Honoring the Legacy of General Secretary Emeritus Denton Lotz

Honoring the Legacy of General Secretary Emeritus Denton Lotz


(FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – April 23, 2019) Today Rev. Dr. Denton Lotz, General Secretary Emeritus of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and faithful servant of the LORD, died at his home in Forestdale, Massachusetts, USA, at the age of 80. The Baptist World Alliance calls upon all Baptists to remember and honor his legacy and to pray for his family.

Born in 1939 in Flushing, New York, USA, Lotz was the youngest of four sons raised by Rev. and Mrs. John Lotz. He often credited his heritage for influencing his ministry, stating that he inherited “a German brain from his father and an Italian heart from his mother.”

After graduating from Northpoint High School in 1956, Lotz attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts. He then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, serving from 1961-1963. During a portion of his service, he was stationed internationally in Okinawa, Japan, ultimately achieving the rank of second lieutenant.

After completing his military service, he attended Harvard Divinity School where he served as President of the Student Government from 1965-1966. He earned his sacred theology degree in 1966 as well as being ordained that same year at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After completing his studies at Harvard, Lotz began his doctoral studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany, earning a Doctor of Theology in 1970.

1970 proved to be a wonderful year as it was also the year he married the love of his life – Janice Robinson from Ellisville, Mississippi. For the next ten years, they would serve as missionaries with the International Ministries Division of American Baptist Churches. During their missionary tenure, Lotz traveled extensively – often to countries under communist control – with a focus on lecturing, preaching, and serving as a diplomatic representative to government officials on questions of religious freedom and Baptist life.

During this time, Lotz also served as a professor of missions and homiletics at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, where he founded the Summer Institute of Theological Education (SITE) – a short-term, intensive theological program for Eastern European pastors and leaders.

While ministering in Europe, he often traveled alongside Gerhard Claas, who was serving at the time as General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. When Claas was selected to be the next BWA General Secretary, he invited Lotz to be his deputy. Lotz joined the BWA staff in 1980 in the role of associate secretary, with responsibilities including oversight of the Division of Evangelism and Education as well as Relief and Development. He would later be appointed as Director of the BWA Youth Department as well.

After Claas suddenly passed away in a tragic automobile accident in 1988, Lotz was designated as Interim General Secretary. Shortly thereafter, the BWA Executive Committee voted to permanently appoint him, which was affirmed by the BWA General Council later that year.

During nearly two decades of service as General Secretary, Rev. Lotz served alongside five BWA presidents and 71 Vice Presidents as well as numerous commission chairs and staff members. He led preparations for four Baptist World Congresses with a cumulative attendance of 42,000 people from more than 100 countries. He oversaw 20 General Council meetings as well as 16 Annual Gatherings.

“He leaves a massive footprint in the history of the BWA,” said Rev. Dr. David Coffey, former Baptist World Alliance President (2005-2010). “He was a missionary theologian, an inspiring preacher and evangelist, a champion for religious liberty, a Baptist ambassador, a Christian statesman, and a brother unrivaled in his prodigious remembering of the names of hundreds of people and places.”

Among his many contributions to the BWA, Lotz helped launch the Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) in 1991, which was attended by Baptist educators from 52 countries. He was also instrumental in relocating the Baptist World Alliance office to its current facility in Falls Church, Virginia, USA, in 2001. In July 2005 at the BWA Centennial Congress in Birmingham, England, Lotz unveiled the Living Water initiative, a strategic plan designed to enlist and equip local Baptists for evangelism and servant leadership. Since its inception, Living Water events have taken place around the world from Cuba to Bangladesh with more than 4,500 registered delegates in attendance who have engaged in prayer, focused Bible study, evangelism, and leadership training.

In addition to his service as BWA General Secretary, Rev. Lotz was twice elected President of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), an organization chartered in 1893 to work with government and educational institutions to disseminate principles of religious liberty and human rights throughout the world. The IRLA tradition of rotating presidents every two years was broken with Lotz, who was re-elected an unprecedented four times.

