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Who and where in the world are the Baptists? When the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) was founded in London, England, in 1905, seven million Baptists lived throughout the world. As we enter 2005, our centennial year, 48 million baptized believers are members of Baptist churches (1).

This number does not include the worshipping community of unbaptized children, other friends, and adherents. If we were to include all hose who attend Baptist churches, the number would be at least 110 million. Of all the "Christian World Communions," the BWA then would represent the largest Protestant fellowship. (2)

Cardinal Bellarmine at the Council of Trent stated that the Reformation churches were not part of the true church because they were not missionary-sending churches. That statement could not be made about Baptism. Evangelism and missions have been distinctives of our Baptist movement. Basically, Baptists are a mission society announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ, calling men and women to repentance, baptizing them in the name of the triune God, and gathering together as the beloved community to extend the Kingdom of Christ. Baptists reject infant baptism,

originally associated with a state-church polity in which citizens of a country were automatically members of the church at birth and by state law.

Baptists promoted separation of church and state and endured persecution and imprisonment because of the rejection of a coerced faith imposed by the state. Thus, the defense of religious freedom has always been a Baptist distinctive. This distinctive was further emphasized in the new world by the first Baptist church founded in the Americas by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island. Rhode Island's charter was the first to proclaim religious liberty for all people. Baptists need to remember that this belief in religious freedom was an extension of their belief in missions and evangelism. In 1792, William Carey, considered the father of modern missions, awakened the whole of Protestantism to the rediscovery of the Great Commission and the necessity of world evangelism. Since then, all of Protestantism has taken up the call to missionary endeavors worldwide.

One of the most remarkable trends in recent years has been the growth of the Christian Church throughout the world. In 1900, 85 percent of the Christians in the world resided in Europe and North America. In 2005, 60 percent of the Christians live in the so-called "Two-thirds world," or the developing countries, of the southern hemisphere. (3) Baptists are a significant part of this growth. This article will identify the location of significant numbers of Baptists and highlight their concerns, problems, and hopes.

Baptists in Africa

In the past, as explorers ventured into new territories, they often brought along chaplains, whose task was to convert the native populations, not just to Christianity, but to their particular denominational tradition. Thus, Anglicanism often became the state religion of the British colonies, and Catholicism took root in areas in which French or Belgians settled. For example, much of the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo became Catholic, many of the people of Nigeria became Anglican, and natives of Tanzania became Lutheran. Yet, Baptists did not follow the pattern established by other denominational traditions. Baptists did not accept the concept of "Volksmission," where often a whole tribe became Christian because the chief accepted Christianity. With an emphasis on the necessity of individual repentance and regeneration by being born again, Baptist missions usually attracted converts one by one. Despite this emphasis, substantial Baptist communities exist in Africa.

The largest single convention in Africa is the Baptist Convention of Nigeria, which claims to have three million members. This substantial convention has considerable influence on African Baptist life. The first general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship (AABF) was the Nigerian Baptist leader, Samuel S. T. O. Akande, and the second president for two terms was Samuel Fadeji. Both men had served as general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Outstanding civil and religious leaders have come from Nigeria. General Obasanjo, a committed Baptist, has served twice as president of Nigeria. The first time was as a general, following the Biafran war. He voluntarily stepped down when elections were held. After the nation had a series of Muslim leaders, Obasanjo was elected democratically for a second term and continues to serve.

The problems confronting Nigeria, especially the conflict between Muslims and Christians, are almost out of control. Several years ago, the Baptist Seminary in Kaduna became a focal point for Muslim anger. Seminary graduates were accused of Christianizing Muslim communities. As a result, the seminary was burned to the ground, and five students were killed. Nineteen churches were also burned. Many people died.

