It is not as bad as it sounds. I am in 99% enthusiastic support of the Baptist Faith and Message statement of 2000. I also agree that we need to have a confession of faith that defines our common doctrine and practice. I do not view the BF&M as an authoritative document – it is not a creed. But it is a useful doctrinal statement to which I give my essential support.
But I do not completely and fully adhere to the document. Some of my disagreements are picky and essentially insignificant – quarrels over wording. I have one area in which I stand in strong disagreement with and violation of the document.
Here are a couple of small points at which I disagree with the document.
- From Article II, Section C (on the Holy Spirit) – I think the wording on inspiration is unfortunate. It says, “He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures.” I’m being incredibly picky here, but it is the Scriptures that are inspired, not the men who wrote them. Perhaps it is all part of one process, but it seems significant to me. The writers of scripture were “carried along” (2 Peter 1:20-21) but it is the Scripture itself that is “God-breathed” or inspired.
- Also from Section C – I do not like the wording of the statement on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” I do not believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who DOES the baptism, but that he is that into which we are immersed. John (Mt 3:11) promised that Jesus would baptize us “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Acts 1:5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 seem to buttress that view. Jesus baptizes us in the Spirit.
Again, I said these were picky, minor points. If I wordsmithed this document, I could find a number of points at which I find minor disagreements or where I wish the statement had been worded differently. You may agree with the document and not with me at those points.
The BF&M is a human document and therefore carries human imperfections. We do not, nor should we, treat it as if it were inspired and authoritative. Many of the statements are sufficiently vague so that while the BF&M does not specifically state my position, it leaves enough wiggle room that my position fits there. I think that is a good thing, generally.
A Major Point of Contention
There is one place where I disagree with the BF&M and in which the practice of my church is in violation of what the document says.
Article VII, on Baptism and Lord’s Supper, is the sticking point. It says, “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.” That seems to be advocating some form of closed or close communion, which was the dominant practice a generation or two ago.
However, my church practices a more open communion policy. We invite every person who has been born again by God’s grace to share in the Lord’s table, whether they are members or not. I try to put the sacred nature of communion on display in my messages before the celebration and in the practice of the Supper, but we put almost no other fence around the table.
LifeWay research has revealed that the majority of SBC churches practice a communion closer to what we do at SHBC, and not as it seems to be defined in the BF&M. I consider myself SBC through and through. But I am leading my church to operate contrary to what the BF&M defines as SBC belief.
So, What Do We Do?
Here we have a document that defines our common belief and practice and the majority of our churches do not either believe or practice in line with it. What ought we to do? How ought we respond to churches that do not operate in line with the BF&M 2000?
I do not have the answers, but I do have some thoughts.
1) We may need to review the BF&M if it has provisions that over half of churches ignore or violate.
I know the proponents of close communion won’t like this, but if only a little over 40% assent to the document, it probably ought not be our guiding statement. The fact is, the BF&M statement on the Lord’s Supper does not represent Baptist belief and practice today.
2) Churches, being autonomous, do not have to conform to the BF&M.
My church has the freedom to believe what we believe and practice what we practice. In our most recent Bylaws revision, we wrote a limited open communion into the document. Not a single voice was raised in protest. No one at Southern Hills wants to practice closed or close communion. We are free to do as we please.
3) The purpose of a Confession is to express our common belief.
The BF&M has no biblical or ecclesiological authority over us. It is not a creed with which SBC churches must align. It is an expression of common belief. But what do we do when either the statement no longer expresses common belief or churches do not teach or practice in line with that common belief?
4) The only enforcement of the document is withdrawal of fellowship.
We cannot enforce the BF&M in our autonomous churches, we can only withhold fellowship (refuse to seat messengers, refuse to receive offerings, refuse to allow participation in Guidestone – that’s the one that hurts!) from those in non-compliance.
The exception to this, of course, is a church that is receiving denominational assistance to meet expenses. With the receipt of that money comes a greater scrutiny.
5) If we do not enforce at every point, how can we enforce any point?
As far as I know, there is no movement to refuse to seat messengers from my church at Houston SBC 2013. (I shouldn’t put that thought in anyone’s mind!) Most churches, evidently, agree more with me about the Lord’s Supper than they do with the BF&M. So, it seems I am safe in my disagreement.
But if they do not enforce that point, how can they enforce any point? If SHBC started worshiping Buddha, I’m guessing there would be a movement to disfellowship us. I hope there would be. If we denied inerrancy or the Trinity, or salvation by grace through faith, we ought to be shown our Baptist walking papers. And, if we ordained a homosexual or performed a homosexual marriage, we would be on the way out. I hope (although there is a question on this) that if we refused membership or participation to a black person on the basis of their race, we would be excluded from fellowship. We certainly should be!
But the fact that I believe that we are baptized IN the Holy Spirit, not BY him – does anyone really want to seek enforcement on that issue?
What about a clear violation like open communion? Or, perhaps, blurring the edge of congregationalism with a strong elder system?
- If we do not enforce ALL of the document, can we enforce any of it?
- If we are not going to enforce a point, why is it in the BF&M in the first place?
6) Our seminaries and other entities should enforce a stricter conformity.
As an autonomous pastor, I have a greater freedom than do seminary professors and entity leaders. To me, that is the key purpose of the document – to keep aberrant theology from disintegrating our denomination as it has so many others.
But, again, do we want to fire an entity head who believes in or attends a church that practices some form of open communion? Do we really want to go that far? Should professors who advocate less traditional ecclesiological positions be brought under scrutiny? Are we not “People of the Book” first and foremost?
I really don’t have simple answers, but I think it is an important issue, one we need to discuss. We need to be constantly refining our confession so that it represents the core of Baptist belief. And we also, in this day of doctrinal divergence and heterodoxy, need to figure out how we are going to enforce this document in our entities and within our fellowship.
Maybe you can help me figure all this out.