Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Why I Affirm Only the Original Baptist Faith and Message
Recently an exceptionally well-informed pulpit committee asked if I subscribe to The Baptist Faith and Message. As I understand it, quite a number of missionaries, professors, and other types of SBC ministers have been asked that question over the past seven years! So I suppose it was my turn.
My answer went something like this:
“I fully subscribe to The Baptist Faith and Message as it was originally penned in 1925, but there are some problems with the 1963 and 2000 revisions that don’t allow me fully to subscribe to them.”
This position is the opposite of Nathan Finn’s and Dr. Bart Barber’s view. They say that only the latest revision can even be called The Baptist Faith and Message, and that it is sacrilege even to say, “BFM 2000"! (I am poking fun, here, and do not intend to poke too hard at these two fine Baptist ministers and bloggers.) I do not agree with them. The original 1925 version was in perfect keeping with hundreds of years of Baptist tradition, rooted in correct interpretation of the Bible, but the 1963 and 2000 revisions contain significant departures.
I went on to explain the one minor and two major problems resulting from the changes made in the 1963 and 2000 revisions. I will demonstrate them to you here, in terms of the historic consistency of Baptist confessions up through 1925, and the radical departure from them in the 1963 and 2000 revisions. For your convenience, I have provided a link to our most important Baptist confessions of faith, at the bottom of the page.
1646 First London Confession Section 36: Being thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons . . .
1742 Philadelphia Confession chapter 27, paragraph 8:
the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church . . . are bishops or elders, and deacons.
1833 New Hampshire Confession chapter 13: its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons
1858 Abstract of Principles chapter 14: The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.
1925 BFM chapter 12: Its Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons.
1963/2000 BFM chapter 6: Its Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.
The scriptures teach us that Paul called the elders to come to him, and that Peter addressed his fellow elders. He then instructed them to serve as bishops, pastoring the sheep. (See Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5.) Biblically and historically, the words “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” were used as synonyms, with “elder” being the most prominent. To drop the two more important terms for exclusive use of the third is to miss part of the meaning of the office. This is not a great matter, as far as I am concerned, but it is an error.
1646 First London Confession Section 4: Adam; who without any compulsion, in eating the forbidden fruit, transgressed the command of God, and fell, whereby death came upon all his posterity; who now are conceived in sin, and by nature the children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subject of death, and other miseries in this world, and for ever, unless the Lord Jesus Christ set them free.
1742 Philadelphia Confession chapter 6, paragraph 3:
They being the root, and by God's appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.
1833 New Hampshire Confession chapter 3: We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.
1858 Abstract of Principles chapter 6: God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
1925 BFM chapter 3: He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
1963/2000 BFM chapter 3: By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.
The problem is that by re-arranging the phrases, the revisions state that a person becomes guilty of sin only after he consciously sins. The biblical and historic Baptist position was that a man is born guilty of the original sin that he committed in Adam. The primary scriptural reference for this idea is Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned"
1742 Philadelphia Confession chapter 22, paragraph 8 The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
1833 New Hampshire Confession chapter 3: We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord's Day, or Christian Sabbath; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes, by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.
1858 Abstract of Principles chapter 17: The Lord's Day is a Christian institution for regular observance, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
1925 BFM chapter 14; 1963 BFM chapter 7: The first day of the week is the Lord's day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
2000 BFM chapter 7: The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The unbelievably flippant change to this section reflects a misunderstanding of the Law and the Gospel that would have been unthinkable to Baptist ministers of previous centuries. Some of our fellow ministers and many of our dear people have come to believe that The Lord’s Day should merely include worship alongside worldly entertainments, and that whether or not a Christian pursues business on The Lord’s Day is simply a matter for his own conscience. Perhaps you followed the story that Lifeway Stores are working on The Lord's Day this month to do annual inventory, which in past years they had always done on Saturday afternoons. Is that really the direction we want to go?
Brothers, did our late-20th-century generation of Baptists suddenly know better on these three doctrines than did the several generations of Baptists before them? Were the Baptist men who penned these documents in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s truly in error? Or could it be that on these issues, we have failed to learn the lessons that they knew so well?
May the Lord bless you and our Baptist churches as you study these important doctrines. I have put my flame suit on, and look forward to reading your comments.
Love in Christ,
1646 London Confession of Baptist Faith (First London)
1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith (essentially the same as the 1677/89 2nd London)
1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith (the basis for the 1925 BFM)
1858 Southern Seminary Abstract of Principles
1925, 1963, and 2000 BFM Side-By-Side
As you point out, the details are what make all the difference. As you know from past dialogue on this subject, I would agree with you on the wording for the first point of using bishops, elders, deacons as the more correct form, than the current use of pastor as held by the BF&M 2000. I would still hold to these being functions rather than offices and still have not been able to see where in the NT there are any officers of the church. I know that for most people these are nitpicky details, but they do matter. How we interpret them basically leads to the difference of one being part of Institutional Christianity or (what I believe) NT Christianity. Institutions have officers, the Church has servants who function in various capacities.
