FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) — Hoping to put their controversy with the Southern Baptist Convention behind them, members of the Baptist World Alliance's Executive Committee issued a joint statement affirming historic Christian doctrines March 10.
The action came during a regularly scheduled committee meeting at BWA headquarters in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Va. It was the group's first meeting since the SBC's Executive Committee voted in February to recommend that the denomination break all ties with the 99-year-old umbrella group for Baptist denominations around the globe.
The SBC is the BWA's largest member body and most generous contributor. If messengers to the SBC's annual meeting in June approve the recommendation, the BWA will stand to lose $300,000 in funding next year. Observers of SBC life say a vote to accept the committee's recommendation is virtually certain.
The statement — written by an ad hoc committee that BWA President Billy Kim appointed during the meeting — expressed “great appreciation for the SBC's contribution to kingdom work around the world,” but added that committee members “regret the current tensions” that have led to the SBC-BWA split.
Responding to an SBC study committee's stated reasons for the recommendation to cut ties, the statement also affirmed orthodox Christian doctrines “including, but not limited to” the unique nature of Christ, the “centrality of the Great Commission” to the Christian faith, and BWA's “joyful affirmation of faith in the mediation of Jesus Christ as solely and entirely sufficient for salvation.”
The SBC study committee's report contained undocumented allegations that BWA leaders had been open to “positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines.” The report also accused BWA meetings and officers of exhibiting a “decided anti-American tone in recent years” and accused the group's international relief arm, Baptist World Aid, of funding “questionable enterprises.”
Prior to issuing the statement, BWA Executive Committee members spent about two hours responding to and discussing the SBC's allegations.
Speaker after speaker characterized the charges as completely without merit. Fausto de Vasconcelos, a Brazilian Baptist leader and the director of BWA's evangelism and education division, described his anguish over the situation because of the close relationship that Brazilian Baptists have had with the SBC over the years. Noting his 10 years in the United States as a student in Southern Baptist seminaries, he said, “I am a Southern Baptist.”
But de Vasconcelos added that, despite the fact some of the anecdotes cited by the SBC as examples of liberalism stemmed from events his division of BWA sponsored, “I have not seen or heard anything that has to be defended at this point.”
He concluded: “The idea in Brazil is that we're not dealing with a theological matter, but with a political problem.”
Paul Montacute, the director of Baptist World Aid, said he had repeatedly asked members of the SBC study panel to provide examples of the “questionable enterprises” they had accused BWAid of funding, but that they refused to cite any. “We were amazed that such a powerful committee of Southern Baptist leaders could make unsubstantiated charges,” he said. “We're still waiting to hear what it is that we've been up to and what makes it a 'questionable enterprise.'”
Committee members expressed perhaps their greatest indignation at the charges of “anti-Americanism.” Theo Angelov, secretary of the European Baptist Federation and a survivor of Communist persecution of Christians in Eastern Europe, noted his father was arrested and imprisoned for eight years on charges of being an American spy even though he had never visited the U.S. The government was suspicious of his father, he said, merely because he was a Baptist.
“Now, we are going to be persecuted from the other side in such a way?” Angelov asked. “Let somebody who has suffered more to come and accuse us.”
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz and Kim both urged the committee members to pray for a miraculous reconciliation between BWA leaders and SBC leaders prior to the SBC's vote on the issue in June. But Lotz also said the purpose of this meeting was to put the matter behind them and move forward in BWA's work.
Citing Philippians 3:13, Lotz said, “After this Executive Committee meeting, we will forget that which is past.”