By Robert Dilday
Birmingham, England (ABP) — Two state Baptist conventions became full-fledged members of the Baptist World Alliance following election by the BWA's General Council July 27.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia join 211 other conventions and unions affiliated with the BWA, representing 32 million baptized believers around the world.
The General Council, which handles much of the business of BWA, also accepted a new member union from Africa, elected new executive staff members and officers, and welcomed president-elect David Coffey of Great Britain, who succeeds South Korean Billy Kim as leader of the worldwide Baptist organization.
The council met just prior to the BWA's Congress, held every five years. This year's congress is focusing on the BWA's 100th anniversary. The group was founded in London in 1905.
Both the Texas and Virginia conventions had been seeking BWA membership since the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from the organization last year, charging it with liberal theological and anti-American leanings. Because most churches in the Texas and Virginia conventions also affiliate with the SBC, its withdrawal left those congregations without a "channel of fellowship with Baptists around the world," said Alistair Brown, who chairs the BWA's membership committee.
Brown said the membership committee recommended the state conventions' election only after close scrutiny of their structure and the BWA's constitution, which stipulates that member bodies be fully autonomous and not an integral part of another convention or union.
Both the BGCT and the BGAV are legally independent of the SBC, said Brown. "Through the years, there has been a strong fellowship [between the SBC and the two state conventions] and a real sense of belonging to the SBC," he added. "However, that is not the same as being structurally or legally a part of the SBC."
"The [membership] committee is fully satisfied that each is an organized Baptist body of the kind described by the constitution, that each is fully autonomous, that each is seeking to live in peace and harmony with others and that each fully intends to be supportive of the work of the BWA," said Brown in presenting his committee's unanimous recommendation.
The General Council approved the election without debate and followed it by sustained applause.
Both conventions' executive directors — Charles Wade of Texas and John Upton of Virginia — thanked the council following the vote.
"I urged Texas Baptists to come to this meeting so that the world would know we are proud to be part of the world Baptist family…and because I wanted Texas Baptists to know how big the Baptist family is," said Wade.
Upton said he's often asked how many churches are affiliated with the BGAV. "I've learned to say there is only one church — the church of Jesus Christ," he said. "We are so excited to be a part of this movement of Baptists around the world."
In withdrawing, the SBC also ended its $425,000 annual contribution to the BWA — overwhelmingly the largest contribution of any member union. But BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz said North American churches – most of them SBC affiliates — had given $500,000 this year, more than enough to replace the loss.
Virginia's annual contribution of about $150,000 now makes it the largest member giver to the BWA. Texas is a close second with about a $129,000 annual contribution.
Emboldened by the positive financial report, the General Council approved a 2006 budget of $2,345,275, an increase over 2005's $1,974,773 budget. Member unions are expected to contribute about $557,000 toward the budget goal — most of it coming from unions in North America and Europe.
Also approved was about $2.5 million in disaster-relief and development projects for Baptist World Aid, a ministry of the BWA. The amounts represent goals for which BWAid will seek funding for the projects. They are not promises of funding.
The council also approved a statement of Baptist identity, which it will ask the Congress to adopt.
"This is a strong message to send to our Baptist family in this [centennial] year," said Keith Jones, who chaired a committee that formulated the statement. "We hope it will be used to declare to the world who we are."
Jones, who is rector of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, said the statement is Christocentric and "places the Trinity at its heart." It also is evangelistic, Baptist in ecclesiology, "puts the accent on mission and the coming reign of God" and stresses the need to be good stewards of creation and to take strong stands for the poor and needy, and for religious liberty.
In other action, the General Council:
— Elected two new executive staff members. Fausto Vasconcelos, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, succeeds Tony Cupit, who is retiring as director of the evangelism department. Ron Harris, director of advancement for Bethel College in St. Paul, Minn., becomes director of the BWA's new department of advance, created by the merging of the old communications and development departments. Wendy Ryan, director of communications for 17 years, will retire this year.
— Received a report from its 21st Century Committee, which is evaluating the BWA's ministry structure. Over the next five years, an implementation task force likely will propose changes, which must be considered by the General Council before going into effect. (07-29-05)