BEIRUT, Lebanon–Despite the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance–partly on charges of European liberalism–three representatives of the SBC’s International Mission Board have registered for the annual meeting of the European Baptist Federation, a regional body of the BWA.
Beginning today in Beirut, some 130 Baptist leaders from different unions in Europe, the Middle East, Canada and the United States are scheduled to meet for business and fellowship.
Among those registered are IMB representatives Dennis Barton and Tom Williams, the EBF office told EthicsDaily.com.
The IMB communication’s office requested that EthicsDaily.com not release the name of the third attendee, saying that “he is serving in a sensitive location.”
Some find the IMB’s attendance at the meeting surprising given the harsh criticism which SBC leaders have leveled at European Baptists for several months.
A December 2003 SBC report recommending that Southern Baptists defund the BWA said, “The prominence of a number of European and North American conventions has resulted in an increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines.”
Citing “a decided anti-American tone” and “aberrant” theology, the report also criticized an unnamed “German Baptist theologian” to argue for the SBC’s case.
IMB president Jerry Rankin, a member of the BWA defunding committee, said, “There has been a deteriorating relationship in which the Southern Baptist Convention has not felt doctrinal compatibility with many of the Baptist groups from around the world.”
Rankin later told the IMB board of directors that his agency would work with Baptist bodies which held “sound theology consistent with a biblical faith.” He claimed the SBC’s decision would not impact the IMB’s mission work.
Of EBF’s 51 member bodies, only the Romanian Baptist Union publicly supported the SBC’s departure from the world’s largest global body of Baptists. Other EBF bodies refuted the allegations in the SBC’s report and criticized the defunding decision.
EBF General Secretary Theo Angelov said European Baptists were “saddened because of the false accusations” and amazed by SBC “ignorance.”
“We are terrified by the blindness with which they will destroy their own witness and mission,” said the Bulgarian leader. “The success of mission work does not depend on the ideologically pressed offensive or the money bags offered to insure worldly symbols of success. Money may be used to ‘create’ friends. But it is a mission strategy like a house built on sand—it will not stand.”
EthicsDaily.com asked several IMB leaders if the IMB would continue its involvement with EBF and how EBF differs from BWA on theological grounds. None responded to e-mail inquiries. Neither would the IMB provide basic factual information about IMB’s work in Europe and the Middle East.
Organized in 1949, the EBF has 800,000 baptized members in 12,000 churches scattering from Portugal to the far reaches of Russia, as well as churches in Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon.
EBF was initially founded to work for peace and reconciliation in Europe following World War II.
According to EBF’s Web site, EBF has four priority areas: (1) calling for human rights, especially religious freedom; (2) helping with the training of church leadership; (3) supporting missions and evangelism efforts; and (4) helping with human needs, such as the recent terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia.
The largest member union is in Ukraine, followed by unions in Great Britain and Germany. The smallest union is in Syria with seven churches. The Finnish Baptist Union and Baptist Union of Lithuania each have 11 churches.
One of EBF’s strongest institutions is the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, which the IMB defunded in the early 1990s, when the seminary was located in Ruschlikon, Switzerland.
A former IMB staff member told EthicsDaily.com that “Europeans are still angry over this.”
In addition to the SBC’s IMB, non-voting EBF council members include Baptist Missionary Society, Canadian Baptist Ministries, International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and North American Baptist Conference.
At EBF’s general council meeting this week, participants will honor Theo Angelov, who is retiring as general secretary, and inaugurate Tony Peck of Great Britain as the new EBF leader.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.