BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (ABP) — One week after Southern Baptist Convention messengers voted to cut ties to the Baptist World Alliance, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship participants welcomed BWA with open arms.
During CBF's opening plenary session at its June 24-26 general assembly in Birmingham, participants contributed $33,495 in a special offering for BWA. A second offering was scheduled for the next evening.
Emphasizing that “with membership comes responsibility,” offering envelopes distributed at the meeting noted that CBF “is proud to be a part of this worldwide family of Baptists.”
The CBF's new budget doubles the allocation for BWA from $20,000 to $40,000.
BWA's acceptance of CBF last year as a member body has been cited as a primary reason for the SBC's decision to end its 99-year partnership with BWA. A February report from the SBC's BWA study committee stated that BWA's vote to include CBF “merely served as a confirmation that we must, as a convention, allow the world to see us without having to look through a BWA lens — a lens which, for us, has become too cloudy.”
There was nothing cloudy, however, about the BWA leader's affirmation of one of their newest member bodies.
“Welcome home,” BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz told general assembly participants June 25. “Welcome, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, into the Baptist family. We belong together because we belong to Jesus Christ. … Let's move on and forget the past and move on to the glorious future in Jesus Christ.”
BWA's vote last year to accept CBF “affirmed the Baptist principle of voluntary association,” Lotz said. “We want to embrace all Baptists.”
Lotz was received with a standing ovation, which he said he interpreted as “not for me but for Baptists of the world.”
CBF moderator-elect Bob Setzer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., introduced Lotz and praised the organization's stance in the dispute with the SBC. “False accusations and the threat of financial blackmail proved powerless to cow-tow this [group of] … freedom-loving, Christ-centered Baptists,” he said.
Lotz, speaking earlier in the day at a BWA breakfast, urged believers to tear down walls that hinder ministry efforts, “We've got to overcome those terms of conservative and liberal and moderate.
“I want to be a Baptist, a biblical Baptist,” he declared. “I want to be a Baptist who defends religious liberty and believes in the separation of church and state. I want to be a Baptist who is a drum major for justice like Martin Luther King. … I want to be a Baptist who believes in the priesthood of all believers.
I want to be a Baptist who believes in freedom,” Lotz continued. “Freedom does not come from Washington. It doesn't come from Beijing or from Moscow. Freedom comes from Jesus Christ, and Baptists better discover that again.”
Reflecting on BWA's 99-year history as a global Baptist fellowship, Lotz said, “In 1905, Baptists gathered together in London to show the essential oneness of the Baptist people in the Lord Jesus Christ. … We did not come together to tell you what to believe, but we came to affirm what we do believe and that is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that he is our unity.”
BWA offers “a home for everybody” in Baptist life, he added. “We do not want Baptists to feel excluded. We want to tell everybody this morning that you're all welcome.”
Lotz called on Baptists to help tear down such walls as materialism, tribalism, gender, racism, poverty, paganism and secularism.
“We've been called to be wall-breakers,” he explained. “… The tragedy of the conflict in the church today is that there is a secular society that's hurting and has no hope,” he said. “And what are we doing? We are fighting about who believes what more.”
Lotz said believers can help break down walls “through prayer, through the cross, through love and through joy.”
Citing Christ's words in John 12:32, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all humanity to myself,” Lotz said the gospel involves lifting up Christ alone — “not the Baptist cause, not America, not colonialism, not imperialism.”
Detailing BWA's role in lifting up Christ around the globe, he said, “Your brothers and sisters in many countries of the world are suffering today for lack of religious freedom. That's why the Baptist World Alliance is concerned about religious freedom — not only for ourselves, but we want religious freedom for everybody.
“We can't defend religious freedom for ourselves if we're not willing to give it to others of other traditions,” he added. “We want our Hindu and Muslim and Buddhist brothers and sisters to have freedom. But we also want the freedom to tell them, 'If you want peace and if you want hope, you've got to come to Jesus Christ because he is the source of all hope.'”
Issuing a call for Baptist unity, Lotz urged Baptists to “become a loving people.”
“How can a world hear the gospel when we're filled with hatred, bitterness and anger and we're not loving?” he asked. “We need to love everyone as Baptists, whether we're on the right or the left, in the middle-all these dumb terms we've got. We've got to love people into the Kingdom.
“We need the Baptist World Alliance so we can listen to our brothers and sisters overseas who are breaking down walls and suffering to teach us what it means to preach the gospel,” he concluded. “Let's break down the walls.”
– Greg Warner contributed to this story.