NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Southern Baptist Convention’s study committee released a statement recommending the denomination’s withdrawal from the Baptist World Convention by October 2004. The eight-member committee blamed the “apparent approval of aberrant theologies” as the main reason for the possible split.
The recommendation will be considered during the SBC executive committee meeting in February. If approved, it will be forwarded to the messengers at the SBC’s annual meeting in Indianapolis next June.
Leaders to the BWA showed mixed reactions to the announcement that possibly translates into decreased funding for the international organization.
The BWA president, Billy Kim expressed deep regrets for the decision in a statement issued on Dec. 19.
"Baptist friends around the world deeply regret the decision [that may be] reached by the Southern Baptist Convention to withdraw their membership from the Baptist World Alliance and consequently terminate funding to the organization. [The] SBC was a pioneer in the establishment of the BWA, nearly 100 years ago. They have made a tremendous contribution to the Baptist work around the world. All of us are saddened that the SBC [is] now withdrawing from the BWA.
"In this secular world other major religious organizations strongly intimidate the body of Christ," Kim, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Suwon, Korea, said of countries where Baptists and other evangelicals face challenges as a minority faith. "Therefore, it is essential that we remain united to fulfill the Great Commission before Christ returns.
"My request is that our global friends will pray for the SBC and the BWA during this period of transition. Pray that we will not lose the focus of our call for fellowship, encouragement and the propagation of the Gospel." Kim concluded his written statement by quoting Psalm 133:1 from the King James translation: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
The BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz expressed disdain and disapproval to the potential withdrawal, calling it tantamount to advocating schism within the body of believers.
SBC's exit from the BWA "will bring a schism within the life of our worldwide Baptist family and thus it is a sin against love,” said Lotz.
"Schism is a sin against the prayer of Jesus who prayed that 'they all might be one so that the world might believe,'" Lotz continued. "And thus schism is a sin against that unity which is necessary for evangelism." Schism also is a sin against the New Testament teaching that there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father, Lotz wrote.
Lotz urged the SBC committee members to look toward similarities through unity rather than try to rectify differences through splitting.
"It is sad that in the 21st century we use loaded terms to end discussion and to eliminate the thoughts of other people," Lotz wrote. "Our BWA member bodies affirm the trinity, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the atonement, second coming and future rule of God.”
"Personally, I fear for the Southern Baptist Convention because this decision follows in a long line of other decisions that, I believe, will ultimately lead to the dissolution and self-destruction of the SBC! With all love and much regret, I do believe that this drive for power and control by a small group of ideologues will ultimately bring further disunity to the body," he continued.
Describing the SBC committee's recommendation as the "triumph of ideology over doctrine," Lotz wrote, "In the end, it became a question of power and control and the desire of forcing Baptists of the world to fit into one particular mode or mold or interpretation of thinking. This is contrary to all Baptist understanding of the competency of the individual and of soul liberty."
One of the other reasons that played into the committee’s decision was the BWA’s acceptance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – a denomination that separated from the SBC in the 1990s. Earlier this year, the BWA agreed to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership by a 75-28 majority.
"Adding CBF was the straw that broke the camel's back, I think. But, there was a majority vote,” said Kim, acknowledging to role of CBF in making the SBC committee’s decision.
The SBC study committee's report, however did not address the vote to accept CBF as a BWA member but instead cited larger theological concerns.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee and chairman of the study committee said the report "well captured the sentiment of the committee and has attempted to show that the basis for the committee's decision was wide-ranging, much more than any one incident of misunderstanding or disagreement."
Chapman recounted that the committee's discussions perhaps "could be summed up in one question, 'In this generation and for generations to come, will the Southern Baptist Convention best be represented around the world by the Baptist World Alliance, or will the convention be its own best representative?'"
"If the Southern Baptist Convention adopts the recommendation this summer," he noted, "it will put in motion a new effort by Southern Baptists to build an even stronger relationship with conservative evangelical Christians in the United States and around the world,” said Chapman.
"We love and respect our Baptist family around the world and Southern Baptists hope to maintain a lasting friendship with many we have known through our involvement in the BWA. Although the Southern Baptist Convention may not continue its membership in the Baptist World Alliance, we cannot forget we are brothers and sisters in Christ and the world is in desperate need for a mighty spiritual awakening. What we can do together is preach Jesus and Him crucified to an unsaved world until He returns."
"We do not seek to separate ourselves from others but desire to work directly with fellow Baptists around the world rather than through the BWA," Chapman said. "The BWA was always intended to be a fellowship among Baptists rather than the denomination-like organization that it is becoming. It makes no sense for Southern Baptists to duplicate through the BWA what we are doing already in our international missions effort to reach the world for Christ.
"Given the wide range of theological views represented by the BWA, we are convinced that it is best that Southern Baptists work directly with likeminded unions and conventions around the world rather than through the BWA."