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Team Baptist

One of those distinct memories of my early elementary school was P.E.  Inevitably, the sport of the day began with choosing teammates.  The teacher picked “captains,” and the captains would then alternate in choosing their teammates.  In the end, this elementary draft sometimes left you with a hodge podge of players.  But there was one thing I noticed—no matter how different the players on each team, they rallied around one another for the sake of the greater goal of winning the game.

This illustrates a great spiritual truth.  Despite many differences among Southern Baptists, I have found that we have mostly recognized that we are on the same team: our rule of faith being the Bible; our consensus statement regarding biblical doctrine being the Baptist Faith & Message; and our rallying cry being JESUS SAVES!

Perhaps this is why the SBC team morale in the last 7-10 years has been especially troubling.  It seems we have teams within the team nowadays (perhaps this is the way it has always been but it seems more evident of late).  And it seems that one of the ways of determining whose “team” you’re on is being asked questions like, “Who do you read?” or “Who do you listen to?” (referring to pastors/theologians).

This line of questions has come to me several times in recent years.  And then when they hear that I primarily listen to people with whom they disagree in some respects, then they insinuate that I have become skewed in my beliefs because of this.

Please allow me to clear the air on some of the greatest influencers of my theology.  From a very young age, I remember Sunday mornings in my home included Charles Stanley on television right after breakfast and before we left to assemble with the saints.  I like to say that I cut my teeth as a new believer on his preaching.

In my early days of college, I remember several summer revivals with Tennessee evangelist Ronnie Owens.  I can’t tell you how much God used this man to bring revival to my wandering college-heart.  I like to say that through his preaching I had root canals on several rotten teeth.

In my late years of college, I remember listening to Adrian Rogers on my morning commutes.  His preaching helped me grow in my passion for Jesus, the lost, and for expositional preaching.  I like to say that God did some additional work on my teeth that was not only corrective but even cosmetic.

Finally, it was while in seminary that I was deeply influenced through the preaching of Bob Pitman of Kirby Woods Baptist, Bud Bickers, missions professor; and Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist.  God used these men and others like them to polish my gospel teeth even further.

Ironically, throughout the years of being greatly influenced by these men of God, I have come to disagree with some of the finer points of their biblical interpretations—for example, in the areas of ecclesiology and soteriology.  I don’t disagree with them by and large but on the finer points.

Yet, I continue to have a great respect for these men and their ministries.  And yes, I still listen to them on occasion.  But no, I do not listen to them exclusively nor primarily.  I believe in a varied diet of God’s Word as long as the shepherds feeding my soul are within the realm of orthodoxy.  And yes, that means that some of the shepherds that feed me are outside of the SBC—men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney.

Time and again, I hear of my fellow SBC teammates criticizing teammates like me for listening to SBCers who are Reformed in their ecclesiology and soteriology; and they seem even more disturbed that I would listen to non-SBC preachers.  Ironies of ironies, however, some such critics have no problem listening to non-SBC preachers like John Hagee.  Some will even use non-SBC evangelistic programs such as Evangelism Explosion, which was put together by D. James Kennedy.

Now I understand that there is a pocket of squirrely Reformed Baptist in the SBC.  But I can say that out of all of my Reformed acquaintances, they all love Jesus, share the gospel, and have a passion for their local flock.  Besides, there are always fringe elements.  Yes, there is a small number of squirrely Reformed Baptists.  But just as accurate, there is a small number of squirrely “Traditionalist” Baptists.

Yet, I am convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists recognize there is plenty of room under the SBC umbrella for a variety of Baptistic expressions.  And that is exactly what the Preamble of the BF & M allows for.  After all, we are on the same team.  So I say, let’s start living and loving like it in our ministries and communications.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: In the Bond of Peace

The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity has been to remind Southern Baptists that we have a consensus document in the Baptist Faith & Message.  From the very beginning of this blog series, I have demonstrated from the BF & M 2000 that Southern Baptists are unified if we can conscientiously affirm this document.  The problem of late has been a certain element within Southern Baptist life that tends more toward a Fundamentalistic rather than a Baptistic understanding of Christianity.  While there is much about Fundamentalism with which I agree, the tendency of such proponents is more akin to lynch-mob Christianity than seeking “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Nevertheless, The Ephesians 4 Project has been a success in the sense that the BF & M was upheld as a unifying document of belief.  It has been my prayer that these articles have been received as words of humility, for I have worked hard to maintain such an attitude.  We can only pray that Southern Baptists will remain steadfast in maintaining the Spirit of unity for the sake of the gospel and Christ's Kingdom.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XVIII

Article XVIII:  The Family
God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Unifying Principles of Article XVIII
It has been several weeks coming, but we have finally arrived at the last article of the Baptist Faith & Message.  After this article, I will post one final article that highlights some of the more notable points of unification and contention among Southern Baptists.

