BWA has deep “ecclesial density”

Baptists groups utilize a variety of names to describe their groupings. They self-identify as unions, conventions, conferences, assemblies, associations, fellowships and councils.

Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam says these names “reflect the perplexing diversity that marks the Baptist family worldwide.”

Callam, who delivered the 2017 Willson-Addis Lecture at Baylor University in Texas in the United States in March, says “lurking behind these names are multiple ecclesiologies, but also the multiple cultures – diverse customs and traditions – found within the global Baptist family.”

He suggests that the BWA has had to negotiate the varied Baptist understandings and practices while forging a worldwide movement toward unity of Baptist Christians. The BWA has been careful to state, in its early formative documents, what it is not.

The BWA, for instance, “was not a body with supervisory powers over the churches”; it “was not authorized to exercise juridical power over individual churches and the unions and conventions they establish”; it “would not trample on the autonomy of its member bodies”; and it “would not compete with, or duplicate the work of, the churches forming it.”

But Callam insists that the “BWA is not a mere body of affinity. It is not simply a fellowship of likeminded persons…. Nor is the BWA merely a voluntary association of people claiming to share a common heritage.”

Rather, the BWA is “a fellowship or communion of churches… that exist in association with each other.” This association has “ecclesial density.”

The BWA provides “guardianship of congregational authority” while, at the same time, demonstrating and embodying “commitment to the furtherance of Baptist oneness.” Drawing on the works of Stanley Grenz and Paul Fiddes, Callam suggests that the groundwork exists for Baptists united in the BWA to adopt “a distinctively Baptist communion ecclesiology.”

This understanding of the church in communion terms is “strong enough to contain the variety of ways in which Baptist life is ordered” locally, nationally, regionally and globally. It is also dynamic enough to include relationships with church groups outside the BWA community.

The Willson-Addis Lecture at Truett Seminary, Baylor University, examines practical Christianity from a variety of perspectives within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Past lecturers included Philip Jenkins, Stanley Grenz, Ronald Sider and Diana Garland.

Baptist World Alliance®
©April 4, 2016