July 1, 2002

Sherman says new convention is coming
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___FORT WORTH--Moderate Baptists are inevitably moving toward forming a new convention and must think about what it will be, Cecil Sherman told a gathering of Mainstream Baptists.
___Sherman, former coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, was keynote speaker at banquet sponsored by the Mainstream Baptist Network June 27. The banquet was held in conjunction with the CBF general assembly, although Mainstream is not directly affiliated with CBF.
___"There is an opening for our kind of people, … a window of opportunity," Sherman said.
___He compared the condition of moderate Baptists to the children of Israel leaving bondage in Egypt. "We are out of Egypt, but we are not in the Promised Land," he asserted, alluding to moderate Baptists' disenfranchisement from the SBC.
___The CBF was formed by moderate Baptists after conservatives gained control of the SBC in the 19
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80s and '90s. The new organization's leadership has insisted, however, that the group is a fellowship, not a convention or a denomination.
___Meanwhile, other groups of moderate Baptists have sprung up through the years, including the Mainstream Baptist Network, the Alliance of Baptists and other state-focused groups.
___Sherman called the landscape of moderate Baptist affinities "an ill-formed cluster of clusters."
___He discounted the much-talked-about notion of post-denominationalism, arguing that denominations may change but will not go away. "Denominations are going to stay alive," he predicted.
___To reinforce the point, he quoted a former Southern Baptist pastor who started a new church without the support of a denomination: "People who wonder about the future of denominations should try living without one."
___Sherman's view was contradicted the next day, however, by his successor as CBF coordinator. During a CBF general assembly workshop titled "CBF 101," Daniel Vestal was asked if a new convention is likely to form in the near future.
___ "It ain't gonna happen," Vestal said emphatically. "You don't just form a convention by announcing it. ... I don't think churches are going to join a new convention."
___Vestal added that CBF's emphasis on partnerships with ministry groups that share common values is more appealing to contemporary church leaders.
___ He predicted denominations in the future will be structured more like CBF and, therefore, that the "denomination-like" Fellowship is uniquely positioned to serve churches in a post-denomination era.
___Despite protestations to the contrary, moderate Baptists will end up with a convention or denomination, Sherman insisted. "We have been building a new denomination for 10 years."
___This is not a clear-cut process, however, he added. "Getting out of Egypt doesn't solve all problems."
___Among challenges he listed were "negative self-definitions," odd personalities and the obsession of some with going back to Egypt.
___"We've got to get beyond negative self-definitions," he said. "What we are against will get us out of Egypt but not much farther."
___Further, Sherman admitted, "Some of the people who came out of Egypt with us are nuts. They are fruitcakes."
___Because a journey through the wilderness may not always be pleasant, "fainthearted people look back," he said. "The bigness of Egypt calls them."
___ For moderate Baptists to move beyond the wilderness into a Promised Land will require serious thought and intentional action by people younger than Sherman, who is 68.
___"Folks like me don't have a lot of business at the table," he said. "We've had our turn."
___The four people most likely to guide this process, he said, are Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed; and Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the CBF.
___Some sort of cohesive convention structure is possible, Sherman said, because although moderate Baptists are not all alike, "we're more alike than we'd like to admit."
___But unless the fringes see the value of promoting the center, the cohesion will be limited, Sherman said.
___He warned against "elitist groups" that "characterize themselves but not us." Such groups are "not very smart" in advancing the Baptist cause, he said.
___"Baptists are conservative people. … If we don't present ourselves in ways that make us sound like we're like them, they're not going to join us," he exhorted, urging moderate Baptists to "make your case from the text," the Bible.
___"You can keep getting in trouble out of the text, and they'll stay with you," he advised. "You can be for causes if they are truly biblical causes."
___As an example, he recalled discussions in the early 1990s about merging the CBF with the Alliance of Baptists. In an initial meeting, an Alliance representative insisted that for a merger to work, "Every church in CBF should hold our position on the women's issue," Sherman said.
___"Then we'll never merge," Sherman responded.
___ There is no difference between that type of demand for conformity and the SBC leadership's demand for conformity on biblical inerrancy, he explained.
___That's not to say some issues aren't essential, Sherman continued. "Some ideas are very important."
___The one vital issue, he said, is "who is Jesus?"
___"Christianity is about Jesus," he said. "It's looking at God through Jesus. That's the big idea. … All the rest, I can talk to you, work with you."
___ Unless moderates make that message clear, they will not gain the trust of many Baptists, Sherman said. "A lot of people don't like the actions of the SBC, but they're not sure they want to join us."
___ He recalled a comment made several years ago by someone in a church where he visited representing CBF: "I don't like them, but I don't trust you."

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