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Recommendations to embrace SBC statement of beliefs approved in Ga., Fla., Ark.

ATLANTA (BP)–At least three state Baptist conventions, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas, are in the process of embracing the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs adopted during the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Members of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s executive committee, by a 73-23 vote, approved a resolution to be presented to the convention’s annual meeting in November affirming the Baptist Faith and Message as having “great value as information, as a guide to interpretation, as a source of enlightenment and instruction concerning basic Baptist belief.”

The proposed resolution also describes “this statement, while not being an official creed, and while possessing only such authority as voluntary acceptance imposes, as a general consensus of what Southern Baptists believe.”

Members of the Florida Baptist Convention’s state board of missions approved a recommendation to be presented at the Florida convention’s annual meeting in November for a bylaw revision to recognize the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted during the SBC annual meeting as the basic declaration of faith guiding cooperation within the state convention.

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s charter and bylaws committee, meanwhile, voted to recommend that the Baptist Faith and Message be used as the doctrinal guideline for Arkansas Baptists. The committee’s recommendation will be presented to messengers from Arkansas Baptist churches in late October.

The Georgia executive committee adopted its recommendation Sept. 12; the Florida board of missions, Sept. 8; and the Arkansas committee, Aug. 29.

As proposed in Florida, the BFM recommendation would be applied as a qualification for nominees for convention boards and agencies; churches seeking “at large” status; and new convention employees.

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, said at the meeting, “Some churches do not use the Baptist Faith and Message at all as their doctrine of faith, some still use the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, some are still using the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, some may want to continue to use the 1963.

“We cannot tell a church what Baptist Faith and Message they are to adopt,” Sullivan continued, “but we can say to them that if you’re going to participate in the trustee life of the Florida Baptist Convention, it is the framework of the 2000. So just as a matter of record, let the record show that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement will serve as the theological framework for the ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention — so if there’s any question in anyone’s mind further about that, I hope this puts that to bed.”

In Georgia, concern was raised by several executive committee members over the Baptist Faith and Message’s new wording that women should not serve as church pastors. As reported by The Christian Index state Baptist newsjournal, one executive committee member cited concern that the BFM now discourages women who feel called into ministry, presumes to limit whom God can call and interferes with local church autonomy.

As passed, the proposed Georgia resolution calls upon the state convention to “recommend the circulation of it [the BFM] among the churches … 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.”

In Arkansas, the recommended revision of the convention’s articles of incorporation would read, “Affirming the autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of the believer, The Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention on June 14, 2000, shall be the doctrinal guideline for this convention.” The recommendation would change the date from May 9, 1963, to the 2000 date and add the language affirming local church autonomy and priesthood of the believer.

Samuel Roberts, pastor of First Baptist Church, Walnut Ridge, Ark., and chairman of the charter and bylaws committee, told the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine, “The proposed change to our articles of incorporation reflects the spirit in which Arkansas Baptists have historically viewed the Baptist Faith and Message — as a confession of faith, not as a complete statement of faith nor as an official creed. I believe this change rightly emphasizes the autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of the believer. I trust that a great majority of Arkansas Baptists will support the proposed change and the spirit in which it is presented.”

Roberts told the newsjournal a couple of areas in the Baptist Faith and Message were of concern to several committee members. “Some felt that in a couple of places [in the revised BFM] one interpretation of Scripture was being included as the only interpretation of Scripture. When anyone claims one interpretation is the only interpretation of Scripture, we have some problems.”

Roberts said the committee wanted to keep the BFM from becoming a litmus test or a creed in Arkansas and that the majority of its members felt the recommendation would be a way of diffusing a potentially divisive issue.

Emil Turner, ABSC executive director, told the newsjournal, “I was tremendously blessed by the gracious spirit of the committee as they met, and I pray that the same gracious spirit will be evident among messengers at the convention this fall.”
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by William Neal, Barbara Denman & Charlie Warren.

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