CBF Extends Ecumenical Membership

Participants of the CBF General Assembly provides increased funding to the BWA, and votes to join the ecumenical Christian Churches Together in the USA
( [email protected] ) Jun 26, 2004 01:23 PM EDT

Following the ecumenical tradition of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), the attendees of the CBF General Assembly reinforced their support to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and voted to join the founding board of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A (CCTUSA).

For the BWA, CBF’s membership and funding support comes at no better time: last week, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) cut off its ties to the Alliance, leaving behind confusion, shock and unintended woes. The SBC, as the largest Baptist denomination in the world, played a large role in the BWA’s formation 99 years ago. In addition, before the break, the 16-million-member Convention provided a third of the $1,275,000 income base for the BWA.

While comparatively, CBF’s $33,495 budget for the BWA accounts for less than a tenth of what the SBC once provided, the BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz thanked the CBF, and expressed that he is not worried about the shortfall in funds.

Lotz anticipated that 1,000 churches would offer $1,000 each to the Alliance, thereby filling the large financial gap.

“I am not worried about the money. I am worried about schism. Schism is heresy,” Lotz said.

In numerous editorials and articles, members of the SBC explained that schism had already occurred within the BWA when the Alliance extended its membership to the CBF two years ago against the pleas of SBC leadership. The CBF and SBC have been locked in a struggle ever since the moderate CBF branched off from the conservative Convention in 1992; While the CBF considers itself a separate entity, the SBC objects to the claim.

The executive committee of the SBC admitted that the acceptance of the CBF was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” but added that there were other theological reasons for the separation.

During the SBC’s general meeting in Indianapolis on June 15-16, members of the Executive Committee charged a member of the BWA of being supportive of homosexuals, and said the BWA has continued on a “leftward drift” upon the dismay of SBC leadership.

Following the meeting, BWA’s Denton Lotz and several officials from BWA member denominations defended the BWA from the “slander” in strongly worded statements. Members of the SBC immediately shot back, defending its position and claims.

The CBF’s support of the BWA comes in the midst of this continuing crossfire between the “conservative” and “moderately-liberal” Baptist bodies.

In addition to the financial offering, the CBF General Assembly participants also dedicated two members of its board to represent the Fellowship in upcoming BWA sessions. Both of the newly appointed representatives - Daniel Vestal and Emmanuel McCall – expressed a greater hope and vision for the future of the Alliance.

“The BWA is going to find a new vision and new life. I believe there is a way and opportunity for the worldwide Baptist fellowship to rediscover its mission,” Vestal told the CBF’s Coordinating Council on June 23.

BWA’s Lotz also agreed, explaining that the BWA does not exist to “police beliefs” but rather to provide a platform for networking.

“What happens in the BWA is networking. We don’t police one another; we network with one another. We are here to say, ‘What do you need to accomplish your work?’” Lotz said. “We did not come together to tell you what to believe. But we came to affirm what we do believe -- that Jesus Christ is Lord. BWA is a home for everybody. We do not want Baptists to feel excluded,”

Lotz said the BWA exists to break down walls created by human beings. “God will have his wrath on all the walls.... God is going to judge history, nations, churches and Baptists,” he said.

Meanwhile, on other ecumenical grounds, the CBF Assembly participants voted to become one of the founding members of the CCTUSA – an ecumenical organization similar to the National Council of Churches in the USA (NCCUSA), which will bring together Christian groups from five traditional faith families -- mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Orthodox.

The NCCUSA general secretary Bob Edgar explained in an earlier interview that the CCTUSA is an ambitious attempt to unite Christians under one banner. Edgar said the NCCUSA will continue to exist, but more as a politically active faith group, while the CCTUSA will be a platform focused on faith.

The CBF will be joining more than 25 of these Christian groups in launching the CCTUSA next May.

“I think it is a historic opportunity for CBF,” said CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal in statement released by the CBF. “I believe God is doing a new thing. God is bringing together some new convergences. We’re not running it. We’re not in charge of it. We are participating in it, and it is a joy to be a part of this effort.”

CCT offers “a new space inclusive of diverse families of faith in the United States,” said Sonja Phillips, co-pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a member of the committee that discussed the proposal to join the group.

The CBF general assembly, which began on June 24 in Birmingham, Alabama, will close today, June 26. There are currently 1,800 member churches in the CBF.