SEOUL, Korea (ABP) — What does the future hold for Baptist World Alliance as it approaches its centennial celebration next year — minus its largest member body?
According to several influential Baptist leaders around the world, the global organization's best days are ahead despite the Southern Baptist Convention's recent decision to withdraw over BWA's alleged “leftward drift.”
“I strongly believe in the future success of BWA,” declared Theo Angelov, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation.
While Baptists in Europe “are very hurt by divisions which have played a very negative role” in Baptist ministry efforts, Angelov added, “we are looking to the future. We have very important tasks to fulfill all over the world to reach people, to plant new churches, to develop the Baptist work in society, and to show that unity is more important than anything else.”
Gary Nelson, executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, described the SBC's withdrawal from BWA membership as “sad.”
“There's a level at which it's not just the words we proclaim but how we live out the gospel,” Nelson emphasized. “As Canadians, it always felt like we were entering into someone else's family fight that was taken outside the house and into the world.”
“Will we be different” without SBC involvement? Nelson asked. “Of course. It's like losing your big brother.”
He added, however, that “in some ways, we'll probably find a more true world voice as Baptists because we have to. When you remove someone who is so influential, now there are more people at the table who can be heard.
“I think it can be very exciting for BWA as we find that voice,” Nelson said. “It's a real time for the Baptist World Alliance in general to mature.”
Describing the SBC conflict as “an in-house fight that has been distracting to our work,” the Canadian Baptist leader added, “The real battle is stepping out with the gospel and presenting the gospel to the world.”
Fausto Vasconcelos, president of the Union of Baptists in Latin America, agreed that “it is a sad thing that the SBC has decided to leave BWA.”
Recalling that the SBC “was instrumental in God's call to evangelize Brazil,” Vasconcelos explained that widespread Baptist ministry in the South American nation “is a direct product of SBC efforts.”
The Brazilian Baptist Convention voted earlier this year to encourage BWA and SBC leaders to find a way to remain together. “We wish this thing has never happened,” he added.
Looking to the future, Vasconcelos cited a $600,000 grant to help BWA fund a five-year global evangelism emphasis. Affirming that Baptists around the world “are evangelists and missionaries at heart,” he said, “I believe God is saying, 'Whatever has taken place, do not shift your focus from missions and evangelism.'”
David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, was nominated at the Seoul meeting to succeed Korean Baptist pastor Billy Kim as BWA president. If elected during next year's Baptist World Congress in Birmingham, England, Coffey will serve a five-year term as head of the global Baptist organization.
While BWA leaders “would have wished for the sake of the gospel and the good name of Jesus Christ that all we've gone through would not have happened,” Coffey added, “There is still a BWA. … The heartbeat of BWA is God's heartbeat.”