Well, it’s official. I never really doubted how things stood, but it’s good to have something in writing to clarify matters for folks inside and outside the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). Perhaps the most important business to occur during the Atlanta General Assembly pertained to the approval of a Preamble to the CBF Constitution. The Preamble reads:
As a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches, we celebrate our faith in the One Triune God. We gladly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and to His gospel as we seek to be the continuing presence of Christ in this world. Our passion is to obey the Great Commandment (Mt 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20) of our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to uphold Baptist principles of faith and practice as we partner with one another and other Christians.
This statement was approved with very little discussion in the business breakout session and without any debate in the open assembly. I’m very pleased about this addition to the Constitution and believe it will serve as a guiding principle in the CBF’s business. As one attendee stated, “More people know the preamble of the US Constitution than they do the Constitution itself.” This is an addition that CBF individuals and churches can proclaim when asked about CBF priorities.
The keynote speakers all gave challenging addresses. First, Moderator Joy Yee, a Chinese-American, talked about the importance of becoming inclusive in our service to the gospel with those of different races and nationalities. This is one issue that CBF is attempting to improve upon. Next year’s moderator, Emmanuel McCall, is an African-American. It is good so see this diversity on the platform as well as in workshops and worship gatherings. Second, Trevor Hudson gave a stirring message on the theme “Have you got the ticket?” A South African Methodist, Hudson gave thanks for the privilege of speaking to a group of Baptists. He compared the CBF to a train headed for ministry to the poor and overlooked in the world. Hudson was also a leader in the AIDS Summit preceding the General Assembly. Finally, Coordinator Daniel Vestal reemphasized CBF’s dedication to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of God’s Word, Baptist principles, women in ministry, justice, missions, and ministry to those most neglected in the world. Vestal mentioned that after 15 years, CBF has grown in its mission, ministries, and members.
Lori and I attended several workshops between sessions and enjoyed lunches sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJCRL). We sat by Joe and Carolyn Crumpler at the Ethics luncheon; Carolyn (known then as Weatherford) served as the national WMU Director for years before taking early retirement. It was good catching up with Joe and Audra Trull as well. Joe was Professor of Ethics at New Orleans Seminary when I was a student there and helped a great deal during my doctoral studies. He and Audra are special friends to Lori and me.
Dr. Walter (called “Buddy” by friends) Shurden gave the keynote speech at the BJCRL luncheon. Next to the approval of the CBF Preamble, his remarks were the most meaningful part of the week. Buddy talked about the danger of seeing the “Wall of Separation” between church and state collapsing and gave several examples of how this was happening today. He said several times “it could happen here” in relating to the fall of Germany to Hitler and how Germany was blessed with religious and cultural leaders at the time of their fall. No one then could have imagined what would happen. The church became filled with “German Christians” who were more passionate about the first word in the phrase than the latter. In a similar way, there are “American Christians” who are convinced that we live in a “Christian nation” and are working toward merging church and state into a theocracy. It’s a dangerous thing when we depend upon the government to do the work of the church. The “separation of church and state” is a precious principle and must be upheld.
Sometimes folks ask how CBF is doing. I’m reminded of what Bo Prosser said to that question in 2004. He said, “About as well as any 13 year old I know.” Well, CBF is only 15 years this year but has made significant strides. It’s not perfect and has its critics. But, it is a home for Baptist individuals and churches who are seeking to be “the presence of Christ” through word and deed.
The CBF General Assembly meets in Washington D.C. next year. There will be some association with the American Baptist Convention who gathers there at the same time. The two groups will celebrate their commonalities with Baptist missions, ministry, and distinctives.