August 2007 Issue
to the 2007 SBC Baptist Faith and Message Discussion
by Morris H. Chapman
In my report entitled "Leading
by Example" to the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio,
I noted that the Executive Committee in February had adopted the
following statement about the Baptist Faith and Message:
"The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or
a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless
we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement
of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention
and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees
in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of
It must be noted that the SBC Executive Committee adopted the
statement for itself, and perhaps as a model others may choose
to follow, but not as a recommendation for other entities or the
Southern Baptist Convention. Had it been drafted as a recommendation
to the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention it might have been constructed
differently. Nevertheless, the messengers of the Convention voted
to adopt the statement as a result of a motion that was made from
the floor. Although the Executive Committee did not recommend
it to the Convention, it is not a confusing statement. I encourage
you to tune out all the rhetoric surrounding the issue and read
the statement carefully, taking it at face value. It says what
it says, nothing more and nothing less.
In the last five to seven years, Southern Baptists sitting
in the pews and standing in the pulpits throughout the Convention
have been waiting eagerly for Convention leaders to guide them
to "renew our passion for the Lord Jesus Christ and the reign
of His Kingdom in our hearts, families, and churches from which
God can forge a spiritual movement marked by holy living, sacrificial
service, and global witness" (quote from the Vision Statement
of Empowering Kingdom Growth). As many others, I sense a yearning
among Southern Baptists for something greater than ourselves.
In its report to the Convention entitled, "The Coming of
the Kingdom of God," the EKG Task Force examined
our Convention's collective heart and made these observations,
"We are desperate for our lives to have spiritual power and
eternal significance. We want to rise above the ordinary and the
temporal. We respond instinctively to appeals for a more intimate
and immediate relationship with God."
Our forefathers had the foresight to determine the core beliefs
about which they could agree in order that Southern Baptist churches
could come together to send missionaries around the world and
build seminaries to educate individuals who were to pastor, preach,
teach, and minister in our churches. When we insist upon engaging
each other in heated debates over doctrinal interpretations beyond
the Baptist Faith and Message, our Convention shall sooner
or later divide into even more factions and distract us from fulfilling
the Great Commission.
Discussing whether the Baptist Faith and Message is
a "minimal" statement or an "exhaustive" statement
misses its greatest attribute that attribute is that it
is a "consensus" statement that defines Southern Baptist
doctrine as believed by the greater whole of the churches of the
Southern Baptist Convention. Upon these doctrinal statements,
we agree to agree. In doctrinal statements not included in the
Baptist Faith and Message, we must learn to agree to disagree
and debate the differences as Spirit-filled Christians who love
Christ and one another.
Identifying our core beliefs in the BF&M allows
us the latitude to be drawn together for the purpose of faithfully
and obediently lifting up our eyes, and looking on the fields,
for they are ready for harvest (John 4:35). What would it be like
if the vast energies and resources of this Convention were given
for missions and evangelism and God's people were marshaled to
witness to the ends of the earth by the thousands upon thousands?
For the born-again believer, it is the most urgent and rewarding
work on earth. The world has yet to see what God would do through
His people if our hearts burned with the desire to abandon our
all to the Lordship of Christ, making Him preeminent in our lives.
The question is, "Shall we most desire what God desires for
us or what we humanly want for ourselves?"
Our confession, entitled the Baptist Faith and Message,
was intended to be a statement of doctrine around which we could
coalesce in order to more effectively and efficiently tell the
old, old story of Jesus and His love around the world.
Let me quote a portion of a sentence in the BF&M Preamble:
"... these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential
to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice."
In recent years, three doctrinal issues have been much debated.
They are (1) Calvinism, (2) Private Prayer Language, and (3) Water
Baptism. Have you examined the Baptist Faith and Message
to determine if our confessional statement mentions any or all
of these issues? Here are my observations.
Section V. God's Purpose of Grace
In this section, it states, "Election is the gracious
purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies,
sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free
agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with
the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness,
and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting
and promotes humility.
"All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God
has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never
fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the
Section IV. Salvation
In this section, it states, "Salvation involves the redemption
of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus
Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal
redemption for the believer. ... there is no salvation apart from
personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."
The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility
of man. The Baptist Faith and Message agrees that both
the work of grace and the responsibility of man are necessary
elements in the salvation experience. This phenomenon is called
an antinomy (an apparent contradiction between two equally valid
principles). For instance, how can salvation be totally an act
of God, independent of human means, and a human response to a
divine initiative? The Baptist Faith and Message identifies
and embraces the antinomy of these two seemingly competing truths.
Therefore, a healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible
with regard to these two important biblical truths. Men often
have proposed and promoted theological theories in an attempt
to reconcile biblical antinomies. But where God's Word seems to
run afoul of our sense of things, He must be trusted rather than
a man-made theological system. Man's understanding always will
be inferior to God's knowledge. God doesn't tell us everything
He knows, but what we need to know to be redeemed and live righteously.
