Herb Reynolds envisioned nine years ago a forerunner of the New Baptist Covenant, a 2008 gathering of Baptists in North America. The former Baylor University president called his vision the Baptist Convention of the Americas.
Missing from the accolades in news stories about his death last week is one of the most important matters that goodwill Baptists ought to remember about Reynolds’ impressive career of preserving the best of the Baptist tradition through existing institutions and the creation of new entities.
In November 1998, Reynolds spelled out an idea for a pan-Baptist organization at the Texas Baptists Committed annual breakfast.
The Baylor University chancellor foresaw a lean staff, located in Texas, what he considered the half-point between the tip of South America and Alaska. He underscored the centrality of technology and missions. He articulated the need for educational resources and seminary-trained clergy. He emphasized the importance of ethics and suggested a new way for corporate decision-making for the body.
Some of the specifics of his 13-point outline must be seen today as illustrative potential, not concrete recommendations. Clearly, technology has leaped light years ahead of what he envisioned.
Some of his organizational suggestions were too Texas-centric to be appealing to the broad sweep of Baptist bodies. A few of his organizational ideas never developed into viable channels, but his final point is still a breathing reality.
“As we view the world’s stage and our global involvement, we might want to partner in various ways with the Baptist World Alliance if that body remains free of the forces of Fundamentalism,” said Reynolds.
He recommended that the Baptist Convention of the Americas work with the six regional bodies of the BWA, one of which is the North American Baptist Fellowship.
Today, NABF is at the heart of the New Baptist Covenant and clearly the most viable option for housing future collaborative efforts among goodwill Baptists in North America.
Reynolds concluded his 1998 speech with the hope he might stimulate the thinking of Baptists “in very large terms about how we … can best chart our course for the 21st century.”
“All of us need to learn the difficulties of the last 20 years behind us and embrace a far-reaching vision to win the world for Christ and to serve others to the glory of God,” he said. “God help us to advance the cause of Christ by remaining a bastion of freedom for Baptists and for people everywhere,” he said.
The Baylor leader believed enough in his idea to spend his own money to register the name of the Baptist Convention of the Americas.
Reynolds’ vision was received with less consideration than it merited, as often happens to visionaries.
Yet nearly a decade later, Reynolds attended the Jan. 9, 2007 meeting at The Carter Center, where the 2008 gathering was announced.
The group photo has him standing in the front row, exactly where he deserved to be. One of the real leaders of a movement come of age.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.