LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The issue facing Southern Baptists is not merely the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message, but rather whether there will be any faith in the Baptist message in future generations, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Oct. 11.
Mohler touched on a wide range of topics during his sermon, including the newly revised Baptist Faith and Message and the much-discussed issues of soul competency, priesthood of believers and doctrinal accountability. His sermon was a part of the seminary’s Heritage Week, a series of special events celebrating nearly 150 years of ministerial training at Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary. Keynote speakers for the week were Mohler, Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt and Southern Baptist Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins.
“The great issue for the Southern Baptist Convention is not the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message,” Mohler said. “It is the question posed for the generations to come – Will there be any faith in the Baptist message? Let us follow the example of the Apostle Paul. If true gospel has content, it is irreducible, it is non-negotiable, it is glorious. It saves. It is the gospel that redeems.”
Mohler said the Apostle Paul should serve as a model for Baptists searching for answers concerning the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message, which was adopted by Southern Baptist Convention messengers this summer in Orlando, Fla.
In 1 Corinthians 15:15, Mohler said “we find theological non-negotiables, absolute essentials, unconditional assertions.”
Mohler quoted one former Southern Baptist leader as saying, “We believe too much and require those who walk with us to believe too much. The gospel is Jesus. The early church lived by this rule and we need to return as near to it as we can.”
The problem with such a statement, Mohler said, is that it is “nonsense to say Christianity is about Jesus without confessing who Jesus is. We must declare what Scripture declares concerning Jesus. … It is not merely about a name. It is not merely about an historical Palestinian figure. Christianity is established upon the fact that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.”
Mohler said a modern-day debate over Christianity’s claims has occurred over the Baptist Faith and Message. One area of confusion, Mohler said, is over the definition of soul competency.
“In the midst of all of this, I in particular was accused of not believing in soul competency,” he said. “Well let me tell you, I don’t believe that any soul is competent to save itself. And neither did E.Y. Mullins, by the way,” he added, referring to the Southern Seminary president who is credited with the concept.
“In what sense is a soul competent?” Mohler asked. “The soul is made competent by the Holy Spirit to respond to the gospel. The soul is made competent to receive the gift of salvation. It can’t be done by proxy. It can’t be done by coercion. It can’t be done by someone else for another, for the soul is not competent to save itself. Nor is the soul competent to determine what is truth. That is a heretical statement among some Baptists. But the Apostle didn’t say to the Corinthians, ‘(Take) this declaration and decide what you’re going to do with it. If you need to reinterpret it, if you need to reformulate it, that’s fine.’
“No, he said, ‘If you hold fast the word which I preach to you and lest you believe in vain.'”
Mohler said another area of confusion among Southern Baptists concerns the priesthood of believers.
“I want to submit to you that no believer is his own priest,” Mohler said. “That is an idea as foreign to the New Testament as that which Paul confronted here. Jesus Christ is our great high priest.”
No Baptist, Mohler said, “conducts any kind of sacrifice of mass or sacrament claiming that (it) is a priestly function in which this human being is representing us before God. That is a heresy. We believe in no such priesthood. And yet in the spirit of the Reformation, we claim … that we are priests to each other. (We are) not priests delivering atonement, but priests ministering to each other in the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest.”
A third area of confusion among Southern Baptists has been on the subject of doctrinal accountability, Mohler said. He pointed out that the revised Baptist Faith and Message contains text noting that Baptists have historically used confessions of faith as instruments of doctrinal accountability.
While some people have decried the new language, Mohler argued that such accountability is woven throughout Baptist history.
“I had one person confront me in a public way by saying the very idea of doctrinal accountability is foreign to Baptist life,” Mohler said. “That would be very shocking to the Baptists who founded Southern Seminary, who from the very beginning have required every professor to sign the Abstract of Principles … and to pledge sacredly to teach in accordance with and not contrary all that is contained thereof.” The Abstract of Principles, adopted in 1859, is the founding confessional statement of Southern Seminary.
Mohler noted that in 1895 the Baptist General Convention on Texas refused to seat messengers from churches that did not affirm its articles of faith.
“But we are told by the leaders of that convention now that such an idea is anathema to Baptists,” he said. “They should at least admit they are slandering their own forefathers.”
Mohler said there has also been criticism of the 2000 BF&M article on God the Son. The word “substitutionary” was inserted prior to “atonement.”
“Some have claimed foul,” Mohler said. “They said, ‘You’re imposing a specific understanding of the atonement, and you’re limiting the understanding of what happened to substitution.’ To that I want to say … yes, we are stipulating that that is the central and non-negotiable New Testament teaching about the meaning of the death of Christ. He died for our sins. He died as our substitute. We are not saying that that word expresses everything about the death of Christ and its meaning.”
While Christ’s death does demonstrate his victory over death and sin as well as his great love for us, Mohler said that the type of atonement cannot “be reduced to either of those options. It cannot be reduced beyond substitution.”
Mohler said Paul’s claim of Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed in revelation.
“By what authority did Paul declare these realities?” he asked. “By what authority did Paul declare a gospel that displays redemption? By the authority of the Scriptures. That is our authority as well.”
Mohler said scriptural authority has been tested in recent months following the deletion of the following sentence from the new BF&M: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” It had appeared in the 1963 version. The new BF&M states, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”
“There again was an outcry, (saying) we have removed a Christological hermeneutic from the Baptist Faith and Message,” Mohler said. “That is nonsense. As the statement says, ‘All Scripture is a testimony to Christ.’ … We cannot accept the claim that we can judge Scripture and invalidate portions of Scripture by claiming a knowledge of Christ.”
But such claims have been made, Mohler said. As an example he quoted another Baptist leader as saying he relied on a higher authority than the Bible: the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit moves in absolute accordance with God’s revealed Word,” Mohler said. “That is the Word the Holy Spirit inspired. That is the Word he breathed. Does the Holy Spirit move in unpredictable ways? Not in those (ways) unpredicted by Scripture. … There is no higher authority than Scripture. You can’t claim the Holy Spirit is a higher authority than Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scripture.
“How would you judge a truth claim made by someone who said, ‘The Holy Spirit told me this’ except by the Scripture?”
Finally, Mohler said, Paul tells the Corinthians that there is triumph in Christ’s resurrection.
“The issue in Paul’s letter here and his reference to their theological confusion was their denial of the bodily resurrection,” Mohler said. “Paul suggested to them in no uncertain terms that if they deny the resurrection of the body, they deny the resurrection of Christ and if he is not raised their faith is in vain.
“Paul was exactly right. Christianity stands or falls on the claim of the resurrection.”
This sermon can be heard on-line at www.sbts.edu/news/audio/speakers_chapel.html