Published March 25, 2004
In my flesh I prefer the course of least resistance. It is easier to go with the flow than swim against the current. Likewise, it is difficult to be true to the truth when tolerance is the social norm, and it is not easy to take a stand in the face of public criticism.
But truth must triumph over tolerance and right must prevail over concession and compromise.
It must have been a conviction for truth over tolerance that led the nine-member Baptist World Alliance Study Committee to recommend to the SBC Executive Committee to withdraw from the BWA. Subsequently, by a 62-10 vote, the Executive Committee affirmed the recommendation, which will now be presented to messengers from SBC churches at the June 15-16 annual meeting in Indianapolis.
The SBC has strong historic ties to the BWA. Southern Baptists were among Baptists from 23 countries who met in London, England in 1905 to charter the alliance. Accordingly, some Baptists, at home and abroad, are upset that we might soon go our separate ways after such a long association. A few showed their “disappointment” by releasing press statements that attacked the SBC.
The original purpose of the alliance was to promote mutual awareness, fellowship, and inspiration, as well as speak out on such issues as religious liberty and world peace. But, through the years the BWA and the SBC have grown apart ideologically and theologically, making agreement in such areas difficult. The difference in directions has become even more pronounced in the last 25 years, owing to the course correction Southern Baptists made in our Convention by opposing liberalism within our churches and institutions and once again championing an uncompromising allegiance to the authority of the Word of God.
Someone has rightly said that liberalism is not so much a political or social philosophy as it is degeneration rationalized. History shows that liberalism’s degeneration has marked the path to religious ruin as well as catalyzed the failure of nations, empires and civilizations.
While there are many wonderful Baptists identified with the BWA, the organization itself has embraced a kind of tolerance that has produced a drift toward liberalism.
In 1988, the BWA invited Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu to speak at an alliance meeting despite Tutu’s public statements of theological aberrance.
In 1980, Tutu said, “Some people thought there was something odd about Jesus’ birth ... It may be that Jesus was an illegitimate son.”
In 1978 Tutu stated, “The Holy Spirit is not limited to the Christian church. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, who is a Hindu … the Holy Spirit shines through him.”
Tutu also has called for the ordination of homosexual priests (although it was some years after speaking to the BWA that he went on record as holding this belief).
In May of 2001 Southern Baptists were appalled at the actions of George Younger, who then served as the BWA representative to the United Nations. He signed the infamous SIECUS clergy appeal defending homosexuality. SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States) endorses incest, holds that children of any age should be able to have sex and advocates that homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual activities are morally neutral.
In January of 2002 the BWA general secretary, Denton Lotz, demonstrated an ecumenism that pushed tolerance beyond the pale of reason. He joined about 200 religious leaders, including representatives of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Baha’i at the Day of Prayer in Assisi, Italy.
For years the anti-American sentiments of some BWA leaders have grown, as have their negative feelings toward Southern Baptists.
But, perhaps the most serious concern for Southern Baptists has been the BWA’s toleration of members’ statements and papers appearing to deny the exclusivity of Christ.
As one example, during a panel discussion at the BWA’s global meeting in Brazil, one of our Southern Baptist representatives was mocked when he asked whether the BWA was willing to unequivocally affirm that a conscious decision to receive Christ was necessary for salvation. Moreover, BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz dismissed the question, saying that it was a theological issue that would not be discussed further.
Since the public exposure about this incident, the BWA has issued denials and even published statements that it affirms “faith in the mediation of Jesus Christ as solely and entirely sufficient for salvation.” But the record shows the BWA lacks commitment to this central tenet of our Christian faith.
Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher of over a century ago, once said, “… imagine that in those ages past Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their peers had said, ‘The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.’
“Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous gobs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on.
“It is today as it was in the reformer’s days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it ... Look you, sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today. We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right, mayhap our children and [their] children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.”
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
It will be difficult to break ties with an organization that Southern Baptists helped to charter and nurture through the years (We will continue to fellowship with Baptists around the world, just not through the BWA). Still, despite the discomfort this action might cause for some, it is essential that Southern Baptists stand for truth in a world that increasingly embraces tolerance.
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