The Baptist World Alliance was formed in a “steamship age” and has outlived its purpose, says seminary president Albert Mohler.
“Now we’re in an age of instant communications, Internet, air travel,” Mohler told the Louisville Courier-Journal recently.
“Now we’re in an age of instant communications, Internet, air travel,” Mohler told the Louisville Courier-Journal recently. “We do not need a bureaucracy to relate to other Baptists and Christians around the world.”
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was talking about a proposal likely to come before the Southern Baptist Convention this summer to withdraw from membership in the BWA, a fellowship of 206 Baptist unions and conventions representing more than 44 million baptized believers.
“It’s time to say a word of blessing on every good thing that was accomplished through the Baptist World Alliance, and for the Southern Baptist Convention to move on,” Mohler was quoted as saying in a story in last Sunday’s paper.
An international Baptist leader opposing the SBC pullout, however, suggested that Mohler doesn’t know what he is talking about.
“Surely he [Mohler] would not wish the same fate for the SBC or Southern Seminary simply because they were birthed in the horse-and-cart era,” Geoff Pound of the Baptist Union of Australia, wrote in a letter sent to the Kentucky newspaper in response.
Pound, a college professor in Melbourne who chairs the BWA’s Heritage and Identity Commission, said he values modern technology but it doesn’t replace opportunities to join together with Baptists from around the world for encouragement, training, worship and building friendships.
Pound said Mohler has been a member of BWA study commissions and an academic and theological education workshop during the 2000-2005 quinquennium. “If he attended these gatherings he would recognize that they are not about bureaucracy but building up Baptists in the Christian faith,” he said.
Pound has publicly asked Southern Baptist leaders not to move forward with the severing of ties recommended by a study committee that has been monitoring the SBC/BWA relationship. While Southern Baptist delegates say the BWA’s top leaders have been unresponsive to their concerns about a liberal drift within the organization, Pound says individuals like him haven’t had an opportunity to hear such issues addressed in a formal way. He contends that if the SBC eventually votes to go its own way, it should do so only after giving the BWA time to fairly and fully discuss concerns raised by the study committee.
Morris Chapman, head of the SBC Executive Committee, has said he would convene a conference call for members of the study group to discuss response to their report, made public just prior to Christmas, but that he expected they would stand by their recommendation. Current plans call for it to be presented for a vote by the Executive Committee Feb. 16-17, and if it passes there go to a final vote at the SBC annual meeting in June.
Should the SBC leave the BWA fold, it would take with it $300,000 in annual funding out of an annual BWA budget of $1.6 million. It would also reduce the BWA’s aggregate membership of 44 million baptized believers by a third.
Facing the loss of funding, the BWA, which already saw funding from the SBC reduced $125,000 this year from a former annual contribution of $425,000, is turning to local churches. Congregations that include the BWA in their mission budget for at least $1,000 are touted as a “Global Impact Church,” while those committing to $5,000 or more are William Carey Global Impact Churches, described in a brochure as “some of the most mission-minded churches of the world.”
BWA president Billy Kim is touring the United States to highlight work of the BWA. Stops include a Jan. 27 stop in Plano, Texas—hosted jointly by Dallas Baptist University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas—and a Jan. 28 worship service at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta. Kim, pastor of the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church in Suwon, South Korea, is accompanied by a 60-voice Korean Children’s Choir.
“Dr. Kim and the Korean Children’s Choir are traveling across the United States under the auspices of the BWA because they are concerned about the children of the world who live in poverty and under oppression,” said Alan Stanford, BWA’s director for global impact.
The proposed BWA pullout has drawn strong criticism from international Baptist leaders, and in several editorials in Baptist state newspapers. At least one editor, however, has come out in support of the move.
Oklahoma Baptist Messenger Editor John Yeats defended the proposed withdrawal in an editorial. “Simply put, for some time, we have not walked in fellowship with this particular organization of Baptist denominations,” wrote Yeats, who also serves as the SBC’s recording secretary and in that capacity is a member of the Executive Committee.
Southern Baptists should not be “condemned for the report on severing its relationship with the BWA,” Yeats said. “Instead, we should express gratitude to the study committee for making a prudent, carefully examined and decisive report that protects Cooperative Program interests and gives us an even greater opportunity to facilitate new opportunities of fellowship with other conservative evangelical groups.”
“Part of Southern Baptist’s DNA is the reality that we look at interdenominational alliances with an eye of suspicion,” Yeats observed. “We are willing to work with other faith groups on matters of social concern, humanitarian aid and religious liberty. Yet, under no circumstances do we want other groups speaking in our behalf. We are open handed with our resources and our willingness to work with others as long as they do not compromise our theological or fiduciary integrity.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.