The Southern Baptist Convention made history as messengers overwhelmingly approved revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message, our confession of faith. In so doing, Southern Baptists linked our honored past with the promise of the future, and pledged to maintain doctrinal faithfulness as a new century dawns.
The Baptist Faith and Message is now 75 years old, and it is no coincidence that it shares a birthday with the Cooperative Program. Both came out of the historic 1925 Memphis session of the Southern Baptist Convention, and both have served Southern Baptists exceedingly well.
The Convention first revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963 when storms of doctrinal controversy threatened to divide the denomination. In 2000, the Convention had its eyes on the future and a determination to fulfill the mandate given us by the Apostle Paul, who instructed Timothy: "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Tim 1:13-14).
The debate on the floor of the Convention was very revealing. Proposed amendments were primarily directed at the Preamble and Article 1, "The Scriptures." The Convention sustained the recommendation from the special committee, but the statements made by those attempting to revise the report left an indelible impression on the Convention's memory.
The Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee released our report on May 18 in order to give the Convention ample time to read and review the proposal. The full report was available 24 hours-a-day on the Internet, and it received remarkable interest.
Considerable attention was focused on our revisions in Article 1, "The Scriptures." The 1963 version stated that the Bible "is the record of God's revelation of Himself to man." We removed the word "record" in order to remove confusion about the nature of God's revelation in the Bible.
The Bible is not merely a record of revelation. It is revelation itself. The Bible is not a fallible witness to the revelation of God. It is God's perfectly inspired Word. The written Word testifies of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, as our Lord himself explained.
We stated clearly that "all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is himself the focus of divine revelation." This replaces the language stating that Jesus Christ is "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted." Why? Simply put, because 30 years of abuses and attacks upon the integrity of the Bible made clear that some were using this language to deny the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God.
Some who have taught in our seminaries over the past several decades claimed that this allowed them to deny the truthfulness of whatever biblical passages did not rise to their standard of Jesus' intention. Professors and pastors have denied that God ordered the conquest of Canaan, tested Abraham in the sacrifice of Isaac or inspired the Apostle Paul when he wrote about the family or roles in the church.
One messenger tragically stated that the Bible is "just a book." Mainstream Southern Baptists - and Christians of all denominations - know better.
Those who opposed the revisions adopted this year by the Convention are out of touch with Southern Baptists, out of step with the great tradition of faithful Christians through the centuries and out of line in their intemperate language.
Southern Baptists will not retreat from the high ground of biblical authority and theological integrity. In adopting the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptists are determined to face the future from the high ground of biblical faithfulness.