God's Umbrella and Baptist Identity


In an ironic twist of fate, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative
Baptist Fellowship are meeting in Dallas, Texas this week! Somewhere God must be having a good laugh!

I’ve been keeping up with both meetings, though I wasn’t able to attend CBF this year.
My friends who are there say that it is rather strange to be encountering each other on
elevators as people from both camps are staying at the same hotels.

For those of you who don’t know the history, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was
formed in 1991 as the result of schism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Over a period of years, the SBC took a decidedly sharp turn to the right in terms of theology and biblical interpretation. Taking a literal approach to scripture, SBC leadership determined that women could not be pastors of local congregations. Seminary professors were charged with heresy simply for teaching a different interpretation from those that held power. Soon the idea of the priesthood of every follower of Jesus Christ was threatened as the authority of pastors was elevated.

In 1990, Dr. Daniel Vestal called for a meeting of Baptists who were concerned about
this increasing conservative control of the denomination. About 3500 people showed up in
Atlanta for that meeting. Within a year, CBF formed and some 2000 churches would soon
affiliate with it. Some churches, like Heritage for example, emerged as new churches and made CBF their sole denominational affiliation. We are one of the few congregations with
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on our sign! CBF churches champion some wonderful things,
including the right of women to serve as pastors of local churches and the right of each believer to pursue truth wherever it might lead.

Someone asked me the other day if there was much tension between all of the various
denominations—Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans and so forth. It
occurred to me as I answered his question that there was far more tension within
denominations than between them. We Baptists are proof positive of this observation.
But the truth of the matter is that we do need to take a stand for what we believe to be
true as best we can know it. This is what the priesthood of believers is all about. We have the
right, under the leadership of the Spirit, to seek God’s truth. And we have the responsibility,
particularly when it comes to matters of justice, to stand up for what we believe to be right.
We can still love those with whom we differ and we can still do ministry together with them.
Our school summer lunch program is one example of shared ministry together despite
differences in theology and practice.

So, while I can’t be at CBF this week, I’m still glad that Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists are at least bumping into each other on the elevator. God’s umbrella is a big umbrella. God has a sense of humor that sometimes brings us together despite ourselves.