The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted to break away from the Baptist World Alliance with an overwhelming 62-10 consensus during its exclusive meeting, Feb. 17, 2004 in Nashville Tenn.
The decision marked the penultimate step toward the SBC’s complete withdraw from the BWA, both in membership and funding.
Since last year’s proposal to break by the SBC Study Committee, Baptist leaders worldwide pleaded with the SBC to continue its membership; the Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million members, is the largest member body and biggest financial contributor to the BWA, which has 43 million members worldwide.
Denton Lotz, the BWA general secretary, was among those who pleaded for unity. While Lotz was allowed a seat at the Executive Committee’s debate, he was not permitted to speak to the recommendation.
"We are, of course, very sad," Lotz said after the vote. "Any time there is a breach in fellowship, it is sad."
While several contested to the break, the supporters said unity must “take a back seat to a biblical stand on theological issues.”
"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," the study committee said in its final report to the Executive Committee. The Baptist World Alliance "no longer efficiently communicates to the unsaved a crystal-clear gospel message that our Lord Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for salvation."
Potentially, the break may lead to the creation of a new worldwide network of “conservative evangelical Christian” that would likely be run by the Executive Committee. According to the members of the Executive Committee, several other Baptist bodies around the world has already expressed interested in the new SBC-led organization.
The initial call to break was based on the complaint that the BWA became to “liberal” in theology.
"Continuing to allow presentations that call into question the truthfulness of Holy Scripture, refusing to support openly the idea that all who are saved must come to the salvation through conscious faith in Jesus Christ, and promoting women as preachers and pastors are among the issues that make it impossible to endorse the BWA as a genuinely representative organization of world Baptists," said the study committee.
The BWA, however, as well as its member groups, consistently denied those charges.
"The BWA rejects categorically this false accusation of liberalism," Lotz said in December. "Of course, there is a spectrum of theological thought in all of our conventions, just as in local churches, but we belong to one another because we belong to Christ."
Meanwhile, other Southern Baptist leaders say the departure is based in part on the BWA’s decision to admit the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is the “break away” denomination that formed from the SBC ten years ago on the grounds that the SBC was becoming too conservative and fundamental.
The final step for the separation is the approval from the delegates to the SBC’s annual convention this June. Should the messengers at the convention approve, the SBC will halt its annual $300,000 in support to the BWA, from the beginning of its fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2004.