Since the Baptist Faith and Message embraces both the
sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, it is reasonable
for Southern Baptists to expect professors to teach both elements
as necessary for the salvation experience. If we are swept up
in a Convention-wide debate between those who believe in five-point
Calvinism and those who don't, especially so soon on the heels
of the Conservative Resurgence, we will do irreparable harm to
the Kingdom of God and our Convention.
For the sake of reaching the world for Christ, can we not agree
that both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man
are ingredients in our salvation? What have we proven if we become
angry and argumentative with one another trying to prove a premise
when God, through His Word, offers only what we need to know,
not what we think we want to know. This Convention can ill afford
continuous acrimonious debate, especially about a doctrinal issue
which will never be resolved even by the most brilliant theologians.
Parenthetically, the matter of elders leading the church as
officers is often discussed in association with Calvinism. The
Baptist Faith and Message in Section VI. The Church, states,
"Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons." Are
they or are they not? If there is more than one interpretation
concerning officers in the church, should not Southern Baptists
make the decision on biblical grounds? They did so with the vote
to adopt the original Baptist Faith and Message in 1925,
and they did so the few times the BF&M has been revised.
Why should the Convention's churches and entities not see that
statement as sufficient on the matter?
Private Prayer Language
Section II (C). God the Holy Spirit
The Baptist Faith and Message states that the Holy Spirit
"...bestows the spiritual gifts by which they (believers)
serve God through His church." There is no other reference
to spiritual gifts. According to one interpretation of spiritual
gifts, it reasonably could be argued that the gifts to which the
BF&M refer are "service" gifts, thereby eliminating
the continualist view of the gifts of healing and tongues speaking.
However, for all practical purposes, one cannot make a strong
case for or against tongues speaking using the Baptist Faith
and Message as the sole interpretative source. Nevertheless,
it is common knowledge that the vast majority of Southern Baptists
believe the Scriptures do not teach that speaking in ecstatic
utterances in a public worship service continued past the days
of the apostles. Thus Southern Baptists, by and large, do not
preach, teach, or publicly practice speaking in tongues. This
is an instance where the consensus of Southern Baptists is well
known although it is not "codified" in the BF&M.
Why would it not be included? Perhaps because our forefathers
were determined to state the essential doctrines we believe rather
than dwelling upon what we do not believe.
On the other hand, if a private prayer language is indeed kept
private, why has it erupted into a major public debate among Southern
Baptists? Does the descriptive word "private" have any
meaning? If we are talking about a private prayer language, should
not the person praying keep the prayer language private? If the
person keeps the prayer language private, should not the person
who has the inclination to judge keep his/her opinions private?
Why should private prayer language become a dispute among members
of the same family of believers?
Section VI. The Church
In this section, the BF&M states, "A New Testament
church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation
of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and
fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ..."
Section VII. Baptism and the Lord's Supper
In addition to the meaning of baptism as an act of obedience,
the BF&M states, "Being a church ordinance, it
is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to
the Lord's Supper."
We will do well to remember that the present discussion about
baptism among Southern Baptists is a question that has been raised
over the past couple of years with regard to SBC entities and
not the local church. When executives, professors, and missionaries
of SBC entities sign the Baptist Faith and Message, to
what extent are they pledging to teach and preach the consensus
doctrinal beliefs stated in the BF&M? Is the BF&M
sufficient? Are other confessions needed?
Pray Earnestly and Urgently
Now that the Southern Baptist Convention has settled the matter
of the inerrancy of God's Word, and we have in common the tenets
of our faith regarding the preexistence of Christ, His virgin
birth, sinless life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and literal
ascension into heaven, and other essential doctrines, why do we
find it so difficult to coexist in harmonious fellowship? Will
Southern Baptists move beyond the distractions caused by constantly
badgering each other and instigating heated debates concerning
interpretations of doctrines not addressed in the BF&M
about which we may never agree? Can we not agree to keep our
focus upon obeying Christ's command to tell the world that "Jesus
saves?" Our inability to concentrate upon reaching souls
for Christ and sending thousands of missionaries throughout the
world will be the cost of not finding good in each other.
I am reminded that God uses broken things. He will not do great
things through us in this generation unless and until we have
humbled ourselves before Him with a brokenness that causes us
to abandon our own desires, our own will, and to give all of self
If every, and I emphasize, every Southern Baptist were to pray
earnestly and urgently, "God, forgive me of my arrogance,
self-centered ambition, envy, greed, and worldliness," we
could begin to live with the expectancy that God's Spirit will
move mightily among us. I may be wrong, but I sense that we are
doing too much under our own strength, and regardless of the energy
we are expending, we are running in place.
May we, one by one, pray, "Lord, bring us to our knees
that, in turn, we may all be drawn to the foot of the cross in
humble submission to Your will and Your will alone. Father, bring
us together under the love and Lordship of Christ and in obedience
to Your Word that while we contend for the faith that was delivered
to the saints once for all (Jude 1:3), we shall find the way
to do so with a strong word of encouragement to each other. Lord,
we are one family and we do not wish to waste time being dysfunctional.
Help us in those instances when we find ourselves incapable of
knowing how to pray. In the matchless Name above every Name, Jesus.
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