Southern Baptist leaders don’t need to look for heresy in the Baptist World Alliance. It’s right under their noses in the form of fundamentalism, suggests a former seminary professor and longtime BWA leader, now a pastor in Australia.
Thorwald Lorenzen, pastor of Canberra Baptist Church in Australia, wrote two letters to church members reporting on plans by a study committee to ask the Southern Baptist Convention to withdraw membership and funds from the BWA.
The issue is not theology, Lorenzen, who formerly taught at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, said in the letters, which are posted on the Mainstream Baptists Web site.
“On the whole Baptists are evangelical and Bible believing Christians, and within BWA meetings a free exchange of opinion has always been possible,” he said.
Rather, Lorenzen said: “The issue is the arrogant hunger for power and the lack of humility. Because Southern Baptists have numerical and financial power, therefore they want to rule. If they don’t get their way, they threaten and withdraw.”
In a second letter, Lorenzen charged SBC leaders with heresy, a claim that an SBC/BWA study committee lodges against the BWA in a report alleging an “increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines” within ranks of the global network of 210 Baptist unions and conventions representing 47 million baptized believers.
“If there is something like truth and heresy–and if the church through the ages is right by defining truth and heresy with reference to the humanity and divinity of Christ and with reference to the Trinitarian understanding of God–then the fundamentalism of the SBC is a heresy just as claiming that the infallibility of the pope is a heresy,” Lorenzen said.
Lorenzen added, however, that he has “no problem” with associating with heretics. “We are all on a journey.” But he said he hoped Baptist leaders in Australia would stand by their long-term commitment to the BWA and refuse to join an alternative alliance being proposed by leaders of the SBC.
This isn’t the first time Lorenzen, 68, has run into suspicion from Southern Baptists. He related a story of when he was at the international Baptist seminary in Ruschlikon, which relocated to the Czech Republic in 1995.
“I remember the days in Switzerland when some SBC missionaries underhandedly walked out of our bi-lingual church … so that they could only speak English (in a German speaking context!) and report to home the founding of a new church. And I remember being interviewed (investigated!) by a delegation of people from the SBC Foreign Mission Board (who partly supported our seminary and who had made a written promise to maintain decreasing support for another 15 years) who had no theological education but who wanted to find out whether I and others were ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ For us it was quite a strange and somewhat embarrassing experience.”
Lorenzen, a German by birth, taught systematic theology and ethics at Ruschlikon from 1974 until 1995. Before that he taught New Testament three years at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an SBC school in North Carolina. He has been senior minister at Canberra Baptist Church since 1995. He was a member of the BWA Human Rights Commission for 25 years and its chairman twice, 1985-1990 and 1995-2000.
Lorenzen said he prefers “good news” like a new report by BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz that Cuba’s government is no longer preventing Christians from meeting in 50-60 member “house churches.” Lotz, who recently visited Cuba, says 2,500 such meeting places have sprung up there, most since 1995.
A group of European Baptists involved with youth and children’s work also joined a number of voices around the world asking Southern Baptist leaders to reconsider their recommendation to pull out of the BWA.
“We believe that the withdrawal of the SBC from the Baptist family worldwide will not help the youth and children of their churches and our churches to view the family of Baptists worldwide as their home,” said a Jan. 20 resolution by the European Baptist Federation’s Youth & Children’s Workers Conference meeting in Novi Sad, Serbia.
The resolution, signed by 25 individuals from nations of Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey, asks the SBC Executive Committee not to adopt the defunding proposal, characterizing its rejection as a “courageous but necessary decision.”
The BWA’s current president, Korean pastor Billy Kim, said Wednesday that while theological diversity exists in the BWA, it is inaccurate to say the organization is liberal.
“The Korean church, by in large, is very conservative,” Kim told reporters prior to a BWA rally at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, according to a report by Baptists Today.
Kim said his church, the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church near Seoul, South Korea, is probably more conservative than the average Southern Baptist church in the United States.
“Everybody carries their Bible; everybody carries their own hymnbook,” he said. “If you don’t go to early morning prayer meeting, five o’clock everyday, then (we) don’t consider you conservative or biblical. You cannot (say) that we are conservative and the U.S. church is liberal. We just practice different.”
Kim said theological diversity exists in the BWA, but it does not justify accusations in the SBC report.
“There might be within Baptist World Alliance some liberal-leaning people, and I don’t deny that, people in Europe or somewhere,” he said, “but we cannot put them all together and say that Baptist World Alliance is liberal.”
The SBC study of the BWA cites “continued emphasis on women as pastors, frequent criticisms of the International Mission Board of Southern Baptists, refusal to allow open discussion on issues such as abortion and the funding of questionable enterprises through Baptist World Aid,” as examples of dangerous theology advocated in the various commissions and committees of the organization.
A vote on the committee’s report, which calls on the SBC withdrawing from membership in the BWA and ending $300,000 a year in annual support effective Oct. 1, 2004, is expected to come at a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 16-17. If it passes, it would have to be ratified at the SBC’s 2004 annual meeting, scheduled June 15-16 in Indianapolis.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.