As for Article XVIII on The Family, Southern Baptists are in agreement on the importance of the family “as the foundational institution of human society,” as marriage between one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment, and the complimentarian view of the marriage relationship.  Further, Southern Baptists agree that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord."  My one concern, as with many other statements of belief in the BF & M, is that too few Southern Baptists are actually living out this doctrine of the family.  The alarming fact that most evangelical Christians are statistically identical to non-Christians in America when it comes to the family (especially regarding divorce) demonstrates that this is a genuine problem.  Despite this, Southern Baptists are united by this article of the BF & M.

Let me end this article on the last statement of the BF & M with my recurring claim throughout this series: EVERY CHURCH AND INDIVIDUAL THAT IS CONSCIEOUNTIOUSLY ABLE TO SIGN THE BAPTIST FAITH & MESSAGE EASILY FITS WITHIN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project XVII

Article XVII:  Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Unifying Principles of Article XVII
On this Independence Day holiday weekend, it is most appropriate that I post this particular article.  History is replete with examples of the blunders and abuses that occur when religion and the state become too cozy.  I think of the atrocities infamously known as the Crusades, Nazism, and various Islamic dictatorships.  This is why I am glad that the Baptist Faith & Message contains Article XVII on Religious Liberty.  Since God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a Divine Independent, the church should be wary of promoting secular politics within its body.  The BF & M leaves no stone unturned on this issue but makes it abundantly clear that, “Church and state should be separate.”  Rather, the church should “render loyal obedience thereto [the state] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that our churches are to be religiously free from and yet conditionally accountable to the state.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XVI

Article XVI:  Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Unifying Principles of Article XVI
Few articles in the Baptist Faith & Message resound with unifying language like Article XVI.  This article unifies Southern Baptists in our joint effort to live at peace with all men and “do all in their power to put an end to war.”  As a part of Christ’s world-wide church, we have the grand responsibility of proclaiming peace and righteousness to the nations, and we must begin this task on our knees in prayer.  Surely this statement on Peace and War is sufficient for some Southern Baptists to put down their proverbial swords and take up the pruning hooks for bringing in the gospel harvest.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XV

Article XV: The Christian and the Social Order
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Unifying Principles of Article XV
The Baptist Faith & Message calls Southern Baptists to responsible Christian living in their particular subcultures of society.  We all agree that the “will of Christ” is to be supreme in our personal lives and that this should inevitably affect our society as the power of God’s regenerating work demonstrates the effectualness of the gospel.

According to this statement of faith, all Southern Baptists agree that some of the primary ways that the Christian should impact society are in the areas of: racism, greed, selfishness, vice, every form of sexual immorality, orphans, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, the sick, and abortion.  The key phrase in regard to how each of the items on this list should be approached is “in the spirit of Christ.”

While I do believe that Southern Baptists agree on this point, there is a handful of people in our denomination that are not practicing what they believe but seem determined to split-hairs over some of these things.  Even recently a pastor from Waco, GA, Peter Lumpkin, has been calling out Albert Mohler regarding Mohler’s past comments on homosexuality and homophobia.  The culmination came when this pastor formally addressed Mohler at the 2011 SBC.

For the record, Mohler is right.  The fact is, Southern Baptist have traditionally approached homosexuality in a homophobic way, much like they approached (and still do in many quarters) racism in a ethnophobic way.  Both of these phobic sins hinder proclamation of the gospel to these segments of our culture.  The comments made and the tactics used by some in our denomination appear to be only loosely attached to “the spirit of Christ,” yet Southern Baptists as a whole are unified in our understanding of The Christian and the Social Order.

In light of what has been said here, let us hear again the closing sentence of the BF &M with my emphases added: “In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  May it be so by God’s grace.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XIII

Article XIII: Stewardship

God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth.

Unifying Principles of Article XIII
The Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on stewardship has no areas of disagreement among Southern Baptists according to my understanding.  Therefore, only a short response is required.  We all agree that God is the Giver of “all blessings, temporal and spiritual.”  We agree that “all that we have and are we owe to Him,” which is directly connected to our understanding of God as provident and gracious.  We all agree that we have been entrusted with the treasure of the gospel and with material possessions as well for “the glory of God and for helping others.”  While we may sometimes disagree how cooperative funds would best be used, we all agree that they would be used for the building of the kingdom of God through world missions and education.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XII

Article XII: Education
Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ's people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.


Unifying Principles of Article XII
One of the distinguishing marks of being a Southern Baptist has been the emphasis placed on the necessity of Christian education.  The Baptist Faith and Message puts forth a clearly unified statement on the importance of education and its co-ordinated connection with “missions and general benevolence.”

