TAMPA, Fla. (ABP) – Founded 20 years ago as a freedom movement in Baptist life, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship now must guard against a “sloppy discipleship” that downplays responsibility, a founder of the movement told alumni of the CBF Coordinating Council at a June 24 gathering in Tampa, Fla.
“CBFers get an A-plus in speaking of freedom,” said Walter Shurden, a Baptist historian who co-authored with the late Cecil Sherman an “Address to the Public” about reasons for the Fellowship’s formation that was read at the first General Assembly in 1991.
“I was from the first and remain to this moment one of the chief cheerleaders for freedom for CBF,” said Shurden, retired director of the Center for Baptist studies at Mercer University.
Shurden said he is “unrepentant and unapologetic” for the freedom emphasis that marked the Fellowship’s founding but that he and other early organizers “never intended that freedom be interpreted as sloppy discipleship.”
“Legalism is rightfully anathema to most of us, but a dab more of guilt would not tarnish our CBF souls,” Shurden said.
Shurden defined “sloppy” discipleship as that which “worships when it is convenient, reads its Bible if it has time, tips God rather than tithes to the kingdom” and “fails to engage in a kind of Christlike generosity that nudges us toward sacrifice.”
“Sloppy discipleship dismisses religious organizations as mindless ecclesiastical bureaucracies rather than seeing them as corporate conduits of our caring,” Shurden said. “My church cannot do its ministry without money or people. Yours cannot either. Nor can CBF and CBF partners.”
Shurden expressed hope “that we CBFers get a new baptism, an immersion in responsibility alongside our necessary drenching in freedom.”
Looking back, Shurden recalled resentment, anger and grief in the decade-long struggle for control of the Southern Baptist Convention that CBF Baptists eventually had to concede, but he remembered a sense of hope and historical significance around the founding of a new Fellowship.
He listed 10 “really good things” the movement preserved and perpetuated during its first 20 years:
— A commitment to and honesty about biblical authority.
— A holistic spirituality that involves a warm heart, a critical mind, and a willing hand.
— A sense of gender equality that is yet to be realized.
— A sense of racial equality, yet unfulfilled.
— A commitment to historic Baptist principles.
— Some good theological education and educators.
— A passion for missions.
— An enormous compassion for the hurting that causes us to respond to disasters in a heartbeat.
— An awareness that “justice for all” is not a political slogan but a major part of the gospel.
— An awareness that the laity are God’s people, not a postscript to the clergy.
“I do not want to live in the past,” Shurden said. “However, neither do I want to leave these ‘really good things’ in the past. I want us to take them with us into the next 20 years.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.