Baptists join others to discuss believers’ baptism

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) joined other Christian traditions at a Consultation on Believers' Baptism in Kingston, Jamaica, from January 8-10.

The consultation was convened under the auspices of the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions for representatives of "believers' baptism" church traditions to share their understandings and practices of baptism and to explore how thinking has changed in light of the emerging theological convergence on baptism and growing ecumenical encounter over the past 30 years.

The consultation affirmed that believers' baptism is the most clearly attested practice of baptism in the New Testament and that the personal faith of the recipient and continuous participation in the life of the church are essential for the full fruit of baptism. Church representatives attending the conference also agreed that the pressures of contextuality have influenced the way churches understand and practice baptism.

 


However, infant baptism, which has developed within the Christian tradition, witnesses to valid Christian insights. A supportive believing community surrounding the infant will nurture the child's personal faith as the child moves toward discipleship.

In response to the pressure of contextuality, the consultation concluded that those who baptize infants and those who baptize only believers may need to radically rethink their baptismal practices. They resolved that indiscriminate baptism, which represents an abuse, needs to be eliminated.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, a presenter at the consultation, gave an overview of the understanding and practice of baptism from a Baptist perspective, drawing upon the published reports of bilateral and trilateral dialogues involving Baptists in Europe, Asia Pacific and North America. He also surveyed the response of Baptists to the baptism section of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), published in 1982 and which, according to Callam, "continues to wield enormous influence in the ongoing life of the church."

Acknowledging that "diversity marked the responses made by the Baptist groups" to BEM, Callam stated that some responses emphasized that Christian unity is not predicated fundamentally on baptism, some responses questioned the suggestion that infant baptism rests on the witness of the Bible, others expressed concern over a supposed equivalence between believers' and infant baptism, and some raised questions about "re-baptism."

These concerns and others, Callam said, featured in the discussion on baptism in many bilateral and multi-lateral theological discussions in which Baptists have participated since BEM. He declared that "the conviction that believers' baptism remains the most clearly attested pattern of baptism in the New Testament and is a guide for those seeking to practice 'New Testament Christianity' persists among Baptists."

A problem that some Baptists need to resolve, Callam indicated, was the relationship between baptism and church membership. There are instances of "apparent indiscriminate baptism," as well as "the practice of admitting unbaptized persons into church membership." Callam expressed the view that there is an "extreme form of open membership" practiced by some Baptist churches, which is based partly on the idea that baptism does not have instrumental value.

The more frequently practiced form of open membership, he asserted, was the most promising development that may aid constructive engagement between believers' baptism and infant baptism traditions.

Groups participating in the consultation included the Church of the Brethren, the Disciples of Christ, the Mennonite World Conference, the Pentecostal movement and the Christian Church/ Disciples of Christ and the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ/, all of which observe and practice believers' baptism.

Baptist World Alliance®
© January 27, 2015

Nigerian Baptist leader castigates international community for ignoring terrorism in Nigeria

Samson Ayokunle, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), has castigated the international community for ignoring terrorist violence and attacks in the West African country.

NBC is the largest Baptist World Alliance (BWA) member organization in Africa with approximately 3.5 million members in some 10,000 churches.

"My consternation is in the attitude of the international community toward the huge destruction going on in Nigeria," Ayokunle told the BWA. "The earnestness with which they intervened in the ISIL attack in Syria and Iraq, or the Taliban problem in Afghanistan, etc., is not shown in the case of Nigeria."

 
He accused the world community for devaluing Nigerian lives. "Does it not matter to the rest of the world if Boko Haram continues to kill hundreds of people every week? Are these people less human than those being killed in other place where they have gone to directly intervene? My people are being killed like animals and the whole world is just watching."

Ayokunle was responding to the latest spurt of attacks by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that seeks to establish Sharia law in Nigeria.

Boko Haram conducted the Baga massacre in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno in early January this year causing an unknown number of deaths, though estimates range from dozens to more than 2,000. In April 2013, more than 185 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes in Baga were destroyed as a result of fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.

Up to 2014, the group killed more than 5,000 civilians in attacks occurring mainly in northeast, northcentral and central Nigeria. Since 2009, Boko Haram has abducted more than 500 persons, including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014. An estimated 1.5 million have fled their homes because of threats and attacks.

"The situation is pathetic." Ayokunle declared. "The main targets in all these attacks are the Christians first and any other person that opposes them. Any town they enter, after killing the Christians there, they go ahead to bring down all the churches there sparing the mosques. Major Christian cities such as Gwoza and Mubi among others have fallen to them. Christians in cities such as Michika and Baga are also on the run."

The Nigerian Baptist leader said "the church is under siege of severe persecution." Baptists have been directly affected. "No Christian church is standing anymore in Mubi where more than 2,000 Baptists fled the city through Cameroon when Boko Haram attacked."

These Baptist Christians, he said, returned to Nigeria through another town called Yola in Adamawa State but never to their homes again. "They have become displaced and are now living in displaced people's camps scampering for food, without decent accommodation and naked."

