A recent BNG article reported a seminary professor’s comments on the “moderate” label for some in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In the 1990s I was a student at Southern Seminary in Louisville. The Southern Baptist Convention decided to create a smaller tent. I personally heard statements that were cruel and pushed so many faithful Baptists to the margins. One day as I entered a church history class a group of men were passing out booklets by a Calvinist group. This was the first time I saw that the tent might get even smaller and that the agenda of certain leaders might be even more rigid and narrow.
I had grown up in a church that was very conservative and yet full of loving people. While I disagree now with some of the things I experienced as a young person, one Baptist teaching that small Kentucky church taught that has stayed with me is that we must learn to agree to disagree.
And so in the ’90s I felt that I had lost my home as a Baptist. I went to a meeting of an organization that was new to me called the CBF. It was actually the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. I went with a few friends from seminary, and it was my first introduction to the fellowship. I enrolled sight unseen as a transfer student to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. I moved 12 hours from home to take classes in a house. We had theology in the main room, Christian education in a parlor, and worship in the basement of a Presbyterian seminary. I found a home and a place to remain in my Baptist identity.
I have served on two coordinating councils of state CBF organizations. I have been involved with four CBF churches either on staff or as pastor. I am not always able to make it to the national meeting but have been to several in many different states. I do not always agree with every decision the CBF has made or will ever make. And this all makes me so thrilled to be a part of the CBF. When I am asked to identify my denomination I always state that I’m CBF.
The CBF does NOT need a smaller tent. We do not need to become obsessed with labels. I grew up in the SBC and saw all that and do not want us to repeat the mistakes of the past. The Fellowship is diverse and yet not divided. It is not united and yet not uniform. And that makes us Baptist. We have members in our home who even attend other denominational churches. We welcome and include folks and partner with those who want to work with us, and we should not choose sides or teams.
I have met the big players on both sides of the SBC struggle. My favorite professor was Cecil Sherman, and he will always be a model to me. I was blessed to learn from Tom Graves, Glen Hinson, Robert Dale and so many others. I have heard spirited discussions at CBF meetings, and it is clear we have many different positions on many issues.
And we are all still family.
The church in the world today is struggling. So many dismiss us because they see what we are doing as irrelevant. We do not need to begin a needless debate about who is what or what label our neighbor should be or not be.
I’m so excited about the direction the CBF has taken. We’ve been blessed by wonderful leadership in the past, and we have great leadership today. When Suzii Paynter was chosen to guide us into the future, I went to a meeting in Virginia to meet her. I did not know who she was and within five minutes I was excited. I felt like I was at a revival meeting. Her passion and energy spoke to my heart. I am praying for her and the leadership of the CBF. I believe the world needs the presence of Christ, and I believe that the CBF is playing a real role in that reality.
The tent must remain big. It should even be bigger. We need to include those who want to come and work with us and be in our family to serve and give and live our faith.
Forget labels. We are the Fellowship!