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CBF and Baptists in 2010


by Walter B. Shurden

Callaway Professor of Christianity

Executive Director, The Center for Baptist Studies

Mercer University, Macon, Georgia


NOTE: This article was published in Fellowship: Newsletter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 11:1 (Jan-Feb 2001) 4-5.

I note three interrelated trends which will impact Baptists and CBF by 2010

I. Creative Baptist localism:

1. Among moderate Baptists, creative Baptist localism, which got a huge shot in the arm by the fundamentalist-moderate controversy, will continue to increase in strength. "Creative Baptist localism" means that an increasing number of local churches have rediscovered their true Baptist church polity--congregationalism. Assuming responsibility for their lives rather than depending unduly on national or regional bodies, these churches will not be easily led to imitate the "denomination." They will certainly not let a national body dictate to them. They will be empowered to follow the leadership of Christ as they understand it. This is one of the happiest consequences of the controversy, and it is pregnant with implications for moderate Baptists. CBF must heed and encourage this creative localism, as it has done for the last ten years. If it does not, it will run the risk of being shunned by local churches who have finally found their ecclesiastical legs.

2. More Moderate Baptist churches will be excluded from existing associations, state conventions, and the SBC. The creed adopted by the SBC in Orlando will be the whipping stick. Those excluded will not really care, for they have already found a home in either CBF or the Alliance.

3. Many mixed (containing both moderates and fundamentalists) local Baptist churches who are today struggling with their relationship to the SBC will either sever that relationship, suffer division with new smaller moderate churches being formed, or by attrition of moderates become solidly franchise Southern Baptist churches by 2010. The first decade of the controversy (1979-90) occurred at the national level. The second decade (1990-2000) focused on state conventions, though that is not quite finished. The third decade (2000-2010) will be in some ways the most painful of all, a bit of trench warfare in the local churches.

4. More women, but not scores, will serve as pastors of local moderate Baptist churches.

II. Self-Conscious Baptist Regionalism:

1. Self-conscious Baptist regionalism, an extension of the localism described above, will flourish in the future. Ecclesiastical McDonaldism, where each outlet is like all the others, while not completely over and done with, is surely on the decline. The state Baptist conventions in Texas and Virginia are primary examples of this trend in their relationships to the SBC. CBFers should not think, however, that divorcing one national group means that regional bodies are ready to marry another newer denominational franchise.

2. The Texas Baptist State Convention and the Virginia Baptist General Association will be regional denominations, partnering with but also in friendly competition with national CBF.

3. One can also observe this self-conscious regionalism trend in two other Baptist spots: in emerging Mainstream Baptist Groups and in state CBF chapters. While they are not all scoring triumphant victories, the Mainline Baptists Groups (Texas Baptists Committed, Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma, The Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia, etc.) appear to have some of the greatest momentum in moderate Baptist life today. Keep your eyes on these organizations, both for their political savvy and independence and their growing importance in the next few years. Don't lose sight of the fact that their focus is regional, not national.

Likewise, some state CBF chapters appear to have no intention of becoming submissive satellites of CBF national. Again, what is emerging is a healthy and robust kind of localism on the regional or state level. Moderate Baptists must remember that there is no such thing as "The CBF Baptist Church." Unfortunately, we have witnessed "THE Southern Baptist Church" emerge from the Southern Baptist Convention. And it is equipped with cardinals, creeds, and codes of ethics. The independence of state CBF chapters will not permit that development in CBF life. Rather than corralling or "connecting" CBF state organizations, CBF national will have to take second place some of the time. It should.

4. In several states some moderate Baptists and their churches will give up on the old state convention. They will do what the fundamentalists have done in Virginia and Texas and form rival state conventions or the state CBF chapters will become de facto state conventions for moderates.

5. New moderate associations may be formed with theological rather than geographical boundaries. These new associations, among other things, will have more inclusive policies on matters of baptism, accepting Christians of other denominations into their churches without "Baptist baptism." If new associations are not formed, it will be a tacit confession that associations are no longer needed. For many moderate Baptists, state CBF chapters will replace the older associational pattern.

III. An Humble Denominationalism:

1. All of the above argues for an humble denominationalism at the national level in 2010 among moderate Baptists. Fortunately, the Baptist denominational pyramid has been inverted for us. Before 1980, the dynamic flow of things was from the denomination at the top to the local churches at the bottom. Today, and more so in 2010, the dynamic flow will be from the churches at the top to the denomination at the bottom.

2. Inherent in a humble denominationalism is the fact that national CBF must be a cheerleader for diversity, not uniformity. Moderate Baptists are not the kind of people who tell each other what to believe, how to behave, or where to give kingdom money to be Baptist kosher. If that attitude is subverted by the passing of years and a burgeoning bureaucracy, as it was in the SBC, CBF will be a bland annual meeting of smaller numbers by the year 2010.

3. In 2010, because of this "humble denominationalism, national CBF will function as a conduit and a catalyst. It will function as a conduit for very diverse Baptist congregations and individuals to "cooperate" in the areas of missions, theological education, campus ministry, chaplaincy, and other such ministries. Second, the CBF will serve as a catalyst for moderate Baptists, challenging them to take seriously what Jesus took seriously and to honor the messy, often chaotic, but always indispensable Baptist vision of freedom