Anticipation is mounting as a vote on severing ties between the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist World Alliance draws near. An SBC Executive Committee vote, scheduled Tuesday afternoon, would be a major step toward ending the SBC’s 99-year-old ties with the global Baptist network, along with cutting off $300,000 a year in denominational support, effective Oct. 1.
Bob Casey, a retired physician from Florida who is fasting and demonstrating in front of SBC offices, was encouraged Friday by news that the Executive Committee would provide its members with copies of a resolution adopted by his church, Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla., asking them to defeat the recommendation of an SBC/BWA Study Committee, which is recommending the split.
Casey did not yet know if he will be allowed to speak to the Executive Committee, but he remained optimistic that his presence and his prayers would make a difference. “If I didn’t think God was going to do something I wouldn’t be here,” said Casey, who began his food-and-water fast on Tuesday and plans to continue it until Wednesday morning, after the vote. “I can’t do it, but I serve a God who can.”
Meanwhile, calls continued from around the world for the SBC leadership group to reject the proposed withdrawal. Others sought a compromise.
Bruce Milne, a BWA vice president from Vancouver, Canada, said he would like to see the membership and funding questions considered separately.
“Our best-case scenario is to get past this and stay together,” Milne said, contacted by EthicsDailly.com.
“Maybe we accept this defunding in the short term, because there is a lack of confidence on the part of SBC leaders,” he said. “I don’t think it requires disaffiliation.”
“The benefits of staying together greatly outweigh the effects of separation,” said Milne, who emphasized he was speaking on his own and not in any official capacity.
Baptist leaders meeting in Germany issued a statement deploring the SBC’s possible withdrawal from the BWA and defending the organization and its leaders. In their report calling for dissolution of BWA ties, Southern Baptist leaders cite an “anti-American” tone at BWA gatherings and incidents of “aberrant theology,” among other grievances.
Directors of the German Baptist Union responded Feb. 6 with a document declaring its fellowship with the BWA “a gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The leaders specifically thanked the BWA for “helpful critique,” noting that German Baptists under Hitler ignored warnings of international Baptists not to conform to Nazi ideology. The GBU expressed formal regret for that error in 1984. “Since then, we know how important the membership in such a body such as the BWA is, even if one does not agree with all its other members’ opinions,” the declaration said.
The German leaders also responded to charges of liberalism in the BWA, which the study committee report said was exemplified in a German theologian who at a conference allegedly voiced doubt about the validity of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28. (The theologian, university professor Erich Geldbach, has said he was misquoted and accused the study committee of bearing “false witness.”)
“Together with our brothers and sisters of the BWA we proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, the reliability of the Bible and the work with all our strength to fulfill the Great Commission,” the statement said.
Another group, the executive committee of the 4.5-million-member Asian Baptist Federation, which met recently in Nepal, issued a call “for unity and not separation” between the BWA and SBC.
“As Asian Baptists who live and witness for Christ, the only way of salvation, in a society of conflicting religious creeds, we see the need of a strong unified Christian voice,” the Asian leaders said. “Division will hinder our witness for Christ.”
The general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain said in a letter to churches that it is too soon to know how severing ties would affect his union’s work with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Many BUGB churches are also linked to the IMB, said General Secretary David Coffey, who is a BWA vice president.
“It is too early to say if this problem will lead to an end of the partnership between the BUGB and the IMB,” Coffey said.
“I simply don’t know how this is going to affect their personnel within the U.K.,” he said. “A number of our churches can speak of all that has been achieved through working together, and I would want to honor the work of SBC missionaries over the past 10 yeas. They’ve been marvelous partners, and this is what makes the current conflict so sad.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin told his agency’s trustees Feb. 2 that withdrawing from the BWA would not affect the mission board’s work with Baptist unions around the world, according to Baptist Press.
“The IMB’s role around the world is related to evangelizing the lost rather than relating primarily to established churches,” said Rankin, a member of the SBC/BWA Study Committee. “We will continue to be committed to working in partnership with local Baptist entities that hold to sound theology consistent with a biblical faith and are committed to proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.”
A church where one retired longtime employee of the IMB (formerly called the Foreign Mission Board), now is pastor, however, said the SBC proposal would have “cataclysmic ecclesiastical and missiological consequences.”
“We believe there are dozens of strategic reasons why such a course of action should not be pursued, most of these are self-evident to the thousands of Southern Baptists who have given of their time, prayers, resources and organizational skills to assist our international brothers and sisters in building a fellowship that transcends race, language, culture, gender, geography, social and economic status, politics and government, and all forms of bias and tyranny over the minds and lives of the children of God,” said a Feb. 4 declaration by Smithland Baptist Church in Heathsville, Va.
Sam Pittman, who signed the document as pastor, worked many years at the Richmond-based IMB before retiring as executive director of public affairs.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.