Upon his re-election in 2002, then IRLA Secretary General John Graz said, “We are honored to have someone like Denton whose passion for religious freedom is demonstrated in his daily commitment to defend human rights for people everywhere.” Upon his retirement from the BWA, Graz wrote, “Thank you for your convictions, for your intelligent way of expressing your faith, and the values in which you believe without destroying bridges between yourself and others.”

His commitment to racial reconciliation was the catalyst for the formation of the BWA Special Commission on Baptists Against Racism and Ethnic Conflict, which resulted in the Harare Declaration in 1993 and the Decade for Racial Justice. Because of his tireless advocacy for human rights and religious freedom, the BWA named its annual human rights award in his honor, with ten individuals receiving the Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award since 2006.

His tireless effort and commitment were matched only by his love for people and unwavering optimism even in the face of great challenge.

“In whatever country he arrived, he was welcomed as someone who brought hope to Baptists wherever they were and in whatever situation they found themselves,” said Wendy Ryan, former BWA Communications Director. “There was never a time I traveled with him as part of a BWA team that I did not see him received with great joy.”

His ministry took him around the world from African villages to the Oval Office. His friendships included globally-recognized faith leaders like Rev. Billy Graham as well as leaders of state such as former United States President Jimmy Carter. Upon his retirement from the BWA in 2007, Graham wrote, “Your strong leadership and personal faith has been an inspiration and blessing to me.” Carter shared the following, “As I think of all the BWA has accomplished for Baptists around the world in the past twenty years, I know that your gifted leadership has helped to make it all possible. You have served a great organization with conviction and honor.”

After his “retirement,” Lotz continued to travel and preach in addition to serving as Senior Pastor of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He also remained active in the life and ministry of the BWA, including providing encouragement to the organization’s newest leader.

“Denton Lotz was one of the most significant Baptist leaders of the second half of the twentieth century. His profound leadership touched countless lives around the world as he championed evangelism, religious freedom, and the ministry of the global Baptist family,” said Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown, BWA General Secretary. “From my first individual meeting with Denton in 2007 until the present, he offered regular and meaningful encouragement and insight. To Janice and all of the Lotz family, I stand with you as does all of the Baptist World Alliance in mourning and in recognition of a life of incredible service. Thank you for sharing Denton with us. While today I feel a keen sense of loss in Denton’s passing, I believe his leadership and legacy will continue to shape and mold the Baptist World Alliance for years to come.”

Rev. Lotz is survived by his loving wife, Janice, their three children, and many grandchildren. A memorial service has been scheduled for Friday, April 26, at 12 p.m. at Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, with a reception following. A live-streamed memorial service celebrating his life and legacy will also be hosted by the Baptist World Alliance at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Virginia, USA. Details will be forthcoming.

Those wishing to share a tribute are invited to do so by visiting: http://bit.ly/honoringdenton

The Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 240 conventions and unions in 125 countries and territories comprising 47 million baptized believers in 169,000 churches. For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.

Media Contact:
J. Merritt Johnston
Director of Communications & Media
Phone: +1 (214) 577-9187
Email: merritt[@]bwanet.org


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A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Former BWA President Knud Wümpelmann

A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Former BWA President Knud Wümpelmann



Knud Wümpelmann, former president of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) passed away Tuesday, June 2, at the age of 97. The Baptist World Alliance calls upon Baptists worldwide to join in prayer for his family and to honor his legacy of faithful ministry.

After answering God’s call to ministry, Knud studied at the Danish Baptist Theological Seminary at Tølløse, Denmark, and went on to have pastorates in Jutland and in Copenhagen before being called as the first General Secretary of the Danish Baptist Union in 1964. After sixteen years in this role, he became General Secretary for the European Baptist Federation (EBF) and served in that capacity from 1980-1989.

His leadership demonstrated deep commitment to the unity of Baptists across the EBF, especially to Baptists of Eastern Europe then under Communist rule. He made around twenty visits to the then Soviet Union, and it was during his leadership that a project of the EBF Books and Translations Committee and Eurolit came to fruition – to place a set of the William Barclay New Testament Commentaries, translated into Russian, into the hands of every Russian-speaking pastor to support their preaching ministries.

