What is going on in the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba?

EDIT: At 12:15 Eastern time I received an email from a pastor in Cuba, which included this good news:

The mercy of God was extended. In the discussion a pastor very very influential ex-president of Convention a very wise man proposed a substitute motion explaining that the first motion was wrong and it was very dangerous for the unity of the convention and because the other motion attack against baptist principles of autonomy of churches.

He warned about the assembly is not ready for taking such decision because most of the people don’t know much about the calvinist doctrine.

Praise God for this good news. Keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Cuba.

That is a question to which I wish I had a complete answer. From emails that I have received over the last several days, it does seem evident that there is a concerted effort to remove certain pastors and churches from the Western Baptist Convention (WBC). Specifically, pastors and churches who hold to and preach the doctrines of grace are being told that they are not welcome in the WBC, even though they are currently members in good standing.

My understanding of Baptist work in Cuba is admittedly limited. We have Cuban members in the church I serve and I have corresponded with Cuban Baptist pastors for years. Two years ago, a Cuban deacon from our church and I traveled to Cienfuegos, where I preached for a pastors’ conference. Most of the pastors were Baptists and many were serving churches in the WBC. The host pastor has become a trusted friend. He is the one who has reached out to me the most and alerted me of the events of the WBC this week. Through him I have received the actual motion and stated explanations that are before the WBC, regarding the removal of pastors and churches. It is in Spanish, and a translator in our church is working on it as I type.

Because I am aware of how easy it is to miscommunicate when two different languages are involved, I have tried to be very careful in the public comments I have made on this issue. With the help of friends both in Cuba and the US, I have a high level of confidence about the following conclusions.

  1. There is a growing recovery of the doctrines of grace among Cuban Baptist Churches.
  2. Some Cuban Baptist denominational leaders and pastors are concerned that these doctrines will kill evangelism and missions.
  3. A motion was introduced this week at the annual meeting of the WBC that raises this concern and expresses a course of action to withdraw fellowship from pastors and churches who believe and preach these doctrines.
  4. One or more amendment or substitute motion(s) was (were) introduced to redirect the convention to spend a year studying the issue.
  5. That (or those) amendments or substitute motions was (were) defeated, due in part (perhaps primarily) to the strong statements made by a denominational leader. This action was taken by many on both sides of the issue to be a clear signal that pastors and churches who hold to the doctrines of grace in the WBC are no longer welcome.
  6. A final vote is scheduled for today on the original motion.
  7. Those churches who are removed by such vote will lose their buildings and property which are owned by the WBC (this arrangement dates back to Castro’s revolution in 1959).
  8. Southern Baptists have invested greatly in gospel work in Cuba, and continue to do so today.

There is much more that I suspect is going on but based on what I have been told, I am confident in asserting these 8 things about the situation. Any way that you evaluate it, it is sad. When I was in Cuba there were rumblings about this type of action being proposed. I asked to meet with convention leaders to discuss it and learn about their concerns. I did this because I have been a pastor in Florida since 1986 and Florida Baptists have a longstanding relationship with and have invested heavily in Cuba for the advance of the gospel.

I hope more thoughtful, godly reasoning will prevail in the WBC as the matter is addressed today and that this matter will not result in removing pastors and churches from their fellowship. I fear that if the final motion passes, it will result in a serious split in the WBC and will result in hindering the witness of the gospel in Cuba

Certainly, the WBC is autonomous and is free to decide the limits of their association. That is also true of the Florida Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. If pastors who believe like I do and churches that believe as ours does (and as the founders of the SBC did) are to be judged unwelcome in the WBC, that would be unfortunate. However, the gospel will still advance. God will still rule and overrule and Christ will still build His church on earth, including Cuba. It will just mean that many of us who have invested in seeing this happen in Cuba will now know that the WBC no longer wants to fellowship with us as Baptist brethren.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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