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Southern Baptists overwhelmingly adopt revised Baptist Faith and Message

ORLANDO, Fla., June 14–Debate over Southern Baptists’ statement of faith lasted barely one hour as messengers to the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla., June 14 overwhelmingly approved a revision of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message.

Adrian Rogers, the chairman of the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, was repeatedly interrupted by applause as he introduced the revised document with a summary of its contents.

“We have sought to clarify the intention of both previous editions [1925 and 1963] of the Baptist Faith and Message,” said the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “We have made the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible even more explicit. And we point to Jesus Christ as the focus of divine revelation.”

Rogers said the committee removed the statement identifying “Jesus Christ as ‘The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted’ because it has been subject to misunderstanding. Jesus Christ cannot be divided from the biblical revelation that is testimony to him.

“We must not claim a knowledge of Christ that is independent of Scripture or in any way in opposition to Scripture.”

Regarding Southern Baptists’ understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Rogers said, the committee clarified the “substitutionary character of Christ’s atonement. … There are many wonderful facets of atonement, but underlining them all is that Christ died for our sins as a substitute for creatures such as we.”

Rogers noted the committee affirmed “the blessing of racial and ethnic diversity and acknowledged that all races possess full dignity by the creative intention of God.

“Given the persuasive influence of postmodern culture … we are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior, and salvation in his name alone. Baptists thus reject inclusivism and pluralism in salvation, for these compromise the gospel itself.”

For all the articles regarding women pastors published by both secular and religious publications in the weeks preceding the annual convention, the only mention of such was Rogers’ reference to the subject in citing the revised statement: “The convention has spoken clearly its conviction that while both men and women are gifted and called for ministry, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Questions regarding women pastors arose in a news conference immediately following the vote on the statement. There, Rogers was quick to note a preliminary study done by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., which shows that only one-tenth of 1 percent of Southern Baptist churches have women as pastors (or a total of 35 or less churches among the overall 40,000-plus SBC churches). Rogers said that in no way does the document, particularly the section on the pastorate, dictate who a Southern Baptist church may hire as pastor.

Chuck Kelley, committee member and president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, added that more women are now being trained for ministry in Southern Baptist seminaries than at any other time in the SBC’s history.

“Our Baptist ancestors of a mere generation ago could not have imagined the need to address the issues of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and all manner of deviant and pagan sexuality,” Rogers said, concluding his introduction of the statement. “We answer with a clear word of biblical correction” in the statement’s section entitled The Christian and the Social Order.”
Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and a former member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Coordinating Council, was the first messenger to voice opposition to the revised preamble, making a motion to reinsert some of 1963 BFM preamble into the proposed revision.

Wade, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas, noted that one issue was whether to “adopt creeds that have mandatory authority.”

In answer to debate coming from the floor, members of the study committee repeatedly defended the preamble, as well as the entire document, as a statement of belief and not as a binding or governing document on Southern Baptist churches and their members.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., and a study committee member, attempted to answer Wade’s concerns by noting a late addition to the statement that was not a part of the study committee’s original version.

“We have sought to add adequate clarity by bringing the addition to the preamble that you see before you in the daily bulletin,” Mohler said. The addition included statements saying, “Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty … honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers [while] affirming both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.”

Bruce Prescott of First Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., spoke for Wade’s motion by saying there are differences in the soul competency of the 1963 statement and that mentioned in the study committee’s addition to the 2000 statement. Prescott asserted, “He [Christ] is the criterion by which the Bible is interpreted.”

Prescott, who has held leadership positions in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and another dissident moderate Baptist organization, Texas Baptists Committed, is now executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, a CBF-related group.

Kelley responded to Prescott, “We remain accountable to God through the revelation of his Word,” as compared to a “new stream” of theology that “has attacked historic Baptist theology related to this position.”

“Baptists have always believed that the Bible is the judge of our experience and determines the limit of our priesthood,” Kelley said. “Baptists have always believed it is the Word of God that filters what I believe, not my personal experience.”

Even though he was speaking to a later, similar motion to Wade’s, Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offered an illustration that applied to much of the floor debate: “I fully believe that a demonic spirit could come and sit on the foot of my bed tonight and say to me, ‘Richard, I am Jesus. And I want to tell you that everbody’s going to heaven; you don’t have to worry about it anymore.’

