On June 3-4, 2022, the Canadian Association for Baptist Freedoms (CABF) will gather to celebrate our 50th Anniversary (click here for more details). Leading up to this momentous event, each week members of the FBCH congregation provide reflections on the life of CABF.
CABF 50th Anniversary Reflections
Rev. John Boyd
As I think back over the fifty years since the founding of the ABF/CABF, years that virtually coincide with my own career in Christian ministry, my mind is flooded with memories of the people met, the friendships made, the ideals shared and the efforts made as we sought to live out a vision of being Baptist that is centered in that freedom for which Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1).
The birth of the Atlantic Baptist Fellowship arose out of a power struggle within what was then known as the United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces (UBCAP), now known as Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (CBAC), over what it means to be a faithful Baptist Church.
That there would be conflicting visions of faithfulness among Baptists is not surprising, nor particularly concerning. Considerable diversity in theological outlook, worship, demographics and ethos had developed during the twenty-five years that followed the end of World War II. Although this diversity was accommodated and respected due to widespread acceptance of Baptist Distinctives like Soul Liberty and the Autonomy of the Local Church, by the end of the tumultuous 1960s some pastors and Churches began to push for greater conformity.
Two issues became the rallying cry for conservative Baptists in search of conformity, and they were willing to impose their vision on all congregations. One was to oppose formal ecumenical relationships by withdrawing from the Canadian Council of Churches, a position adopted at the 1970 UBCAP Assembly. The reasons given for this decision revolved around fears associated with a loss of Baptist identity and the influence of what were called alien theologies.
The second was to prevent Churches from appointing delegates to Convention who were not baptized by total immersion in water. This was accomplished at the 1971 UBCAP Assembly. Although there were a significant number of Baptist Churches who offered either full or associate membership to people who had received infant baptism in another denomination, the Assembly was persuaded that Baptist identity and decisions would be fatally compromised if an un-immersed Christian voted at a Baptist meeting. The fact that, at any given Assembly, at most a dozen or so delegates out of 800-1000 were not immersed, showed that fear, not faith, was the operating dynamic.
As a result of these two decisions a group of individuals and Churches decided in 1971 to form the Atlantic Baptist Fellowship. They believed that true Baptist identity was not based on narrow theological conformity or rigid boundaries of exclusion, but rather on the fellowship of the Spirit created among those who were connected to each other through their faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord. Salvation was not dependent on sufficient amounts of water in baptism, and freedom was required in order for each Baptist individual or Church to respond faithfully to Christ as Lord. Diversity was not a danger to Baptist identity but a necessary and welcome outcome of Soul Liberty and the Autonomy of the Local Church.
Over the next four decades the ABF worked within the Convention structure to uphold Baptist principles of freedom, offering strong support for ecumenism, women in ministry and freedom for congregations to explore faithful ways to respond to cultural and social issues, especially when those explorations led to divergence with Convention policies and resolutions.
As the Minister of congregations that practiced ecumenism, tackled social issues, explored contemporary Biblical and Theological studies and sought to follow Christ’s example of inclusive love, I often found myself at odds with Convention leadership. The friendship and support of my fellow “ABFers” could always be counted on, and the network of new relationships that arose with partner organizations like The Gathering of Baptists (Ontario), the Alliance of Baptists (USA) and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America offered even greater opportunities for fellowship, growth and encouragement during the day-to-day practice of ministry.
A major change occurred in 2010-2012 when the Convention underwent a process of incorporation that imposed a level of conformity that was not acceptable to First Baptist Church Halifax or many in the ABF. Each congregation had to vote in favour of belonging to the new corporation, signaling their acceptance of its structures and policies, among which was a prohibition against same-sex marriage. Since First Baptist had adopted an inclusive and affirming policy toward LGBTQ+ persons in 2006, it was not possible to join the new organization, Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, with a clear conscience.
Although First Baptist and others in the ABF made every effort during the process of incorporation to present revisions that would have affirmed the Autonomy of the Local Church, no changes were made. It remains my belief that it was not necessary (or Baptist) for CBAC to require such conformity, but the reality of the situation meant that other options were immediately necessary.
Enter the Canadian Association for Baptist Freedoms in 2012! Although no other ABF Church took the same path as FBCH, they rallied around us, incorporated under the new name (necessitated by the refusal of the NS Joint Stocks directorate to accept the old one) and put in place a credentialling process that would become crucial to the future of my ministry and that of FBCH.
In February of 2012 the Executive Minister of CBAC accused me of “professional misconduct” for conducting a same-sex marriage the previous September. At the time I was still credentialled by CBAC while the “old” Convention transitioned to the newly incorporated CBAC. I rejected the accusation of misconduct regarding my role in the same-sex marriage, and after several months of deliberation and consultation, voluntarily resigned the credentials I had held for 38 years. In my resignation letter I called upon the CBAC to repent of the sin of homophobia and remove the prohibition against same-sex marriage (neither has yet occurred!).
Shortly after this, the newly incorporated CABF gained the proper status with the NS Department of Vital Statistics in order to name clergy for permission to conduct marriages. I was credentialled by CABF and became the first CABF clergy to be listed by the province for officiating marriages. CABF now has over twenty credentialled clergy as well as several open files for people in the process toward Ordination or the transfer of their credentials. Credentialling by CABF frees Churches to pursue their vision by breaking the control Canadian Baptist denominations were exercising over their clergy. Now progressive Baptist Churches across Canada are adopting or exploring membership in the CABF.
My personal story has been intertwined with ABF/CABF from the beginning, as has that of First Baptist Church Halifax. CABF now helps enable FBCH’s vision and mission by offering credentials to its clergy, the support of a network of like-minded Churches, and the opportunity to experience the rich spiritual and ecclesial fellowship of a body centred in the diversity Christ’s freedom offers.
Join us in Wolfville on June 3 and 4 as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary together!
Rev. John E. Boyd is a Past President of CABF and currently serves as Secretary to the Credentials Committee and as Webmaster for the CABF website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.