On June 14, 2000, Southern Baptists gathered in Orlando, Florida, and revised their confession of faith. Our theological convictions and commitments were boldly set forth as we prepare to face the challenges of the next century. This revision of our confession was overwhelmingly adopted by the Convention in session. Not surprising, the secular press focused on one article (the Church and what it says about women serving as pastor), and more often than not, either misrepresented or misunderstood what we were saying.
Unfortunately, some Baptists have not accurately grasped what is affirmed in the revision, and so it is a helpful exercise to focus on the changes, and to take notice of exactly what was and what was not adopted. We are convinced that when the facts are clearly made plain, Southern Baptists across the nation and around the world will give their hearty affirmation. In fact, early evidence suggests just that.
The Preamble states, "Each generation of Christians bears the responsibility of guarding the treasury of truth that has been entrusted to us [2 Timothy 1:14]." As we enter a new millennium, Southern Baptists joyfully reaffirm long held beliefs that we cherish. We continue our unwavering commitment to religious liberty for all. So deeply do we honor this principle that we would lay down our lives for the right of others to believe whatever they choose to believe, even if it is in opposition to our own convictions. Such a posture does not mean nor has it ever meant that a person can be a Baptist and believe anything he or she wants. There are distinctive biblical and doctrinal beliefs that make a Baptist a Baptist.
One statement in the Preamble in particular captures several of those truths we hold dear: "We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God." Southern Baptists believe each human soul is competent to go directly to God without the aid or assistance of any human go-between. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). We affirm that through faith in our Lord Jesus we are a community of priests, responsible to and for one another.
This priesthood of believers operates in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and under the authority of Holy Scripture. Soul competency is a doctrine of privilege, which all persons rightly enjoy. The priesthood of the believers is a doctrine of responsibility, which each child of God rightly bears. Too often this difference has been confused or ignored, and at some loss of theological integrity.
As Timothy George has written,
Soul competency pertains universally to all persons, not merely to Christians. Baptists, however, do not teach the "priesthood of all human beings." Priesthood applies only to those who, through repentance and faith, have been admitted into the covenant of grace and, consequently, have been made participants in the priestly ministry of their Mediator, Jesus Christ, i.e., to believers only … priesthood of believers does not mean, "I am a priest. I can believe anything I want to." It means rather, "As a priest in a covenantal community of believers, I must be alert to keep my congregation from departing from 'the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints'" (Jude 3).
Article I, The Scriptures
Southern Baptists believe the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we affirm its complete truthfulness. We do not believe that the Bible contains the Word of God or that it becomes the Word of God in some type of subjective, mystical encounter. It is the Word of God written in the words of men. Because it is the Word of God and our God is a God of truth, we affirm all of it to be true. The words inerrancy and infallible do not occur in Article I. The precise words one uses have never been the issue in our battle for the Bible. The article does say, "all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy." Against what one messenger unfortunately contended, we affirm that the Bible is not "just a book." It is God's book, a book we believe and trust. On this, Southern Baptists are of one mind.
Some persons have complained about the fact that the last sentence of the 1963 statement which reads, "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ," was removed. It should be noted that 1) this statement was not in the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message and 2) it was used by some persons to set the teachings of Jesus in opposition to the teachings of Paul and other authors of Scripture. The new statement addresses this issue and states, "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." In other words, the written Word is a witness to the Living Word. Southern Baptists do love the Bible, the written Word of God. But, Southern Baptists love and worship the Lord Jesus, the Living Word of God. Article one does not worship the Bible nor does it exalt the Bible above Jesus. It acknowledges that what we know of Jesus we learn from the Bible. Even our children in Vacation Bible School know, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Article II, God
Surveys reveal 95% of all Americans believe in God. That is the good news. What they think that God, gods or goddesses are like may take many shapes and forms. Unfortunately, the evangelical community is not speaking with one voice on this crucial point.
Following the teachings of Scripture, we affirm the absolute perfections of the eternal God who is a Trinity of three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is all-powerful and all knowing with "His perfect knowledge extend[ing] to all things past, present, and future, including the future decision of His free creatures."
There is no place in the theology of Southern Baptists for a "finite theism" that limits God's omnipotence or an "open theism" that limits God's omniscience. This "user-friendly" deity may be more comfortable for a culture that values its personal autonomy more than it ought, but it is certainly not the God we discover in the Bible. When it comes to formulating a theology of God, Southern Baptists will go with Scripture over culture every time!
Article II B, God the Son
The person and work of Jesus Christ go together. He could do what He did because He is who He is. As the God-Man and one mediator "His substitutionary death on the cross … made provision for the redemption of men from sin," states Article II B.
The Son's work on the cross is multifaceted. It was a sacrifice and a justification of the divine law. It provided reconciliation and was an example. However, foundational to all aspects of the atonement was the fact that Jesus took our place (substitution) and paid in full the penalty of our sin (death; cf. Romans 6:23). As a popular song affirms, "He paid a debt He did not owe. We owed a debt we could not pay. Christ Jesus came and washed our sins away." Isaiah said it this way, "And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
Southern Baptists are not ashamed of the old rugged cross. We do not apologize for the Savior's bloody death, for there we see that great transaction where Christ took upon Himself what was ours: our sin; and He gave to us what was His: His righteousness.
