“We (Southern Baptists) are not a creedal people and we are not a denomination.” As a teenager growing up at First Baptist Church of Lake Placid, Florida, I was often reminded of this Baptist history by Dr. Fitzgerald, one of our church’s deacons who also happened to be a History Professor at the local community college. After graduating from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997 and serving in full-time SBC pastoral ministry for the past fourteen years, I’m beginning to understand what Bro. Bob told me all those years ago.
I think I may be a member of a slowly dying species within our Convention — a theological and political conservative who still believes that Southern Baptists are neither creedal nor a denomination. My view, while not yet extinct, may soon go the way of the dinosaurs (with due apologies to Young Earthers), especially if some leaders within the Convention prevail in redefining the SBC in their own image.
This accelerating redefinition of what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist can be illustrated via a current comment stream over at SBC Voices. There are some (mostly younger) who are advocating that Southern Baptist pastors and/or churches be REQUIRED to sign the Baptist Faith and Message. Hear the voices of the new generation of Southern Baptists:
- Totally agree about the BFM. I even think if autonomous churches weren’t in place as freely as they are that pastors should have to agree. I got blasted for saying that on here, and you may disagree as well..
- I personally would love to see pastors and churches be required to sign it and abide by it. Other than moderates and liberals (i.e. people whose opinions don’t matter) who would object to what is found in there? Complimentarian (sic), correct view of human sexuality, took out the liberal loophole about how to interpret the bible that let libs/moderates claim “Well Paul couldn’t have meant that because Christ is too loving to have been that exclusive”. Not perfect by any means, but solidly biblical.
- I, like ___, would be happy to sign it, but right now I am pleased with only having paid SBC employees having to sign it. I am glad paid SBC employees do have to sign it and I am not opposed to making all SBC pastors sign it, but I am happy with how it is done currently . . . As I said, I’m happy with how it currently is. I’m not anti making pastors sign it, but I think it is unnecessary.
I do not know how widespread these beliefs are within the Convention, especially among younger pastors and seminary students, but the above comments give you a glimpse into one possible future of Southern Baptist life. While I would defend the right of anyone to hold these beliefs, I must emphatically disagree with the ideas and principles expressed by these men.
I attended the Orlando SBC in 2000 and voted to approved the Baptist Faith and Message report. I believe that confessions of faith, such as the BF&M and other historical Baptist confessions, have played important roles in identifying and affirming “certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified.” (BF&M Preamble) That is why the Southern Baptist church that I pastor in New Mexico can affirm the Baptist Faith and Message as a “brief statement of the doctrines and principles that we believe the Scriptures teach.” However, our church’s final authority in matters of faith and practice is not the BF&M. It is the Word of God!
What I will not affirm in any form or fashion is a mandatory requirement that Southern Baptist pastors or churches sign the Baptist Faith and Message to be considered in friendly cooperation with the SBC. I am not alone in objecting to a mandate for pastors or local autonomous churches to sign the BF&M (this does not mean that the churches of the Convention cannot direct that trustees, missionaries, or employees of the various entities and agencies to sign the BF&M). In fact, I think I have controlling authority on my side. What is that authority you might ask? None other than the Baptist Faith and Message itself!
The preamble to the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee Report, which was overwhelmingly adopted by the messengers to the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, reminded Southern Baptists of this historic principle:
Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God. (BF&M Preamble)
Now, some might argue that “religious authority” means a group other than the SBC and therefore, the churches of the SBC, meeting in annual session, could impose a confession of faith (in this case, the BF&M) upon churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. For those who might be inclined to interpret the above language as allowing this, then you fail to understand that the Southern Baptist Convention is a “body of churches” and not a denomination.
We are 45,000+ autonomous churches that voluntarily cooperate together for missions and ministry in North America and throughout the world. If we were to ever adopt the model that has been advocated by some, namely that pastors and local churches MUST sign the Baptist Faith and Message to be in the fold, then we cease being Southern Baptist (or even just plain Baptist) and become something that is foreign to our very nature — a creedal people and a denomination. If that’s how Southern Baptists will be redefined in the new era, then count me as ready to be with the dinosaurs! But until then, Bro. Bob, I’ll remember what you told me.