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Friday, April 25, 2003

The Baptist Creed?-Two items came up on my radar in the last week or so. The first is the running battle to maintain what the Southern Baptists see as Biblical orthodoxy. The SBC has move away from merely insisting on having the Bible as their creed and have taken particular stands on a number of issues. The current flap has the SBC insisting that missionaries sign The Baptist Faith and Message document. Some people are upset that the SBC is making a conservative stand on the issues and some are upset that they are setting up something akin to a Baptist creed. It might help to look at the document to see if it's out of line for a good evangelical to sign it. On paper, I'm still a Southern Baptist, for I didn't get a chance to join Midland's New Life Vineyard before moving to Florida and will be officially joining the Lakeland Vineyard in the very near future. So, here's my take on the BFM. The document has fairly straight-forward Reformed theology about God and Man. A few eyes might be raised at section I on the scriptures
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
That looks OK to me, but it might not to a liberal. Section II looks at God, with subsections on God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Even a Bapticostal can breathe easy on II-C's take on the Holy Spirit-"At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church." That statement doesn't preclude the modern expression of the gifts mentioned in Acts nor does it mandate them, thus Bapticostal Southern Baptists are possible under this code. Section III looks at man; it comes down on the Calvinist side of the aisle "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. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God." Section IV looks at salvation, but this leaves some room for an Arminian counter attack-"Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord." No universalists or "there are multiple ways to God" people need apply. Section V looks at "God's Purpose of Grace"- It falls into the once-saved-always-saved camp "All true believers endure to the end." It does hint at free will- "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end." So far, so good. There isn't anything here so far that would scare off most evangelicals. Section VI, the section on the Church, is where things get dicey. It sets up only two ordinances of the church, baptism and communion and lays out a congregational polity-"Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons." Most of us are clear to this point, but here comes the first big bombshell "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." Quite a few evangelical denominations, including the Vineyard and the Assemblies of God, allow for women pastors. However, it's easier to defend a male-only pastorate via the Bible than to defend a co-ed pastorate and the SBC has chosen the easier exegetical route; that's a post in itself to come later. Section VII is on Baptism and the Lord's Supper, fairly standard evangelical stuff, other than noting that baptism is for believers, differentiating themselves from conservative infant-baptizing groups. Section VIII on the Lord's Day is rather unobjectionable, with the loosely-worded phrase "Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ." That will allow for a lot of things that a Baptist's conscience can live with. Sections IX on the Kingdom of God and section X on Last Things are surprisingly unobjectionable; the issue of pre or post-millennialism is ducked, as is pre- or post-tribulation. Section XI on Evangelism and Missions isn't a problem-causer but Section XII on Education has a good fight-starter at the end
In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.
A professor at a SBC-affiliated college will need to teach with the Bible in mind; that will make some liberal-leaning folks nervous, as will the purpose-of-the-school clause. Sections XIII on Stewardship and sections XIV on Cooperation raise few, if any, red flags. The end of the Cooperation section leaves the door open for ecumenical efforts-"Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament." Some liberals won't like section XV-"The Christian and the Social Order." This is a biblical call to political arms, but isn't just a right-wing document
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
That paragraph hits on most of the Christian conservative political buttons, but also stands against racism and greed and looks to help those in need. Unless you're a militant abortion-rights or assisted-suicide fan, that seems to be something most people can agree to. Section XVI on Peace and War is interesting. The opening paragraph is interesting
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The kicker here is "principles of righteousness;" peace without righteousness may be counterproductive. Might the war with Iraq bring us closer to putting an end to war than not going to war? Section XVII on Religious Liberty seems to have a healthy respect for the First Amendment as originally intended and leave little for disagreement. However, section XVIII on The Family might ruffle a few feathers.
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
Taken fully in context, a Christian marriage is one of mutual servanthood, the husband serving the wife’s needs and visa-versa. In fact, the husband has the harder of the two roles, as he’s supposed to love his wife like Jesus loves him, while the wife merely has to match her devotion to God; pray for a real godly wife, guys. However, if you take that out of context and just focus on the wife’s obedience, you have the guy lording it over his wife. If the guy doesn’t exhibit servant leadership, he doesn’t deserve submission. Could I sign that document? I think so. Strangely, it’s the section on peace that gives me the most trouble. Some might balk at the male pastorate and others might balk at the wifely submission, but their doesn’t seem to be much, if anything, in there that goes against basic Biblical concepts. Some of the people who refuse to sign it are doing so on an anti-creedal stance, that even if it’s correct, they shouldn’t be forced to sign it. This won’t be the last battle over this, as this will be used to force a number of battles with liberal missionaries or seminary pastors.

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