As you may know from a previous letter, I found myself in Birmingham, England in late July,
celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Baptist World Alliance. This association
of Baptists from around the world began in Exeter Hall in London in 1905.
The two hour opening celebration had such incredible variety that it was deeply moving. It
represented all the good that occurs when people whose sole unity is the person of Christ,
come together. There were choirs and musicians from four different continents. There was a
parade of nations representing the two hundred nations I have mentioned in a previous letter.
While a DVD of the conference will be made available later, I want to give you a sampling of our
time as the conference unfolded.
Rick Warren was one of the theme speakers at this conference (the Pastor from Saddleback
Community Church in California with whom many of us are familiar). He had many things to
say, but two stood out: first he said that churches need to be known for what they stand for—not
always what they are against. I’ll let you discover what that particular observation means for you
in your own walk with God and your own church and community. Secondly, (we will have the
DVD of this talk in our resource centre in October) he said that the church must slay the five
giants of the 21st century: spiritual dryness, self-centered leadership, disease (including,
obviously, HIV amongst others), poverty and illiteracy. There are so many places that we need
to go with these topics but I will leave you with his words to begin to grapple with them. The
second person who made a great impression on me was former American President Jimmy
Carter who spoke on the need to address more equitably the role of women in the life of our
churches in his Sunday morning Sunday school class before 13,500 people. What I found
especially moving about Mr. Carter was when it was reported that as he received the Nobel
Prize for Peace, he announced before the assembled guests that “He lived his life because of
his faith in Jesus Christ”. I wonder how many of us do the same—never mind actually take the
opportunity to say so. Three women made a great impression on the conference. CBM’s Carla
Nelson led an International workshop on AIDS. Lauran Bethell received the BWA human rights
award for her work on the trafficking of women and children, for which, incidentally, Vancouver
has an internationally bad name. Lastly the conference heard from Myra Blyth who was, for a
time, a senior associate at the World Council of Churches and who spoke with passion on a
clear and orthodox Christology which was part of the theological underpinnings of the
For many people, the last time they celebrated diversity in their lives was when they went to
high school. In our culture one of the few places you experience diversity is if you belong to a
welcoming and receptive Christian church. The rest of the world represents so much of the
division and difficulty we find ourselves in that the church can represent a contrast. I find it hard
to express the moving scene of so many diverse people with a simple and clear unity in Jesus.
This conference was not just another meeting. It was truly and profoundly, in my view, an
opportunity for almost as many churches as are in the UN to re-covenant together in Christ.
That re-covenanting is around many topics that we explored that week at the Congress:
worship, evangelism, aid, justice, the alleviating of poverty, women and men, youth and many
other issues. I’d ask that we do two things in the Baptist Union as we reflect on this Congress:
first, let us remember Alexander McLaren’s exhortation that we do all things in the name of
Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit; and second, might we simply for ourselves, our
churches and our communities, ask the Lord one thing in prayer—“Please, Lord, make yourself
known to me in Your Son’s name, Amen.” May we continue to grow in our relationship with God
and one another and with greater clarity of what we are called to do in these challenging times.
There were so many people you would have known from our Baptist family in Birmingham and
I’ll pass on a list of those who would be glad to share their impressions in a future letter.
Warmly in Christ