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FIRST-PERSON: Creeds, confessions, beliefs & integrity

DALLAS (BP)–For the past several months I have refrained from entering the distressing dialogue in Baptist circles about “creeds.” I am no etymologist, but those who are tell me that “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo” which means, “I believe.” To say we have no creed is to say we have no beliefs.

In 1827 Alexander Campbell burst on the scene declaring he had no creed but the Bible. “Where the Bible is silent, I am silent,” Campbell said, “and where the Bible speaks, I speak.” Interestingly, he was a disgruntled Baptist and started what became known as the Church of Christ. His followers today can say they could sign every page of the Bible. They profess to believe every word. However, they teach baptismal regeneration and apostasy (falling from grace), two doctrines Baptists historically have rejected. I do not know of an Assemblies of God, Church of Christ or United Pentecostal pastor who doubts the miracles, the historicity of the narratives and the attributed authorships. It is not enough to say we believe every word of the Bible to be true to be a Baptist.

Baptists have from the 1600s expressed themselves through written statements of faith. Southern Baptists considered the total truthfulness and complete perfection of the Scriptures as a given when the convention was founded in 1845. It was not until the Modernist controversy after the turn of the 20th century that it became necessary to state what we believed as Christians and Southern Baptists, hence the Baptist Faith and Message Statement 1925.

Classical liberalism and neo-orthodoxy crept into our denomination after World War II. Once again “Mom and Pop” Southern Baptists wanted reassurance that all was well in Baptist Zion. The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message Statement was an attempt to clarify the liberal-conservative debate. Instead, the document produced more ambiguity. The struggle known as the Conservative Resurgence became necessary to reclaim Southern Baptist institutions. Passivity would have eventually produced the decline and death evidenced in other once-mighty denominations. Those mainline denominations have become sideline denominations. The Baptist Faith and Message Statement 2000 is the final expression of the Conservative Resurgence. The statement affirms a high view of Scripture that leaves no wiggle room for neo-orthodoxy.

Now, to the “signing of documents.” People who receive monetary benefits from a church or denominational ministry ought to have enough integrity to say what they believe. When institutions, professors and even missionaries have reservations about the statement of faith of their funding source then they ought to say so.

Charles Spurgeon addressed this subject. He was very clear when he said, “Sirs, when I accepted the office of minister of this congregation, I looked to see what were your articles of faith; if I had not believed them I should not have accepted your call, and when I change my opinions, rest assured that as an honest man I shall resign the office, for how could I profess one thing in your declaration of faith, and quite another thing in my own preaching? Would I accept your pay, and then stand up every Sabbath-day and talk against the doctrines of your standards?” Every Southern Baptist church I know has some type of doctrinal expectation for the pastor. Are we to accept anything less for denominational employees?

I respect people who have the courage to say what they believe (or in some cases what they don’t believe). When people hide behind nuances of words or a perverted view of the priesthood of believers, then it becomes necessary to have an instrument of accountability.

Southern Baptist Convention ministries have adopted the BF&M 2000 as a statement of faith. Some of the employees may find it personally unconscionable. Those employees should be treated with compassion and Christian courtesy. They should be allowed time to make the transition to a place of service where they can carry on their ministries according to their conscience.

Southern Baptists expect those who receive the Lord’s money through Southern Baptist giving channels to represent what Southern Baptist believe. We should encourage and support our Southern Baptist leadership who are making the difficult decisions to make this happen.
Jim Richards is executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Jim Richards