CBF.” As an organization, “we will not amount to anything if we are unable to grow, meet budget, and organize,” he said.
The May issue of Baptists Today has already gone to press, so it will be too late to include a notice of Sherman’s death, but the issue will include a feature story based on his final challenge.
In 2008, Sherman released an autobiographical account of the Baptist controversies leading to the formation of CBF, entitled By My Own Reckoning.
A giant has passed from our midst. I pray we will not forget him, and what he can yet teach us.