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Growing number of state conventions affirm BF&M

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Following the 2001 round of annual meetings, nearly 60 percent of the state/regional conventions and fellowships affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention now have affirmed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in either 2000 or 2001.

Discussion of the doctrinal statement still has not surfaced in almost a third of the state conventions. In four of the 41 state conventions and fellowships, efforts to affirm the BF&M failed — although a majority of the messengers in two of those, Michigan and Hawaii, approved of the action but bylaws required a two-thirds or three-fourths margin of support.

This fall six more state/regional conventions — Alaska, Arkansas, Northwest, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah-Idaho — joined 11 that acted last year to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message as passed by messengers to the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention. The Dakota Southern Baptist Fellowship also affirmed the 2000 BF&M in adopting new constitution and bylaw documents.

In the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey, the executive board passed a resolution in May of this year indicating they would “utilize the most current BF&M” and recommended all board-elected staff be asked to affirm it or clarify any objection.

Kentucky and Illinois Baptists, in their 2001 meetings, recognized the value of the revised BF&M along with other faith statements, joining similar actions by the Alabama and Tennessee conventions in 2000.

Those affirming the BF&M in the fall of 2000 were California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

The Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention resolution on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message noted that Utah-Idaho Baptists “are in doctrinal unity and free and joyful compliance with all of the revised [SBC statement of beliefs], including in particular” the section on the family. The resolution stated that Utah-Idaho Southern Baptists “declare our renewed commitment” to the BF&M “when and wherever there is opportunity.”

After Alaska Baptists endorsed the doctrinal statement, they went on to thank the committee which “worked diligently, carefully and prayerfully” to draft the language.

In Arkansas, where a similar effort failed amid parliamentary confusion last year, messengers approved the first reading of a motion to revise convention articles to make BF&M the doctrinal guideline for Arkansas Baptists. Speaking to his motion, Bryan Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, Van Buren, said the statement “is not a creed intended to coerce or dictate one’s own personal theology nor is it a veiled attempt to force this state convention into lock-step with the SBC as some have charged,” according to an Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine report. “The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message affirms the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. … The new language of the 2000 BF&M makes it very clear that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who has been clearly revealed in the inerrant Word of God. It does not make Southern Baptists worshipers of the Bible.”

Former Ouachita Baptist University President Dan Grant had urged messengers to vote against the motion, stating, “I’m very concerned about pressure from outside our state convention to fall in line with those at the top of the hierarchy.”

Bill Elliff, pastor of The Summit Church of Little Rock, said most of the discussion against the 2000 statement focuses on the removal of the “criterion” statement about Jesus Christ.

“There is another statement in its place that says, ‘All Scripture is a testimony of Christ who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.’ That’s a very clear statement that every one of us in this room would agree with,” Elliff said. “The problem with the other statement … is that some around the world have taken that statement to use to go down the path of liberalism to say we believe that Jesus Christ and words that He said are the only really inspired words and we can throw away some of the rest of the Bible. … We just want clarity about this issue. Now we have a document that is clear. It clearly states that we believe the Bible.”

Messengers to the Northwest Baptist Convention heard the recommendation of a constitution committee and voted this year to adopt the BF&M as their statement of faith. Following instructions from last year’s convention, the committee provided every church with a copy of the revised BF&M, offered a side-by-side comparison of the 1963 and 2000 statements in the Northwest Baptist Witness and announced their recommendation in advance of the meeting.

Reasons for offering the recommendation included:

— clarification of NWBC’s cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention,

— simplification of the partnership with Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s northwest campus where professors are expected to sign the BF&M,

— “it gives us a clear biblical statement on the cultural/political issues we face in the northwest,” and

— “it clarifies which statement of faith the convention staff should use” when counseling new churches and answering questions about affiliation.

Answering possible objections, the committee recommendation stated, “Some fear the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 will be used as a creed. It will not be used this way in the northwest,” adding that assurance of this is underscored in the BF&M 2000 preamble. “As in the past, the Baptist Faith and Message will be used as a guide representing a general consensus of our beliefs. Northwest Baptists believe the Bible and accept it as our only written authority.”

