European Baptist Leaders Criticize IMB Strategy

Leaders of the European Baptist Federation sharply criticized Southern Baptist mission strategy in a report received unanimously at an EBF Council meeting Sept. 22-25 in Prague, Czech Republic.

A resolution accepted by 130 delegates from 50 EBF member states cited concerns about how member unions should relate to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention following the SBC's withdrawal last year from the Baptist World Alliance.


Those concerns included comments that were viewed as "direct attacks" on European Baptist leaders by SBC leaders at the time of withdrawal and reports by council representatives from some Baptist unions of "difficulties in relating to IMB personnel in their own countries."


After surveying member bodies, the EBF leaders identified the "main point of contention" with the IMB as what is understood to be Southern Baptists' international mission strategy.


"At a time when much evangelical missiological thinking is emphasizing equal partnership, indigenization and the importance of the contextualizing the gospel, the IMB seems to rely on an older, more paternalistic model of mission with an over-dependence on the 'expertise' of missionaries from the U.S.A.," said the resolution.


European Baptist leaders said a minority of member unions have good working relationships with and/or "signficant funding" from the IMB.


Another minority is "very unhappy" about relationships to the IMB, usually resulting from conflict or disagreement.


The majority of EBF member unions, the report said, are not strongly opposed to what the IMB is doing in their countries but "regret very much the fact that IMB missionaries are working independently of the union and there is little contact, and less cooperation."


Since the late 1990s, the IMB, known previously as the Foreign Mission Board, has focused its mission strategy to concentrate on "unreached" people groups. As a result, the mission board has shifted to working with church-planting movements in various countries, often without consulting indigenous Baptist leaders.


While also facing the challenge of how to reach different ethnic groups in their own countries, national Baptist leaders say they would prefer to work in partnership rather for outside groups to go it alone.


As implemented, the IMB policy has "weakened the connection" with national Baptist groups and failed to produce "strong, vibrant churches" that are finding fellowship with existing Baptist unions, the resolution stated.


The leaders accused the IMB of ignoring the "Hamburg Agreement," a pact aimed at healing strained relations between European and Southern Baptists following the IMB's defunding of International Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, in 1991.


The 1992 agreement pledged "continuous communication, ongoing dialogue and regular review" as the basis for further relationships.


The agreement, signed by IMB staff and trustees and EBF leaders, called for "genuine consultation" in mission partnerships and "reciprocal sharing, in which the partners learn, work and grow together, each giving and receiving."


"In many of our EBF unions this kind of partnership with IMB has simply not happened in recent years," said the new statement by the EBF Council.


"We state quite clearly our desire to work with  all mission agencies who will work in good and equal partnership with us and our unions in making Christ known in our region," the statement continued.


"We believe that future partnership with the IMB should be in close cooperation with, and normally under the leadership of, our existing Baptist unions if the effects of missionary activity are to be long-lasting."


Rodney Hammer, the IMB's regional director for Central and Eastern Europe, disputed charges in the report, according to European Baptist Press Service. If European Baptists are committed to unity in diversity for themselves, he said, they should also tolerate various concepts of mission. Hammer said he is interested in having a good relationship with the EBF.


According to a June report, Hammer, who coordinates the work of 400 missionaries in 25 former Eastern Bloc countries, said the IMB had "engaged" 60 people groups in the region and set a goal of reaching 60 more in the next two years.


Tony Peck, EBF general secretary, told the report represents "the reality of the differing and sometimes difficult relationships" between EBF members and the IMB. Peck said Council members hope it will "form the basis of a ongoing dialogue with the IMB, in which European Baptists will feel that their concerns, expressed over a number of years now, have really been heard."


EBF leaders once again expressed "strong support" for the Baptist World Alliance, especially in its concern for mission and evangelism.


In addition to long-standing concern over IMB strategies and relationships, the EBF leaders said, "a third concern was added" when SBC leaders announced and held a meeting with 12 invited European Baptists in July in Poland.


"We were grateful for assurances from IMB regional leaders that this meeting was not initiated by the IMB in Europe, but nevertheless it is understandable that it was linked with them in the minds of some of our union leaders," according to the resolution.


According to Baptist Press, a contingent of SBC agency heads and other leaders met July 1-2 with Baptist representatives from Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Moldovia, Poland and Romania to explore ways for "conservative, evangelical Baptists" to "partner more effectively in evangelism, church planting and theological education."


"This meeting may prove in time to have been the inaugural meeting of a network that shall extend to every corner of the earth, creating a close fellowship among likeminded conservative Christians," said Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.


The SBC has earmarked $425,000 that formerly went toward annual funding of the Baptist World Alliance into a new network aimed at building relationships linking Baptists commited to the inerrancy of Scripture around the world.


Other members of the SBC delegation included Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, and representatives from five of the six SBC seminaries.


Bob Allen is managing editor of Klaus Roesler of European Baptist Press Service contributed to this report.



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