The former Belgian Congo (called Zaire for many years and now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) has gone through a horrendous civil war and continues to be a divided country. Baptists there are also divided. Under comity agreements, mission agencies were assigned certain geographical areas. As a result, substantial Baptist groups relate to the Baptist Mission Society of Great Britain, while another large group of Baptists relate to the American Baptist International Ministries. Norwegian Baptists have also been very involved. Collectively, these conventions in Congo probably represent a community of three million Baptist believers.

The tribal conflicts in the Congo have brought great disruption to the whole country. In the southeastern part of the country, the overflow of refugees from the tragic conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda has displaced many people and has been a social catastrophe. The Baptist hospital in the Goma area has been a source of consolation to many, even though a volcano almost covered it.

The AABF, formed in 1982 at the Brackenhurst Conference Center in Kenya, has brought African Baptists into a unity never before experienced. Prior to the formation of this fellowship, only bilateral relations had existed between the founding mission agency and the home country. Today, forty-nine Baptist conventions in thirty countries are united under the leadership of General Secretary Frank Adams, formerly leader of Baptists of Ghana. Funding is often a problem for regional fellowships, but the AABF now has a full-time general secretary and staff who relate to the various regions of Africa and also work with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Every country has a unique problem that could be a hindrance to the gospel, but often these problems become opportunities for social concern and mission.

For the past twenty years, Liberia has been devastated by civil war. Thousands of people have been displaced and killed. Yet, the Baptist convention there brings Baptists together for evangelism and witness.

Rwanda has experienced much tribal conflict. One million people have been killed, mainly due to the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus. Yet, the Tutsis have slaughtered Hutus, too. The Baptist Union of Rwanda, with the help of the BWA, has held seminars on reconciliation and is playing a positive role in trying to restore harmony to the country.

South Africa endured for many years the evil system of apartheid. With the fall of this racial form of government, Mack and white Baptists as well as those of Indian and Afrikaans background have come together with the help of the BWA to form the South African Baptist Alliance, an alliance that has brought a unity of purpose to the mission of South African Baptists.

The country of Sudan has suffered from horrific civil war in which two million people have been killed. Baptists are at work in that country, and the Sudan Interior Church has recently become the newest member of the BWA in Africa. The inclusion of the church came about during a trip made by Norwegian Baptists serving as part of an international peace delegation to Khartoum. These Baptists met members of the Sudan Interior Church, and the Sudanese Christians, who practice congregational polity and believer's baptism, noted that they too were Baptists. They now have joined the BWA.

Baptists in Africa have significant new leadership. Theological education is growing. New Baptist universities in Nigeria and Tanzania have been built. Records indicate that Africa has 5,239,218 baptized believers, but African Baptist leaders believe that number is low. A more likely number is 10 million. These Baptists deserve our prayers, encouragement, and support.

Baptists in Asia

When William Carey went to India in 1792, the British colonialists, who thought missionaries would hurt their trade, did not welcome him. So Carey went to the Danish conclave in Serampore and began his missionary work there. His pioneer work in spreading the gospel involved translating the Bible into the local languages, training indigenous leaders, and establishing an indigenous church. His bold and prophetic concept of missions is still determinative for progressive mission agencies today.

Baptist work in India has spawned as many as twenty separate conventions. The proliferation of conventions has been due to many factors including the presence of numerous tribal language groups, India's massive population and land size, and the work of various national mission agencies, including the British Mission Society, the American Baptists, the Canadian Baptists, Australian Baptists, Swedish Baptists, and more recently the Southern Baptists. Baptists in India suffer from a lack of unity, but in such a large country, these pockets of Christian presence are very effective. Collectively, India has about five million Baptists, making it the second largest Christian movement in the country (Catholicism is the largest).