“We give thanks for this faithful servant of God, Knud Wümpelmann, and the fine example he gave to Danish, European and World Baptists of Christian statesmanship based on his own deep commitment to follow Jesus Christ throughout his long life,” said Tony Peck, EBF General Secretary. “The hallmarks of Knud’s ministry were apparent; a caring pastoral approach to leadership; a gifted organizer, a reconciler and peacemaker, all with an ecumenical commitment to work together with Christians of other traditions.”

After retiring as EBF General Secretary, Wümpelmann was elected to serve as the President of the Baptist World Alliance, a position he held from 1990-1995. In this role, he took a special interest in the BWA’s commitment to human rights and religious freedom, which included representing the BWA as an international observer at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 and helping serve Baptists in Eastern Europe during a season of significant change.

“For many years, Knud was an advocate for a united Baptist community in a politically divided Europe. He didn’t just pray ‘Your Kingdom come’, he was an accomplished advocate for the coming of God’s Kingdom in Eastern Europe,” said David Coffey, BWA President (2005-2010). “He saw the dawn of a new era before the walls came down. He had made numerous visits behind the Iron Curtain, so when the new Europe came into being at the beginning of the 1990s, as a profoundly relational pastor, he was the perfect BWA President to welcome the numerous new members from the Eastern Bloc.”

Through his ministry presiding over the 17th Baptist World Congress, Wümpelmann developed a special relationship with Argentinian Baptists.

“During his presidency, we had the honor and privilege to organize and receive in Buenos Aires the 17th World Congress that brought together more than 10,000 delegates from all over the world,” said Raúl Scialabba, former BWA Vice President. “Knud knew how to give the gospel message whatever his audience, and at the same time serve millions of Baptists with the presence of a diplomat. Twenty-five years after that unforgettable Congress for many Argentinians, we remember him and thank God for his life and for his legacy.”

Wümpelmann’s legacy of impact is indeed far-reaching, including inspiring the men who would follow in his footsteps as BWA Presidents.

“I remember Denton Lotz, the former General Secretary of the BWA, referring to President Wümpelmann as a world pastor. All who attended the Buenos Aires Congress could give testimony to that. I marveled at hearing stories of his courageous support of the Baptist churches in the former Soviet Union, building bridges and connections that last to this day,” said John Upton, former BWA President (2010-2015). “It was leaders like Knud Wümpelmann that modeled for so many of us the essential values of leadership and global pastoral sensitivity. He had an innate intercultural intelligence that made the BWA global in character.”

Despite his long and far-reaching ministry, he was always quick to deflect personal attention in order to place the focus solely on God. When asked what he wanted his presidency to be remembered for, Wümpelmann said: “My ‘presidency’ is not so important! What counts is God’s mercy to His people and of that we have received a great deal: the growth of our membership…, the unity in diversity strong enough to keep us together, the help in times of great distress…, and the gift of hope for a great future.” His final message to the global Baptist family included within Baptist World Magazine in April 1995 remains as relevant today as when it was first written: “Love one another, because love won another!”

Wümpelmann is survived by his loving wife of 73 years, Karen; their two sons Jørgen and Mogens; his daughter-in-law, as well as grandchildren and extended family. A memorial service will take place at the local Baptist church in Tølløse where Knud and Karen met, were married, and have served as members since their retirement.

“I am so grateful for the long line of leaders within the BWA who have led well,” said Elijah Brown, BWA General Secretary. “May the Lord be with his family, and may the Lord help us live into Knud’s legacy of grace, concern for the poor and dispossessed, and encouragement to all.”

Those wishing to share a tribute are invited to do so by visiting bit.ly/honoringknud.

Special thanks to contributors Tony Peck (EBF General Secretary) and Lone Møller-Hansen (Former General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Denmark and current BWA General Council Member) as well as Bengt Hylleberg for his excellent biographical article (Journal of European Baptist Studies, Vol. 2, No 3, 2002).


Knud Wümpelmann, who served as president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1990-1995, died Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at the age of 97.