I sat with my dad, who was saved at age 25 in an SBC church, served for over half a century as an SBC pastor and missionary, and was deeply involved in SBC life, when the convention voted to change our constitution to disfellowship churches that either ordained homosexuals or blessed their unions. He was troubled. He said he supported the action because he realized that a church that did these things could not be in friendly cooperation with Southern Baptists. Still, he was troubled because he realized that writing such an action into the constitution, the act of instructing the denominational structure to disfellowship certain churches, was a departure from our historical polity.
In recent years, we have added racism to the list, and I supported that. We added the failure to deal adequately with sexual abuse to the list, and I said amen. I supported each of these actions. Churches that sanction homosexuality or practice racism or fail to deal with sexual abuse are a stain on the name Southern Baptist, but we must also understand that these actions were historical departures.
We’ve always had a way to accomplish disfellowshipping churches. It was cumbersome, but it could be done. If Podunk Baptist Church did something egregious, if they violated morality, decency, or our common confession, someone could make a motion to refuse to seat their messengers at the annual meeting. What we are doing now is a whole new thing.
Denominational discipline has historically taken place at the associational level and, to some degree, at the state convention level. The national convention simply did not engage in that. There are reasons we have reacted as we have, but we have to understand that this tendency to encode disfellowshipping into our constitution is NOT historic Baptist polity.
Our national convention is not a magisterium that maintains control over our local churches. In our polity, the churches are independent and hold the highest authority. The denominational leaders hold NO authority over the local church. We are acting Presbyterian and reversing centuries of Baptist polity.
Those who served on the committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000 (they actually did their work earlier) made it clear that the BF&M is not a document that governs the local church. Churches were never required to adopt it to be Southern Baptist. It is authoritative over our seminaries and our entities. The Bible is the authority in local churches, and each church has the autonomy to set its own doctrinal statements, whether they are in line with the BF&M 2000 or not.
We are taking a step toward creedalism when we seek to enforce the Baptist Faith & Message on churches. If a professor at one of our seminaries taught outside the boundaries of the BF&M 2000, or if one of our entity leaders or employees did the same, that entity should act. It is not the convention’s business to be the doctrinal authority over the local churches.
Our denominational structure is not meant to be a magisterium that enforces doctrinal conformity over local churches. That is a local association’s task, perhaps, but that is not what the SBC is supposed to do.
Now, we are being asked to kick out any churches that do not practice one SBC group’s rigid brand of complementarianism. My doctrine is fairly close to theirs, but I recognize that you can be faithful to the word of God and to the BF&M and hold other views. Their views are not the ONLY ones that are possible under the BF&M. The Law amendment essentially asks us to encode one of many applications of complementarian doctrine as the ONLY view among Southern Baptists and to excommunicate anyone who does not kowtow to that view.
THAT IS NOT WHAT BAPTISTS DO.
The Law amendment is an attempt to exert denominational control over local churches, effectively establishing a doctrinal magisterium which is contrary to Baptist history and polity.
The BF&M was designed as a loose document, allowing wide ranges of interpretations on many doctrines, allowing Baptists of different stripes to unite under the inerrancy of God’s word to do missions. As long as we loved Christ, believed in inerrancy, practiced immersion, hold generally to complementarian views, we could do missions together.
Now, the Law Amendment says that we can only unite if we accept ONE view, their view. I happen to be fairly close to their views on most things, but I do not want the SBC to excommunicate good Southern Baptists who do not agree with my views.
- If you do not believe in inerrancy, you are not Southern Baptist.
- If you do not believe in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the blood atonement, you are not one of us.
- If you do not practice believers’ baptism, you may be a wonderful Christian, but, well, you ain’t BAPTIST. It’s in the name.
- You can be Calvinist, non-Calvinist, or anywhere on the continuum, and still be SBC and we can serve together.
- Your eschatology can be like mine, or be wrong, and you are still part of us.
- If our political views differ a bit, we can unite to support the IMB and NAMB.
- As long as you believe in the basics of complementarian doctrine, we can hold to some differences in interpretation and application.
We do NOT all have to agree on all things, do we?
We need to defeat the Law Amendment because we are Baptist, not Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or any other hierarchical denomination. Our denominational structure serves the local church, it does not rule over it and it should not set itself up to be enforcers of doctrinal conformity.
This amendment is a step too far. I do not have a problem with the DOCTRINE of the Law amendment, but I have a problem with the EFFECT of it. It is unwise, unnecessary, unBaptist, and it will be a disaster if we adopt it.
One of the most important things we can do this week is defeat the Law amendment. I am sure Mr. Law is a good man and his intent is noble, but this just is not who we are.