The conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the more liberal Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) had been at odds for decades since the conservative take-over of the SBC in the late 1970s. Despite the theological differences and ongoing sensitivities in ownership of the BGCT, however, the new president of the SBC visited a church aligned with the Texas Convention and called upon all Baptists to unite under the banner of evangelism, Sept 10, 2004.
“Our convention continues to be a place where good and thoughtful people can and will disagree about this or that. And that’s OK,” said SBC president Bobby Welch. “But if there is one matter Southern Baptists must agree on, one matter that absolutely must unify us, it’s that those who don’t know Jesus need to hear about Jesus.”
Bobby Welch’s visit to the First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas – aligned with the BGCT – was part of his recently launched “Everyone Can” bus tour to promote evangelism in the SBC. According to Welch, “peacemaking” within the SBC is less of a concern for him than the need to evangelize in the name of Christ. The focus on evangelism, Welch explained, will ultimately unite the broken bodies within the denomination.
“We’re trying to use this bus and the tour as a pointed needle pulling a unifying thread so we can stitch together this mosaic we call the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Welch. “I want every Southern Baptist to be wrapped up in the fabric of our fortune and our future. And that’s evangelism.”
The BGCT, one of the regional “conventions” of the national SBC, has been locked in a controversial battle against its national counterpart over the identity of the BGCT and the ownership of the BGCT. The BGCT members and member churches rejected the conservative takeover of the SBC in the late 1970s; often dubbed the “conservative resurgence,” the decade-long process was a counter-movement to the liberalization of the traditional denomination.
Such “issues” still remain after 25 years, but according to Welch, there is a greater reason to move toward unity rather than separation.
“We have great reason to believe that all Southern Baptists are ready to move to this unity of purpose in evangelism,” said Welch.
Following his visit to First Baptist in Denton, Welch traveled to Dallas to a Southern Baptist church of the same name. First Baptist in Dallas, unlike its counterpart in Denton, is aligned with the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Despite these differences in allegiances, Welch noted that both First Baptist churches wholeheartedly embrace the overall SBC goal to “Witness, Win and Baptize… ONE MILLION!” in one year; both churches are intentionally evangelistic, baptizing hundreds annually.
Welch explained: “It is a heartening experience to see that states [with two Baptist conventions] like Virginia and Texas are both willing to enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace the Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.”
A break in the bus tour, which is set to visit all the continental states, is scheduled until Sept. 16, when Welch will visit the SBC’s North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.