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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Jesus wasn't God, and even He didn't consider Himself to be Savior. It would not be surprising in the least to find most non-Christians embracing such views. After numerous examples of similar heresies, however, it's no longer remarkable to find a denial of Jesus' deity by an organization which claims to be Christian -- and Baptist.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is that organization. Organized in 1991 by disaffected Baptists who unsuccessfully opposed the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, CBF recently held its annual General Assembly in Memphis. The CBF claims about 1,900 affiliated congregations.
According to invaluable Baptist Press reports by David and Erin Roach, theologian John Killinger told participants at June 19 and 20 workshops that Jesus wasn't God and He didn't consider Himself to be the Savior of the world. He also said self-realization is the way of salvation, the Gospel of John cannot be taken at face value as an accurate account of Jesus' life, Mark is a "Gnostic gospel" and Daniel "fibbed a lot" since that book's prophesies were actually written after the events about which it prophesied.
"Now we are reevaluating and we're approaching everything with a humbler perspective and seeing God's hand working in Christ, but not necessarily as the incarnate God in our midst," Killinger said. "Now, that may be hard for you to hear depending on where you are coming from, but we can talk more about it."
Killinger's book, "The Changing Shape of Our Salvation" (which was also the title of one of his CBF presentations), was promoted generously at the General Assembly by Smyth & Helwys (S&H), the CBF publishing partner. Although a different company actually published the book, S&H distributed publicity material at Killinger's workshop, hosted a book-signing for the author and displayed the book at the S&H booth in the CBF resource fair.
Killinger is executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.
"Doctrine isn't the driving force to many people today" except "to the fundamentalists who insist on it," Killinger said. "But doctrine is a thing of the past now religiously."
"There's an altered view of Scripture and of the role of Christ," he said of Christianity in today's world. "Christ is still Savior to most of us, but maybe in a slightly different way than before."
He said more pastors are not preaching from the Gospel of John because of its emphasis on Jesus' deity, preferring the other gospels' portrayal of His "human side." The baptism of Jesus was as "savior of Israel, but not necessarily to be the preexistent one that we find in John."
Killinger said his views were not a compromise of the Gospel, but a more advanced understanding, citing in his defense the infamous Jesus Seminar -- heretical scholars who have sifted through the gospels to determine which words credited to Jesus were really His and those which were not.
"I'm just suggesting that I think we need to be a little less certain about what Jesus meant, what He was about, what His life and work were about. I think we're reevaluating all that," Killinger said. According to Killinger, many CBF pastors in South Carolina recently agreed with him that salvation was about self-fulfillment and love, rather than doctrine.
In a June 20 lecture, "A Dramatic New Interpretation of the Gospel of Mark," Killinger asserted the biblical book is actually a "Gnostic gospel," among similar writings in the first three centuries of Christian history that were rejected by the early church as heresy. Gnostics taught there was secret spiritual knowledge only available to some.
In its reports, Baptist Press noted the CBF "General Assembly Guide" disclaimer, "The opinions presented in General Assembly ministry workshops are those of the workshop presenters and do not necessarily reflect of the viewpoint of, or endorsement by, The Fellowship or its members.
"Holding to the principles of soul freedom and church freedom, General Assembly workshop presenters do not speak for the Fellowship as an organization or for any of the Fellowship's members. The ministry workshops are a time for learning and exchanging ideas and are not indicative of personal or organizational doctrinal positions."
Quite simply, this is a cop-out.
With a public relations nightmare looming, the CBF issued a news release June 20, one day after the initial BP article. In full spin-control mode, the release attempts to water down the impact of the heresy espoused by Killinger by couching the workshop as merely a harmless exchange of ideas.
The release quotes a retired missionary and professor disagreeing with Killinger's views, but the main point of the release is to defend the validity of the workshop, citing the General Assembly Guide disclaimer.
Randy Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock and chair of the Assembly steering committee that invited Killinger, notes there were "scores" of workshops offering "myriad beliefs, ideas and opinions that virtually cross the board of beliefs. Being free and faithful Baptists means we listen to these voices and respond as guided personally by our relationship with God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
The release also notes the CBF's 2006 position statement, adopted in response to criticism that Jesus was removed from its purpose statement: "As a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches, we celebrate our faith in the One Triune God. We gladly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and to His gospel as we seek to be the continuing presence of Christ in this world."
Although Duke University Divinity School professor Curtis Freeman disagreed with Killinger's views, he defended the CBF's decision to invite him to speak, citing a "generous orthodoxy" advocated by American theologian Hans Frei and Emergent pastor/author Brian McLaren.
What's important to note about the CBF news release is that it does not dispute the accuracy of the BP article. Further, the release even notes, "Killinger's remarks received nods of approval by some and challenges from others," which would seem to validate the theologian's claim that some CBF pastors had previously affirmed his heretical views.
No doubt, some will be persuaded by the CBF's spin that Killinger's musings do not represent the CBF. BP reported on several other workshops and even worship services at this year's CBF espousing other heretical and aberrant doctrine (otherwise called "myriad beliefs"), including presentations opposing evangelism of Jews, promotion of women pastors, scandalous claims about Jerry Falwell (also by Killinger), and the so-called "Social Gospel."
Every year at the CBF General Assembly there's someone like Killinger offering heretical views. In recent years one or several of the following have been promoted in connection with the CBF: pro-homosexuality and radical feminism -- including "Mother God" worship; some form of universalism or other heresy about salvation; opposition to evangelism directed towards Jews or Muslims; and rejection of the total truthfulness, reliability and/or inerrancy of Scripture. This year, it's a denial of Jesus' deity.
I don't have the space to prove each and every heretical example. The evidence I offered in a 2001 editorial (www.floridabaptistwitness.com/1579.article) is a documented sampling of what has tragically marked CBF meetings since then (and before). For more evidence, do a search of the Baptist Press website. For those unaware of the CBF, it will be an eye-opening -- and troubling -- experience.
Here's the bottom line: It's long past time to declare the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is no longer truly Christian, let alone Baptist. It gives me no joy to make such a strong assertion, but the unavoidable facts will not permit any other conclusion. It's patently absurd to hide behind the notion that "free and faithful" Baptists are willing to hear divergent views, especially when the divinity of Jesus is flippantly set aside. To anemically trot out two persons who affirm the biblical teaching of Jesus' divinity, but also assert a heretic's views are welcome in the spirit of a "generous orthodoxy" demonstrates a true lack of commitment to basic Christian doctrine -- no matter CBF's official statement and desire to be the "presence of Christ in this world."
How can an organization that wishes to be Christ's presence tolerate and sponsor a presentation denying the deity of Christ? Of what value is it to the ministry of CBFers to hear a heretical theologian question Jesus' divinity? Seriously, how are those affiliated with CBF edified by a talk asserting Mark is a "Gnostic gospel"?
To be clear, I'm not saying that all -- or, perhaps, even most -- persons and churches involved with the CBF are not true Christians or even true Baptists. I'm confident that many CBFers are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some are uninformed or ill-informed about the willingness of the organization to coddle and promote heretics, while others fail to understand the gravity of theological compromise, even while personally rejecting such heresy.
Still, there is no other reasonable alternative evaluation of an organization that regularly permits, encourages, advocates, entertains, condones, sponsors and coddles heretics. At some point, one has to conclude the organization can no longer be considered meaningfully Christian.
Consider the Apostle Paul's teaching to the Romans: "Now I implore you, brothers, watch out for those who cause dissensions and pitfalls contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them; for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting" (Romans 16:17-18, HCSB).
Having failed to heed such warnings in the past, there can be no doubt the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is now un-Christian and un-Baptist.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.