Dr. Charles Wade
Baptist General Convention of Texas
333 N. Washington
Dallas, TX 75246-1798
Dear Dr. Wade:
"Can two walk together unless they be agreed?" This expresses where the people of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church find themselves in relation to our Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). For more than forty years, MBBC has had the privilege of joining hands with other Texas Baptists through the BGCT. In the past several years, however, BGCT leadership has consistently moved further away from the Southern Baptist Convention. This can be illustrated in a host of ways including:
1. The 1997 Effectiveness & Efficiency Report where drastic, unnecessary changes were proposed in numerous areas resulting in a climate of competition with the SBC.
2. Continued changes in Cooperative Program giving which reduces the amount going to the SBC. Action taken at the recent BGCT convention to reduce drastically funding for our six seminaries and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC under the obvious guise "Texas needs it more" reflects a selfish fiscal attitude unbecoming of what was once one of the greatest and most generous state conventions in the SBC.
3. A clear unwillingness to affirm Southern Baptists' historic theological position on the inerrancy of Scripture. One need only read the statements of B.H. Carroll, founder and first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to realize just how far current BGCT leaders have "drifted" on this issue. Also, a growing alignment, theologically and otherwise, with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship exhibits the liberal drift.
4. The reluctance of the BGCT to affirm the amended Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Using the flimsy "paper pope" argument to veil an un-Baptistic theological position on the inerrancy of Scripture, soul competency, and the God-ordained roles of husbands and wives, the BGCT evinces a clear and undeniable break with historic Baptist theology and with the SBC.
Our denominational study committee has made its report to the congregation and by unanimous church vote MBBC has made the decision to sever our relationship with the BGCT. My heart is heavy that circumstances have brought us to this parting of the ways, but given the present theological and denominational posture of the BGCT, we are left with no conscionable choice.
Now, Dr. Wade, if you will indulge me, permit me to write to you from my heart. I have been a Texas Baptist for twenty-five years. I was educated at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have served for many years as a Texas Baptist pastor in the Dallas Baptist Association. In addition to pastoring MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church in Irving, TX, I also serve as the W. A. Criswell Professor of Expository Preaching at The Criswell College, where I teach young preachers homiletics. I have served our Southern Baptist Convention as a trustee of Southwestern for the past eight years. As I write this, I look out the window of my office at the college and see the top floor of the Baptist Building, where you office, less than three blocks away. I write to you as a pastor, educator, trustee, but most of all as a fellow Texas Baptist.
For many years now, you and other moderates have consistently accused fellow Southern Baptists like me of "abandoning" our Baptist heritage in favor of a "Norrisite" and "creedalistic" theology. These accusations have been increasingly shrill since the latest revision of the BFM. When I was growing up in Georgia, we had a saying: "If you throw a rock in a pack of dogs, the one that hollers is the one that got hit." Having lost the battle over the inerrancy of Scripture at the national level, you have regrouped to fight the battle in Texas under the banner of "soul competency." Unable to find in Scripture the validation for your errant theological positions, you have retreated to historical revision and sought to justify your stance against the SBC through a distorted espousal of "soul competency."
A careful study of Baptist history does indeed divulge how precious this doctrine of soul competency is to Baptists. But it also reveals that Baptists have seldom known or advocated a view of soul competency at the expense of biblical authority or church community. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, General and Particular Baptists affirmed the fact that one's conscience could be mistaken and individual freedom must not be used as a means to sidestep biblical authority and doctrine.
