| BAPTIST:"WE ARE GRATEFUL THE MILLENNIUM'S REAL
MEANING IS BEING RESTORED"
| Statements by Secretary General of World Baptist Alliance
ROME, (ZENIT).- The Secretary General of the World Baptist Alliance indicated that his
church is grateful to the Holy Father for reminding the world of the true meaning of the
Millennium. The Alliance held its 18th World Congress in Melbourne, Australia, two weeks ago,
discussing how to face a world in which freedom of religion is threatened.
There are 40 million Baptists in the world today. The majority live in the United States, where
they are the second largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholics. Baptists believe there
must be no structure interposed in the relation between God and a believer. In addition, they
believe that baptism should be by immersion, only when the individual has reached adolescence.
The Southern Baptists, the largest sub-grouping, are fundamentalist in their approach to Sacred
Baptists constitute the radical wing of the Reformation. They were founded in England at the
beginning of the 17th century, not just in opposition to the Catholic Church, but also in protest
against other Christian denominations. Because of the controversy created, Baptists were led
into exile in Holland by John Smyth (1570-1612). When Smyth met Dutch Mennonites, he
determined that they were an authentic church and recommended that his followers join them.
There was disagreement in the Baptist ranks, however, and Thomas Helwys (1560-1616) led
his followers, known as General Baptists or Arminians, back to England. Smyth's followers
became known as Private Baptists or Calvinists.
The Baptists were important in the United States in the development of religious liberty, stressing
the principle of separation of Church and State in the Constitution and the First Amendment.
President Bill Clinton is Southern Baptist, though he usually attends Methodist services with his
wife. He has also been under fire from Baptist religious leaders for various moral failings in their
The World Baptist Alliance came into being in England in 1905, but its headquarters were
moved to the United States in the 40s. The 18th World Congress in Melbourne was especially
important, since it celebrated the change of the millennium. The main topic of the meeting was:
"Jesus Christ Forever, Yes!"
Denton Lotz, the Alliance's secretary general, said to the Italian newspaper "Avvenire" that this
phrase about Christ "summarizes the meaning of our faith. Jesus Christ represents the hope God
has given men, and we want to respond with an eternal 'Yes' to this gift."
There were fraternal delegates from many Christian denominations at the Melbourne meeting,
including Catholics -- led by Bishop John Rodano of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity. "We have been very pleased to confirm our closeness with other believers in
Jesus," Lotz emphasized.
Referring to the Baptist-Catholic dialogue, Lotz described it as "very good. We have constant
contacts and we have met on several occasions with Cardinal Cassidy, as well. The exchange of
ideas is really open."
Denton Lotz especially appreciated the sign of the opening of the Holy Door. "We are happy
with all these celebrations that underline our unity in Christ. The secular world has forgotten the
meaning of 2000. Many don't even realize that it marks the anniversary of Jesus' birth. I was
unable to go to the ceremony in St. Paul's Basilica because I was still in Australia. To tell the
truth, though, we Baptists have problems with the idea of indulgences. Nonetheless, we are
grateful for all the celebrations that attempt to restore the millennium's real meaning."
"Following the Cold War, we were hoping for a period of greater religious liberty, but we see
we were mistaken," noted Lotz. "The most serious contrasts have emerged in Eastern Europe,
where some national churches have arisen that pretend to monopolize the faith. At the same
time, the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia, Serbia and Chechnya -- and also in Rwanda, have
demonstrated that the danger of a new clash between civilizations is real. These are threats that
all men of faith must try to stave off."
"Avvenire" asked if Baptists are ready to take the first step to re-launch dialogue. Lotz
answered, "As you know, we represent radical reform. The Baptist congregations have full local
autonomy and I don't think they are willing to give up this characteristic. Consequently, we are
not very interested in structural unity. However, on the spiritual plane, the unity of Christians is a
very important objective that must be reflected in a common commitment to justice, respect for
human rights and efforts in the moral field, such as mobilization against abortion. Christ
represents our spiritual unity and no believer can subtract himself from this truth."