Monday, August 26, 2013

A Big Baptist World

The website of the Baptist World Alliance reports that there are 42 million Baptists around the world in 177,000 churches.  There are 228 various Baptist conventions and unions in 120 countries.  The Baptist "tent" is indeed big!

The International Baptist Convention is one such group that contributes its part to the world-wide Baptist family.  According to their informational brochure, the IBC is "a fellowship of international English-language churches and missions currently in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas."  The IBC has approximately 75 cooperating churches located in 27 countries.  It boasts 7,200 members from 140 different nationalities.  To say that this is a small, diverse group of Baptists is an understatement!

I had the wonderful opportunity this summer to attend the "IBC Interlaken Summer Experience," held annually in Interlaken, Switzerland and sponsored by the International Baptist Convention.  One of my former students, Dr. Mason Smith, is pastor of Immanuel Baptist church in Wiesbaden, Germany which is affiliated with the IBC.  He extended a gracious invitation for me to come and participate in this wonderful experience.

For the last 15 years the IBC has hosted this event in which missionaries, pastors and laity bring their families to beautiful Interlaken for spiritual nurture, fellowship, ministry, and training.  I taught two seminars during the week; one titled "How We Got Our Bible," and the second on the book of Jeremiah.  Each morning during the week I had a diverse group of participants literally from around the world.  Some were United States military personnel assigned to various bases around the world who had found a local IBC church near their base.  Others were missionary clergy who serve as pastors in some of the churches.  There were also participants for whom English was perhaps their second or third language.  It was an amazingly diverse group of people.

While the adults were in the seminars taught by me and other faculty members and clergy from around the world, a Vacation Bible School was conducted by a group of people representing the Alabama Baptist Convention with a few folks from Virginia and even North Carolina thrown in for good measure!  Away from Interlaken the teenagers participated in a youth camp.  There was something for everyone that week!

I came away from this experience with a wonderful feeling about Baptists.  This was the most diverse group of Baptist people I had ever been around.  Different languages, nationalities and cultures made this groups of Baptists more like a quilt than a blanket.  And yet, through the entire week, there was no fighting, arguing, or disagreeing about anything.  In fact, a concerted effort was made to focus only on the things that bind us together, not the things that divide.  And, with a group as small as the IBC, they can't afford to argue and divide like many Baptists in America have done over the last couple of centuries.

So, when I get depressed thinking  about Baptists in the southern part of the United States and how much we have quarreled over the last half century, I find myself feeling much brighter about the worldwide Baptist movement because of groups like the International Baptist Convention.  Dr. Jimmy Martin, the group's General Secretary, is to be commended for his splendid leadership of this wonderful group.