Baptist World Alliance Considers New Identity, Welcomes New Members

The worldwide Baptist family celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance with a festive ceremony in Birmingham, England, Wednesday evening.

This year’s congress – an international gathering dubbed the “Baptist Olympics” that is held once every five years – marked the first 100-year for the Alliance, and attracted one of the largest and most diverse Baptist crowds in history. Some 12,000 Baptists from over 100 countries stood side-by-side as they heard an opening message by the outgoing BWA president, Billy Kim.

Meanwhile, the BWA’s General Council conducted several business operations Wednesday, including the election of officers and adoption of new member unions from the United States.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia were welcomed as the newest members of the global body. Both those associations are also members of the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest American denomination with 16 million members, which pulled its membership and funding out of the BWA just last year.

Denton Lotz, the BWA General Secretary, addressed the financial problems that could-have ensued when the SBC pulled-out its $425,000-a-year fund to the Alliance. However, according to Lotz, North American churches have contributed $500,000 to the BWA this year, allowing the General Council to approve a higher budget in 2006 – $2,345,275 – than 2005’s $1,974,773 budget.

The Council also approved a $2.5 million disaster relief and development project fund for the Baptist World Aid. This amount represents the goal for which BWAid will seek funding for the projects; they are not promises of funding, according to The Religious Herald.

Meanwhile, conditional acceptance was also given to the Baptist Union of Churches in the Central African Republic, pending a report from Frank Adams, general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship. With the new additions, the BWA is now comprised of 213 members.

The council also approved a statement of Baptist identity, which it will ask the Congress to adopt.

“This is a strong message to send to our Baptist family in this [centennial] year,” said Keith Jones, who chaired a committee which formulated the statement. “We hope it will be used to declare to the world who we are.”

Jones, who is rector of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, said the statement is Christocentric and “places the Trinity at its heart,” according to The Religious Herald. It also is evangelistic, Baptist in ecclesiology, “puts the accent on mission and the coming reign of God” and stresses the need to be good stewards of creation and to take strong stands for the poor and needy, and for religious liberty.

Two new executive staff members were elected as well. Fausto Vasconcelos, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, succeeds Tony Cupit, who is retiring as director of the evangelism department. Ron Harris, director of advancement for Bethel College in St. Paul, Minn., becomes director of the BWA’s new Division of Advancement, created by the merging of the old communications and development departments. Wendy Ryan, director of communications for 17 years, will retire this year.

The Council also selected Hawaii as the site of the next BWA Congress, in 2010.

The 2005 Centenary will continue through Sunday, and will feature several international celebrations, worship services, and special Bible Study sessions led by renowned Baptist leaders around the world.