Here I would like to offer to disclaimers for Southern Baptists.  One, we are right to emphasize Christian education in our churches, theological schools, and missions, but we must be sure that these educational pursuits are hinged with lots of accountability.  It’s easy to assume that people are being educated in the ways of the Lord when they’re not.  Two, we are right to ask churches for their “liberal support,” but not for the sole purpose of pouring multi-billion dollars into the building of elaborate American church/seminary facilities when simple facilities will do just fine and when Christians in foreign lands are in such great need of assistance.

Despite any disagreement with these disclaimers, Southern Baptists agree that Christian education is crucial for the edification of the church of God.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: ArticleXI

Article XI.:  Evangelism and Missions
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man's spirit by God's Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.


Unifying Principles of Article XI.
One of the reasons that I am most proud to be a part of the SBC is the fact that we are a “go and tell” denomination. The Baptist Faith & Message reminds us of this with its statement on evangelism and missions. I praise God that Southern Baptists are unified on this great “duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter our varying theological stripes, we are united by our “love for others” as imparted by the Holy Spirit. While our methodologies may vary, the BF & M allows for this among Southern Baptists by stating that evangelism ought to be pursued “by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.”

Here we must make an especially heartfelt cry for unification. There are some in our denomination that accuse their fellow Southern Baptists who have a more Reformed understanding of salvation of not “believing in evangelism” or not being “passionate about evangelism” or even “refusing to evangelize.”  The fact remains, that as long as a Southern Baptists can conscientiously sign the BF & M, then they are affirming their commitment to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all the nations.

Therefore, we must refrain from spouting such slanderous accusations against our fellow brothers in Christ.  The reality is that all of us could use an extra unction of God’s Spirit for the purpose of personal evangelism and missions.  In the end, this accusation is nothing more than a straw man designed to tear down another for three main reasons: to promote one’s own theological understanding, to boast of one's own evangelistic pursuits, or to shift attention away from one’s own evangelistic negligence.  With any of these, pride is the culprit.  Let us humble ourselves before the LORD our God, think the best of our fellow believers in Christ, and link arm to arm in the preaching of the gospel!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VIII

Article VIII.:  The Lord’s Day
The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Unifying Principles from Article VIII.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Day can involve some disagreement among Southern Baptists.  Some would like the wording from the BF & M 1963 reinstated that includes phrases denoting activities to avoid on the Lord’s Day.  The former statement said that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed “by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only being excepted.”

Interestingly, Southern Baptists from a variety of theological understandings argue that the 1963 wording was best, while other Southern Baptists from those same varieties of theological understandings argue that the 2000 wording was a needed change. It appears, however, that the BF & M has maintained a delicate balance between the two more opposing views by catering to both.  Here is a great example in which a local church ought to draw up an additional statement of belief  that will be “commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

The unifying principle remains the same despite minor disagreement, which is Southern Baptists agree that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed regularly for the remembrance and worship of our great Savior, Jesus Christ.  Further, I would conclude that all Southern Baptists agree that Jesus is not only Lord of the Sabbath, but He is also Lord of the Lord’s Day.  If we can conscientiously sign the BF & M with its statement on the Lord’s Day, then we are welcome under the umbrella of the SBC.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article III

Article III: Man
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Unifying Principles from Article III
The BF & M again presents a unifying statement of doctrine.  Southern Baptists can easily affirm that man is a special creation of God who has sinned against God and now stands in need of salvation.

There is, however, the potential for disagreement in one area of the BF & M’s wording of the doctrine of man in the phrase that man “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. . . . as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. (italics added).  There are some Southern Baptists that would rather this section read more affirmatively of total depravity.  Total depravity is the doctrine that represents the understanding that man is born with original sin, that is an inherited sin-nature from Adam.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could be, but that sin has corrupted every aspect of man: including the body, mind, and will.  Proponents of this understanding would likely prefer that the BF & M read something like, “his [man’s] posterity inherit a nature and environment corrupted by sin.” 

Even so, Baptists of all theological stripes agree that man has a depraved nature in need of regeneration, confirmed with the BF & M’s statement, “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  While some may disagree over some of the nuisances of this doctrine, Southern Baptists actually agree on more than they do not, and this is where an autonomous congregation’s use of their own doctrinal statement can be helpful as they hammer out differences in interpretations.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same by Baptists that agree that man has a serious problem with sin and is in need of God’s redeeming grace and love.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article II

Article II: God
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

A.  God the Father:  God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

B.  God the Son:  Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

C.  God the Holy Spirit:  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.

Unifying Principles from Article II
The BF & M is firmly orthodox in its statement of who God is and how God has eternally existed in the three persons of the Trinity.  Regarding God the Father, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that God is reigning “with providential care” over all things in accordance with “the purposes of His grace” and that God is all powerful in His knowledge, love, and wisdom.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that God is sovereign over all things, though we may disagree on how that works itself out.

