Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2000 Editor: Bruce Prescott
Southern Baptists Turning Deaf Ear to God's Spirit
by Dr. Bruce Prescott
The central difference between earlier versions of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) and the 2000 BFM is in the way they reflect openness to the Spirit of God.
Earlier BFMs avoided language that could be construed as limiting the ways in which God’s Spirit moved. A more conscientious spirituality characterized the confessions of faith submitted by the committees that Mullins (1925) and Hobbs (1963) chaired. They remembered the sins of their fore fathers. They knew that spiritless, literal interpretations of a handful of biblical texts had led Southern Baptists to turn a deaf ear to God’s Spirit on the issue of slavery. A generation of sons had been needlessly sacrificed before ears were unstopped. Baptists in the South had been painfully slow to listen when the Holy Spirit insisted that no matter how many Bible verses endorsed slavery, the thrust of the gospel and the movement of God in history was toward abolition.
Underlying those early BFMs was a concern to avoid the kind of spiritual deafness that is produced by lifeless, literal interpretations of isolated Bible verses. Their desire was for Baptists to interpret the Bible with ears attuned to the voice of God and with hearts sensitive to the fresh movement of the Holy Spirit in history.
The 2000 BFM, on the other hand, is replete with language limiting the ways in which God’s Spirit can move. A legalistic, stone-hearted spirituality underlies most of the changes in the BFM offered by the committee that Adrian Rogers chaired. They have forgotten the sins of their fore fathers. Once again lifeless, literal interpretations of isolated Bible verses are leading Baptists in the South to turn a deaf ear to God’s Spirit. Before the Spirit will again be permitted to breathe life into their interpretations of scripture, Southern Baptists will have needlessly sacrificed the sons and daughters of yet another generation, or more. The underlying concern and desire of the 2000 BFM is to make the movement of God’s Spirit conform to the lifeless logic of Fundamentalist interpretations of scripture.
In fairness there is one article in the 2000 BFM that encourages more sensitivity to the Holy Spirit than in earlier confessions. The 2000 BFM says, “Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Earlier BFMs adhered more literally to the letter of scripture by saying the Lord’s Day requires, “refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments.” They did avoid stone-heartedness, however, by adding, “work of necessity and mercy only being accepted.”
The 2000 BFM’s explicit appeal to conscience regarding the observance of one of the ten commandments seems peculiarly out of place among several other additions and deletions that are intent on limiting the movement of God’s Spirit and deafening the ears of Baptists.
The most obvious restriction is the 2000 BFMs assertion that, “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The truth is, there are more passages of Scripture that endorse slavery than passages prohibiting women from serving as pastors. There are also numerous passages of scripture in both the Old and New Testaments that speak of women being filled with the Spirit and leading God’s people.
Rogers and his committee have needlessly led Baptists to a crossroads on this issue. Mullins and Hobbs left the matter open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They would not presume to tell the sovereign God who could or could not be called to serve in any capacity in the church or in the world.
Using the same interpretive methods that our fore fathers used to oppose abolition, Rogers and his committee have made this a test of fellowship in Southern Baptist life.
Other affronts to the sovereignty of God are evident in the changes made to the prologue of the 2000 BFM. The 1963 BFM underscored and clarified the 1925 BFM’s assertion that “We do not regard them (confessions of faith) as complete statements of faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility” by adding an additional sentence that said, “Such statements (confessions of faith) have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority.” (Emphasis added) The 2000 BFM eliminates this clarification and replaces it with a phrase that, in effect, authorizes a creedal status for the new BFM. The mandatory, creedal authority of the 2000 BFM is made explicit by the addition of a statement saying confessions of faith are adopted “as instruments of doctrinal accountability.” (Emphasis added)
The prologue of the 1963 BFM also added clarification to the 1925 BFM’s assertion that “Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.” The 1963 BFM acknowledged the Holy Spirit’s lordship over conscience by saying, “Baptists emphasize the soul’s competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer.” That statement was deleted from the prologue of the 2000 BFM.1 When challenged for making this deletion, Rogers’ committee asserted that the principle of soul competency is “defined by the sixth article of our report, ‘The Church’ where members are said to be “responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord.” (emphasis added) This definition, however, is at odds with that of Mullins and Hobbs who viewed the soul’s competency as “under God” rather than “under the church.” At the Orlando convention, when they relented and re-inserted “soul competency” into the BFM, the 2000 committee carefully maintained their redefinition of soul competency as “under the church” by adding a qualifying phrase about “our accountability to each other.”
These changes are more than just a repudiation of the theology of Mullins and Hobbs. They serve notice that an admittedly fallible human creed has replaced the living presence of the Spirit of God as the primary guide for the consciences of Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are no longer directly accountable to Christ as personally guided by the Holy Spirit within them (under God). Southern Baptists are now accountable to Christ indirectly — as guided by the church and its “instruments of doctrinal accountabiity” (under the church).
Those longing to live in a community like the Massachusetts Bay Colony will find much to commend in the 2000 BFM. Colonial Puritans also had “instruments of doctrinal accountability” that denied Baptists the liberty to follow the dictates of a conscience that was guided by the Holy Spirit. The chief difference is that Colonial Puritans wrote their creed before they conducted inquisitions, burned witches and expelled Baptists. The drafters of the 2000 BFM conducted their inquisitions, terminated heretics, and expelled Baptists first and then they drafted a creed to authorize their actions.
1 The word “deleted” is retained despite Al Mohler’s protest that “It would be unfair to say we deleted” the sentence in question. After decades of Fundamentalist repudiations of the doctrine of “priesthood of the believer” and Mohler’s own recent denunciation of the principle of “soul competency,” the claim that it was “just one paragraph that did not get included in the new report” lacks credibility. The truth is, the deleted sentence is the only sentence in a paragraph added by the 1963 BFM committee that did not get included. The deleted sentence was the first sentence and the primary, topical sentence of the paragraph. The committee managed to include and quote the second sentence of the paragraph. To do that, the committee also had to remove an adverb and a clause that connected it to the sentence that was deleted.
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