But this is precisely what you and the BGCT leadership have done. Witness the never-ending articles and editorials in the Baptist Standard, including your own article in the June 19, 2000 edition, your convention sermon, and the recent mailing to all Texas Baptist churches of the booklet Beliefs Important to Baptists which touts the doctrine of soul competency as the fundamental Baptist doctrine. This, of course, harks back to E.Y. Mullins, a Texas Baptist (whose book Axioms of Religion is quoted twice with no other Baptist theologians past or present quoted). Actually,Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary points out in a forthcoming article, Mullins was heavily influenced by Schleiermacher, the father of modern liberalism, in his anthropocentric individualism. While the New Testament emphasis is on the mutual indwelling of Christ and the church, Mullins emphasized the presence of Christ in the individual consciousness. He then extrapolated from this the "axioms" which form the essence of his book. We can forgive Mullins for his ecclesiological near-sightedness (notice his Christian Religion in It's Doctrinal Expression has no chapter on ecclesiology) but we should not tolerate the way he has been co-opted by the moderates. You have taken a biblical, Baptist distinctive, placed it upon the procrustean bed of your agenda, and lopped off just enough to justify your opposition to the SBC.
As you are no doubt aware, Herschel Hobbs revised Mullins' book. On page 48 Hobbs and Mullins point out that the doctrine of soul competency "is not a creed." Yet you have oddly and ironically elevated it to creedal status in your headlong pursuit to distance Texas Baptists from the SBC. You accuse Southern Baptist conservatives of being "creedalistic" about the BFM and yet you have made this inappropriately individualistic view of "soul competency" into a creed. Hobbs and Mullins also note on page 48 that soul competency is never to be understood in the sense of independence from the Scriptures, nor should it mean one can believe anything he chooses and still call himself a Baptist. I find it also interesting, and not a little inconsistent, that you and Texas Baptist moderates accept Mullins' view of soul competency but do not accept his view of biblical inerrancy. Mullins even used the word "inerrancy" on pages 252-53 of his Freedom and Authority in Religion, (1913).
The concept of soul competency relates to the difference between Scripture as authority and church or ecclesiastical organizations as authority. Smyth, Fuller, Mullins and a host of our Baptist forefathers would be nothing short of appalled to see how this precious Baptist conviction is distorted by using it to deny some things we as Baptists have always believed.
Today, a new breed of Texas Baptists has arisen, marching under the banner of soul competency, not biblical authority, and certainly not under the authority of Jesus Christ. The inane and specious argument that conservatives have elevated the Bible over Jesus while you and other moderates consign both to their proper place will not pass the test of simple logic, much less the penetrating critique given it by B.H. Carroll, founder and first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and another great Texas Baptist, in his work Inspiration of the Bible:
"It is perfectly foolish to talk about degrees of inspiration. What Jesus said in the flesh, as we find it in the four Gospels, is no more His word than what the inspired prophet or apostle said.… What Jesus said after He ascended to heaven, through Paul or any other apostle, is just as much Jesus' word as anything He said in the flesh (26-27)."
You know nothing historically or theologically about Jesus except what you know from the Bible and unless you want to lean heavily on some form of Kierkegaardian existentialism, postmodern experientialism or new revelation of an aberrant Charismatic sort, you must reject the un-Baptistic bifurcation perpetrated today by Baptist moderates and liberals with respect to Jesus and the Bible. Such a disjunction would have never been tolerated by Mullins, Carroll, and their like. Three times in the last three pages of his pamphlet Baptists and the Bible, Mullins remarks:
"It follows…that the Bible is final for us on all questions of doctrine and polity…."
"In conclusion, it may be said that the one sure and certain road to agreement among all Christians is obedience to the New Testament teachings in all matters of doctrine, polity, worship and life."
"For all Christians there should be one authoritative source of religious truth and knowledge…. That source is the Bible."
To use your concept of soul competency and the phrase in the 1963 BFM, "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ," as a theological wedge between Jesus and the Bible is both theologically and hermeneutically flawed as well as un-Baptistic. With respect to the "criterion" language, this statement was removed in the 2000 BFM because it was being used by some uninformed or unprincipled Baptist scholars to "trump" difficult texts (difficult in their minds only) such as the role of women in the marriage relationship, the issue of women serving as senior pastors of local churches, whether God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites, etc. Statements by moderates and liberals like Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Committee, and Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, illustrate this fact: "We see our authority in Christ; Southern Baptists see their authority in the Bible" (Crumpler, Baptist Press, June 30, 2000). Notice how Marv Knox commits the same theological faux pas when he says that Paul's writings show "paradox" with respect to women and submission and since Jesus "countered cultural trends that demeaned women… He (Jesus) presents a model… clarifying Paul's admonition to submission. Jesus illuminates seeming paradoxes between Paul's own words. And being divine, Jesus settles the issue." (Baptist Standard, June 19, p.5). Incredibly, Crumpler and Knox pit Jesus against Paul, using Christ as a theological tool to undermine the unity and authority of Scripture.
