NASHVILLE (BP) – The world’s largest autonomous deliberative body is in the process of change. And the way churches relate to the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, is at the forefront.
“It takes time for us to establish processes and to work through all the implications of those processes,” said Amy Whitfield.
Whitfield and Jonathan Howe, VP of communications for the SBC EC, co-hosts of the podcast “SBC This Week,” were guests on this week’s episode of “Baptist Press This Week,” BP’s video interview program.
Whitfield has served at several SBC entities including the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lifeway Christian Resources and the SBC EC.
Howe worked with the Woman’s Missionary Union and directly with Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer at Lifeway before joining the SBC EC in 2019.
A major change in SBC life in recent years is the way the Credentials Committee functions. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the Credentials Committee worked to determine who should or should not be seated as messengers as the Convention’s annual meetings.
That changed in 2019 when the committee became a standing committee and was given the responsibility of responding to reports of racism and sexual abuse.
Whitfield said the changes are substantial because they have the potential to “… impact hundreds, maybe even thousands of people’s lives and, you know, churches around the Convention.”
In the interview, Whitfield and Howe gave a brief timeline of the role of the Credentials Committee.
The group’s work has been in the spotlight as it has looked at churches that have been reported for actions that may put them at odds with the Convention — such as the potential mishandling of sexual abuse, racism and, in February, having women serving in senior pastor or primary preaching roles.
The question of what it means for a church to “closely identify” with The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) is important for the issues facing the Credentials Committee.
This came to the forefront during the committee’s presentation to messengers at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in which it responded to a report that Saddleback Church had a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.
A 2019 change to SBC Constitution precipitated these new conversations. That’s when Southern Baptists voted to amend their governing document to explicitly say that any church that mishandles racism or sexual abuse is not welcome in the Convention.
Speaking of that change, Howe said several of the 2000 BF&M revision committee members said the statement of faith was not something they were not going to “enforce on the churches”. He said it has historically been viewed as a guideline for entities to use in hiring.
“That was really the intent of it whenever it was done in 2000 and that that goes back all the way to the mid-1800s with the Abstract of Principles,” Howe said.
Whitfield added that while churches have never been asked to sign that they affirm the BF&M, “this is what we say when we come together as a Convention and we do our work under this tent…” when it comes to what we believe.
The discussion is important in light of the February 2023 action of the SBC EC to find several churches not in friendly cooperation based on having a female in the role of senior pastor or teaching pastor.
Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Ky., has said it will appeal the decision at the 2023 Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
Saddleback Church has not said if it will appeal.