Southern Baptist Openness To And Departure From Ecumenism -- By: Ray Wilkins

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 15:1 (Spring 2018)
Article: Southern Baptist Openness To And Departure From Ecumenism
Author: Ray Wilkins


Southern Baptist Openness To And Departure From Ecumenism

Ray Wilkins

Ray Wilkins is senior pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Frisco, Texas. [email protected]

Openness To Ecumenism: 1899–1919

For many, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is synonymous with anti-ecumenical. There was a time, however, when the SBC was not only open to ecumenical cooperation but was actively involved in the establishment of cooperation. The early-twentieth century was quite promising for Southern Baptists. The SBC had finally recovered from Reconstruction and several new institutions were established including the Woman’s Missionary Union, the Sunday School Board, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).1 Like the rest of the country, Southern Baptists were optimistic about the future. America seemed to be moving forward and the industrial revolution was fueling a belief in the idea of progress and human perfectibility.2 A postmillennial eschatology and Kingdom theology were influencing many of the new Southern Baptist ministers and leaders, which in turn helped to create a period of self-confident expansion. It may come as no surprise then, that given the spirit of optimism, Southern Baptists began to explore relations with other Christians.

The initiative for Christian cooperation came from the foreign mission field where many Southern Baptist missionaries labored alongside Protestants from other denominational affiliations. Often in a hostile environment, these missionaries found common ground with their Protestant kinsman. When confronted with the priestly office and sacramentalism of Roman Catholicism as well as deified humanism and the animism of primitive cultures, many Southern Baptist missionaries discovered that the gulf that separated them from their Presbyterian and Methodist friends was not so wide and deep after all.3

London Missionary Conference And Openness To Unity

In 1888, the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) of the SBC sent representatives to the London Missionary Conference. The conference was an interdenominational gathering of Protestant mission leaders from Europe and North America. For those Protestants gathered at the meeting, it was not organizations or formal written agreements that would bring divided Christianity together, but rather a love for evangelism.4 With a firm commitment to the simple truths of the Bible, it was believed there was enough of a basis to cooperate abroad on foreign missions and...

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