McLEAN, VA. (ABP) — A capacity crowd of 750 gathered March 3 in the ballroom of a Washington-area hotel to honor Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Denton Lotz as he begins retiring from his years of service to the world's Baptists.
Lotz joined the Virginia-based staff of the worldwide Baptist umbrella group as its evangelism director in 1980. He became BWA's chief officer in 1988. He saw it through some of its most challenging years, as it supported oppressed churches in the former Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe, endured the unexpected death of Lotz's predecessor and survived the acrimonious withdrawal of its largest member body, the Southern Baptist Convention.
“The Lord raised you up for such a time as we've been through,” Billy Graham said, via letter, to Lotz. “Your strong leadership and personal faith has been an inspiration and blessing to me. The fact that you are related through marriage, that you are a member of our board of directors, and because of our long-time association with the Baptist World Alliance, all give me a special reason to honor you on the occasion of your retirement. Not only will the Baptist World Alliance miss you, but your ecumenical leadership will be missed throughout the world church.”
Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, is Denton Lotz's sister-in-law. She read the letter from her ailing father, who was unable to attend the banquet.
Another presentation featured a synopsis of Lotz's life, including his education, family and ministry. It highlighted his service in Eastern and Central Europe as a missionary with the American Baptist Churches USA. While serving there, he also taught missions and homiletics at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, then located in Rüschlikon, Switzerland.
Photographs of Lotz with global political and religious leaders were projected onto two large screens. His commitment to evangelism, social justice and Baptist principles were recurrent themes as international Baptist leaders spoke of Lotz's contribution to Baptists' global witness for Christ.
Recognizing Lotz's humanitarian efforts, Wallace Charles Smith, pastor of Washington's Shiloh Baptist Church, challenged those in attendance to participate in the final push to endow the a BWA human-rights award to be named for Lotz. The endowment will pay transportation expenses in bringing recipients to BWA gatherings to receive the award.
Theo Angelov, who once served as head of the Bulgarian Baptist Union, cited Lotz's encouragement as a key factor in sustaining Baptist churches during the Soviet era. “The biggest miracle we have seen in our lives is the survival of the church in Eastern Europe. This was due to the mercy of the Lord. Gerhard Claas [Lotz' predecessor] and Denton Lotz brought the message that we were not alone …. I would like to thank Denton especially. He was the messenger that brought us hope. So this is the BWA: A family in spite of all the diversity.”
Tom Corts, former president of Samford University of Birmingham, Ala., presented a special gift. Careful to point out that it was purchased with money contributed by Lotz's friends and not from BWA funds, Corts presented the Lotzes with the keys to a new Chrysler Pacificia.
In responding, Lotz expressed his appreciation and issued a plea for unity. “One of the great doctrines of the Christian faith is unity,” he said. “Therefore, I would pray with you and plead with you to work for the unity of Baptists. Jesus prayed that we might be one and this was an evangelistic prayer. Why should we be one? That the world might believe! Our lack of unity means that the world cannot believe.”
That unity was sorely tested in 2004, when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to withdraw from the BWA. The denomination's conservative leadership alleged that the global group had become too open to moderate Baptists in the United States, Western Europe and elsewhere in the world. However, the SBC convinced only a handful of fundamentalist Baptists in former Soviet-bloc countries to join their crusade.
In concluding, Lotz told the story of when he decided to retire from BWA. He referred to a night when his wife, Janice, was out of town on an overnight trip. Feeling lonely and somewhat uneasy about being alone, he began to reflect on the nights he had left her alone as he traveled. Realizing that he had spent the equivalent of 10 years of their marriage away from her, he decided it was time for him to retire so they could be together.
— Jim White is the editor of the Religious Herald, which is the newspaper of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. BGAV is a BWA member body. Robert Marus contributed to this story.