The two most numerous Baptist groups relate to the American Baptists: (1) the Council of Baptist Churches of North East India (CBCNEI) with about two million members, and (2) the Samevesam Telegu Baptist Convention (STBC) of the South with one million members. These two conventions show in a microcosm the strengths and weaknesses of Baptist work in India. The STBC of the South has been engaged in conflict for the past thirty years, mainly due to property issues. Very often the maxim is true: "He who controls the property controls the convention." Mission property turned over to the nationals is worth millions of dollars. Conflict resulted when those in charge of property begin to sell it with little accountability and often for questionable reasons or personal gain. Because of the infighting, the BWA suspended the membership of the STBC until such time as it can hold fair and representative elections and establish a democratic property association accountable to the people. Such fighting has been especially sad because the STBC has a strategic opportunity to minister to the 300 million dalits, the poorest of the poor, often excluded from Hindu society. In spite of these problems, exceptional churches exist, including ones in Secunderabad and Hyderabad that have thousands of members and a daily increase in baptisms.

The Baptists of Northeast India have been a proud tribal people. In the past, they often were headhunters, and villages lived in fear of one another. The gospel has brought peace to the villages, although some conflict still exists between the Kuki and Naga tribes. Baptists of Northeast India encompass probably 90 percent of the population, making it one of the most Baptist areas of the world! This community of two million is active in the areas of theological education, schools, and social services. With capable leadership and without missionary support, the Nagas and other tribal groups have produced outstanding leaders who helped indigenize the Christian gospel in a positive way.

Asia is such a large region that it is difficult to cover adequately all Baptist work being done in the region. The 700,000 Korean Baptists and their dynamic growth and early morning prayer meetings must be at least mentioned. BWA President Billy Kim is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Suwon and has seen his church grow from five members to 15,000 in the past thirty years.

How can one speak of Baptists in Asia without emphasizing the amazing Myanmar (Burma) Baptist Convention? The first American Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, served in Burma, was imprisoned, and often wondered if there was any future to the work. Today, the community of two million Baptists believers in Burma is one of the pearls of Asian Baptist work. Burmese Baptists have twenty-eight Bible schools and seminaries with at least 3,000 students enrolled and a significant postgraduate seminary in Yangon (Rangoon) on Seminary Hill, Insein. Most Burmese Baptists are members of the major tribal groups, including the Karens and the Chins. Recently, a number of former Buddhist monks of Burmese descent have become effective evangelists for the gospel.

The government is not friendly to the Baptists. Having made Buddhism the state religion, generals often force Baptist pastors and laity to build pagodas and coerce young Baptist girls into marrying Buddhist soldiers. Another problem in Burma is the refugees. About 100,000 Baptists and other refugees occupy a small plot of land on the border of Burma and Thailand, near the Thai city of Maesot. These people have no passports, and often no hope. But in the midst of despair, Baptists have built an amazing infrastructure of schools and churches. Pastor Simon, a Burmese teacher/pastor, was given the BWA human rights award for his work among these refugees.

Significant Baptist work is also occurring in the Philippines. The five Baptist conventions there have a total membership of almost 500,000. The insurgency of Muslim groups in the southern area has affected Baptist work. Yet, Baptists continue their innovative ministries among drug addicts and people infected with HIV/AIDS. Another remarkable Baptist achievement is the presence of Central Philippine University in Ilo Ilo. The university will celebrate its centennial next year. Over the past hundred years, it has contributed to the uplifting of the people in the area and has produced an outstanding group of secular and religious leaders.

With the return of Hong Kong to China, the 60,000 Baptists of Hong Kong have become involved in working with churches on the mainland. China is in a period of "post denominationalism." Denominational groups have not maintained their separate identities. They are all united in the China Christian Council. Yet, remnants of denominational allegiance may be detected in the various churches through their worship and theology. Government policy does not usually allow children to be baptized, and as a result, most new members are baptized as believers.

Taiwan Baptists, separated politically, are united spiritually with their brothers and sisters in China. Chow Lien Hwa, professor, pastor, scholar, former pastor of Chiang Kai Shek and former Baptist leader in Taiwan, is leading a team in producing a new Chinese translation of scripture. He works closely with mainland Chinese leaders. Estimates as to the number of Christians in China vary from 10 million to the extreme number of 100 million. Today, 15,000 churches and 20,000 mission points exist in China, and two or three new churches are organized each day.

