LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Confessions of faith are a necessary and historical element of Southern Baptist life, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said at the seminary’s spring board of trustees meeting April 16.
Mohler spoke about doctrinal confessions while referencing the recent controversy surrounding IMB and NAMB missionaries who have been asked to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. IMB and NAMB officials say they are protecting the doctrinal reputation of their respective institutions; opponents call the practice creedal and intolerant.
Mohler, though, said that such Baptist forefathers as James P. Boyce and E.Y. Mullins never questioned the usefulness of doctrinal confessions.
“Those who say that Baptists have always had an aversion to confessionalism … must deal with the reality of the record that our forefathers and foremothers have left us,” Mohler said.
Mohler said the question should not be, “Why confessionalism?” but instead, “How can one remain Baptist without a confession of faith?”
He cited Mullins, who served as Southern Seminary’s fourth president from 1899-1928 and as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1921-24. He was also the chairman of the committee that wrote the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message.
Mohler quoted Mullins as writing, “Baptists have always insisted upon their own right to declare their beliefs in a definite formal way and to protect themselves by refusing to support men in important places as teachers and preachers who do not agree with them. This right of self-protection is as sacred as any individual right.”
Mohler noted that the founders of Southern Seminary — such as James P. Boyce and Basil Manly Jr. — supported confessions by signing the “Abstract of Principles,” the seminary’s confession of faith, in 1859. To this day tenured faculty members are required to sign the same document, while other faculty members must agree to teach “in accordance with, and not contrary to” the Abstract of Principles.
Boyce, Mohler said, viewed the signing of the Abstract of Principles as a privilege. Boyce believed the professor should “sign it not only to say, ‘I’m willing to teach this,’ but he must sign it saying that, ‘This is what I believe the Bible to reveal.'”
Mohler also quoted the minutes from an 1831 meeting of the Long Run Baptist Association, the Baptist association for the Louisville area.
“We adopted the confession of faith as our constitution because it expresses generally our views of the truth of the inspired word, and esteem it most of all because it disclaims equality with the Bible and professes to derive all that is valuable from the Scriptures,” he quoted the minutes as reading. “… That these are and always have been the views of the Baptists on this subject is too well-known to require a moment’s attention to prove.”
Confessions, Mohler said, are an integral part of Baptist heritage.
“You can look at all six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, and at least as an officially stated policy from the beginning of each of those schools they have identified themselves as confessional institutions,” he said. “The idea that this kind of confessionalism is something new betrays either an abysmal ignorance or a willful misrepresentation of the Baptist heritage.”
Confessions, he said, must be used if doctrinal accountability is to exist. While critics respond that there should be “no creed but the Bible,” Mohler said that the diversity of biblical interpretation among Christians makes confessions necessary.
“Virtually anyone who claims to be a Christian will sign the Bible,” he said. “As a matter of fact, if signing the Bible is the only issue — and there is no common understanding of what the Bible teaches — then one might as well be a member of any denomination or of any church or teach in any institution.”
Theological schools, Mohler said, are divided into two camps: confessional and non-confessional institutions. While confessional institutions are in a small minority, he added, Southern Seminary will gladly remain among them.
“The Abstract of Principles to us is not an imposition,” he said. “It is a sacred stewardship. The Baptist Faith and Message, as revised by this convention … is not an imposition upon this institution or its faculty. It is a blessing, a gift, for the health of the institution.
“We need to encourage Baptists. We need to encourage Southern Baptists in particular to recover what true confessionalism is all about. It is not imposed. It is rather willingly affirmed by those who believe these things to be true. Those who do not believe them to be true should be clear that they do not believe such things to be true.”
Mohler outlined the process by which faculty are chosen at Southern. Trustees, he said, are careful to hire only professors who embrace the school’s confessions. By doing that, he added, no professor is forced to teach something with which they disagree.
Questions are asked to protect the integrity of both the school and the person being interviewed.
“We ask of them, ‘Is this something being imposed on you, because if so we would not want to embarrass you by bringing you on this faculty. … Is this something you would joyfully express as your own summary of what you believe the Bible to teach?'”
Trustees have the responsibility to hold the faculty accountable, making sure they teach and joyfully embrace what is included in the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message, Mohler said.
Paraphrasing the late W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Mohler reminded board members that theological institutions fall not by external assault but rather rot from within. It is, Mohler said, “an indistinguishable, unseen process that comes incrementally, by which unbelief creeps into the life of an institution.
“We must keep at this,” Mohler said, “until the Lord comes, knowing that our stewardship is not for a season, but for the entirety of our lives … [And] knowing that the very process about which Dr. Criswell warned is something that can happen to us just as easily as any other — unless we are careful.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CONFESSIONS OF FAITH.