CBF leader endorses seminary relocation

Global missions interim coordinator Jim Smith predicts Fellowship Baptists will continue to support the International Baptist Theological Seminary in its proposed move from Prague, Czech Republic, to Amsterdam.

By Bob Allen

The interim global missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has endorsed a proposal before European Baptist leaders this week to relocate the International Baptist Theological Seminary from the Czech Republic to Amsterdam.

The last two decades of the 63-year-old seminary, started by Southern Baptist missionaries to unite Baptists in Western Europe following World War II, have been intertwined with the rise of the CBF, an organization of moderates formed by a schism of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991.

Later that year tensions dividing the SBC traveled abroad, when trustees of the SBC Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) suddenly defunded the international seminary located at the time in Ruschlikon, Switzerland.

The CBF stepped to the plate by launching a campaign to raise financial support for the seminary and hired a number of former SBC missionaries who had resigned in protest of the SBC’s broken promise to phase out funding for Ruschlikon over 15 years.

One of those missionaries, Jim Smith, named interim global missions coordinator when Rob Nash resigned earlier this year, said in a Fellowship blog that he first visited the Ruschlikon campus in 1976 while serving a two-year missionary journeyman assignment with the Southern Baptist Convention.

When financial problems and political changes that occurred following the end of the Cold War prompted the IBTS to relocate to Eastern Europe, the CBF mobilized more than 1,000 U.S. volunteers to travel to Prague and work to prepare the new campus, which opened in 1998.

Recently the seminary’s board of trustees voted to recommend to the European Baptist Federation, which assumed responsibility for IBTS in 1989, that due to funding challenges and changes in the educational needs among European Baptists the seminary should relocate again. This time to the Netherlands, over the next two or three years.

The new campus would consist of a Baptist House, to be shared with offices of the European Baptist Federation, Dutch Baptist Union and Dutch Baptist University. A new focus would concentrate on Ph.D. studies for students receiving master’s degrees at a number of local Baptist seminaries that have emerged in recent years.

Smith, a former IBTS trustee, said the move to Prague “has been a good one for IBTS and Baptists around the world,” but now leaders are responding to “new realities” and future needs of more than 50 unions and conventions that make up the EBP.

Smith said moving to Amsterdam “will provide a quantum leap in collaborative studies” for IBTS.

“I predict that once again Fellowship Baptists will support our valued education partner in Europe,” Smith said. “We, as Fellowship Baptists, offer our prayers and encouragement as IBTS enters a new chapter in its ministry.”

The relocation proposal is scheduled for consideration by the European Baptist Federation Council, comprised of delegates of EBF member unions, when the group meets Sept. 26-29 in Germany.