Ayokunle said Baptist buildings, including the offices of the secretariat of Fellowship Baptist Conference of the NBC, was burned in Mubi, and the home of the conference president was vandalized. The conference president and Baptist pastors have fled to the city of Jos in Plateau state, another region that has been attacked by Boko Haram. "Our Baptist High School in  Mubi has been closed while our Baptist Pastors' School in another neighboring town, Gombi, was indefinitely shut down."

He expressed appreciation for the prayerful support of Baptists and other Christians and requested financial support to assist those who have been displaced by the terrorist attacks. "Continue to join us in prayer so that the gates of hell might not prevail against the Church of Christ in Nigeria."

Baptist World Alliance®
© January 16, 2015

BWA Day worship resource available online

Worship resource for Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Day 2015 in English is now available on the BWA website. This can be downloaded at www.bwanet.org.  Other languages will be subsequently available for download.

The observance will be on February 7 and 8, 2015, depending on whether Baptists worship on Saturday or Sunday.

The liturgy was prepared by Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States.  Furr is a writer, poet, musician and teacher. He writes a blog on faith and music and the arts at www.garyfurr.org, and is co-author of The Dialogue of Worship with Milburn Price.

BWA Day celebration is aimed at affirming Baptist identity within the worldwide Christian family.  Baptists are encouraged to pray for each other and to renew their commitment to cooperate with Baptists globally through the BWA.

BWA Day has been celebrated since 1927 when the BWA Executive Committee, meeting in London, asked BWA President Edgar Mullins and General Secretary John Rushbrooke to prepare a "Special Statement" to express clearly the purpose of the BWA. The Statement emphasized that the BWA "seeks to express and promote unity and fellowship among the Baptists of the world."

A decision was made to introduce the observance of BWA Day in an effort to promote unity and fellowship among Baptists.

As of 2015, BWA Day will be observed on the second Sunday of February and the Saturday immediately preceding it.

Baptist World Alliance®
© January 6, 2015

Media accreditation for international Baptist congress in South Africa

The Baptist World Alliance is in the process of accrediting media personnel and professionals for the 21st Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa, which will take place from July 22-26, 2015.

Media accreditation application form can be downloaded here.

The Baptist World Congress, normally held every five years, is the largest international gathering of Baptist Christians. Several thousand participants from some 100 countries are expected in Durban. The 2015 meetings are the first to be held in Africa.

Keynote speakers are Peter Chin from South Korea, Donald Ndichafah from Cameroon, Dimitrina Oprenova from Bulgaria, Anthony Carroll from the Bahamas, Luiz Soares Silvado from Brazil and Joel Gregory from the United States.

 

Highlights will include the installation of Paul Msiza of South Africa as BWA president, the second African to be elected to the position; the presentation of the Congress Human Rights Award; and the launch of various new initiatives for 2015-2020.

Daily activities include worship, Bible study and group discussions that explore core theological matters related to Christian worship, mission, evangelism, spiritual enrichment and other ecclesial topics.

Global issues related to the environment and various justice concerns such as peacemaking, migrants and poverty, among others, will be examined.

Information on the congress is available on the BWA website at www.bwanet.org/congress.

BWA welcomes change in US-Cuba relationship

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has welcomed the announced changes in the relationship between the United States (US) and Cuba.

Both US President Barrack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the easing of tensions and the establishment of diplomatic ties on December 17.

The BWA has long advocated for a change in US-Cuban relationships. It had its annual meeting in Havana in 2000. Most recently, in July 2013 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, the BWA General Council passed a resolution asking the US government to lift its long standing embargo and other restrictions on Cuba.

 

 
The resolution urged "the US government to end the embargo of Cuba and re-establish formal diplomatic relations with the Cuban government" and to "lift all remaining restrictions on travel to Cuba by US citizens." It stated that both governments need to "set in place a process for negotiating legitimate bilateral grievances."

Essentially asserting that the embargo is irrelevant, the Council, which comprises Baptist leaders from around the world, said "more than two decades have passed since the end of the Cold War, and that most manifestations of that struggle have been ameliorated or abolished, except for the continuing United States embargo against Cuba begun in 1960."

The embargo, the resolution claims, serves no useful purpose. "The interests of neither nation – nor those of the international family of nations – are served by the status quo." Rather, "the lifting of the embargo will improve living conditions for Cubans and provide greater opportunities for commerce, education, and travel."

In the 2000 meeting in Havana, the BWA noted "the pain and suffering endured by innocent persons as a result of the imposition of international economic sanctions" and called upon the governments "to remove economic sanctions relating to food and medicines and so contribute to human well-being." The governments were urged "to reconsider the appropriateness of the use of economic sanctions in the effort to encourage changes in political situations."

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said, "On behalf of the Baptist World Alliance, and in light of the position consistently taken by the BWA on the Cuban embargo throughout the years, I enthusiastically welcome the decision to begin to normalize US-Cuba relations. The people of Cuba, including the large Christian community there, stand to benefit from this development that represents a contribution to human flourishing."


Cuba has one of the fastest growing Christian communities in the Caribbean. The BWA has four member organizations on the Caribbean island with a total of more than 60,000 members in approximately 900 churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© December 19, 2014