Furthermore, the "criterion" language did not appear in the original 1925 version of the Baptist Faith and Message and both liberal Jeff Pool and conservatives Rush Buss and Tom Nettles agree on the reason it was inserted in the 1963 statement: because Ralph Elliott, in his Genesis commentary, had asserted that Melchizedek was a priest of Baal (Pool, Sacred Mandates of Conscience and Bush and Nettles, Baptists and the Bible.) When you state that the removal of the "criterion" statement elevates the 2000 BFM to the level of a creed, you are then saying that from 1925 to 1963 Southern Baptists did not have a confession, but they had a creed. This is, of course, patently ludicrous.
Herschel Hobbs and the revision committee of 1963 never intended the "criterion" statement to be used as it has been since that time to create a wedge between Jesus and the Scriptures. What Scripture says, Jesus says, whether it is by His own lips as recorded in the Gospels, or through the mouth of any other biblical writer. The whole of biblical revelation has always been the final authority for Southern Baptists. One's experience of Jesus must always be based upon divine revelation.
This is where I am troubled by a statement in the booklet Beliefs Important to Baptists written by Bill Pinson, former Executive Director of the BGCT: "Basic to all of these beliefs is the Baptist insistence that the Bible is the Word of God and our sole written authority for faith and practice" (p.12). On the surface this sounds innocuous enough. The problematic word here is "written." By the use of this word, a gaping loophole appears. The 1925 BFM drawn up by Mullins had a similar statement in the preface: "(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments." Notice the absence of the word "written" in the 1925 statement. When Hobbs and committee drafted the 1963 revision, they included the entire preface for the 1925 statement in their preface. They also added other paragraphs including this statement:
"Baptists are a people who profess a living faith. This faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ who is 'the same yesterday, today, and forever.' Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures."
At first blush, it would appear that we now have two "sole" authorities: the Bible and Jesus (see Crumpler's statement above). However, Hobbs and his committee were in clear agreement with the 1925 statement which did not include the word "written" before the words "authority for faith and practice." Notice they were careful to add the phrase "whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures" following the words "Jesus Christ" which affirms that what the Bible says, Jesus says,
The addition of the word "written" in the booklet Beliefs Important to Baptists is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through. The implication in Pinson's statement is that in addition to our "written" authority which is the Bible, we have another authority, a greater authority, Jesus, leaving open the door for Crumpler type statements to be made which confuse the issue and pit Jesus against the Bible. Clearly this was never the intention of the 1925 or 1963 committees. To reflect not only the theologically correct view but the historic Baptist view as well, the 2000 revision committee in their preface included the five paragraphs of the 1925 committee but deleted the statement of the 1963 committee "the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures." There is absolutely nothing wrong with the statement by the 1963 committee as it stands. Again, "the will of Jesus as revealed in the Holy Scriptures" is simply another way of saying that what Scripture says, Jesus says.
The 2000 committee also replaced (a better word than "deleted") the "criterion" statement with a sentence more in keeping with the historic Baptist confessions of faith, including the 1925 confession. The claim that this replacement somehow converts the 2000 BFM "to the status of a creed" as you claim is completely erroneous. The sky is not falling.
The problem, again, is that statements like this are being used improperly by you and other moderate leaders. Furthermore, a careful reading of even the 1963 BFM, Article One, on Scripture makes my point clear as well. Notice that the Scripture is "the supreme standard" for judging while Jesus is the "criterion" for interpretation. Surely you would agree that "supreme standard" is semantically dominant in the paragraph and that by "criterion" Hobbs and committee did not intend to suggest that parts of Scripture which appear to contradict the teachings of Jesus could be "trumped" by an appeal to Jesus? Even the 1963 statement, properly interpreted according to authorial intention, affirms the historic Baptist view and does not pit Jesus against the Bible. Jesus is Lord and the Bible is His word.