Regarding God the Son, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that Christ was the righteous servant who died to redeem sinners from spiritual death and was raised from the dead as the first fruit of eternal life for whosoever believes in Him.  Further, Baptists with varying theological stripes agree that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and “will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that Jesus is the only hope for man's salvation but only those who believe on Jesus will be saved.  Further, all Southern Baptist can agree that Jesus will return one day, though we may disagree on the details of His return.

Regarding God the Holy Spirit, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures, and He illuminates the Scriptures so that men may understand the truth contained within God’s word.  Further, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of sin, calls men to the Saviour, effects regeneration, justifies believers, and then sanctifies them.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that the Holy Spirit is the author and illuminator of Scripture who effects regeneration in the hearts of men, though we may disagree on the details of His operation.

No matter our slight variations in our theological understanding, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same among Baptists that agree that God is the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is indeed holy and requires holiness from humanity, and who is one God in essence expressed in three co-equal persons. 

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: The Preamble and Article I.

The Preamble
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,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity

If I've learned nothing else from thirteen years of ministry, this one thing I have learned: spiritual warfare is very real and very dangerous.  The Apostle Paul wasn't kidding when he wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph.6:12).  While this spiritual reality is not surprising, I can't help but be disturbed by the combative mood of some within our Southern Baptist Convention of late.  Yet, I’m praying this combativeness will not win the day because God has called us to one gospel that unites us as brothers in Christ against a common spiritual enemy.

I wish that I could say that this combative trend is the abnorm rather than the norm, but I can't.  It seems that the SBC has had a long history of fighting.  Now don't get me wrong, there are many fights worth fighting, and the SBC has fought some battles that were of biblical necessity, the foremost in our minds being the Conservative Resurgence that stretched from the late 1960s practically to the early 1990s.  That lengthy and needful battle was primarily about the authority of the Bible, and we praise God that He upheld His Word and glorified Himself by protecting the SBC from diabolical liberalism.

In some sense, however, it seems that the fight over the authority of Scripture has progressed to its next logical step.  Now that we’ve all agreed that the Bible is completely reliable and authoritative, frayed factions have redrawn the battle lines.  The lines no longer encircle the text of Scripture only but now the theology derived from it as well.  If the drawing of theological lines were not difficult enough, we also have mud flying over various missional methodologies, including divergence regarding the general direction of the SBC in the task of world missions.

Here's the question that I’m seeking to answer.  How different can our doctrine and practice be and we still be united under the banner of the SBC?  While that may seem like a daunting question, I believe there is both a conservatively theological and practical answer.  For me, the answer rests squarely on the Baptist Faith & Message and our willingness to cooperate within its parameters as a unifying document.

It is my conviction that if Southern Baptists would be genuinely unified under the BF & M, then most of the doctrinal arguments and many of the methodological arguments would be sufficiently resolved.  Now don't misinterpret what I'm saying.  I'm not saying that it will all be "pie in the sky."  But I do believe that unity around our statement of belief is sufficient to debunk much of the vitriolic speech occurring between fellow Christians in the SBC.  The fact is, we agree upon far more than we disagree, both in our theologies and methodologies.  The purpose of the BF & M is to unite like-minded, but not identically-minded, Baptists in the cause of the Great Commission of going to the nations, making disciples, and teaching them to observe our Lord's commandments.

In light of the aforementioned issues, I plan to write an eighteen part blog series, one for every article of belief in the BF & M, 2000 that I hope to publish over the course of the next four weeks.  The title, The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity, comes from Paul’s call for unity to the Ephesian believers, as found in Ephesians 4:1-8 particularly and 4:9-16 by extension.  Verse 3, perhaps, should serve as our theme:

Ephesians 4:3—“[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The purpose of this series is to seek unity among Southern Baptists around the fact that our doctrine is mostly uniform, though our practice may be less so.   It seeks to highlight the unifying principles of the BF & M, while allowing for diversity among Southern Baptists.  It also seeks the fulfillment of John 13:33-34 in the SBC.  Talk about your Great Commission Resurgence!  If we would come closer to fulfilling our Lord’s command to love one another, our GCR would be overwhelmingly successful as the Spirit of God would stir the hearts of unbelievers all around us.  And until we have obeyed the second great command of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot say that we are obeying the first great command.

It is my prayer that The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity will contribute to the unity of Southern Baptists under the core articles of our faith while urging us to an "agree-to-disagree" status on matters of lesser importance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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