Significant Baptist work is happening in Irian Jaya and other parts of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Australia and New Zealand represent a more European-type Christianity, but those countries have opened their hearts to missionary work in Asia and are important members of the Asian Baptist Federation. The newest Baptist work in Asia is in Nepal. In 1992, the country had five Baptist churches with 250 members. Today, Nepal has seventy Baptist churches with 14,000 members. New work in Cambodia, following the "killing fields," is encouraging. A significant Baptist presence also exists in Bangladesh, Thailand, Japan, and Singapore. With almost 5 million baptized believers, the Asian Baptist community now has more than 10 million people.

Baptists in the Caribbean

The four largest concentrations of Baptists in the Caribbean are in the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica. Baptists in each of these countries minister to their peoples in unique economic and social settings.

People living in the Bahamas benefit from the tourist industry. Baptists there developed early indigenous ministries, and their current membership of 75,000 includes a community double that number, which means that almost half of the island's population is Baptist. Many Baptist pastors trained in the United States, and thus, a strong American influence exists on Bahaman theology and practice. Jamaica, however, has had a more British orientation, having been missionized by the Baptist Mission Society of Great Britain. Many Jamaican pastors studied in Britain and completed post-graduate studies in British universities such as Cambridge and Oxford. The 50,000 Baptists in Jamaica and their large community face the same economic problems of other Caribbean countries. Drugs and unemployment continue to plague the country. The increase in Pentecostalism in Jamaica has forced Jamaican Baptists to reconsider their more formal style of worship and to be more responsive to the new charismatic praise and worship services.

Baptists in Haiti live in poverty. At least five Baptist conventions exist there, all having been established by various North American conventions. The conventions are not united, and thus, Baptists do not have one strong convention that can speak prophetically to the whole island and the civil war that has encompassed this strong Catholic country. Nevertheless, the Baptist community of almost 200,000, with help from North American Baptists, carries on medical, educational, and social services that make them a prophetic witness amidst a tragic situation.

Baptists in Cuba suffered along with other religious groups at the beginning of the revolution. More recently, with the permission to have house churches, Baptists are flourishing as never before. Cuban Baptists now have about 2,000 new house churches, in addition to 1,500 churches. A community of more than 200,000 Baptist worshippers gathers throughout Cuba on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, no united Baptist witness exists in the country. The two large conventions are the Western Convention, related to the Southern Baptists, and the Eastern Convention, related to the American Baptists. Both are experiencing significant growth. Two smaller conventions, affiliated with the Fraternity of Baptists and the Free Will Baptists, are witnessing in outstanding ways.

The Caribbean Baptist Fellowship unites the 300,000 Baptist members. In spite of decreased financing from North American mission agencies, the fellowship now has a significant literature and publishing house, newly relocated in Jamaica.

Baptists in Europe

Former BWA general secretary Gerhard Claas has said, "Nowhere are Baptists more divided politically than in Europe, but nowhere are they more united spiritually than in Europe." With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a dramatic paradigm shift has taken place in the religious landscape of Europe. In the past, Western European Baptists usually gave leadership to the European Baptist Federation (EBF). Today, Eastern Europeans are taking their rightful place at the table. Theo Angelov of Bulgaria was the general secretary of the EBF until October 2004, and Gregory Komendant of Ukraine was president.

The growth of Baptists and the center of the Baptist movement have moved from England and Western Europe to Eastern Europe. For the first time in European history, the Ukraine has the largest Baptist union in Europe. With 170,000 members and almost 3,000 churches, the Ukraine is an example of the rapid growth among Baptists following the fall of communism.

