The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is an association of Baptist churches formed in 1991. It was created by moderate Baptists who separated from the Southern Baptist Convention over theological and social issues. Here is an overview of the CBF:
In the late 20th century, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) underwent a conservative resurgence. Fundamentalists within the SBC gained control of denominational leadership and institutions. They pushed for more doctrinal uniformity and a more conservative stance on issues like biblical inerrancy, women in ministry, and homosexuality.
Many moderate Baptists were troubled by these changes. In 1990, a group of moderates formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They held an organizing meeting in 1991 in Atlanta, Georgia. Around 2000 Baptist leaders attended, representing over 200 churches.
The new CBF emphasized historic Baptist freedoms like the autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of all believers, and the separation of church and state. It also affirmed women in ministry. The founding coordinator was Cecil Sherman, former head of the SBC’s evangelism agency.
In its early years, the CBF attracted over 700,000 members from some 2000 churches. Most came from the SBC, but others had been dually aligned or unaffiliated. The CBF also drew significant financial support from the Baptist Joint Committee and gave the BJC representation on its Coordinating Council.
The CBF affirms traditional Baptist beliefs like the authority of Scripture, believer’s baptism, religious liberty, the priesthood of all believers, and the autonomy of local churches. However, it allows for diversity on secondary issues.
The Fellowship’s founding documents endorse historic Baptist principles without mandating strict adherence to any particular confession of faith. The CBF upholds the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (before the SBC added more conservative amendments). But congregations can shape their own more detailed statements.
This makes the CBF more theologically inclusive than the SBC. The Fellowship welcomes charismatics, Calvinists, and moderates who take less conservative stances on matters like biblical inerrancy. Congregations have flexibility on practices like speaking in tongues, women pastors, and homosexuality.
The CBF operates similarly to the SBC in linking churches for cooperative ministry while preserving local autonomy. Member churches appoint delegates to an annual General Assembly.
The Fellowship’s Coordinating Council oversees ministry and missions, assisted by Regional Coordinators. The CBF has developed ministry partnerships globally, especially focused on education, development, and advocacy.
The CBF’s founding principles endorse women in all leadership roles. About a third of affiliated congregations have women senior pastors. The CBF was inclusive toward LGBT persons, but this created controversy. In 2000, the CBF established a policy against hiring openly gay staff but welcoming gay church members.
The Fellowship supports shared ministry expenses through the CBF Offering for Global Missions. In 2020, this provided over $12 million for missions. The CBF also connects 1,400 endorsing churches to over 3,000 endorsed chaplains.
The CBF maintains ties with moderate Baptist groups globally like the Baptist World Alliance. It works with ecumenical organizations for religious liberty advocacy. CBF congregations can align with both CBF and SBC, but this dual alignment has declined.
Relations with the SBC have often been strained. Conservatives accused the CBF of dividing Southern Baptists. Moderates argued the SBC had left them behind. Competition over finances, churches, and personnel caused tensions. But over time, interactions have grown more cordial.
By 2012, the CBF reported about 1,800 partner churches and about 1,130 endorsed chaplains. Financial support plateaued around $12 million annually. After growth in earlier years, the number of partner churches had stabilized.
In 2012, Suzii Paynter became the first woman to lead the Fellowship as Executive Coordinator. The CBF’s social media presence expanded significantly under her leadership. She brought renewed emphasis on advocacy and justice ministries.
In 2018, Paul Baxley became the CBF’s new Executive Coordinator. He committed to grow missional engagement, church starting, and diversity. In 2020, Emmanuel McCall became the first African-American moderator of the CBF.
The CBF continues to navigate changing attitudes among Baptists on issues like women in ministry, LGBT inclusion, and ecumenical cooperation. It remains a leading organizational voice for moderate Baptists.
In summary, several key distinctives characterize the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship:
- Formed by moderates leaving the SBC over doctrinal and social issues
- Endorses historic Baptist principles like local church autonomy
- Theologically inclusive of diverse Baptist positions
- Affirms women in all ministry roles
- More progressive stance on issues like homosexuality compared to the SBC
- Voluntary cooperative ministry but no denominational control
- Partnership approach to global missions
- Maintains ties with moderate Baptist groups worldwide
The CBF remains a significant Baptist association even as debates continue on its theological and social direction. It provides an alternative Baptist home for congregations uneasy with the conservative direction of the SBC.