Article II C, God the Holy Spirit
Article II C states, "At the moment of regeneration He (the Holy Spirit) baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ."
Southern Baptists love and appreciate our neo-charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters. Our understanding of God's Word, however, affirms that at the moment of conversion we receive everything from God we need for salvation, sanctification and service. The Holy Spirit as Gift and Giver of Gifts is ours at the very moment we are saved. A "second blessing theology" is contrary to Scripture. However, let us be clear: we believe in and rejoice in God's infinite blessings whose mercies are new everyday.
Article III, Man
Men and women are equal image–bearers of God. There is an equality of essence but a distinction in gender. Article III declares, "The gift of gender is … part of the goodness of God's creation." God made a man to be a man. God made a woman to be a woman. No one is as good at being a man as a man. No one is as good at being a woman as a woman. In a day when gender identity is awash in confusion, we gladly affirm both the equality and differences enjoyed by men and women as "the special creations of God, made in His own image."
Article IV, Salvation
A recent speaker at an ecumenical conference asked the question, "So what's the big deal about Jesus?" Southern Baptists have an answer in Article IV, "There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."
Proponents of universalism, pluralism and inclusivism, will find no support from us. We believe what Jesus Himself said as recorded in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Many religions offer great teachers. Only Christianity offers a great Savior and His name is Jesus. Southern Baptists extend a universal invitation. This is at the heart of our devotion to the missionary mandate. We recognize an exclusive provision. "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
Article VI, The Church
If one were to only follow the secular and religious media he or she might conclude that the revision of the Baptist Faith & Message contained only one new statement: "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture" (Article VI).
The only other time we got this much news media attention is when we said in 1998 that the Bible teaches "a wife to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband …" (Article XVIII). Throughout Scripture there is a clear affirmation of the total equality of men and women. However, equality of essence does not equal sameness in assignment. There is also a clear pattern in Scripture that gives to men a leadership assignment in the home and the church. We believe the Bible teaches that God calls all of His sons and daughters to ministry and that He also equips every one of them with gifts for service. God does designate that in the home, the husband/father is to lead, and in the church, men are to lead. In Scripture there is no evidence that a woman ever served as pastor of a local church. However, there is ample evidence that women served in all sorts of other ministries that follow the biblical pattern. Titus 2:1-8 provides an excellent model of what both men and women will be doing in a local congregation when the church is functioning as God intended.
Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order
Southern Baptists recognize that belief and behavior go together. What we believe should influence how we live. In a world that is on the verge of committing moral suicide, we have determined to speak out concerning the social illnesses of our day. Article XV declares, we "oppose racism … all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography … We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death."
As a small boy, I was taught in my Southern Baptist church that "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight." We must confess that we have not always lived this truth out as we ought but that we are determined that the future will be different. Because our God is a "color-blind" God, we will be a "color-blind" people.
We are committed to a sanctity of human life ethic versus a quality of life ethic. All life is valuable and deserving of our respect and protection. We are committed to the sanctity of the marriage bedroom where a man and a woman can share the joys and pleasures of a sexual union with the blessing of God.
We have seen the tragic fallout of the evils of a pornography industry run amuck that exploits the bodies of women and children and inflicts irreparable damage on the home.
The gospel should make a difference in the world as God's children "seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society."
Article XVIII, The Family
Marriage is God's good gift to us. Article XVIII states, marriage "is the unity of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime." Protection, pleasure, partnership and procreation are blessed benefits of this holy union. Following the clear teachings of texts like Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-25; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18-20; Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, we celebrate the fact that "the husband and wife are of equal worth before God" and that "both are created in God's image."
We also rejoice in the complementary assignment given by God that allows a man to reach his full potential as a man and that allows a woman to reach her full potential as a woman. "A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church." He is to provide for and protect as a servant/shepherd leader. A wife, following the model of God the Son as He relates to God the Father, and the Church to Christ, graciously and joyfully submits or yields herself to her husband. There is not the slightest hint of inferiority in her assignment.
As husband and wife relate to one another in this redeemed relationship, marriage is enjoyed and not just endured. It is a marvelous blessing and not a burden. It provides the ideal environment for nurturing children in the things of God and preparing them to face the challenges of life.
The Preamble boldly states, "Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture." We have been and will continue to be a people of the Book. Living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we are committed to live out before a watching and often skeptical world the transformed life which is possible for anyone who puts their faith in the Savior. Our commitment to our Lord's Great Commission compels us to carry the "good news" of the gospel to every person on the planet. The people known as Southern Baptists have spoken concerning what we believe. Under God's grace may we be faithful to live out our confession to the glory of His name.
Jack Graham is senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Daniel L. Akin is vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This article reprinted by permission from Southern Seminary Magazine, November 2000 (Volume 68, Number 4)