Southern Baptist leaders have taken decisive steps to disconnect from ecumenical dialogues, says a critic who believes such relationships are prone to misinterpretation and misuse. Yet some prominent Southern Baptists, he warns, remain involved in “closed door” ecumenical dialogues in an unofficial capacity.
Ecumenism wasn’t mentioned as a reason for the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance, said Jerry Moser, a Louisiana pastor whose efforts contributed to ending official dialogues between Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics in the 1990s.
However, Moser said, the BWA is a self-described ecumenical organization, which has been in conversation with non-evangelical group for decades.
Moser noted that one such dialogue, a Baptist World Alliance/Catholic Consultation, includes Timothy George, an SBC conservative who serves as dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School.
Moser has for years criticized George—along with others including Southern Baptist author Charles Colson–for involvement in an “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” alliance. Two SBC agency heads—Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Larry Lewis, at the time president of the Home Mission Board—removed signatures from the document under pressure but refused calls by Moser for public apologies.
Moser said he isn’t opposed to dialogue between groups of different theological positions, but it is dishonest to enter into discussion without acknowledging that evangelical and “sacramentalist” adherents don’t believe in the same gospel.
Citing the New Testament book of Galatians, Moser said it is impossible to accept both Paul’s proposition that grace comes through faith alone and church teachings that grace is imparted by sacraments or good works.
A prime example of that contradiction, Moser said, is another BWA dialogue in which George is also involved, with Anglicans. The opening statement affirms “our oneness in the Gospel, our common faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Really, do evangelicals and Anglicans have a common faith in Jesus Christ?” Moser asked in an e-newsletter. “Are we all ‘one’ in the Gospel?”
“How can we ignore the fact that there is a non-negotiable theological difference between the biblical gospel of faith alone and the sacramental faith of the Anglican Church?” he queried.
Moser said the BWA’s ecumenical dialogue is founded upon a “dangerously false” statement and cannot possibly lead to truth. It also raises a question for him of “just how broad a gospel does the BWA have to embrace in order to endorse such a statement?”
Moser said he is glad the SBC pulled the plug on the BWA, if for no reason other than its involvement in ecumenical dialogues. “Now wouldn’t it be good to see more statements of consistency, like warning folks about the ecumenical liberalism of such influential Southern Baptists as Charles Colson and Timothy George?” he asked.
“[It] seems like the very least we could expect is for SBC entities to stop promoting and selling books and other materials written by these men. That would be a pretty strong statement in itself.”
Moser said “closed-door” dialogues work like this: Sponsors will enlist an individual academic whose minority views are “graciously tolerated” behind closed doors, while allowing only a designated spokesperson to represent the group to the media. Statements must be unanimous, silencing any dissent.
In addition to continuing ecumenical dialogue, Moser said he was troubled by a statement by Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, that Colson’s book How Now Shall We Live? would guide NAMB’s direction in the next millennium.
“The problem is that in Colson’s book he paints a clear picture of the acceptance of sacramentalists as genuine Christians,” Moser said. “He says, ‘If we are to have an impact on our culture, the beginning point must be to take our stand united in Christ, making a conscious effort among all true believers to come together across racial, ethnic and confessional lines.'”
If that isn’t clear enough, Moser also cited Colson’s “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement: “Standing together as the people of God, we must obey the two great commissions; first to win the lost and then to build a culture.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.