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Is Your Denomination Unintentionally Drifting or Intentionally Shifting?

WorldviewchangesLook at your denomination and at those around you, and you will notice a lot of drifting and shifting. Drifting is generally unintentional and shifting is generally intentional. Just look at the denominations who have held regular national/international assemblies this year and you will see various patterns of drifting and shifting.

My consulting work is with a lot of denominations across the theological and ecclesiological spectrum so I regularly observe the drifting and shifting. At times it is more difficult to observe the patterns of transition and change in your own denominational family with any objectivity. My denominational family is Baptist. One denomination within that family--Cooperative Baptist Fellowship--observes it 25th anniversary this year. Like many newer denominations which have emerged in the past four decades, they are still trying to figure out who they are, and who is in and who is out.

They began by generically calling themselves "Moderate Baptists". In recent times an increasing number of CBF participants refer to themselves as "Progressive Baptists". Which are they? Are they one or the other? Are they both? Is that possible? What is the difference?

This week I posted some questions for anyone related to CBF to answer. Keep reading and discover my questions and what some people are saying in response.

Questions: For Baptists whose heritage--former relationship--is in the Southern Baptist Convention and/or current relationship is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 

When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed they were generally described as "Moderate Baptists". Fine. I understood that. Now increasingly I see the use of "Progressive Baptists" to define CBF by people related to CBF.

Does this represent a change in the movement? Does this only represent a change in terminology? It seems to represent a change from being small "e" evangelical which is what I would have called the "Moderate Baptists" to a mainline Protestant perspective that seems to be more representative of the term Progressive Baptists.

If you are a former SBC person, or have perhaps only known CBF and never related to SBC, I would love to hear/read your perspective.

Answers: Here are some initial answers I have received. I welcome other CBF folks to comment, or for people from other denominations to comments on the drifts and shifts of their denomination. Please identify your denomination when you post. Now a selection of the answers given:

1. This seems to me a shift is taking place in more than terminology, but in the identities of individuals and congregations who identify with CBF. A restlessness, perhaps, with the moderate identity among those on the progressive edge.

2. A huge part of the current CBF climate reflects surrounding culture--that we live in an increasingly polarized world, where true moderates are seen as "non-committal" or "non-principled" in many ways, when (in my view) this is far from the truth.

3. My impression is that as the movement has come under increasing influence of the second generation, those young people are increasingly seeing that the basal principles of CBF folks (autonomy, freedom, broad inclusion) are in fact not really different than those of mainline Protestants, and are accordingly moving us in that direction. So, in my opinion, 1) yes, the movement is changing, and 2) the change has everything to do with the "passing of the torch."

4. I feel the tensions [between moderate and progressive] and wonder where it will lead.

5. I think the distaste for the implications of "luke warm" contained in the word "moderate" have leaders searching for a better, more enlivening term.

6. It might take an ancient-future approach....preserving Baptist's foundations of mission-and-freedom while being creatively focused on reaching emerging cultures.

7. I use moderate, progressive and even liberal depending on the other person's experience, understanding of Baptists and their own political leanings to describe what CBF means. Moderate feels more on the right side of the spectrum, closer to conservative for me. And I agree that the younger you go, the more "progressive" is used instead. It seems to coincide with a shift in thinking and not just terminology. This is all just my observations, no serious study. And not sure if it reflects laypersons views or just clergy.

8. I am happy that the CBF seems to have moved on from its reactionary phase to being comfortable in its own skin. My only complaint about the CBF is the same as it has been since the beginning: hard for a newcomer to understand the nomanclature. The language and systems need to be more basic to make it easier for the newcomer to understand quicker. Not saying we should dumb down our message. But saying that if we hope to grow we need to do a better job at marketing to the outsider and the unchurched.

Reading these observations from others, what are your thoughts about your denomination--whether CBF or Methodist or Presbyterian or Disciples or something else?