The Doctrinal Trajectory of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the First Thirty Years, Pt. 10 – Conclusion

Read Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart Eight, and Part Nine.

           This paper has sought to show from the founding of the CBF that there were several differences between the CBF and the SBC, and those differences have only increased over the last thirty years. Though these differences may have appeared minimal in 1991, that is no longer the case in 2021. Shurden stated in his foundational address to the public that these differences were “critical.”[1] If the differences between the SBC and the CBF were so critical then, how much more critical are they today in light of the doctrinal, ethical, and missional trajectory of the CBF?

            As early as 2002, the CBF stated that they were a completely different denomination from the SBC when they sought to join the Baptist World Alliance. In their statement of unique identity, they said they “have separated [themselves] from the structures and organization of the SBC, and have a distinctly diverse understanding to the SBC of what it means to be an organized body of Baptist churches and individuals in covenant relationship.”[2] In so doing, they articulate 20 indications that they are “no longer integral to the SBC” including their own business meetings, strategic plans, organizational documentation and structure, and their own missions sending agency.

            They concluded their appeal by affirming “Though fully independent of the SBC and any other union, we do not declare that we are a denomination or convention, in that we are Baptist by denomination and a partnership of churches and individuals by philosophy.”[3] The CBF stated they were a “‘fellowship’ which infers that [they] are ‘a Baptist Association of churches and individuals’ in partnership for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.”[4] However, as documents such as the Illumination Project demonstrate, this distinction between a denomination and a fellowship does not prohibit them from making doctrinal and policy decisions that affect all of the churches who choose to affiliate with them. Furthermore, allowing multiple interpretations of doctrines and ethics, and encouraging unity despite those differences, is a doctrinal decision made on behalf of all members.

            As demonstrated throughout this paper, CBF source material, either found online or in the CBF Archives, demonstrates how the four founding principles, today called the core values, have shifted from a rallying cry for Baptists to focus on mission to an implied statement of faith.  This evolving shift has also laid the groundwork for an evolving theological understanding of major ethical issues such as abortion, marriage, and sexuality. Missionally, these values have been used by some to argue for a transformation of what the gospel is and how it should be proclaimed, if it should be verbally proclaimed at all. When compared to the SBC’s positions as articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, it is clear that this evolving theological trajectory has resulted in increasingly divergent views on essential matters of the Christian faith between the SBC and the CBF.

[1] Shurden, “An Address to the Public from the Interim Steering Committee.”

[2] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Statement of Unique Identity,” October 2002, CBF Archives.

[3] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Statement of Unique Identity.”

[4] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Statement of Unique Identity.”

Note – This article was co-written by Terry Delaney and Dr. Gary Shultz, Jr.

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