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State conventions begin to embrace Baptist Faith and Message statement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Twenty-four of the 41 Southern Baptist state conventions dealt with the Baptist Faith and Message during their deliberations this fall. One-third of them took this first opportunity since the BFM was updated in June to affirm the Southern Baptist Convention statement of beliefs. And six state conventions either will study the statement further or vote on it next year.

The BFM was affirmed in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas/Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, West Virginia as well as in the two newest bodies — Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. The wording selected to express that affirmation in those states varied with terms like approve, appreciate, endorse or support. Tennessee Baptists, meanwhile, opted to “acknowledge” the BFM as an information source.

Not a single voice of dissent was reported in the actions of West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention or the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. The foundational documents of the two newer conventions underscore their unity on doctrinal convictions.

Several state conventions sought more time before acting on the Baptist Faith and Message. Messengers to the Northwest Baptist Convention preferred to send a proposed change back to their constitution committee with instructions to wait at least a year before presenting it again, conditional on changes in wording being distributed to churches and published in the state Baptist paper.

Kentucky Baptist Convention President Charles Barnes gained support for his effort to appoint a committee to study how the convention should relate to the new statement. A Kentucky messenger questioned the delay, seeking a vote at this year’s meeting. “We don’t need to wait a year to decide if we want to really be in the mainstream of Southern Baptist life,” he insisted. His motion to affirm the BFM was referred to the resolutions committee that later dismissed it as contradictory to Barnes’ motion to form a study committee.

In Illinois, messengers were faced with a motion to adopt the 1998 family amendment to the BFM into its constitution. Although 65 percent of the messengers agreed to the proposal, a two-thirds approval was necessary. Later, they agreed with 70 percent approval to simply affirm the article on the family in the BFM approved by the SBC without altering the IBSA constitution.

Illinois Baptists expect their constitution and bylaws committee to review the BFM changes and possibly recommend its adoption next November for a final vote in 2002. IBSA President Tim Lewis said he would encourage the committee to seek broad input from the state’s Southern Baptists.

An effort to affirm the BFM in the District of Columbia Baptist Convention failed to meet the 45-day advance deadline for submitting such proposals. The February executive board meeting of DCBC is the next opportunity for consideration.

Messengers to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, Michigan Baptist Convention and the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio were given notice of constitutional amendments regarding the BFM to be voted on next year.

Two states that have no precedent of acting on a BFM statement clarified their support. Alabama Baptists overwhelmingly voted to “affirm Southern Baptists for their doctrinal heritage and confessions of faith, then and now,” referring to the BFM and its 1998, 1963 and 1925 predecessors.

The Alabama resolution noted that “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists” and that the BFM “is a non-binding document that may be used by local churches and associations.”

Amendments proposed by moderates sought to weaken the statement, proposing to remove references to BFM revisions in 1998 and 2000. David Mills, pastor of Ladonia Baptist Church, Phenix City, spoke in favor of the original language that affirmed the BFM as approved last June at the SBC.

“I was happy that we passed this resolution in favor of our Southern Baptist doctrinal heritage because it affirms the BFM 2000,” Mills told Baptist Press. “It really restores E.Y. Mullins’ view of soul competency which included not only an individual’s freedom to access God, but also his theological responsibility. And it makes it abundantly clear that Alabama Baptists have no interest in dividing from the Southern Baptist Convention, but affirm that relationship and partnership.”

Tennessee Baptists acknowledged the BFM “as a source of information in assisting believers to express their faith” and affirmed the Bible as the “final authority for faith and practice.” Efforts to change the word “acknowledge” to “affirm” failed by a vote of 542 to 428. Baptist and Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote that the convention “showed that sometimes we can’t always have everything that we want and that compromise is not always bad,” citing the BFM resolution as an example.

“There are messengers who would have preferred that the Tennessee Baptist Convention remain quiet on the matter of the Baptist Faith and Message statement. Others feel the adopted resolution did not ‘go far enough’ by affirming the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message document,” Wilkey wrote. “Instead, messengers approved a resolution that both groups can ‘live with.’ The key to the resolution is that it affirms what we all believe and we can all agree on — ‘the Word of God as the final authority for faith and practice.'”

The affirmations of Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia went so far as to stipulate that the most recent Baptist Faith and Message statement serves as the doctrinal statement for the convention. The SBCV resolution was adopted “in the spirit of convictional belief and as a demonstration of support for the current direction” of the SBC.

