Sign or Else: Creeds, Confessions, & Church

“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:

  1. 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..
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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8 Responses to Sign or Else: Creeds, Confessions, & Church

  1. Bennett Willis says:

    The church I attend is relatively non-political. We contribute fairly generously to our local (county) Baptist Association because we support what they do and NOT because we support their opinions on SBC politics. We do the same for the state and national conventions. As far as I can tell, we get absolutely nothing “in return” from either the SBC or our local association other than the work they do that we feel should be done.

    I would really enjoy what would happen if either organization decided that our church should change our behavior in some particular manner. I don’t think it would take us long to become a “completely independent” Baptist Church. Then they could decide if they wanted our money or not. We have other things (good ones) that we could be using it for if they don’t.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Our church has a good relationship with both the local association and the state convention. I serve as the Moderator for our Association and as a member of the Executive Board for the BCNM. Personally, and as a church, we have great relationships with our DOM and state Executive Director. If the SBC ever decided to “mandate” that local autonomous churches and/or pastors sign the Baptist Faith and Message, then we cease being a Convention of cooperating churches and become a denomination. That fundamentally alters our “DNA” as Baptists.

      Neither I nor our church — solidly conservative — would respond well to mandates and requirements coming from any level of Baptist life (Association, State or National). Ideas like mandating the signing of the BF&M might seem good in theory to some (not to me), but in real life, this would be disatrous for the SBC. The BGCT and the BGAV both would not respond well as state conventions. I’m not sure how our state and others out west would respond. And, you would have thousands of otherwise conservative SBC churches and pastors that would not respond well. God bless,


  2. Tom Parker says:


    I have been a SB since 1974 and find it shocking that anyone who even has a clue of the History of SB would wish to require Pastors and churches to sign off to the 2000 BF&M.

    I really like to think that the proposers of this unbaptistic idea are just ignorant of their baptist history and have not thought through its ramifications.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Fairly new to blogging, but not new to SB life. I was attending a SB church nine months before being born. Grew up in what I would consider a typical conservative (not fundamentalist) Southern Baptist church in the late 1970s and early 80s. I consider myself conservative, but I am not mad about it. With my legal background, I am not afraid to dialogue and be challenged. We may not agree on everything within SBC life or the broader evangelical world, but that’s okay.

      I hope to explore in more depth with one of the guys who likes the idea of requiring pastors and churches to sign the BF&M and has commented at SBC Voices. I’m not opposed to someone advocating for such a concept and trying to persuade me to their side, but as I wrote, I would most likely oppose such a mandate on the autonomous churches or even on the autonomous state conventions. What I see happening is a strong push by certain elite leaders toward a denominational model as opposed to a convention model. I believe such a move is bad theologically, historically, and politically.

      Thanks again for reading and look foward to continuing the dialogue. God bless,


  3. Tom Parker says:


    These guys have elevated the 2000 BF&M above the Bible. They wish this document to either be signed off on or you can not be a part of the SBC.

    This desire is extremly unbaptistic yet I believe these guys are serious.

    I do not see brighter days ahead for the SBC and that is a shame.

    • Howell Scott says:


      I think you are entirely correct. I am not against confessions of faith. I think they can be a good tool if used correctly. But, even in the BF&M Preamble, the Bible is still said to be the final authority for our faith and practice. When I have a theological or doctrinal question, especially when I am preparing a sermon, I can’t tell you the last time I whipped out the BF&M as source authority. What we are witnessing is a strong movement away from the autonomy of the local church (historic Baptist) to command and control from the top. Unless things are reversed or slowed down in Phoenix next year, I see this accelerating. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a blessed day,


  4. Bennett Willis says:

    You may remember that a few years ago the Missouri Baptist Convention split. The SBC sought to aid the conservative organization by refusing to accept any money from the “old” group—it was a “hostile takeover.” The expectation was that since the reason for a State Convention is to support Baptist work at the state level (directly) and to pass through money to the “missionaries” that this would provide reasons for churches to avoid the “old” group. I think that the “old” group still “launders” their money by passing it through the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The old group adopted the name Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

    I personally have felt that refusal to accept money from the BGCT was the long term SBC plan for dealing with that “unsubmissive” group. As the “conservative” Texas convention siphons money and the BGCT is “stuck” with overhead (and as money is designated around the state convention) the controllable money from the BGCT budget will continue to drop. When it reaches some level that the SBC can do without, there will suddenly be some reason that the SBC won’t accept BGCT contributions that come through the BGCT budget process. I think that the interest in this may have decreased as years have passed, but I’m not convinced that it won’t happen one day.

    Since there is certainly no way that the BGCT would support any “creed issue” promoted by the SBC, that might be the excuse. Just because I am paranoid does not mean that no one is after me. 🙂

    • Howell Scott says:


      Having served a SB church affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia (the old-line convention), I can understand those concerns. The BGAV had three giving tracks plus a fourth track that churches could customize. Our church was in Track 1, which was the SBC supportive track. However, even in Virginia, with the SBCV (I think that is their name), there were still many (maybe most) churches in the BGAV in Tracks 2 and 3 who continue to give faithfully to SBC missions offerings, especially Lottie Moon.

      Dr. John Upton, the Executive Director of the BGAV, often liked to point out that churches affiliated with the BGAV gave millions of dollars each year to CP and the missions offerings. I think that there are some within the leadership of the SBC, including some who served on the GCRTF, that do not understand that state conventions, local associations, and local churches are autonomous. To change that, you not only have to change the constitution and bylaws of the Convention, but just about every constitution of the state conventions and local churches. This would not only be contrary to Baptist eccesiology, but would be unwise in the extreme politically. Thanks for stopping by. God bless,


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