I'll leave to others to comment on your other two points, but suffice it to say you make a good case!
As to the sabbath, of course all those old guys may have been misled, or wrong. There's always been plenty of that, and there are lots of things we do now in church that would shock them (clap hands, dance before the Lord, shout, all of which were frowned upon hugely in the past but are biblical).
The main issue would be what the bible says about Sunday activities, and whether that's the "sabbath" as described in the bible and whether it applies to us, now.
Two young men from my class and I are going through the BFM on Monday nights now, and I'm using the last three versions side-by-side. I shall also now steal your thoughts and use them as my own.
Have a great day.
Help me understand something, and I guess this is where my reformed brothers will differ from me.
I agree in Original sin. However, help me understand how God condemns a 2 year old to hell. I am not trying to be sarcastic, just following through your logical conclusion of the wording of the various confessions. Also, Dr. Mohler was on the 2000 BF&M Committee. Would he have not caught this difference?
I'll attempt to answer your question with a question:
What age were you when you sinned in Adam? You were not any age at all, yet Romans 5:12 says that you sinned in Adam's sin. My one-year-old, Angie, also was not any age at all when she sinned in Adam. If God does not save all one-year-olds by His grace (which I allow that He might), then it is not one-year-olds who are condemned, but ageless souls who sinned in Adam, in willful rebellion against God's command.
Please keep in mind that this is not wild-eyed radical stuff, but simply the long-held Reformation view of original sin. How did 21st-century SBC-ers get so far separated from that understanding?
John Wesley taught a version of prevenient grace that says Jesus' sacrifice atoned for original sin, so that now people are not guilty until they become actual transgressors. This is an error, but at least it is based on some line of reasoning. From the mid-20th century on, Baptists have apparently adopted the idea of children not being guilty of original sin, but based on . . . nothing!
I do not have any first-hand knowledge of the role Dr. M played in the BFM 2000. The original sin language was reversed in the 1963 revision, so perhaps the power of precendent was too strong for him to get it re-reversed!
Dear Brother Guy,
No doubt that elders and deacons are servants of the churches. The word for "deacon" means "servant," and the same word is used by Paul to refer to himself, as translated "minister."
But the church IS an institution, isn't it?
You might note in the scriptural references in The Lord's Day section that the original BFM cited not only Exodus 20:8, but also Exodus 20:3-6. It is my impression that the authors considered "worldly amusements" on The Lord's Day to be a violation of the first commandment.
Thanks so much for stopping by today!
Love in Christ,
Good article. I would note the difference between affirming a statement of faith on the one hand and affirming a statement of faith as your own personal exhaustive statement of faith on the other hand. Your minor difference and second major difference, it would seem to me, are areas in which you could rather easily say that you do not so much disagree with the BF&M as you wish it would say more with which you also would agree.
Indeed, at both of these points you and I agree precisely, yet if either of those points were posed to me from the BF&M word-for-word, and I were asked, "Agree or disagree?" the only honest reply I could give is, "Agree." Given the liberty to say more, I would have to say, "I agree, and furthermore..."
You might even take the same approach regarding your first major difference, although I would agree that the issue you take with the BF&M at this point is far more substantial.
Allow me to say this about Romans 5. It seems to me that the great challenge in this chapter is the parallel struck between Adam and Christ. Yours is a good, common-sense reading of Romans 5:12. Yet applying this interpretation across the parallel it is difficult to avoid becoming a Universalist. Indeed, more than one Calvinist has stumbled into this error at precisely this point.
I, for one, will admit that Romans 5 greatly confounds me.
I'm curious...what would a passage of scripture have to look like in order for you to see it as acknowledgement of "offices" in the church? It is a serious question. I see lists of qualifications, instructions to "appoint" people into these positions, etc. What more might we expect from scripture establishing "offices"?
Thank you for your good comments. The parallel between the sin of mankind in Adam and the salvation of mankind in Christ does not consist of perfect symmetry. The rest of the chapter in Romans, and of course the rest of the New Testament in general, explains that although the sin of Adam condemned all men, the obedience of Christ provides salvation for only those who believe.
I need to do some more reading on this!
Dear Brother Guy,
Yeah, what he said! :)
Love in Christ,
Thanks for the opportunity to expound a bit more on your question above about church officers.
An officer implies some kind of position or title that one is named to. It would seem to me the burden of proof lies in being able to show that the early church had officers rather than the other way around!