Russian Baptists have not grown as quickly, but their new leadership has engaged all the churches in a program of evangelizing the country. In 1989, Moscow had only one Baptist church. Today, fifty-two Baptist churches are located there. After many years of waiting, Russian Baptists finally have an excellent seminary in Moscow as well as many Bible schools located throughout the country. The number of Russian Baptists is now about 100,000, with a community double that number. With the breakup of the USSR and the consequent independence of the fifteen republics, the former All Union Council of the Evangelical Christian Baptists (AUCECB) no longer holds Baptists of the former USSR together. The Euro Asiatic Federation is a loose federation that seeks to unite Baptists, but nationalism and the drive for independence have prevented the federations from becoming a significant movement. Vast Baptist growth has occurred in Moldova. In Belarus, Baptists continue to suffer from government restrictions, as they do in Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Romanian Baptists are a strong Baptist presence in Europe. With two outstanding seminaries, the old one in Bucharest and the new one in Oradea, Baptists in Romania have produced outstanding young preachers and evangelists. Romanian Baptists are enthusiastic in their worship. Like most Baptist churches in predominantly Orthodox countries, Romanian Baptists have a strained relationship with the national and historic Orthodox Church. The Orthodox accuse Baptists of proselytism, and Baptists counter that their evangelism is directed to individuals brought up under eighty years of Marxism who have become secularized and de-christianized and therefore need to hear the gospel. Romanian Baptists would agree with John Paul II that Europe needs to be reevangelized.

The Baptist Seminary and Center in Prague has contributed to a new unity of Baptists in Europe. The EBF will move its headquarters there, and Eastern and Western Baptists will have more opportunities to meet.

Four strains of Baptist life exist in Western Europe, each with nuances in theology and church polity. The oldest and historic Baptist movement is that of Great Britain. A recent renascence of Baptist life in Britain has resulted in Baptist churches being among the limited number of churches that are growing rather than declining. British Baptists continue to provide outstanding leadership in theology and other areas of European Baptist life. Their General Secretary, David Coffey, will begin service as the next president of the BWA in July 2005.

The second strain of European Baptist life is that of German Baptists. Johannes Gerhard Oncken was the great leader of German Baptists in 1845 and helped spread Baptist life into much of Eastern Europe, including Hungary, Romania, and Poland. He then expanded Baptist work into Northern Europe, especially Denmark. With the union of Eastern and Western Germany, the Baptist Union has gone through a struggle of leadership. Their historic seminary has been moved from Hamburg to Elstal (a suburb of Berlin). The headquarters of German Baptists also has moved to Elstal, thus emphasizing the unity of East and West. German Baptists have been strong contributors to relief work and the reestablishment of churches in Eastern Europe.

The third strain of Western European Baptists is that of Scandinavian Baptists. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are united in their languages and culture. They also exist in a predominantly Lutheran area of Europe. To understand Scandinavian Baptists, one must understand that they have established their identity "over against" the Lutheran state churches. Scandinavian Baptists are fiercely independent and emphasize the Baptist principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Although collectively they number about 50,000, their influence has been much greater. In the 1930s, the charismatic movement split Baptists in Sweden. The Baptist Union of Sweden and the former Orebro Mission that broke away have never reunited. Baptists have reacted negatively to the excesses of the strong charismatic movement in Scandinavia that at times expressed itself in a "health and wealth" type gospel. Baptists in these countries work on ecumenical councils, dealing particularly with social problems such as refugees, alcoholism, and an increasing spirit of xenophobia.

The fourth strain of Western European Baptist life is that of Latin Europe. The French, Italians, Portuguese, and Spanish Baptists have all been minority movements in Roman Catholic areas of Europe. These Baptists have suffered religious persecution and government restrictions, especially in Portugal and Spain. Recently, the increasing secularism of all of Europe has given Baptists a new ability to evangelize. Alienation of young people from the church and from the government and society makes them more open to the gospel. The Baptist community of about 50,000 continues to struggle financially, and they now add financial opportunities as they build new churches and theological seminaries. Younger Baptist leaders in these countries have taken up the challenge of missions and evangelism in a postmodern world. A significant ministry has been established among refugees from Africa, and Italy has thirteen new Baptist churches, most of them Nigerians.

