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General Secretary

The Triumph of the Love of Christ

The unanimous vote by the Baptist World Alliance General Council to approve the Covenant on Intra-Baptist Relations, named Principles and Guidelines for Intra-Baptist Relationships, is perhaps the most signifi cant recent development in the organized international Baptist movement. The decision to affi rm the Covenant represents the resolute determination of the BWA to build on the gains secured for the worldwide Baptist movement by the salutary efforts Gerhard Class and Denton Lotz made to internationalize the BWA. Part of the richness of the legacy of these outstanding former BWA general secretaries is the success they secured for the project to make the BWA a global organization rather than merely a North Atlantic one.

From the very beginning, the human originators of the BWA intended to found an organization “more fully to manifest the essential oneness in the Lord Jesus ... of the Churches of the Baptist order and faith ... extending over every part of the world.” Over the years, successive BWA leaders have understood that, with the massive growth of Baptist witness in the Two-Thirds World, the only way to realize the dream participants had at the inaugural Baptist World Congress in 1905, and of those they chose to frame the BWA constitution, was to mount a drive to recruit into BWA membership as many Baptist groups as possible from the Global South. Not surprisingly, over the last 10 years, 19 of the 23 conventions and unions joining the BWA have come from the Global South.

This mushrooming of BWA membership with the majority of newcomers not originating in the Global West brought its challenges. The principal challenge was how to negotiate relationships that formerly rested on parent/child assumptions but that now needed to be understood as collegial relations within a family where God is parent. How would representatives of churches that saw themselves as “sending churches” reaching out to start and to assist young, “receiving churches” now relate to representatives of these “receiving churches” who sat beside them in the BWA General Council as equals within the BWA family? How would persons from the Global West respond when they no longer fi nd themselves in a position of dominance in the BWA? How would true partnership based on mutuality of respect and reciprocal sharing be demonstrated in the worldwide Baptist movement? The need existed for all participants in the BWA organization to affi rm a set of values that should characterize the way they relate to each other when they assemble at BWA events. The set of principles enunciated in the Covenant on Intra-Baptist Relations are drawn from Scripture and are meant to inspire Baptists to demonstrate the love of God and neighbor that is a fundamental part of their vocation. The Covenant provides a standard against which we may assess our progress in living into the oneness that is marked by integrity, mutual respect and love. I proposed the establishment of the Special Commission that would

engage in the consideration of a Christian multi-cultural hermeneutic that is admissible among us. This hermeneutic speaks to both how we understand each other and how we communicate with each other:

I believe there is need for us to clarify the images we have of the other in our worldwide movement. We also have an obligation to investigate the methodology by which we develop norms in this worldwide movement in which members of each cultural group


rightly understand the Incarnation as an event that takes place in, and is understood through the lenses of, their own cultural and historical context. We need to examine the ways in which we understand the various cultures of participants in the BWA.

BWA owes a real debt of gratitude to Daniel Vestal and Edward Wheeler who led the Special Commission in the painstaking work of preparing the Covenant. I recall, with joy and thankfulness, the fi nal meeting of the drafting team when Vestal and Wheeler, together with Bill Epps, Delroy Reid-Salmon, Devon Dick and William Thompson, put the fi nishing touches on the text of the Covenant. They have helped give expression to what former BWA General Secretary J. H. Rushbrooke meant when he said, concerning the BWA:

As a religious communion, we hold no brief for any political party or for any national or economic programme. We are conscious of a loyalty that transcends all these and we bring all to the test of that higher loyalty. We limit our fellowship by no frontiers of race or speech [language] or colour: we have not so learned Christ. [We] are bound to resist any invasion of “the Crown Rights of the Redeemer” [and] we know that the fi nest service we can render to country consists of the free expression of our deepest evangelical-ethical convictions.

Over the coming years, we will need to hold each other accountable in the demonstration of a real and essential oneness as Baptist Christians in one aspect of our inter- relationships, namely, how we think about each other, how we treat each other, how we love each other in all our dealings while attending BWA events. The cultivation of mutual respect in the fertile fi eld of neighbor love will enable us to make room in our hearts for other Baptists. Then, not only at BWA events, but in all our dealings with each other, paternalism, prejudice and haughtiness will be put to fl ight and the love of Christ will triumph.


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