Certainly the Bible is not Jesus, as you said in your convention sermon, and all conservatives would agree with you. But you have erred both historically and theologically in your arguments concerning the "criterion" language of Article One. To say as you do that the effect of deleting the "criterion" statement from Article One is to "nudge the Bible into a place of idolatry" is irresponsible rhetoric. Your attempt to inveigle Texas Baptists through this clever decoy has succeeded with some Texas Baptists who are uninformed on the issues, but I predict as time goes by that even many of them will realize that the road you have charted actually leads them away from the true Southern Baptist Zion. You should know better and Texas Baptists certainly deserve better from our Executive Director. At least you should know just how out of step you are with former great Texas Baptist leaders and scholars such as W.T. Conner, who taught theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary for many years. On page 42 of his Christian Doctrine his clear thinking and plain speaking are welcome tonic:
"One thing that will help us is to remember that the authority of the Bible is the authority of Christ….We do not have two authorities, one, the authority of Christ; the other, the authority of the Bible."
Modern day moderates would do well to reread, or perhaps read, Conner.
The following quote from Bush and Nettles' Baptists and the Bible (p. 431) is quite revealing:
"Some who have departed from the historic Baptist position…have done so by appealing to another Baptist affirmation: religious liberty….This principle is then extended into the area of religious authority. The "historic Baptist principle" suddenly becomes the Baptist's right to hold any view of inspiration that seems most reasonable to him and to develop his theology in relation to that view….The doctrine of religious liberty is a non-formative teaching….However, when a person chooses Baptist life as his personal expression of faith, he voluntarily submits to basic formative principles. That which is by nature nonformative (religious liberty) cannot become the primary formative principle. To assert freedom from doctrine as the basic doctrinal norm would be to engage in an exercise of purposeful contradiction. Such an effort is in itself ludicrous…."
Now with respect to the revised BFM as it relates to our institutions, particularly our seminaries, you inveigh against the addition of the phrase "instruments of doctrinal accountability" in the Preamble. You state in your June 19th Baptist Standard article that the sentence in the Preamble "Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability" is in "contrast to our historic Baptist rejection of creeds" (12). You make this statement in spite of the fact that the revision committee included this previous paragraph:
"Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God."
Furthermore, you know full well that the BFM has been the doctrinal statement of many of our seminaries, including Southwestern, according to their founding documents. You also know that faculty are required to sign the BFM pursuant to their service and this was the case long before 1979. With respect to Southwestern Seminary, faculty are also required to sign the BFM as amended by the SBC according to the Bylaws of the school. You never complained about this being the case in the past when moderates controlled the seminary. Have you forgotten the 1969 action taken by the Southern Baptist Convention instructing denominational institutions and agencies to be guided by the BFM in matters of employment and even editorial policy? Such action clearly calls for the BFM to be used as "an instrument of accountability," and this a full ten years before the beginning of the controversy.
After quoting the first article of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, without the "criterion" statement I might add, which was essentially used as the first article for the 1925 BFM, B. H. Carroll said: "No man can obtain a position on the teaching force of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that does not write his name under that article" (Inspiration of the Bible, 35). If that is not using the confession as "an instrument of accountability," then armadillos don't live in Texas! A rose by any other name…
Your complaint now is not really over how the BFM is being used, but over the clarified content with which you disagree, especially in the Preamble and Article One. You, kind sir, are out of step with historic Baptist principles here and not conservative Southern Baptists. Carroll, Mullins, Conner, Truett and a host of other Baptist luminaries of a bygone era stand as a great cloud of witnesses against you and what you have done to divide Texas Southern Baptists.
