Baptists, Anglicans to begin talks in earnest

Published November 1, 1999

World-scale talks between Anglicans and Baptists have been a long time in coming ? more than 400 years by some leadership estimates from both communions.

But the talks will begin early in the third millennium, and are likely to last at least a decade or two.

The two bodies to be involved are the Anglican Consultative Council and the Baptist World Alliance.

The decision to move ahead was announced by David Hamid, the Anglican Council’s general secretary, and a Canadian, and John Peterson, Church of England general secretary, along with the alliance’s general secretary Denton Lotz and research and study director Tony Cupit

One Canadian Baptist who will watch progress on the talks with interest is William Brackney, principal of McMaster Divinity College.

And he notes that during his McMaster tenure, he has observed ? and to some extent, participated in ? some carefully-crafted joint Anglican-Baptist initiatives.

His most direct involvement has been with respect to Wycliffe College and McMaster, where cross-appointments, shared events and course co-operation have been the order of the day.

But he points out, as well, that the growing co-operative relationship between St. Paul’s (Bloor Street ) ? just metres from the Anglican national office ? and Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, has created some models being observed with interest in other parts of Canada.

Both instances cited by Dr. Brackney relate to Anglicanism’s evangelical wing. And Canon Hamid notes that the Baptist-Anglican conversations are expected to reflect and serve the whole of Anglicanism.

He predicted that the talks should be well under way by some time in 2000, noting that the first will involve the recounting of Anglican-Baptist experiences worldwide. That would continue for two to five years, then they would move into areas of practice and theology.

For Baptists, the dynamics for dialogue are a bit different from those affecting Anglicans. Dr. Brackney has been involved in what might best be described as the “re-evangelicalizing” of McMaster.

The changes at McMaster brought the school into line with the increasingly-evangelical emphasis in Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec churches, long noted as being the most liberal-leaning of all Canadian Baptist entities. The fact that the school reputed to be the most evangelical of Canadian Anglicanism’s seminaries ? Wycliffe ? could implicitly assist Dr. Brackney in the change process at McMaster, has not been lost on the leadership of both groups.

But there is another element as well. While Anglicanism’s episcopal polity permits Canon Hamid to converse with Baptists on behalf of his communion worldwide, Mr. Cupit does not speak for all Baptists.

The alliance represents 45 million Baptists worldwide. It includes the 15-million strong Southern Baptist Convention. But it does not include some fairly large conservative Baptist bodies both in North America and elsewhere. In Canada, for example, the 500-church, 50,000 strong Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada, is not a part of the alliance, although some of its congregations work with alliance-sponsored agencies on special projects.

Indeed, the nature of church structure is one of the two points likely to stir keep the exploratory talks interesting. Anglican decision-making, based on a hierarchical model that vests considerable power in the bishops of the church, is quite different from the Baptists’ congregational polity.

In Canada, many Baptist regional and national bodies decline to develop any cohesive statement of doctrine or faith, maintaining that would usurp the sovereignty of the local church. And Baptist church buildings are ? almost without exception ? owned by local congregations,.

The other talking point is the nature and function of baptism. Baptists are part of what is often called the “believers? church” movement, that also includes many Mennonites and other evangelical denominations. The tenet basic to that movement is that initiation into the church is an adult, individual decision, rather than that of the family.

It is likely that the Anglicans and Baptists at the table will occasionally remind themselves of the usefulness of continuing dialogue. In Dr. Lotz’s words: “It is our hope that these theological conversations will contribute to that unity for which Christ prayed in John 17 ? to the end that the world might find it easier to believe.” Lloyd Mackey, a Baptist, is editor and publisher of Christian News Ottawa and founder of BC Christian News.


Keep on reading

Skip to content