Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lotz to Retire as Head of Baptist World Alliance

Back in seminary, I did a special research project on the BWA, and I was impressed. While I am not unsypathetic to the concerns of my SBC friends (and in this case, Kazakh Baptists), all in all, I have a high opinion of the BWA.

Lotz to retire as BWA exec; Kazakh Baptists withdraw

By Robert Marus
Published March 8, 2006

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance found out March 8 their longtime executive would retire and the Baptist Union of Kazakhstan has decided to leave the international federation.

BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz made the retirement announcement to the BWA Executive Committee, which met at the organization's headquarters in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, Va., March 6-8.

Lotz, 67, said the process for selecting a new general secretary will begin immediately, and he hopes to announce a more specific time frame for his departure when the BWA General Council meets July 3-8 in Mexico City.
The BWA personnel committee will serve as the search committee. Baptists from each of the BWA's six continental regions are represented on the panel.
Lotz, who has led the organization since 1988 and who earlier served as its evangelism director, said he and his wife, Janice, had turned to Scripture, prayer and the council of wise friends in making the decision. He also said he made the decision in complete freedom, with no pressure for him to retire.
BWA President David Coffey said the announcement causes a "heaviness of heart," but it "takes a really good leader" to know when it's time to make such a change. He added that it is a "great time to be a Baptist Christian" because the world body has attained a new level of maturity. As a result, Coffey said, this is a good time to begin the process of choosing a new general secretary.

Lotz and Tony Peck, secretary of the European Baptist Federation, also announced that a Baptist denomination from Central Asia had withdrawn from both BWA and EBF. Leaders of the Baptist Union of Kazakhstan cited many of the same reasons that leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention did when that body voted to withdraw from BWA in 2004, he said.

"They're concerned about issues like holiness of life; they're concerned that sin is taken seriously," Peck said. "They're concerned about the excesses of the charismatic movement. They don't believe in women pastors."

SBC leaders, in recommending to the denomination that it end its 99-year-old relationship with BWA, accused the worldwide umbrella group of being too tolerant of member bodies that, in turn, tolerated affiliated congregations or institutions with doctrinal stances that they oppose. They also disagreed with BWA's recommendation that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that split from the SBC, be admitted as a full-fledged member.

BWA leaders responded that Baptist polity would not allow them to prescribe the doctrinal standards of member bodies.

Peck said EBF and BWA officials made much the same argument to Kazakh Baptist leaders and other Central Asian Baptist leaders during a meeting in Kyrgyzstan in February. He also said leaders from the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Kyrgyzstan had expressed similar concerns, but had not announced any formal action to EBF or BWA.

"I think the main issue is not those [doctrinal] issues themselves. It was what they are asking of the EBF and the BWA," he said. "And we tried to remind them that we are not a church.… We are a fellowship of member bodies."

But, Peck added, "this is quite a difficult idea for the Central Asian Baptists to get their mind around" in a region where Baptist denominations tend to be very conservative and authoritarian.

Peck said that Kazakh Baptist leaders began expressing similar concerns to European Baptist leaders as early as 12 years ago. They demanded that EBF and BWA separate themselves from any member denomination that allows churches to ordain women or take stands on other controversial issues with which Kazakh Baptist leaders would disagree.

But Peck pointed to BWA's confessional statement and said the group was not a doctrinal police force. "We're not set up to be an organization that disciplines and excommunicates member bodies," he said.

EBF is composed of more than 800,000 baptized believers in approximately 50 national or regional Baptist bodies across Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. The Kazakh Baptist group has, according to the EBF's website, 10,774 members in 289 churches.

Peck also said that three other groups have joined the EBF in recent months -- small Baptist unions in Sweden and Kosovo, as well as a newly founded Baptist church in Baghdad.

-- Ferrell Foster of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a BWA member body, contributed to this story.


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