Northwest Baptist Witness Editor Ed Ernsting said, “The dialog and debate on the floor was conducted in an open, honest, charitable, Christian format with no division, animosity or anger expressed from any party.”

The resolution on support of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Faith and Message was the only resolution discussed by messengers in South Carolina. A motion by Earl Crumpler of Ashley River Baptist Church, Charleston, to send the resolution to the 2002 resolutions committee for additional study was defeated and the resolution was then adopted on a show of ballots.

Messengers to the Ohio Baptist Convention heard a motion referred from last year’s meeting to change the constitution to incorporate the Baptist Faith and Message as its doctrinal statement. An effort to table the motion failed and messengers approved the measure.

Kentucky Baptists voted this year to affirm the Bible as the basis for faith and practice, acknowledging various confessions of faith used by Baptists to better explain their understanding, including the 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith, 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and the Baptist Faith and Message statements of 1925, 1963, 1998 and 2000.

Illinois Baptists followed Kentucky’s lead in their reference to BF&M. A constitution and bylaws committee tasked last year with drafting a recommendation reported last March their recommendation that the 2000 BF&M be added to the constitution, replacing the 1963 version. However, a motion by Jim Donahue, pastor of Meadow Heights Baptist Church of Collinsville, found favor with messengers instead.

Faulkner told messengers that the six statements of faith contained a basic body of doctrine that every Baptist could embrace. “I can sign any one or all six of these doctrinal statements,” according to a report of the Illinois Baptist. The motion read by Donahue affirmed the statement of faith advanced in Kentucky which includes the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742), the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) and the Baptist Faith and Message of 1925 and its various revisions of 1963, 1998 and 2000.

“This affirms that no single statement can be established for every individual or individual church. It also affirms that the Bible is our basis of all our faith and practice and that Baptists have used various confessions of faith to better explain their understanding of the Bible,” Faulkner said. “Illinois Baptists are encouraged to use confessions of faith as a resource to inform and edify Illinois Baptists concerning the basic tenets of our faith and thus equip us as we seek to fulfill our historic commitment to evangelism, discipleship, missions, education, godly living and mutual cooperation in bearing a Baptist witness to the world.”

Similar statements were passed last year in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. Alabama Baptists overwhelmingly voted last year to “affirm Southern Baptists for their doctrinal heritage and confessions of faith, then and now,” referring to the BF&M and its 1998, 1963 and 1925 predecessors. In Tennessee, messengers during the 2000 meeting acknowledged the BF&M “as a source of information in assisting believers to express their faith” and affirmed the Bible as the “final authority for faith and practice.” And in Mississippi last year, the resolutions committee rejected proposed endorsements of a particular version of the BF&M, noting that the MBC had never officially adopted any version of the confessional statement. Instead, messengers acknowledged the Bible as “our final authority for faith and practice.”

Instead of endorsing the BF&M, Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists noted in a resolution last year that their churches “have been recognized as cooperating” on the basis of previous BF&M statements as well as comparable statements of faith, and resolved to “continue to recognize the authority of the local churches to develop or adopt their own statements of faith.” The state convention in New England last year declined to address the BF&M in a resolution, noting that their constitution and bylaws already provided for the use of the most current doctrinal statement of Southern Baptists.

A few states barely rejected efforts to make the BF&M a part of their constitution, including Hawaii and Michigan. The constitutional issue failed in Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention by eight votes to achieve the three-fourths majority required for passage. In Michigan, the constitutional amendment failed by two votes to gain the required two-thirds support upon second reading.

For the second year, messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas overwhelmingly rejected motions to affirm the revised BF&M, preferring the 1963 version. Anthony Sisemore of First Baptist Church in Floydada, Texas, called the article on the Scriptures “complete heresy” when voicing his opposition to the motion

Messengers in Maryland/Delaware last year could not get a necessary two-thirds majority required to consider the issue, and a proposal to last year’s District of Columbia Baptist Convention did not meet the 45-day advance deadline.

Last year, New Mexico Baptists chose to define a cooperating church on the basis of adherence to Scripture and support of the Cooperative Program, without direct reference to the BF&M. And in the remaining conventions or fellowships of the Minnesota-Wisconsin, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Wyoming and Baptist General Association of Virginia, no action has been taken.

    About the Author

  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter