June 17, 2000
SOUTHERN BAPTISTS REVISE FAITH & MESSAGE
ORLANDO - On Wednesday, the Southern Baptist
Convention approved its first major revision of the ''Baptist Faith and
Message,'' its confessional statement, since 1963, moving America's
largest Protestant denomination in a more conservative and Biblical
''Nearly four decades after the Convention's
last comprehensive action, a new generation must take up the stewardship
of the faith `once for all delivered to the saints' (Jude 3),'' said Dr.
Adrian Rogers, Chairman of the redrafting committee. He noted new
reasons to do so: ''Moral decay and assaults upon cherished truths
dominate the arena in which we must now minister.''
For example, in 1963 abortion was universally
condemned and illegal, pornography was in its infancy, homosexuality was
undiscussed and racial segregation was pervasive across the South.
Therefore those issues were not mentioned in the last Baptist Faith and
Message. Feeling the ''responsibility of speaking to the issues'' of
today,'' the new version urges Christians to ''oppose racism, every form
of greed, selfishness and vice and all forms of sexual immorality,
including adultery, homosexuality and pornography...We should speak on
behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from
conception to natural death.''
The change given the widest publicity, is this
addition: ''While both men and women are gifted for service in the
church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by
Scripture.'' It is based on Paul's letter to Timothy: ''I do not permit
a woman to teach or have authority over a man.'' The Associated Press
predicted the measure risked ''a wider split'' in the denomination.
''I'm very sad. Women ministers are not going
to have a place in Southern Baptist life any more, said Rev. Martha
Phillips, interim pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where Vice
President Al Gore is a member. ''I think more churches will leave.''
Asked about it, newly elected SBC President
James G. Merritt said, ''I don't fear a split. I don't even fear a
splinter.'' He is right. There are only 35 female pastors in the 41,000
churches, which is .9 of one percent. Even if every church with a woman
pastor left the denomination, the impact on the SBC would be tiny since
200-300 new churches are added annually.
Further, no Baptist church has to agree with
the Message, which is simply a consensus of what Baptists believe. It
has no inherent authority. Only ''Scripture is totally true and
trustworthy,'' the new statement asserts.
The female pastorate issue did not even
surface in the debate before 11,000 messengers (delegates) approved the
Baptist Faith and Message.
The hot issue was a theological one, based on
another change. The new statement removed this sentence: ''The criterion
by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.''
Charles Wade, pastor of First Baptist Church
of Arlington, Texas, argued it should be retained, ''We are indeed
people of the book, but we are people who bow only before Jesus Christ
The new Message restated the matter this way:
''All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of
Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and
Religious Liberty Commission, explained: ''We all believe in Jesus
Christ, but the only Jesus Christ we can know is revealed in
In an earlier interview, Land noted that many
Baptists dismissed the writings of Paul, if they seemed to contradict
Jesus: ''Some have argued Jesus would oppose capital punishment, since
he said, 'Love your enemy.' However, Paul in Romans 13 came close to
explicitly endorsing capital punishment.'' Thus, he argued all Scripture
is equally authoritative.
Anthony Sizemore, another Texas pastor,
countered: ''The Bible is a book we can trust. But it is still just a
book. Christians are supposed to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.'
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. President of The
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the man some called the
''Thomas Jefferson,'' who drafted much of the new language, replied:
''This is what it all comes down to. The issue
is whether the Bible is the word of God, or whether it is just a record
of God's word. `All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, (2 Tim. 3:16).' It
is not merely a record of God's word.'' Vigorous applause greeted his
When a vote was taken, more than 90 percent
supported the Committee's new language.
To those in mainline denominations, the drive
of the Southern Baptists for a deeper commitment to Scripture may seem
fundamentalist. But the Presbyterians, United Methodists and
Episcopalians have lost millions of members, while Southern Baptists
have added millions.
- Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.