“That could be a real experience, but it would be a wrong experience. Why?” Land said. “Because my experience is judged by Scripture. My experience doesn’t stand in judgment of Scripture.”

Interrupting the crowd’s sustained applause, Land reiterated his own Southern Baptist seminary experience, saying he was taught a “red letter theology,” a reference to Bibles with words attributed to Christ printed in red ink.

Land said his professors taught that the red lettered words were more important than all other words in the Bible and were “put in opposition” to the writings of the apostles Paul and Peter, “when Jesus Christ, himself, said to the two on the road to Emmaus, ‘O, fools and slow of heart not to believe all that prophets have written.’

“How dare we have a different view of Scripture than Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior?” Land concluded.

Wayne Ward, a messenger from the Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., and former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Roy Honeycutt’s presidency, in support of Wade’s motion characterized the study committee as “a hand-picked committee, appointed by the president [Patterson]” and as a “small group, trying to impose its will on rank and file Southern Baptists.”

Rank-and-file Southern Baptists voted in their annual meeting last year in Atlanta to give SBC President Paige Patterson the authority to assemble the study committee. Rogers observed in a later interview that, as such, the study committee is a committee of all Southern Baptists, not simply a hand-picked one. The committee was racially, professionally and ecclesiastically diverse, as it consisted of an African, an Asian and a Hispanic, as well as pastors and professors and laypeople of both genders.

Cky Carrigan of Wake Crossroads Baptist Church, Wake Forest, N.C., moved to cease discussion on Wade’s amendment. Messengers voted by a margin “far more than two-thirds,” said SBC President Paige Patterson, to cease debate and then voted on Wade’s motion to amend. Wade’s motion failed “overwhelmingly,” Patterson said.

A motion was then defeated that would have relaxed the language relating to participation in the Lord’s Supper, described in Article 13 of the statement.

Time allotted for discussion of the revised Baptist Faith and Message statement was extended for 10 minutes and then later by five.

The most substantive ensuing discussion came in a motion offered by Anthony Sizemore of First Baptist Church of Floydada, Texas, who wanted to reinstate a near-exact version of the 1963 preamble. In defending his motion, he said that while the Bible is “true and trustworthy … the Bible is still just a book.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is what it all comes down to,” Mohler responded. “The issue is whether or not the Bible is the Word of God or whether it is merely a record of God’s Word,” he said over applause. “The Bible is not merely a record, it is the revelation of God.

“It is always a triumphant moment when this convention states clearly its belief that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. It would be a tremendous tragedy for in this moment Southern Baptists to step back and say something inadequate about Scripture and send a very mixed signal about our most basic belief,” continued Mohler, who was referred to in a June 13 news conference as the “Thomas Jefferson of the document” by SBC President-elect James Merritt.

“Jesus Christ said, himself, of the Scripture: ‘These are they that testify of me.’ Pray tell, what do we know about Jesus apart from the Scriptures?” Mohler asked. “The Scriptures testify of Christ.”

Among concluding discussions offered in favor of Sizemore’s amendment, David Currie, a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Coordinating Council, the leader of Texas Baptists Committed and messenger from Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, noted a passage in the Book of Galatians wherein the apostle Paul said he received the gospel by “‘revelation from Jesus Christ.’ Glad this committee was not around when Paul received his revelation from Jesus Christ.” Currie then noted that some of the committee members’ problems were not with Jesus Christ but with the apostle Paul.

It was Currie, who, in a March 1998 “Mainstream Baptists Gathering” in Nashville, Tenn., was quoted as saying sometimes “the best way to build the kingdom” is by supporting ministries outside the SBC. Rather than sending money to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he said, “I would rather you drive down the street and throw your money out the window, because it is more likely to be picked up and used to build the kingdom of God.” The president of Southeastern Seminary is outgoing SBC President Paige Patterson.

“Brother Currie, I’m going to, as gently as I can, make a distinction,” Land replied. “The apostle Paul was an apostle. He got his revelation by the Holy Spirit of God, and it was inerrant. The illumination and inspiration that we get from the Holy Spirit in our personal experience with Jesus Christ must be guided by holy Scripture because you and I are not apostles, sir.”

After a motion to suspend the order of business so time for discussion could be extended a third time failed, the revised Baptist Faith and Message statement was approved. Lee Porter, the SBC’s registration secretary, confirmed that about 90 percent of the messengers in the hall at the time of the vote favored adopting the statement.

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  • Norm Miller