SAVANNAH, Ga. (BP)–Georgia Baptists have affirmed the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message Statement by an approximate 2 to 1 majority. Both those favoring the statement and those opposed to it had organized to get out a large vote at the convention. At the time of the vote 3,447 messengers were registered at the Savannah Civic Center. In comparison, last year’s registration in Macon totaled 2,865.
Mike Minnix, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lilburn, spoke in favor of the resolution, noting that it in no way infringed upon religious liberty or the autonomy of the local church. “Some have said that it is a creed, but the document itself denies this.”
Gene Wilder, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, expressed concern that the 2000 Statement had left out the phrase included in the 1963 version about Jesus Christ being the criterion by which Scripture was to be interpreted. “If Jesus Christ is not the criterion for biblical interpretation, then who is? Some pastor? Some seminary professor? Some self-proclaimed biblical expert?”
Frank Page, pastor of Warren Church in Augusta, refuted the notion that the new 2000 Statement elevated the Bible over Jesus, saying that the new Statement affirmed the truth that all scripture is testimony to Jesus Christ.
Ches Smith, a former president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, spoke against the resolution, saying the result of the 2000 Statement passed in Orlando last summer had brought “fragmentation among the people of God.” He stated that the BF&M Statement was causing “dissention and squabbling among Baptists,” citing the Texas Baptist Convention as an example.
Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Church in Martinez, declared that the statement saying Jesus Christ was the criterion for interpreting scripture left a loophole “as big as a barn gate” that has been used by moderates “to interpret scripture just about any way they want to. It’s a very dangerous thing we’ve been doing for a long time.”
The resolution of support as passed by the Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Committee in September noted that the Statement “was not an official creed, and while possessing only such authority as voluntary acceptance imposes, constitutes a general consensus of what Southern Baptists believe.” In adopting the resolution, the Georgia Baptist Convention expressed “its approval and appreciation of this statement, in line with its announced purpose, and with the realization of what it is intended to be. The Convention (now) recommends the circulation of it among the churches of the denomination for information and interpretation; and also the publication and use of it in all proper and appropriate ways, to strengthen the doctrinal understanding and position of Baptists affiliating with the Georgia Baptist Convention.”
After the vote by lifting of hands, there was a call for a ballot vote, but the parliamentarian said the outcome of the vote was obvious. When the president of the Convention, William Ricketts asked for a confirmation of his decision from Convention messengers, there was an overwhelming response not to call for a ballot vote.
The 2000 BF&M Statement includes an article that declares “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The secular press had picked up on that as being the most controversial aspect of the debate over the BF&M, but that issue never came up in the discussion on the floor of the convention.