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Vestal confident as CBF passes through adolescence
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
May 03, 2010
6 MIN READ TIME

Vestal confident as CBF passes through adolescence

Vestal confident as CBF passes through adolescence
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
May 03, 2010

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

proven unlikely.

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

priesthood.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Daniel Vestal believes the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has a bright future.

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

is “Baptist.”

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

professed unawareness.

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.”

CBF commitments

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.”

State organizations

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

excludes CBF.

“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

retire.”

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

Baptist churches.”

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