Religion divides the Middle East, including the minority Baptist community in Lebanon. Some Baptists pursue engagement with the broader Christian community, while others separate themselves with narrow doctrinal statements.
Religion divides the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Middle East, including the minority Baptist community in Lebanon. Some Baptists pursue engagement with the broader Christian community, while others separate themselves with narrow doctrinal statements.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
A clear example is differences dividing the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and the newer fundamentalist Lebanon Baptist Seminary.
ABTS was founded in 1960 by Southern Baptist missionary Finlay Graham, who served as president until 1977. In 1993, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board transferred leadership of ABTS to a national board of Arab trustees. In 1997, ABTS came under the ownership of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.
The ABTS student body today includes Anglican, Presbyterian, Coptic and Orthodox students, as well as Baptists, seminary professor Daniel Chetti told EthicsDaily.com.
“Most of the Lebanese students tend to be Baptist,” said Chetti, who is under appointment with the International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
Chetti referred to ABTS as “a pan-Arabic Baptist seminary,” which draws students from Egypt, the Sudan, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.
“The seminary is generally open to evangelical students from all denominations,” Chetti said.
The Lebanon Baptist Seminary, in contrast, identifies itself as “a conservative-fundamental school” with a less inclusive outlook.
The LBS Web site describes the school as being “in the mainstream of historical Biblical Christianity,” while adding, “We maintain a separatist position and are opposed to inclusive movements and compromise with Liberalism.”
The site prescribes dress standards for students, instructing females that “bracelets, necklaces, chains, earrings, ornamental rings are unacceptable.” Women are also told not to cover their heads in seminary chapel.
LBS’ history dates back to soon after the end of the Lebanese civil war. Edgar Traboulsi, pastor of the Lebanon Baptist Church and a graduate of ABTS, began providing seminary education via a correspondence program with Luther Rice Seminary.
The Luther Rice Bible Institute in Beirut became the Lebanon Baptist Seminary in 1998 with a class of 14 students.
Ties between Luther Rice and the Lebanese seminary are apparent in nearly identical doctrinal statements. Both schools’ faith statements refer to “the literal, personal, premillenial, pre-tribulation return of Jesus Christ,” the inerrancy of the original writings of the Old and New Testaments and creation “without any evolutionary process.”
Unlike Luther Rice, however, LBS has a paragraph supporting the separation of church and state: “We believe in the religious liberty for all men and in separation of church and state. While God has ordained the existing governmental powers, we also believe that man’s highest authority is the Word of God and man is therefore free from any commandments of men that are in conflict with the Word of God.”
LBS’ sponsor, the Lebanon Baptist Church, links itself via its Web site to Bob Jones University and the European Institute for Protestant Studies headed by Ian Paisley. Both Jones and Paisley have long track records of anti-Catholicism and anti-ecumenism.
Some fear that the seminary’s agenda goes beyond theological education.
“Edgar [Trabulsi] calls himself an independent Baptist, but he is working hard to capture the reins of the Lebanese Baptist Convention,” Chetti told EthicsDaily.com. “When this happens, I fear there may be a split in the Baptist convention.”
While LBS stands for fundamentalist exclusivity, ABTS represents an evangelical inclusiveness.
ABTS’ much shorter statement of faith affirms that the Bible is “infallible, authoritative and without error.” It says that the Bible “is the only rule of faith and life” and “The criteria of interpreting the Holy Bible is Jesus Christ.”
The statement says “that man’s repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for receiving salvation and acceptance before God.”
Underscoring the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ABTS’ statement says, “The church of Christ is universal, but expresses its existence and function in local congregations.”
In 1994, ABC’s International Ministries began supporting ABTS through appointment of faculty members, leadership development grants and scholarships to masters degree students at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, said Reid Trulson, ABC’s area director for Europe and the Middle East.
ABTS also receives financial support from other Baptist bodies, including the Conservative Baptist Association of America and the British Baptist Missionary Society.
Southern Baptists have voiced support for the seminary in the past, but current leaders wouldn’t discuss the matter for this story.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary signed what then-President Ken Hemphill termed a “historic” agreement with ABTS in April 2001. Hemphill called the agreement “another step in the globalization of Southwestern Seminary.”
When EthicsDaily.com contacted Paige Patterson, the current SWBTS president, about the status of the relationship between SWBTS and ABTS, a seminary spokesman said that the school “will not be offering comment on this story about the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Southwestern Seminary’s mission professor Samuel Shahid, an Arab-born American and former ABTS professor, said the ABTS partnership has not received as much attention as it could have because of the leadership change at Southwestern, but he believes President Patterson is encouraging the relationship.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.