The EBF recently has adopted a small Baptist community in the Middle East and is ministering to these Baptists in a wonderful way. A Baptist community of 20,000 exists in the Middle East. Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon each have about 2,000 members with a much larger community. Baptism in a Muslim country is often met with persecution and family reprisals. Many followers of Jesus in these areas suffer daily. The war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism have affected their witness. For many Muslims, the war in Iraq is a "Christian" war against a Muslim state. The war has hurt the Baptist witness in the Middle East as have inappropriate statements made by Baptists about Muslim historical figures. Turkish Baptists, to a certain extent, have been a bridge between Baptists in the Middle East and Europe. The new Baptist church in Izmir is an example of the increasing religious freedom in that country.

Europe is a complex and divided continent. Baptists minister in the more than fifty European countries and are strongly untied in the EBF.

Baptists in Latin America

The language spoken by the majority of "Christians" worldwide is Spanish. Latin America has been traditionally Roman Catholic, and by the end of the nineteenth century, evangelical and Baptist missionaries were working throughout Latin America. They often met with severe restrictions and persecution. Today, the situation has changed. Countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala have a strong evangelical and Protestant tradition. Some missiologists even estimate that in twenty-five years Brazil and Chile may be predominantly evangelical or Protestant countries. Much of this growth has occurred as a result of the charismatic or Pentecostal movement. Baptists, who are considered mainline Protestants in Latin America, have experienced some growth but not to the degree that Pentecostals have experienced.

The two largest Baptist conventions in Latin America are in Brazil. The oldest convention is the Baptist Convention of Brazil (BCB), and it has about one million members. About thirty years ago, a conflict broke out over styles of worship, and the BCB excluded fifteen churches. The convention now has more than 1,200 congregations and 200,000 members. Brazilian Baptists are involved in the country's social and political life. A number of congressmen and judges are Baptists. Baptists have numerous Bible schools, seminaries, and colleges. Nilson Fanini, former BWA president, pastors the largest Brazilian Baptist church with 10,000 members. His evangelism crusades all over Brazil and Latin America have made him a popular radio and television personality.

Since the charismatic movement is growing throughout Latin America, the movement naturally has affected Baptists, sometimes negatively. The Baptists of Argentina, who number about 80,000, have been divided on the whole question of "slain in the Spirit" and other manifestations usually associated with Benny Hinn and other charismatic groups. Latin Americans seem to have a need for an experience of faith over against a rational faith. Baptist polity and concern for church order, including an emphasis on the congregational form of government, a defense of religious freedom, the priesthood of the believer, a born-again theology, and an emphasis on theological education, make this denomination a bridge for many in the charismatic movement. Baptists definitely have benefited from this movement.

Baptists in Latin America are confronted with many social problems. Government corruption has spawned populist movements such as the one in Venezuela. Family violence is a continuing problem, as is a growing dependence economically on the drug culture. Poverty and its accompanying problems are horrific plagues. Children living on the street, the lack of family roots, and an increase in crime have brought tremendous social stresses to Latin American countries. At the same time, military dictatorships are declining and the desire for democratic institutions is growing. The Baptist and evangelical movements have played a role in these positive events.

The community of two million Latin American Baptists has united in a program called "Hay Vida en Crsito," or "there is life in Christ." Many churches are experiencing growth in the Union Bautista Latin America, the regional fellowship of Latin America.

Baptists in North America

If nowhere in the world was more divided politically and united spiritually than Europe in the 1960s, the opposite could be said of North America in the 1960s, especially the United States. Nowhere was a region more united politically but divided spiritually. Today, North America is divided both politically and spiritually.

Throughout North America, Baptists are an ethnic mix. On Sunday morning, North American Baptists worship in more than 100 languages. The challenges confronting the region are numerous: a new secularism that rejects God and is increasingly anti-Christian; an alienated younger generation; the presence of a drug culture; the rise of alternative lifestyles promoting gay marriages; political polarization; and the growth of a bohemian materialism make the proclamation of the Christian message difficult.

