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SBC’s family article continues to stir media attention, theological discussion

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Two familiar names related to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were juxtaposed against each other in columns penned for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram on the issue of faculty members signing anew the Southern Baptist Convention’s revised confessional statement.
Columns by Tommy Lea, dean of Southwestern’s school of theology, and Russell H. Dilday, who was fired as seminary president in 1994, appeared in the newspaper Oct. 25 addressing the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement as revised to include an article on the family during convention sessions last June in Salt Lake City.
Lea wrote in support of the seminary’s request for faculty members to sign the revised statement while Dilday listed several objections to both the adoption of the amendment and the seminary’s expectation of its faculty.
Lea, in his column, stated the reason Southwestern is asking the faculty to sign the revised Baptist Faith and Message is because the seminary “is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention and gladly remains under the general direction and control of the convention.”
Since Southwestern is a “confessional institution,” Lea wrote, “all who teach at our school subscribe to a confession of faith and agree to teach by it,” according to the seminary’s charter. In the past the seminary has used the 1963 revision of the original 1925 Baptist Faith and Message as its confession of faith. “When that was revised in 1998, we felt it necessary to state that the 1998 restatement of this document is the confession we accepted,” Lea wrote. “We also felt it important to ask our faculty to indicate their acceptance of the new statement.”
Addressing the famous New Testament passage in Ephesians 5 undergirding the Baptist Faith and Message’s new family article, Lea noted, “Its purpose is to call both husband and wife to live as servants under the same roof.”
The Ephesians passage “should not be used by an abusive husband to force a wife into line,” Lea wrote. “It is not to be used by a self-centered wife to justify getting her own ways or wishes in a marital argument.”
As the leadership of the SBC has often noted, the section of the amendment dealing with marriage starts out by saying spouses are of “equal worth before God.” Then it puts the emphasis on the husband first, who “is to love his wife as Christ loved the church.” Next comes the controversial part that is usually taken out of context: “A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” Lea wrote that, “The issue of submission is one of function, not authority, worth or status. Even Jesus speaks of submitting Himself to the Father, and yet the Bible speaks of their essential oneness.”
Dilday’s four main objections were based on what he called “balance,” “questionable biblical interpretation,” “ethical and legal issues” and “Pandora’s box concerns.” The first and fourth objections are similar, with Dilday making the point that the amendment is in effect majoring on minors. “Some objectors believe the new amendment is an unneeded ‘over-statement’ giving an unbalanced emphasis to one area above others of even greater importance,” Dilday wrote, noting that the family article is lengthier than statements in the Baptist Faith and Message relating to God, Jesus Christ and the Bible. In addition, he wrote, Pandora’s box is now open on other “secondary theological issues” being added to the SBC’s confession of faith.
Under “questionable biblical interpretation,” Dilday writes that the family article doesn’t emphasize the idea of mutual submission, which would include the husband submitting to his wife. “While the amendment does speak of the husband’s responsibility to love his wife,” Dilday wrote, “it does not explain that the word for ‘love’ [agape] means a total self-giving submission to another. Therefore, when properly understood, the passage calls for an equal, if not a more intentional submission of husband to wife.”
To some people, Dilday wrote, “the new revision supports a one-sided, male, authoritarian role in marriage that is not biblical. It sounds like another rendering of the hierarchical, autocratic philosophy [God-man-woman-child] popularized several years ago.”
In his “ethical and legal issues” objection, Dilday stated that teachers should only have to sign a statement of faith at the beginning of their careers with any particular school; otherwise, it’s “unethical, probably even illegal, to change those assertions in midcareer and expect the employee to agree.”
Jim Jones, Fort Worth Star-Telegram religion editor, reported on some of the same objections in his weekly column Oct. 31. Jones interviewed two professors, among Southwestern’s 90 full-time faculty, who have announced they will not sign the revised Baptist Faith and Message. Dan G. Kent, professor of Old Testament, said he will retire next June, while Alan Brehm, assistant professor of New Testament, said he has submitted his resignation. Each professor voiced objections similar to Dilday’s.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the five-man, two-woman study committee that drafted the family article, wrote in the agency’s journal this fall that verse 21 of Ephesians 5 answers the oft-voiced biblical interpretation objection to the 272-word SBC stance backed by 42 Scripture references.
Ephesians 5:21 “addresses the mutual submission that all spirit-filled [Ephesians 5:18] Christians are to express one to another.” This does not negate, however, the next 12 verses that address the “distinct but equally valuable roles of the husband and wife in the marriage relationship,” he wrote.
“The primary emphasis both in the Apostle Paul’s Ephesians epistle and Southern Baptists’ family statement,” Land wrote, “is on the husband’s responsibility to submit himself to his wife by loving her ‘as Christ loved the church’ and to fulfill his ‘God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.'”
Christ loved the church with “agape” love, which “transforms worldly ideas of submission from dominance and subservience to humility and service,” Land wrote, citing the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
“This is the self-sacrificing, agape love which the Holy Spirit produces in the hearts of yielded, obedient Christian believers,” Land wrote. “This is the love with which Christian husbands are commanded to love their wives. … I cannot help but think that there are millions of American women who would long to submit themselves to the sacrificial love of such a godly husband.”
Land’s analysis appeared in the September-October issue of the agency’s publication, Light.
Anthony Jordan, chairman of the Baptist Faith and Message study committee and executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, noted that objectors claim “the Baptist Faith and Message must never be a creed, but then they turn around and argue that you should never tamper with it.”
As to the balance objection, Jordan said he wonders how critics can, on the one hand, call the amendment too long and, on the other hand, claim it doesn’t define its terms, such as “love,” precisely enough, “which would have obviously taken more space.”
Jordan questioned the biblical interpretation objection since “great biblical scholars such as F.F. Bruce and John R.W. Stott” both agree that “the male-female relationship [man’s headship and woman’s submission] finds its root in creation, not just some arbitrary statement by the Apostle Paul.” Moreover, Jordan emphasized, “Our basis for the article was not just Ephesians 5 but also Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3 and other passages dealing with the male-female relationship.” As to the mutual submission objection specifically, Jordan noted that Ephesians 5:21 is referring to the relationship between Christians in general, not just spouses, since the context (Ephesians 518 through 6:5) also includes relationships of children to parents and slaves to masters.
In response to the ethical and legal issues objection, Jordan pointed out that “the seminary’s charter ties its doctrinal parameters to the ongoing doctrinal stance of the convention and therefore [requiring the signing of the revised Baptist Faith and Message] does not violate ethical and legal matters regarding the faculty,” a point also noted in Lea’s column.
The concern that the new amendment will lead to others and open a Pandora’s box of “secondary theological issues” being added to the Baptist Faith and Message has no validity in Jordan’s mind. “The article on family was called for by a vote of the convention; the convention, not just the leaders, set this in motion,” he said. “And the convention overwhelmingly adopted the article.”
Jordan said the family is anything but a secondary biblical matter, noting that stands must be taken on doctrinal issues as society changes. “The family was the first institution established by God on earth,” Jordan said.

Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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  • Dave Couric