An excerpt addressing the Baptist Faith and Message
…Of course the issue that has dominated my time and that of our regional leaders and staff has been in managing the response to my request to missionaries to sign the Baptist Faith and Message. I want to express appreciation to Larry Cox and his staff in the Office of Mobilization for their work with the media, but especially to Wendy Norvelle and Mark Kelly who have done a superb job in serving as our spokespersons. Our missionaries have been wonderful in their understanding and cooperation, our regional leaders have been diligent to communicate, and sensitive in their response and encouragement, and I am grateful for your affirmation and support of our actions; I am confident these efforts will result in benefit to the IMB, the SBC and the Kingdom.
There are some observations in the response we have received these last few weeks that have been quite revealing. Practically every letter, e-mail and phone call criticizing and objecting to this request of our missionaries have reflected a predisposition against the leadership and direction of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Faith and Message. Most have jumped to the inaccurate assumption that it was you, the board, and administration that were suspicious of our missionaries, imposing a legalistic creed and coercing doctrinal conformity. To the contrary, it was due to our confidence in the missionaries that we have given them the opportunity to take a stand with us in dispelling unfounded suspicions and mistrust that could erode confidence and support. I continue to be astounded that anyone would think it inappropriate for missionaries to affirm what they believe whenever or as often as they are asked or given the opportunity to do so.
It has been disappointing to find that some media outlets and some of those in responsible positions are apparently not interested in truth, but readily propagate any rumor or perception that would discredit the SBC and promote their divisive agenda. Probably most alarming of all has been an awareness of those that advocate freedom to the point of supplanting the Lordship of Christ and the authority of God's infallible word and that missionaries should not have to be doctrinally accountable to their sending and supporting churches. We all would readily affirm we have no creed but the Bible, and the Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice. However, when I was pastoring in Texas I had many Church of Christ friends who said the same thing. On the mission field I ran into Pentecostals and Charismatics who also claimed no creed but the Bible. So what is it that distinguishes us as Baptists? Since the 1600's, Baptists and others have drafted "confessions" as a testimony of what we believe. They have consistently been updated to say collectively, "Here we stand," in response to social issues and theological diversions. I find it appalling in the light of disintegrating homes in America and the diminishing influence of churches on our society that there are those who would advocate compromise with culture and reject the Biblical model of family life and church structure.
It is especially alarming that so many seem to think the primary thing that distinguishes Baptists is the priesthood of the believer and autonomy of the local church, forgetting that our soul competency to come to God without any mediator other than Jesus Christ is based on the authority of God's inerrant word. The Holy Spirit never leads an individual contrary to the teaching and truths of God's word; the pride and arrogance to elevate freedom and independent thinking above the foundation of our belief must be an offense to our Father and His Lordship. I find it difficult to understand those who proclaim their rallying cry as, "free and faithful Baptists." If everyone is free, what is there to be faithful to? According to my Bible the only thing we are free from is sin, and in being set free from sin by faith in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ, we become bond-slaves of Christ. A slave under the Lordship of Jesus Christ has no freedom to assert his own will an opinion apart from the infallible, divinely-inspired truths of God's word.
It is interesting that those who champion the priesthood of the believer apparently deny that very concept of priesthood to the dedicated men and women led by God to draft the Baptist Faith and Message and the thousands of Southern Baptists who individually sought God's will and leadership as priests before Him to affirm this expression of our faith collectively, when they condescendingly relegate it to a "man-made document." It is interesting that those so intent on practicing autonomy would not acknowledge the autonomy of the Southern Baptist Convention, as an essential part of our denominational polity, and its authority to govern its institutions and expect accountability on the part of those who serve convention entities.
When our missionaries were appointed we reviewed their statements of belief, written in their own words and found them acceptable. They expressed basic agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message, and no one felt that it was a creed being imposed or that such doctrinal affirmation was inappropriate for one being appointed by a denominational mission agency. Asking them to reaffirm the Baptist Faith and Message, something they had already done, and even inviting them to express areas of disagreement, is serving to prove to would-be detractors that they are doctrinally sound, denominationally loyal and passionate to share Jesus Christ with a lost world. However, the controversy this has generated has reflected once again the necessity of the conservative resurgence and the need to hold firmly to the fundamentals of our faith lest we succumb to theological relativism, social compromise, post-modern influence and be cast about by every wind of doctrine in the name of freedom.