In a letter written to Timothy, Paul encourages his friend to, “Take hold of the eternal life which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presences of many witnesses.” The exact nature of this confession is a mystery, but hints throughout the New Testament suggest that Timothy was certainly not alone in making a public confession of faith. In the early Church, simple statements may have served to publicly demonstrate belief or doctrinal positions. Norman and Brand suggest that the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” was a confessional expression used to determine those who were generally saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. These statements are often called confessions of faith or creeds. “These proclamations,” state Norman and Brand, “are intended to declare the doctrinal perspective of the group on the matters addressed in the document.” In addition, statements of doctrine by their nature, create theological guidelines or boundaries of belief used to communicate to others, but also to address heretical ideas. John includes the delectation that “Jesus came in the flesh” in two of his letters, potentially to deal with a heresy at the time. And even included in the New Testament canon are longer statements of doctrine that include greater detail.
Examining confessions of faith and creeds offer insight into what was most important to the authors of the statement. Through their confessions, one can also glean clues about what doctrinal battles were being waged at the time. For example, a review the Waldensian Confession of Faith (1120) shows a strong argument against specific Roman Catholic beliefs such as papal intersession, the veneration of Mary, the existence of purgatory, and the status of sacraments. As a group of people change or rewrite their doctrinal statement of faith, one can see either shifts in the most important matters of doctrine or a need to address changing heresies, or both. By comparing and contrasting the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1925 Baptist Faith and Message with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, this post will attempt to identify shifts in doctrinal focus and changing heresies over 75 years of Southern Baptist history. While the SBC revised their 1925 statement in 1963 and 2000, this post will only focus on the change between the first and the most recent statements.
ADDITIONS FOR 2000
The most obvious addition to the 1925 statement was the presence of more biblical references. At the end of each section, lists of biblical passages that support and guide the ideas of the section are provided. Each section has nearly twice as many references listed in the 2000 statement compared to the earlier statement. There are various reasons for this—possibly due to greater time and reference material, or to stress the importance of Scripture—but most likely, they are included to biblically address challenges to the statement with even more scriptural material.
Moving to the content itself, it is easiest to handle the additions in a linear fashion. There are many minor additions—a word here or there—but for the sake of brevity, this post will only address those that may offer changes to orthodoxy or orthopraxy, address heresies, or serve as points of interest. Starting in the first section, titled “Scripture” in both statements, the phrase, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” was added. A declaration such as this appears to be addressing Old Testament Scripture where the physical appearance of Christ is not present in the narrative; however, this inclusion argues that the meta-narrative is wholly centered on Jesus Christ, placing a significant and equal importance on both the Old Testament and the New.
“God,” the title of the next section, is where the majority of added material appears. In 1925, the SBC felt that 65 words were sufficient in expressing their position and doctrinal beliefs about God. The word count jumped to 264 in 2000. What was a simple statement about God in 1925 has been expanded to specifically cover and describe correct belief about the three members of the Holy Trinity. Nothing changed theologically, however. And when the 1925 statement cited 14 Bible verses for support, the 2000 statement appeals to approximately 187 scriptural references. Why the need for the addition (which primarily occurred in the 1963 revision) is open for debate, but it appears as if this addition was specifically made in an effort to deal with heresies. For example, a modified version of second century modalism—associated with individuals such as Noetus of Smyrna, Praxeas, and most notably Sabellius—found popularity again in the twentieth century among Oneness Pentecostalism, also know as the Jesus Only movement. Mormonism, although birthed in the nineteenth century, was also gaining popularity in the twentieth century. These additions found in the 2000 statement address ideas such as modalism or the wickedly-mutated idea of Christ’s deity by sects and cults.
The next notable addition to the 2000 statement is found in the section called “The Church,” (titled “The Gospel Church” in the 1925 statement). The twentieth century witnessed many social changes in race relations as well as a shift in the understanding of the roles of the sexes. This shift is likely the reason behind the addition of the sentence, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” While this statement is not addressing heretical ideas and practices infiltrating the Church, it does attempt to answer the changing social question of the role of women in the office of pastor. Addressing this matter, Grudem asks,
Most systematic theologies have not included a section on the question of whether women can be church officers, because it has been assumed through the history of the church, with very few exceptions, that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church. But in recent years a major controversy has arisen within the evangelical world: may women as well as men be pastors? May they share in all the offices of the church?
Grudem’s questions are just as relevant today as they were the day he originally penned them; so it seems that the SBC has included this statement and additional scriptural references to clearly answer these questions.
Another two additions worth noting are found in the section titled, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” and “Education.” The first addresses a theological issue while the latter deals with issues practical arising in a changing society. Over the 75 years between the two Baptist Faith and Message statements being reviewed in this post, people have grown more aware of differences among religious practices. In some circumstances, churches have attempted to syncretize differing areas of faith and practice. One such practice is that of the Lord’s Supper and the result is often a practice that is decidedly not Baptist in theology. Therefore, a line has been added to clearly identify what the Lord’s Supper is and how it should be understood. At stake is the departure of churches not adhering to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper; although many would argue that right practice and belief is more important than stout membership rolls. In similar fashion, additions were made to the “Education” section of the 2000 statement in order to guide and shelter the Christian educator but also allow the school or institution to remove the educator for teaching outside the “pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”
The final addition discussed for the purposes of this post is the section titled, “Family.” This section does not appear in the 1925 version in any form. In 270 words, the 2000 statement attempts to define the role and purpose of the family unit within society. In reading the section on family, it is clear that this addition is offered to not only to identify the worldview of the SBC and the understanding of the differing roles within the family unit, but also as a defense of the family within society. On the family, the committee charged with drafting the 2000 statement state in the preamble, “The Convention added an article on "The Family" in 1998, thus answering cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture.”
