In a recent article at EthicsDaily.com, John Hewett, the first moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), shared hindsight on the position he and other moderate Baptists took at the beginning of the CBF “movement.”
Hewett realizes now that his vision and that of his contemporaries were limited by “the narrow constraints of our tradition” and preserving that tradition. “How I wish now I had sent us forth in May 1991 with the call to be free and faithful Christians,” he writes, rather than free and faithful Baptists.
As CBF approaches its 20th anniversary and thinks about its future, Hewett provides this challenge:
“Now CBF has an opportunity to catch a fresh vision of what God is actually doing in God’s world. … I am cheering them on, albeit from the sidelines, praying that the original dream of a brave and progressive Christianity in the Baptist tradition might come to pass, to the praise of God’s glory, for Christ’s sake, and our sakes.”
If CBF attempts to be both Christian and Baptist in the 21st century, it must face up to some hard questions:
First, what exactly do participating churches want from CBF? They certainly are not looking for a judicatory that will ensure doctrinal integrity. Is CBF the broker for services of third-party suppliers or a provider of services?
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Second, how does CBF encourage innovation by its partners and reward that innovation?
Third, what does CBF expect from the theological institutions with which it partners? Is it encouraging its partner schools to provide leaders needed for 21st century missional churches?
Fourth, in the paradoxical context of a world that is becoming both more integrated and divided at the same time, what is the role of missionary field personnel? Are they strategy coordinators, ministry providers or both?
Fifth, what is the role of CBF in providing meaningful fellowship for churches, clergy and lay leaders?
The answers to these questions will not come from the type of thinking that birthed the CBF. I believe that is what Hewett is saying.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.