Associated Baptist Press April 1, 2005 (05-29) New fundamentalist group seeks ties with SBC, but not BWA alternative By Greg Warner LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP) -- Fundamentalist Baptists in February formed a new international organization they hope will include Southern Baptists, who last year withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance, an international fellowship Southern Baptist leaders maligned as too "liberal." But the executive director of the new International Baptist Network said March 31 the group does not intend to become an "alternative" or competitor to the Baptist World Alliance, which unites 211 national and regional Baptist unions. Several prominent Southern Baptists are involved in the new organization, including Paige Patterson, but Southern Baptist Convention chief executive Morris Chapman said the SBC will proceed with its own plans to form an alternative to BWA. The International Baptist Network had its "first public meeting" Feb. 9 at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, drawing "representatives from more than three dozen denominations, theological seminaries, colleges and mission boards, and individual churches," according to an article in the April 2005 issue of the National Liberty Journal, published by Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. The article, written by Liberty University co-founder Elmer Towns, said the International Baptist Network was "launched to counter [the] 'leftward drift' of Baptist World Alliance" and praised the SBC's withdrawal from BWA. Southern Baptist leader Gene Mims, who became executive director of the new group in January, said the IBN "probably wouldn't work without Southern Baptists." Mims, former vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said he was asked to lead the effort because "they needed someone who really knew Southern Baptists pretty well." But Mims told Associated Baptist Press he does not expect the SBC to join officially. Instead, pastors and individuals likely will participate in IBN. "There are more Southern Baptists than there are any other Baptists," he said. "This network would be incomplete without Southern Baptists." The International Baptist Network will function as a loose fellowship of individuals and churches, providing "relationships, information and opportunities" to "like-minded Baptists" around the world, Mims said. The network already has a confession of faith, membership policy and office in Atlanta. In addition to Southern Baptists, the organization is targeting four independent Baptist groups -- Southwide Baptist Fellowship, World Baptist Fellowship, Independent Baptist Fellowship International and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. The IBN is funded by the John Rawlings Foundation, named for the key leader of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Rawlings deferred questions to Mims. But Baptist denominations are not expected to join IBN, Mims said, particularly given the history of independent and fundamentalist Baptist churches. Many of those groups considered Southern Baptists liberal before conservatives reformed the denomination, and none participated in the Baptist World Alliance. "The independent Baptists see BWA as one big sort of a liberal playground that they would have no interest in," Mims said. "We're not interested in having an alternative to BWA," Mims continued, noting the International Baptist Network would not have the "capacity" to replace BWA. He said he met with the SBC's Chapman recently to inform him about the group's intentions. "I did talk to Morris about it, and I think he understands it's not an alternative." IBN will not seek a merger of independent Baptist groups but will work to "accelerate evangelism" around the world, Mims said. The February organizational meeting included Mims and Patterson, a former SBC president and now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Falwell said in a statement on his website. Falwell, a Southern Baptist and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., called the International Baptist Network a "remarkable new venture." Patterson and Towns did not respond to requests to discuss the organization. The Southern Baptist Convention, which helped form BWA in 1905, withdrew its membership and financial support last June, citing a "leftward drift" in the organization. Denton Lotz, general secretary of BWA, has denied the charges of liberalism and said an alternative organization would be a "slap in the face" of worldwide Baptists and contradict the stated intentions of SBC leaders. The National Liberty Journal article says the SBC's withdrawal last summer from BWA "set the stage" for organization of the International Baptist Network. But the article does not claim SBC involvement or endorsement. In voting to leave the Baptist World Alliance last June, the SBC agreed to use some of the funds withdrawn from BWA to form or support an alternative for "like-minded" Baptists. But the International Baptist Network is not that group, said the SBC's Chapman. In an e-mail interview with ABP March 30, Chapman said he met with Mims and was aware of formation of the IBN, but Southern Baptists have not joined or pledged support. He reaffirmed that members of the SBC's Great Commission Council "are participating in an exploratory meeting in Warsaw [Poland] to talk about how best to fellowship with conservative Christians around the world." Chapman said the meeting with conservative European Baptists will be the springboard for whatever alternative group the SBC forms. After the July meeting, the council will advise an SBC task force, which will recommend "how best to proceed in building a fellowship of like-minded Christians around the world," he said. The recent IBN meeting in Dallas apparently involved only Baptists from the United States. Towns' article named John Rawlings, former pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Randy Ray, pastor of North Florida Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., among participants. Ray was described as a member of the IBN executive committee. The article notes: "So it was when the historic Baptist World Alliance traded its evangelistic fervor in favor of more leftist social policies, a new tide of conservative Baptist cooperation began swelling through the International Baptist Network, an emerging movement of Baptist groups that is committed to remaining faithful to the authority of Scripture and fostering a passion to evangelize the world." In "an earlier organizational meeting in Atlanta on April 24, 2003," Towns said, a "handful" of Baptist leaders adopted "a foundational accord for their cooperation" -- a revised version of the seminal 1833 New Hampshire Confession which they dubbed "the Georgia Baptist Confession." "The Fundamentalist Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists discovered each other and determined that they have vastly more things in common than they have differences," Towns' article continued. "Even though they had systematically avoided each other over the years because of their negligible differences, they had not ignored their common beliefs." "What splintered the former Baptist World Alliance was compromising doctrine," Towns wrote. "Correspondingly, what will hold together the International Baptist Network is fundamental doctrine. And what doctrine is fundamental to Christianity? First, the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God without error, and is the only authority for Christians and churches. Second, Jesus was born of a virgin and is the God-man. Third, the sinless Son of God died a substitutionary death for sinners, and those who believe in Him can be forgiven of their sins and guaranteed a home in eternity with God. Fourth, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives new life to all believers. Fifth, the bodily return of Jesus Christ at the end of this age will complete God's plan and purpose on this earth." Mims acknowledged only U.S. Baptists have participated in the IBN so far but added, "We're already contacting people overseas." Mims, 55, resigned Sept. 30 as vice president of church resources for LifeWay, the Southern Baptist curriculum and publishing arm, saying he wanted to return to the pastorate. Mims told ABP he had several opportunities to return to the pastorate since leaving LifeWay but was intrigued by the possibility of the International Baptist Network.