SUBTRACTIONS FROM 1925
Unless items addressed in a previous statement of faith are no longer issues among society or heresies no longer in practice, theoretically, there should be little reason to remove any material from faith statement. Deeply held beliefs should not be so fluid that they change every 75 years or it would seem that they were not doctrines worth holding so deeply. An organization entrenched in the social aspects of society, such as a political party might be expected to exhibit statements of purpose and ideology that change from year to year, decade to decade. And if a church organization is likewise entrenched in the politic of the social and moral aspects of society, one should expect to see this same pattern of change. If on the other hand, the Bible simultaneously speaks to humanity today and remains timeless, one should see little to no change among those who allow the Bible to dictate their beliefs. Therefore, one might ask what the SBC held deeply in 1925 that they are so quickly willing to drop. As it turns out, very little, if anything was removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message in the drafting of the 2000 version. Instead, items were redacted, which will be addressed in the following section. It should be noted that not a single redaction changes any theological doctrine contained in the 1925 and 2000 statements.
REWRITES, REVERSALS, AND REDACTIONS
As previously stated, nothing was outright removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message. Neither was any doctrinal position reversed. There are a number of redactions or rewrites present, however. Some redactions expanded a section to allow for more explanation. Other modifications shortened sections because either the material has become commonly accepted knowledge or a less lengthy paragraph, sentence, or word choice presents a thought more precisely. At times, word choices are made in order to combat a heresy that uses the same words with different meanings. While many specific examples can be provided, only a small selection is necessary to examine to understand the reason for nearly every change.
Section III, “Man” for example, changed the title from “The Fall of Man” and explains the fall of man through an explanation of creation, transgression, a sin nature, and the likeness of man and woman in the image of God. The original paragraph placed more focus on the fall of man; whereas, the new sections looks at a holistic view of man as a creation of God. Another redaction took the 1925 sections IV-X, “The Way of Salvation,” “Justification,” “The Freeness of Salvation,” “Regeneration,” “Repentance and Faith,” and “Sanctification,” and consolidated them into one section titled “Salvation.” The new section not only includes each of the areas previously addressed, it also presents them as a connection chain of the bigger picture and progression of salvation.
In what might look like an addition to the 2000 statement, the single 1925 word “unchangeable” in the ninth section sentence, “It is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” is turned into a full paragraph in the 2000 version. This paragraph, while not changing anything theologically, attempts to greatly expand on the idea of unchangeable. Essentially the argument it makes is that one cannot lose salvation after genuine election and regeneration. From time to time, this issue is debated within the Church; and therefore, by offering more detail, the SBC has staked out their position in the debate. Should one attempt to argue that this redaction adds theological material to the statement, it is important to realize that in actuality, the paragraph is simply trying to remove the ambiguity that could be present in the single word “unchangeable.”
Another redaction, while seemingly short, addresses church offices in the 1925 section titled, “The Gospel Church.” In 1925, the offices were called “bishops or elders and deacons.” In the newer version, the titles are changed to “pastors and deacons.”16 In our present day, one might see a Roman Catholic bishop or a Presbyterian elder and feel these positions are not comparable to a Baptist pastor. However, this is not a matter of duty, but rather, a change in the generally understood meaning of the words. For example, the Greek word episkopos
, which the King James Version of the Bible often translated as “bishop” is translated overseer or pastor by recent translations. With the change in words, confusion was more likely without the redaction. Therefore, to remain true to the meaning of the 1925 statement, the 2000 statement made these changes, changing nothing theologically.
As one examines the SBS’s Baptist Faith Messages from 1925 until 2000, additions and redactions are present, but the theological under girding remains intact over the 75-year history. The 2000 statement demonstrates the doctrinal confession and beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention just as the 1925 original did. Not only is this significant in showing consistency of belief over this period of time, it also continues to announce to the world the major ideas as demonstrated by the Bible and held by those who adopt the statement. However, neither the 1925 nor the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements were provided here, so it is the hope of this author that the reader will find these statements and examine them for oneself.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003. Under “Confessions and Credos.” Prepared
by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9. (Accessed October 2, 2010).
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
SBC.net. “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.” Southern Baptist Convention. http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010).
1. 1 Timothy 6:12b, ESV.
2. See Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9:13, Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23.
3. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), under “Confessions and Credos,” prepared by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9 (accessed October 2, 2010).
4. Brand, 2003.
5. See 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7.
6. See Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Hebrews 1:1-3, Philippians 2:5-11.
7. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), I.
8. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998), 360.
9. Edward Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 371-376.
10. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section VI.
11. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 937.
12. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section XII.
13. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, Preamble.
14. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, IX.
15. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, XII.
16. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, VI.
*SBC logo is listed as released to the public domain.
** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.