Every day is sweeter than the day before is how Denton Lotz reflects on the twilight of his 27-year career as a leader of the Baptist World Alliance.
In an interview with EthicsDaily.com, Lotz spoke with clarity and candor about his service with and love for global Baptists.
Asked to pick his best day, the retiring BWA general secretary said: “It is difficult to give one day as the ‘best’ day…. It has been my joy to experience almost every day God’s grace upon the life of Baptists somewhere.”
Lotz has met world religious and political leaders including Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Alexsei, Billy Graham, Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter.
“Best days have included experiencing the growth of the church overseas,” he said. “Defending religious freedom successfully has made for best days.”
Noting that Baptists began with a small group of 40 dissenting believers in 1609 and have grown to 110 million members in 400 years, Lotz said that “God has blessed the BWA in many ways.”
Asked about his worst day, Lotz remembers it distinctly. “The worst day was when one evening I received a telephone call from the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] leadership telling me that the SBC had decided to withdraw from the BWA,” he said.
The SBC announced its decision to withdraw from the BWA in December 2003 and formalized that commitment in June 2004.
“We are still suffering the consequences of that unfortunate decision, which I believe was contrary to Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17),” said Lotz. “It is absolutely false to accuse the BWA of being left wing, liberal or anti-American.”
He said, “It makes me very sad that this misrepresentation of the BWA continues to be perpetuated.”
Before joining the BWA staff in 1980, Lotz was a missionary with American Baptist Churches in Eastern Europe and a professor of missions at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland.
During those days, he often traveled to Eastern European countries, which were under communist control, with Gerhard Class, formerly general secretary for the German Baptists and then the European Baptist Federation.
They formed such a friendship that when Claas was chosen to become BWA’s general secretary, he told the personnel committee that he wanted Lotz as his deputy.
When Class was killed in 1988 in an automobile accident in California, BWA president Noel Vose appointed Lotz, director of evangelism and education, as the interim general secretary, a post to which BWA’s executive committee soon elected Lotz. The BWA’s general council approved the decision that July.
“Thus, 2007 is the first time in 31 years that the BWA has had a search committee for general secretary,” Lotz said.
At the meeting this week in Accra, Ghana, the general council will receive and vote on the search committee recommendation of Neville Callam, a Jamaican pastor, to be the next BWA general secretary.
Callam “is a very capable theologian, preacher, administrator and leader,” said Lotz. “I have complete confidence in him.”
Lotz told EthicsDaily.com that BWA faces priorities in 2007 that are similar to the ones he faced in 1988.
“The Northern Hemisphere too often is setting the agenda” for Christianity, even though “there has been a great paradigm shift in Christianity moving to the Southern Hemisphere,” he said.
Other similarities are organizational funding, which Lotz called “the perennial problem for the Free Church tradition.”
In terms of differences in priorities across his tenure as general secretary, Lotz said that denominational loyalty was evaporating in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Whereas the Baptists in the Southern Hemisphere are proud to be Baptists and proud of their heritage, Baptists in the North seem to have lost their Baptist identity and loyalty to their tradition,” said Lotz. “Movements such as the emergent church do not care about denominational loyalty.”
Expressing concern about a new and dangerous nationalism and a suspicion about internationalism, Lotz said that navel gazing in the North keeps “institutions alive which perhaps should have died long ago” to make room “for another dynamic movement of the Spirit.”
Another difference is a shift in funding for BWA away from national bodies toward churches and individuals.
“The BWA cannot count on national bodies to keep the BWA going, since they themselves lack support and are often on disarray,” he said.
From his days as a Marine in Okinawa to his final days in the office of general secretary, Lotz has had a lifetime interest in missions. Not surprisingly, he plans to write a book on missions when he retires at the end of the year and moves to Cape Cod.
“The Lord willing, I will preach until I die,” he said.
Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics and serves on the BWA’s Freedom and Justice Commission. He is attending the general council meeting in Accra.