In the United States, about 35 million people are baptized Baptist believers, encompassing a community with children and family of approximately 70 million. Baptists are the largest denomination and contribute greatly to the cultural, political, and social landscape. At one point during the 1990s, the president, the vice president, and the leaders of the Senate and House were all Baptists. Yet, the dominance of political office by Baptists was not a sign of Baptist unity. On the contrary, these Baptist leaders belonged to different political parties. Perhaps this shows in a microcosm the division that has come to American Baptists.

The largest American Baptist convention, the Southern Baptist Convention, claims 16 million members. Over the past twenty-five years, the convention has experienced internal conflict. A "conservative resurgence" won out over "moderate" Baptists, but at a high price. Southern Baptists have become polarized, and the secular, non-believing world has sometimes identified all Baptists with the Southern Baptist conflict. On the other hand, the four large African American Baptist conventions represent another strain of American Baptist life. Their 15 million members express concern about racism, segregation, fair housing, unemployment, war and peace, and social justice. Evangelism is another of their key concerns.

In 1845, white Baptists separated over the question of sending slave-owners as missionaries. That schism has never been resolved. Northern Baptists became a minority as that region experienced heavy immigration of Catholics from Italy, Poland, and Ireland in the early twentieth century. Social problems resulted, and in response, Walter Rauschenbusch, a German Baptist pastor, developed a theology of the Social Gospel. Although most Northern Baptists (today called American Baptists) would consider themselves evangelical, their leadership has tended to be more progressive on social issues, compared with Southern Baptists who have been more conservative. Unfortunately, due to the polarization of the country politically and theologically, Southern Baptists withdrew from the BWA as of September 30, 2004. The BWA is not so concerned about finances, since churches and individuals will make up the difference, but this new schism further polarizes the Baptist witness in the United States and throughout the world.

In 1962, American and Canadian Baptists formed the North American Baptist Fellowship CNABF). This fellowship is the largest region within the BWA but also is the weakest. Because it comprises only two countries, whereas the other regions often encompass fifty countries, the reason for its existence has been questioned often. Recently, however, a new spirit of cooperation has developed among the younger NABF leaders, who want to confront the various social and theological issues and seek to make a Christian response to these issues. The NABF hopefully will become a significant BWA region. To be sure, with a community of 70 million Baptists the potential for positive influence is great. (4)


"Picking and choosing" from among the significant Baptist groups in the six regions of the BWA is not an easy task. In describing some of the larger and newer groups, I have tried to paint a mosaic of who and where Baptists are today. Although great diversity among Baptists exists, Jesus Christ is the center of all Baptist life and thought, and the closer we come to Christ, the closer we will come to one another. As Baptists rediscover their history, they hopefully will also rediscover the gospel with all its implications for mission in the twenty-first century.

(1.) A number of other Baptist conventions are not members of the BWA, such as in Ireland, France, and Sweden. Thousands of independent Baptist churches are also not members. Thus, there are probably 20 million other "Baptists."

(2.) As of October 1, 2004, the Southern Baptist Convention has withdrawn from the BWA, which decreases the number of BWA-related Baptists to 32 million baptized believers representing a community of 80 million. Nevertheless, all Baptists, within or without the BWA, are a significant number and probably the largest Protestant denomination in the world.

3. For a good summary of the growth of the church in the last century and the consequent movement of Christianity to the Southern hemisphere, see Philip Jenkins's The Next Christendom. 4. The withdrawal of the Southern Baptist Convention from the BWA decreases the community of Baptists in the NABF to about 40 million. Technically speaking, the SBC only withdrew from the BWA, not from the NABF. Strong contacts continue between some historically-related SBC state conventions and individual Baptist churches.

Denton Lotz is the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, Falls Church, Virginia.
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Author:Lotz, Denton
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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