FIRST-PERSON: Withdrawal from BWA is not a sin against love
On Thursday morning of the conference we were presented a "Mission Statement on Evangelism" that came from the recent BWA Summit on Baptist Mission in the 21st Century. The mission statement was quite lengthy -- 3 pages, and quite exhaustive. It included a statement on war, calling it "a failure to achieve results in a Christ-like fashion," and even touched on the division of Baptists on the role of women in ministry, calling us all to be more egalitarian.
What it lacked was any clear statement that the end of all mission work is the conversion of the lost to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, or any clear statement that it was only through conscious faith in Jesus Christ that a person can be saved.
Chuck Kelley (of NOBTS) and I arose to ask why a Baptist mission statement on evangelism did not include either of these things. Dr. Denton Lotz told us that such things were assumed among Baptists. When I asked if each member of the Summit could affirm that it was only through conscious faith in Christ that an adult could be saved, I was booed by a number of General Council members and told dismissively by Dr. Lotz that these were theological issues that were not appropriate to be discussed in our forum on evangelism.
Do all Baptists in the BWA affirm that salvation comes only through Jesus? Hardly. On Friday morning the General Council voted to allow the CBF entrance into the BWA. As part of the discussion, evidence was brought forward that a number of CBF churches did not affirm the exclusivity of Christ, embraced homosexuality, and believed in the fallibility of the Bible. Neither Daniel Vestal nor other CBF representatives disputed this evidence.
But what was most disturbing to me was that these assertions were not even questioned by the other member bodies of the BWA. The Council voted resoundingly, 75-28, to accept the CBF as a member body. The interpretation: issues like the inerrancy of the Bible, the exclusivity of Christ, and God's plan for marriage are not issues that are essential to global Baptist identity. The CBF's inclusion in the BWA is simply another indicator that the BWA considers "diversity" to be more important than unity on the essentials of Baptist faith and mission.
Dr. Lotz has said that the withdrawal is a "sin against love" and a frustration of Christ's prayer for the unity of all Christians in John 17. His comments beg the question, however, of why have a "Baptist" World Alliance at all? Why not just join with "all" Christians at the World Council of Churches? Presumably it is because Dr. Lotz believes that Baptists share some fundamental beliefs that set them apart and are essential for effective cooperation.
If the inerrancy of the Bible, the exclusivity of Christ, the covenant of marriage, and the sanctity of life are not among those essentials, then what is? Surely these things strike closer to the core of our faith than does the mode of one of our ordinances. What Dr. Lotz is arguing for is an end to all denominationalism or religious distinctiveness at all. Dr. Lotz holds up "unity" as the sacred cow, to which, seemingly, even the essentials of the Gospel itself must be sacrificed.
Southern Baptists are not the first evangelical body in history to face such a predicament.
At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther had to choose between the unity of the Church and the truths of the Gospel. Luther was told that he would ruin Christian mission in the world by insisting on salvation by faith alone and the priesthood of all believers.
In the late 19th century Charles Spurgeon found himself in a Baptist union where bland statements about doctrine were used as umbrellas to hide people of wildly different theological convictions. Spurgeon was censured for his insistence that the doctrines of the Bible and salvation be maintained among Baptists.
Ironically, it was John Clifford, who would become the first president of the BWA, who said that Spurgeon should quit fighting about doctrine and just "preach Jesus."
Dr. Lotz has said, "Whenever Baptists unite, it is around evangelism and mission. Doctrinal uniformity divides us, but proclaiming Christ unites us."
But we must ask, as Spurgeon did, how can we unite to preach Christ without at least some consensus about Who He is, or what He came to do? Does not evangelism require uniformity on some essential doctrines?
The last thing our pluralistic, postmodern world needs is ambiguity. Baptists must be united and clear on what really is Jesus' message to the nations.
Let the BWA issue a firm and clear statement that salvation is found only by conscious faith in Jesus Christ, that the end of all our mission work is the conversion of the lost, that the Bible we place in their hands is God's inerrant word, and that we stand for the sanctity of all human life. Let them affirm that all partnering bodies affirm these essentials. Then we could forge a way ahead together. If they cannot, then what place do Southern Baptists have in the BWA?
The proposed Southern Baptist withdrawal is not a "sin against love."
The greater sin against love would be to muddle our message by failing to be clear on the essentials of our faith.
Southern Baptists must continue to stand in the tradition of Luther, Spurgeon and a host of others who have testified that the truths of the Gospel are too important to be sacrificed on the altar of diversity.
J.D. Greear is senior pastor at the Summit Church, Durham, N.C.