What I see are more descriptive functions of NT leadership. Even the I Tim. and Titus pasages, for those aspiring to be bishops, are descriptive of the characteristics Paul is saying need to be present for those functioning as bishop/elder/presbyter.
My understanding is that NT leaders serve within the church through their giftings (eg. apostles, prophets, evangelists, etc.) but these are not officers, as such. What we find in today's churches of professional church staff, with all the various offices and titles is not what I see in the NT. This is not to say that such is wrong, it is simply to say that it is not the leadership pattern we see in the NT early church.
If officers are a prominent feature of NT ecclesiology, where are they to be found in the NT? Why in all of Paul's Epistles does He address his words to the "saints"--to the whole church instead of the officers in charge? No one is questioning that there aren't leaders in the church that are looked up to, esteemed for their spiritual guidance and wisdom, but officers?
Sorry I have not been able to continue in the dialog. I fell out with the question; How old were you when you sinned in Adam?
I think my question would be related to Wesley's Prevenient Grace. What scripture do Reformed thinkers use to cover the 1 or 2 year old that dies unexpectedly? I do not believe that reformers believe children go to hell. I think Presbyterians cover this by the infant baptism. I may be wrong. However, without being Presbyterian, how we Reformers follow this without a chance to believe?
You seem to be starting from inferences as if they were assumptions.
You seem to assume that a child who is one or two years old has not committed sin, or is not guilty of sin. But the Bible says, most clearly in Romans 5, that all mankind sinned in Adam. The present biological age of a person has nothing to do with that. You assert that Reformed thinkers do not believe children go to hell. Reformed theology has historically come down in one of four positions:
1. All children who die before an age of moral capability are elect and are saved by God's grace.
2. All children---of Christian parents---who die before an age of moral capability are elect and are saved by God's grace.
3. Some children who die before an age of moral capability are the elect (just like some adults are) and some are not (just like some adults are not). The elect are saved by God's grace, and the non-elect are not.
4. Since children who die before an age of moral capability have not believed the Gospel, they show by their early death that they were not elect, and are not saved. (This position is very unpopular, I'm sure you can guess!)
You also seem to assume that every person gets a chance to believe. I do not assume that, nor does the Bible teach that. For example, the Spirit of God prevented Paul from preaching the Gospel in the province of Asia. By the end of the NT period, the Gospel had spread to most of the Roman Empire, but not to China or North America or South America or Australia. No inhabitant of any of those regions during that time had a chance to believe.
So, on what basis do you believe that children who die young do not go to hell? Do you hold to Wesleyan prevenient grace, or what?
Thank you very, very much for this peaceful exchange of ideas.
Love in Christ,
Ummmm...because Paul was a congregationalist. :-)
Brother, I do not know that there is any "burden of proof" situation here on either side. I'm not sure there are even sides. When you have a person who meets certain qualifications such that he becomes one of the people performing a certain set of functions associated with a set of labels—what more or less have you done if you have called it an "office" or haven't called it an "office."
Question: "Why in all of Paul's Epistles does He address his words to the "saints"--to the whole church instead of the officers in charge?"
Answer: There were no officers to address! In today's church the officers take the lead in matters pertaining to the church. Back then, it was the whole church itself that addressed their needs and problems. Leaders were simply a part of the church, exercising their gifts and functions, not "officers" calling all the shots.
Who are the officers in the Corinthian church? Ephesian church? Thessalonian church? etc. They are simply never mentioned. Isn't it strange that if officers are so important to NT churches, why aren't they mentioned?
However, today, we know well who the officers of churches are: their names are printed on signs out front of the church and in the church bulletins. When people call the church they want to talk to an "officer" in charge.
I don't mean to make a bigger deal about this than is really necessary, but I am trying to clarify what I mean, and that is simply that the early NT church did not have officers like we have them today.
Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue. I appreciate your comments and observations.
They seemed to appreciate that I had considered these matters. I don't know how well they agreed or disagreed.
Thanks for stopping by!
Love in Christ,
I heard from Gunny that your presentation on evangelism at their latest FF was dynamite.
Yes, of course I mean that among the three iterations of the BFM, I can only fully affirm the 1925.
How are you doing?
Love in Christ,
It was a delight to spend time with the guys of the LSFF. Wish I could be a regular at those meetings.
I appreciate your honest approach to a difficult subject.
You said, "I think Presbyterians cover this by the infant baptism. I may be wrong."
Yes, you are wrong. Presbyterians practice infant baptism as a sign of being included in a covenental family. There is nothing salvific in it. It is akin to our baby dedication ceremoines.
You're thinking of Roman Catholic theology. They believe that infants must be baptized or they will go to hell if they die as infants.
Keeping it real.
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