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Why theological dialogues are challenging


aptist World Alliance General Secretary

Neville dialogues Callam

that the BWA faces four major challenges in its participation international

with other

Christian traditions: different attitudes to ecumenism within the BWA family, the diffi culty of having proper international representation on BWA dialogue teams, an indifferent attitude to the dialogues by some Baptists, and the lack of funding. Callam, who was speaking at the Baptist

8th International Conference on

Theological Education (BICTE), said there are three basic attitudes toward ecumenism among member organizations within the BWA. Some Baptist groups are indifferent or even hostile to the very notion of ecumenism, including holding dialogues with other Christian traditions. Others, while they are generally uninterested in ecumenism, may nevertheless be open to dialogue with groups they approve of. Then there are Baptists who believe that the ecumenical enterprise is an imperative and an obligation.

The lack of interest, commitment, or even hostility to ecumenism is one cause of the second problem – inadequate international

representation. “The non-

existence of a fi rm ecumenical commitment in some sections of the BWA community has

negatively impacted the BWA’s capacity to identify truly representative international teams for the bilateral dialogues in which the organization participates,” Callam said. Lack

said in

General Secretary Neville Callam addressing the session

the Global South in international dialogues teams was still inadequate.” The BWA leader said “traditional sources of funding, where these once existed, are drying up. New sources need to be found.” For that to happen, “those who endow bilateral theological dialogue will need to be motivated by a concern for the unity of the church refl ected in the prayer of Jesus in John 17.”

of funding also contributes

to lopsided representation on BWA dialogue teams, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Global West and relatively few from the Global South. “Unless Baptist participation in theological dialogues is properly funded, we will not be able to secure credible representative international participation that is needed.” Callam told the international gathering

of Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers and pastors in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, that “to date, an average of 10.7 percent of BWA teams participating in international dialogues have come from the South.” Most participants come mainly from Europe, North America and Australia. The problem of poor representation

from the Global South is not unique to the BWA. Callam reported that “at the most recent Forum [on Bilateral Dialogues] held in Dar es Salaam in 2012, the view was expressed that the representation from

this oneness, we are drawn to the words of the apostle Paul that ‘the only thing that counts is faith working through love.’” The preparatory meeting agreed that the dialogue should aim at:

a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, one another; mutual exchange of gifts for the enrichment and renewal of Baptist and Methodist churches; increased participation in a common mission and witness in the world; and deeper fellowship and cooperation by identifying and overcoming barriers. “We believe that we can move toward the fulfi llment of these aims by focusing on the agreed theme,” Callam declared. “Now that the focus of the dialogue has been identifi ed, the international team to represent BWA will soon be appointed,” the BWA leader announced. The teams for the dialogue will comprise six persons from each of the two communions. The BWA team for the planning meeting in London was Callam,

Timothy George, chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity, Stephen Holmes and Curtis Freeman.


Callam stated that Baptists have not been as receptive of the dialogues as they could have been. Those that do are often involved in dialogues on the local level, such as Baptists in the United States, Norway, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Australia. “More BWA

member bilateral

need to take seriously the fi ndings of international


organizations theological

commissions – especially those in which BWA participates.”

He declared that reception does not involve full agreement.

“Reception does not require unanimous consent to the agreements,” he said. “What it entails is taking seriously what has been agreed and appropriating, in the life of a church group, those insights that are found to be enriching.” The BWA has so far participated

in dialogues with fi ve other Christian traditions:

the World Communion) Alliance of Reformed Conference (1989-92); (now Churches

(1973-77); the Catholic Church (1984- 88 and 2006-2010); the Lutheran World Federation (1986-1990); the Mennonite World

and Anglican Communion (2000-20 05).

Jamaican Baptist pastor Everard Allen (left) in conversation with BWA General Secretary

Neville Callam the

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