In Florida, bylaws were updated to reference the BFM as adopted in June, while also providing churches with the flexibility to retain previously adopted statements of faith that “parallel the tenets of our historical Baptist faith, as theological framework.”

Only Colorado’s changes clearly state that a church seeking affiliation with that state convention must have adopted the BFM as approved by the SBC last June in Orlando, Fla.

In the newest state convention, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards explained, “The adoption of the BFM 2000 says unequivocally that churches that cooperate must have some theological agreements, and these agreements are expressed well in the BFM 2000.”

Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists noted in a resolution that their churches “have been recognized as cooperating” on the basis of previous BFM statements as well as comparable statements of faith, and resolved to “continue to recognize the authority of the local churches to develop or adopt their own statements of faith.”

KNCSB will make the BFM available to churches for consideration and use it to review and counsel those churches petitioning for membership. However, no church cooperating with the KNCSB will be asked to revise a confession of faith it has already adopted, stated R. Rex “Peck” Lindsay, executive director.

New Mexico Baptists took a different approach since a committee appointed last year had already been charged with studying whether to make the BFM the criterion for seating of messengers to the convention’s annual meeting. Messengers chose to define a cooperating church on the basis of adherence to Scripture and support of the Cooperative Program.

Committee member Don Hayhurst said the requirement that the faith and practice of cooperating churches not be in conflict with Scripture was made because everything in the BFM is in Scripture, but not everything in Scripture is in the BFM. No effort was made to specifically endorse the BFM.

Messengers in Maryland/Delaware and Arkansas could not get a necessary two-thirds majority for expressions of support of BFM. A resolution offered at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware took several forms in an effort to affirm the 2000 revision or all BFM statements. Several years ago BCMD began requiring a two-thirds approval for resolutions in an effort to avoid divisive expressions from the state convention. The modified resolution offered to messengers this year failed to pass that test after extensive discussion.

Later attempts to adopt the BFM at Maryland/Delaware also failed to gain a hearing as the motion was indefinitely postponed. When the issue resurfaced a final time, the earlier action to postpone was said to have ended discussion on the matter at this year’s convention.

Fifty-three percent of Arkansas messengers approved a proposal to make the BFM statement the doctrinal guideline for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. It was the only group to consider language modifications that added the phrase “affirming the autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of the believer” in an attempt to promote “the unity and cooperation.”

A report by the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine indicated confusion on the part of messengers may have led some to believe they were voting on the call for a vote instead of the actual proposal. Others credited a mass mailing for drawing out opponents of the BFM, noting a spike in attendance on Wednesday when the issue was considered.

Vester E. Wolber, professor emeritus and former chair of the religion department of Ouachita Baptist University, wrote in an open letter to Arkansas Baptists that the BFM was “hurriedly designed” and “theologically flawed.” He advised messengers to reject “this modern call for a wishbone faith” and not abandon the 1963 BFM.

A former associational missionary argued against the proposal out of concern that local church autonomy would be threatened. “A preamble does not repair a faulty document,” stated Glenn Hickey, opposing the new Baptist Faith and Message on the grounds that it threatened local church autonomy. “Do you want your pastor to start being infallible and interpret Scripture for you?” he asked when stating his opposition.

“It didn’t really change all that much,” said Ben Rowell, ABSC president, in an interview with the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine. “We go back to the 1963 statement. It shouldn’t really be that much of a divisive thing.”

“I deeply regret that debate was cut off,” said Jim Lagrone, president of the ABSC executive board and pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Bryant. “A lot more Arkansans needed to speak on the issue. The lack of debate added to the confusion. The fellowship of Arkansas Baptists is very strong and the majority wants to work these things out. We can do it.”

In the Baptist Convention of New England, messengers defeated a resolution to affirm the BFM, understanding that their constitution and bylaws already provided for the use of the most current doctrinal statement of Southern Baptists.

In Mississippi, resolutions proposing endorsement of a particular version of the BFM were rejected by the resolutions committee, noting the convention had never officially adopted any version of the confessional statement. Instead, messengers acknowledged the Bible as “our final authority for faith and practice.”

At the Baptist General Convention of Texas meeting, there was no one seeking to endorse the BFM. Instead, Executive Director Charles Wade called on Southern Baptist leaders to discuss with Texas Baptists appropriate ways that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message can be modified.”

Though Wade implied that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the BFM, its acceptance by a third of the state conventions within five months and consideration by six conventions over the next year indicate widespread acceptance.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter