With the death of founding
coordinator and (spiritual) voice Cecil Sherman and the approaching 20th
anniversary of its birth, the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is
reaching a point where its viability into the future will either be cemented or
Current CBF Coordinator
Daniel Vestal, 65, wonders why CBF viability would be questioned, though one of
the prime movers in CBF’s formation said years ago he considered CBF to be a
“one generation movement.”
“I disagree,” Vestal
said between revival services at First Baptist Church in Marion on April 18.
“We were born out of
the fires of conflict and a struggle for freedom, as was nearly every other
Baptist organization I know,” Vestal said.
“The principles that
birthed us — the love of freedom and the love of mission — have found new
expressions for a changing culture and a changing world.”
Some Southern Baptists
upset with the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in 1990
in Atlanta to discuss options and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,
which launched officially the following May. The CBF will hold its annual
meeting June 23-26 in Charlotte.
“The SBC became a
convention that had a command and control culture,” Vestal said.
“Either you conformed
to that culture or you didn’t have a place of influence or leadership … even
fellowship. That was contrary to the Baptist spirit of freedom, autonomy and
Originally CBF was
founded simply as a missionary sending agency but has since offered a financial
and spiritual impetus for the starting of other ministries.
Its admission to the
Baptist World Alliance (BWA) was a significant factor in the Southern Baptist
Convention’s withdrawing from that worldwide Baptist body.
One reason Southern
Baptists protested CBF’s admission to the BWA was that the CBF is not a
denomination. Such distinction is “not important” to anyone under age 40 said
Vestal, and the CBF is “an association of Baptist churches and individuals.”
Although CBF “functions
in many ways like what in the past we called a convention,” CBF elects no
trustees, and owns no institutions. When asked his own denomination, he said he
CBF quickly matured
beyond “reacting” to things SBC and developed its own identity apart from being
“anti-SBC.” When asked about several current issues in the SBC, Vestal
The common denominator
for CBF churches, he said, is that, “We share a passion for the Great
Commission and Baptist principles of faith and practice.”
Members “want to be a
part of something bigger than themselves,” Vestal said. “Many want to honor and
live out the Baptist tradition that nurtured them. But they want to do that in
very different ways than convention Baptists, so we are fellowship Baptists
more than convention Baptists.”
Vestal believes CBF is
the “face of the future” and that denominations that survive into the future
will look and function more like CBF, which is committed to the local church as
“the center of the missions enterprise.”
“We’re committed to
women in ministry, which is the future,” he said. “The Southern Baptist culture
that denies women can be pastors is not only out of touch with the Spirit, it’s
out of touch with scripture.
“Thirty percent of the
churches in China have female pastors.”
CBF also is committed
to “biblical justice.” Vestal said, “Our understanding of the gospel is that
commitment to justice is as important as personal salvation. The Kingdom of God
is coming, it has come.”
have sprung up around the national CBF movement. The North Carolina chapter,
led by Larry Hovis, former pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville,
is the largest state chapter, although CBF national still receives more money
from Texas than from any other state, according to Vestal.
While the N.C. chapter
functions independently, field coordinators for CBF chapters in Virginia and
Texas are actually on Vestal’s staff, which numbers 55. He said CBF has 160
missionaries, although some are funded by CBF partners.
North Carolina Baptists
until 2010 contributed to CBF national through Plan C of their Cooperative
Program budget. In 2010 N.C. Baptists reverted to a single giving plan that
“We were very grateful
for our partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina,”
Vestal said.”We affirm the right of the BSC to make this decision, but we
regret the loss of this partnership.”
Most partner churches of
North Carolina CBF remain marginally connected with the Baptist State
Convention of North Carolina. The same is true of CBF as a whole, where
“churches that are a part of CBF are still in some way related to, or
partnering with SBC or state Baptist conventions,” Vestal said.
He believes local
churches affiliating with multiple partners is a feature of the future.
He said, “the day is
over” when local churches can be expected to operate exclusively within a
certain structure identified by a denominational tag. Instead they will partner
“with whoever they choose to partner with to fulfill their mission.”
Although Vestal doesn’t
expect the CBF to become a “majoritarian movement” anytime soon, he said, “I
think we have a bright future.”
Age of adolescence
At age 20, he said his
organization is “barely out of adolescence” and “what God has done in the last
20 years is really remarkable.”
Vestal 65, has
recovered from prostate cancer. He said it is natural at his age to think about
his future and that of CBF, although he has no “clarity about when I’ll
The son of a pastor,
Vestal was a youth evangelist, and became a pastor at age 25.
He pastored churches
for 27 years before spending the last 13 at the helm of CBF, which was a
toddler when he took it by the hand.
His two sons and
daughter are all ordained to ministry. “I really believe CBF is a renewal
movement within the Baptist family,” Vestal said. “God’s not through yet with