FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) – Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance traveled to Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 19 to meet with leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, a founding member of the BWA that withdrew in 2004 over theological differences.
Initiated by BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, the joint meeting was part of a commitment made in 2004 for continued dialogue between the two groups.
Joining Callam in the BWA delegation were John Upton, current BWA president and executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; George Bullard, general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship; and Sam Chaise, general secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries.
Representing Southern Baptists were SBC President Bryant Wright; Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Patterson was one of nine members of a BWA Study Committee that in 2004 recommended withdrawal from an organization that “no longer efficiently communicates to the unsaved a crystal clear gospel message that our Lord Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for salvation.”
A BWA press release described the Dec. 19 meeting as cordial, frank and respectful. Participants agreed the discussion was needed not just because of the pledge in 2004 but also “because of the vocation of Christians to live at peace with everyone.”
Bullard said the commitment was made in 2004 for annual meetings between the groups but it was not indicated when they would begin. In an effort to follow up, the BWA Executive Committee authorized Callam to write to the SBC to request a meeting. He received a favorable response, and the first meeting was scheduled for Dec. 19 in the offices of the SBC in Nashville.
Bullard said the meeting was primarily intended to begin a dialogue without strategic or organizational goals and was planned as fellowship and relationship.
“The two teams needed to get to know one another,” Bullard said. “My impression is that we accomplished that goal. It was a very congenial meeting. People were able to talk openly. We did not generate conclusions other than that relating to one another is a positive thing, we need to meet again next year, and we need to offer fraternal invitations to be observers in various meetings of each group.”
Bullard acknowledged that there would be speculation about whether at some point in the future the two organizations might reunite, but that was not the reason for the meeting.
Ironically, Dec. 19 marked the eighth anniversary of a preliminary report of the SBC/BWA Study Committee that found the BWA guilty of having an anti-American tone, encouraging women as pastors and refusing to discuss abortion.
“It is no longer wise stewardship to lend monetary support to an entity whose participants openly oppose many of our most cherished beliefs," read the report, whose members included Morris Chapman (chairman), Jimmy Draper, Tom Elliff, Paul Pressler, Jerry Rankin and Patterson.
Presenting recommendations at the 2004 SBC annual meeting, Patterson claimed that since American Baptist Churches USA, a BWA member, does not expel churches that endorse homosexuality that by continuing to give name and money to the BWA Southern Baptists would tacitly approve of gay marriage. Roy Medley, head of ABC/USA, called Patterson’s statement “completely outrageous.”
After voting to withdraw from the BWA, the SBC – at the time the BWA’s largest financial supporter – reallocated those funds to establish a Global Evangelical Relations office led since 2007 by former SBC President Bobby Welch. In May Welch joined the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Convention while continuing to assist the SBC Executive Committee “in a reduced role.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.