The revised 1963 BFM, like its 1925 ancestor, was born out of theological controversy. Its primary intent was to clarify Southern Baptists' views about the nature of biblical authority by affirming our historic stand on the inerrancy of Scripture. Ignoring authorial intent (what the committee meant by what they said), you and moderate/liberal Southern Baptists assigned illegitimate interpretations to Article One (from misuse of the "criterion" statement to tortured views such as "the truth of the Bible is true" or "truth without any mixture of error" means "in matters of faith and practice, but not in matters of science and history"). I will never forget the astounding response by a seminary professor who, when asked which of the two interpretations of the statement "truth without any mixture of error" in Article One he affirmed, (matters of faith and practice alone or in all matters including history and science), he said: "both!" Amazing that a seminary professor had never heard of Aristotle's Law of Non-contradiction.
The revised 2000 BFM, likewise, was born out of theological controversy. The committee has simply clarified what was always the intention of the 1925 and 1963 documents with respect to Article One. Gone are the days when via semantic wrenching and hermeneutical legerdemain Baptist moderates could justify their stand against inerrancy. By eliminating the wiggle room, the fig leaf behind which you and moderates have been ensconced for years has been removed. There is now no place to hide.
Dr. Wade, both history and Scripture stand against you. Soul competency cannot be used to deny plain biblical teaching, whether it be doctrines like the inerrancy of Scripture or the fact that a woman should not serve as a senior pastor of a local church. Neither will appeals to hermeneutics salvage your position. The issue is biblical authority, not interpretation. The issue is if what the Scripture says, Jesus says, not an aberrant, un-Baptistic view of soul-competency which serves as a camouflage for one's resistance to doctrinal accountability and a banner under which to wage war with the Southern Baptist Convention.
It is you, not conservative Southern Baptists, who have departed from the historic Baptist principles. It is also disconcerting to hear and read the statements of misinformation which you and others disseminate to Texas Baptists about the SBC, its theological institutions, its leaders, and its people. It is one thing to disagree. It is an altogether different thing to manipulate and massage the truth through spin doctoring to justify your cause. You and moderates often use traditional Southern Baptist vocabulary such as "biblical authority" and "soul-competency" but with a different dictionary. I shudder to think where this road you have charted will ultimately lead those Texas Baptists who choose to remain with the BGCT. Tragically, I believe it will eventually lead them further away from the biblical revelation, not closer to it. It is clear that it is leading them away from the Southern Baptist Convention.
I have no doubt that I shall be called "a troubler of Israel" by some for expressing these thoughts. Yet I hold the firm conviction that a decision concerning the truth is the virtue of the hour for Texas Southern Baptists. Truth unites, but it also divides. With every decision for truth there must come a corresponding protest against error. I have watched, sometimes bemused and sometimes amused, for twenty-two years now as many of my Texas Baptist pastor friends have, with respect to the issues confronting our denomination, kept both feet firmly planted in mid-air. The days are drawing short for Texas Baptists who want to wear a Union blouse and Confederate pants on these issues. Sooner or later they are going to be shot from both sides.
In closing, the words of that imminent Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, concerning the "Downgrade" Controversy that embroiled Baptists in England in the late 1800's, seem appropriate:
"On all hands we hear cries for unity in this, and unity in that; but to our minds the main need of this age is not compromise, but conscientiousness. "First pure, then peaceable." It is easy to cry "a confederacy," but that union which is not based upon the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion. Charity by all means; but honesty also. Love, of course, but love to God as well as love to men, and love of truth as well as love of union. It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one's fidelity before God and one's fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so."
So do I. So do the people of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church. Sad day indeed it is when the political and theological misdeeds of the BGCT foster a choice between Jesus and the Bible, between being a Texas Baptist in the BGCT and a Southern Baptist. If history, theology, truth, and the Bible have import, then as Spurgeon said, "fidelity before God" comes before "fraternity among men." Or, to put it in the words of the poet Robert Frost: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler..."
A Texas Southern Baptist,
David L. Allen, Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church, Irving, TX
W.A. Criswell Professor of Expository Preaching, The Criswell College
Director, Jerry Vines Institute of Biblical Preaching