Cecil Sherman, the first coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said, “The son comes up at different times for different people.” He was commenting on that fact that not everyone perceived the changes in Baptist life in the south at the same time and was leaving the door open for other Baptists to join the Fellowship movement.
I have been reminded of this recently as friends who have continued to support traditional Baptist structures in our state have found themselves cast aside because they do not agree with the predominant agenda being pursued by those entities. Twenty years after many Baptists, including myself, turned their backs on the old way of doing things, they are ready to move on. The sun has come up for them. I applaud their decision and identify with the grieving process they are going through.
At least one acquaintance has suggested to me that this is a good time for Fellowship Baptists to take advantage of this disillusionment and seek to enlist these folks for the moderate cause. Now, I realize that part of Cecil Sherman’s agenda when he became coordinator was to try to help many “big steeple” pastors to see that their churches really were moderate and convince them to join the CBF movement. Basically, he was asking them to change teams. Times have changed, however, and I doubt the effectiveness of that strategy today.
Why? Because there are a number of “teams”—potential partners—with which Baptist churches may affiliate and it is very possible to be part of more than one team at a time. In addition to the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the Alliance of Baptists, there are some states with two or three Baptist organizations, church networks (like the Willow Creek Association), free-standing Baptist entities (colleges and universities as well as groups like ethicsdaily.com, Plantersville, and Baptist Women in Ministry) and ministry specific organizations (Habitat for Humanity, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Samaritan’s Purse, and others) with which churches can work.
The greatest danger in such affiliations is that a church will chose to become partners with a ministry because of the work they are doing without considering the group’s doctrinal and ethical commitments. One particular non-Baptist organization with a strong seasonal ministry among many Baptist churches is very conservative and openly antagonistic toward other world religions, but they faithfully and aggressively collect information from a number of moderate Baptists for their extensive data base. Churches that often question the doctrinal stance of Fellowship and Alliance Baptists give groups like one free access to their congregations without question.
Some moderate Baptists still cling to the hope of that a congregation will declare its unwavering allegiance to their particular group but such a commitment is unlikely. There are too many options and churches have been “burned” too often. Baptist churches, practicing a congregational polity, are free to choose not only local partners but national and international partners as well. With this freedom comes a great deal of responsibility. Whether congregations and their leaders realize this responsibility is the unanswered question.