The Ephesians 4 Project: The Preamble and Article I.
From the very outset of the Baptist Faith & Message, 2000, we see that this is a document written for the express purpose of unifying Southern Baptists under core theological and methodological issues while leaving plenty of room for diversity. In The Preamble of the BF & M, it is especially important to note the inclusion of the 1925 committee’s five-pronged disclaimer regarding “the historic Baptist conception of the nature and function of confessions of faith in religious and denominational life . . . . ,” which I will cite here:
(1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
Unifying Principles from The Preamble
The primary unifying principle found in The Preamble is the fact that the BF & M stands as a “consensus of opinion” document for the purpose of unity rather than uniformity. Since the purpose of the BF & M is to “constitute a consensus of opinion” that should not be regarded as containing “complete statements of our faith,” we can confidently affirm that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits underneath the SBC umbrella.
Further, since the BF & M permits “any group of Baptists . . . to draw up for themselves” their own confession of faith, we can confidently affirm again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the SBC.
Finally, since the BF & M asserts “that the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” and that documents such as the BF & M should “not be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life,” we can confidently affirm once again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the fellowship of the SBC.
Article I: The Scriptures
The BF & M states the SBC’s affirmation of Scripture succinctly: The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Unifying Principles from Article I
In today’s SBC, there does not appear to be any significant controversy over the nature of Scripture, quite unlike the situation in the convention from the 1960s-1990s. It seems that we are completely unified around the belief that the Bible is completely inspired, inerrant, and infallible, and that it is our final authority as a denomination and as autonomous local churches.
No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message should be proclaimed the same among those that can conscientiously sign the BF & M and agree that the Word of God is the Word of God.
For His Glory,
Doctor, it seems to me that you have struck a goldmine here with the preamble. To be honest, I've never read these disclaimers before now, but they are very important to the SBC unity discussion and actually point to one of the strengths/weaknesses of the SBC.
First, the disclaimers are meant to be consensus-building, unity-building. They were written by nature to be sort of the lowest Southern Baptist common denominator. To err from these is to cease to be Southern Baptist. They were written so that various groups within the Baptist stream might come together for a greater purpose. Unfortunately, some are wanting to add to the BF&M to determine true Southern Baptists. For some, the BF&M isn't enough for denomination cooperation. This is very sad and directly opposed the spirit of the BF&M.
SBC churches and entities, according to the preamble, are welcomed to use another statement of faith. That's why, for instance, that our church West Main Baptist Church has a modified New Hampshire Confession as its confession and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has the Abstract of Principles instead of the BF&M. Both WMBC & SBC affirm the BF&M for denominational life, but choose not to use it as our actual doctrinal statement. The preamble to the BF&M gives us the right to do so.
Second, the fact that the BF&M is a consensus document is a double-edged sword of sorts. On one hand, it's loose enough to allow 42,000 churches to come together to accomplish something great through the Cooperative Program. However, on the other hand, it's loose enough that it allows some substantial diversity which can cause conflict. So, we have two options:
1) learn to get along for the glory of God and the sake of the Gospel
2) divide and get more specific doctrinally so that unity is found that way
I pray #1 happens. I'm tired of the bickering!
Ben, I agree with your comments. I believe the preamble is forgotten about far too often. I've noticed on some of the more aggressive blogs/comments-on-blogs that some have actually decried the use of certain additional statements of faith by some local SBC churches. The argument has been that such churches are going outside the parameters of the BF & M. While there may indeed be some SBC churches that have gone too far from the basic principles found in the BF & M, they are very few. I personally know not one. I would guess that a SBC church that is straying too widely from the BF & M would likely be on the verge of leaving the convention altogether rather than sticking around to make a fuss. The fact is, the preamble states clearly that local Baptist churches and other SBC entities are free to adopt additional Baptistic statements of faith. Which brings us back to the main idea of The Ephesians 4 Project: if a church can conscientiously sign the BF & M, then they fit under the umbrella that is the SBC. I too am praying that the former happens. Let's stop fighting and start preaching!
Further, I agree that the consensus reality of the BF & M can definitely cause conflict, but it really is an unneccesary conflict. Following your lead with your #1 and # 2: Those that can agree to disagree and can conscientiously affirm the BF & M, should walk shoulder to shoulder up to the gates of hell and proclaim the gospel together. Those that are so dogmatic in their stances that they can't get along with others despite having a broadly Baptistic statement of faith such as the BF & M should leave the convention, and I say that last part in absolute brotherly love.
As for the article on Scripture, how do we account for Southern Baptists agreeing on the source of our authority for our faith and practice but disagreeing as what exactly that faith and practice is? What causes that?
Ben, I'm not sure I can answer that question with any great wisdom, but I'll throw a few ideas out there. First, we have to acknowledge that there will always be a certain amount of disagreement over faith and practice. We see this clearly from Scripture, especially in the life of Jesus. Jesus was true in all that he believed and did, yet in the end He was crucified. We account for this by remembering that we live in a sinful world, and believers themselves continue to struggle in the flesh.
Second, we have to acknowledge that some disagreement is a good thing in the provdential outworkings of God. For example, Paul spoke about this in his correspondece to the Corinthians. In 11:19 he writes, "for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." So, one purpose of disagreements is the testing of our faith, perhaps even if we are in the faith. Another example is found in the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas as to whether they should take John Mark on the second missionary journey. This was primarily an issue over practice rather than doctrine, though the idea of ministerial reliability has definite theological foundations. So, a second purpose of disagreements is that we end up reaching a wider-variety of people with the gospel, as we see that Paul went back to visit churches previously planted and Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus. I guess the question today is the same that it has always been: how diverse can we be in our faith and practice and still be unified? I'm praying that we will continue to be unified. Though we may have to "divide" in some ways within the SBC, I pray it is a Paul/Barnabas type division only because at the end of the day I believe that they continued to be great friends in the ministry.