Exclusivity is beautiful and not all division is evil. This phrase will not gain much ground in the current society I live in but I believe it. First, I believe it because absolute inclusivity is impossible and incompatible with any degree of knowledge or truth. As soon as a proposition is made, those who dissent are excluded. Inclusivity, then, is an incoherent demand, one of the great hypocrisies of our time. As soon as one makes the proposition, “We must be inclusive,” he or she excludes all of those who make other exclusive claims. Thus, even inclusivism is exclusive. Anyone who claims to be truly inclusive is a liar, but it is a popular thing to say. It sounds good until we think about its implications. If all propositions prove exclusivity, then they are divided from disparate exclusive claims. Division, in a broad sense, is not a religious problem but a reality about a humanity that believes something. Broad division is essential to any sort of belief. Universal unity requires uniformity, a sort of hiding away of truth and antagony against the pursuit of truth, which I also see in our current society.
In a world that is so divided, especially about the meaning of the Bible, it becomes necessary to profess clear confessions of faith. A confession distinguishes one doctrinal camp from another. While confessions are not authoritative or sufficient (Scripture alone is), they help to guide us toward maturity and unity, unity, here, referring to a unity of heart and not uniformity. Division does not necessarily lead to dissension. Put simply, confessions are a short systematic theology used as guidelines for doctrinal inquisition within a tradition.
Prior to the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM; 1924), the 1689 London Baptist Confession (also known as the Second London Baptist Confession) was the standard guideline for Baptist thought. The 1689, as I will refer to it from this point onward, expanded and clarified the 1644 London Baptist Confession, a confession that preceded the Westminster (1646). When the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded (1845), the 1689 was still the standard confession. The reduction of its contents to the 1924 Baptist Faith and Message in 1924 represented a doctrinal downgrade in Southern Baptist doctrine, which, since the SBC was the largest protestant partnership in the world (like a denomination but not a denomination), the downgrade represented most Baptist groups and the broader protestant umbrella. The generalization and shortening of confessional statements showed that the church was more interested in being inclusive than biblical. It showed a disinterest in doctrinal depth.
Confessions are beneficial because many people contribute, debate, and refine doctrine as the confession develops—something that sets a bona fide confession apart from a belief statement in a local church constitution or bylaws or on a church website. A confession represents tested and heavily critiqued positions on doctrinal issues. The 1689 is in the tradition of the Westminster, Heidelberg, and more than 80 other confessional statements following the break of protestantism from Rome in 1517. All of the confessions in this tradition have the added benefit of proximity with other reformed confessions of belief and the criticism of thousands of local church bodies around the world through history—meaning that they are more tried and tested than any confession following the 17th Century. The 1689 is significantly longer than modern Baptist confessions. You might expect that groups would desire to clarify their doctrinal stances more as more controversies unfold in later times. Conversely, the Baptist tradition has removed the clarifications and revived controversies for our time that were dealt with in the past. We are at a crossroads for the church in downgrade. We will either fight the same battles that have already been fought or look to the historic Baptist confession, recover what was lost by 1924, and progress as the church rather than regress like we are currently seeing.
No matter your tradition, I hope you will compare your modern confession to the historic confessions and ask, “Has there been a downgrade, and what should we seek to recover?”
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states:
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.
Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.
This statement is the extent of the current SBC confession about the Scriptures. In order for a local church to associate with the Southern Baptist convention of churches, this is all it must agree with concerning the Scriptures. Notice a few things about the statement:
- The BFM does not identify the contents of the Holy Bible. Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who both have unfaithful differences in their versions of the Bible, are free to affirm the BFM statement and be considered part of the SBC—at least on the basis of the statement on the Scriptures.
- The BFM does not mention whether or not Scripture is sufficient. The agnostic who believes the Bible is a sort of moral authority but does not believe it entirely sufficient for all of life and ministry can be a Southern Baptist, as can local churches that rely more on the tactics of the world for attraction and evangelism than they do the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It also permits those who are otherwise affiliated, like Hindus, to accept other documents as Scriptures from the gods.
- The BFM does not clarify whether there is new revelation or additions to be added to the Bible at a future date. Since it does not clarify that the canon was closed by the time the apostles’ died, it allows for new revelation—which permits cults like Iglesia de Cristo, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons and other religious peoples like Muslims—all of which claim the Bible as an authority but have added revelation to the Bible because the Bible was insufficient.
- The BFM does not indicate a belief that the text of the Bible has been accurately preserved and has retained its authenticity. Muslim belief fits perfectly with this statement in the BFM.
- The BFM does not indicate a method of orthodox interpretation or the necessity of the Holy Spirit. So, the Bible is the authority, but there is no indication about how to properly discern the Bible’s meaning.
- The BFM states that the Bible is the true center of Christian union, yet many diverse religious systems claim that the Bible is an authority or good moral system, including agnostics, cults, and other philosophical groups like Buddhists. The statement concerns unity more than it does clarification, which is a unitarian or universalist emphasis.
- The BFM revolves more around Christian union than God’s glory.
So far, you can be a Southern Baptist according to the BFM 2000 if you are:
|Statement||Affirming Groups||Groups Excluded from SBC Affiliation|
|The Scriptures||Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Agnostic, Seeker Sensitive, Non-Gospel, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, various cults, Unitarian, Universalist, or Satan.||Atheists, because they don’t believe Scripture is authoritative or divinely inspired.|
There is nothing that distinguishes modern SBC belief, according to the modern confession, about the Scriptures from Rome, LDS, Kingdom Hall, Islam, Unitarianism, or Universalism. Even Satan would affirm the BFM statement about the Scriptures because he knows that God has authority, and He revealed His authoritative standard. Prior to the downgrade, this was not so.
You will notice, immediately, the length. The 1689 clarifies the positions that were downgraded in Baptist life within the last 100 years. The 1689 states:
Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures
1._____ The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1- 3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20 )
2._____Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomen, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations,Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. ( 2 Timothy 3:16)
3._____ The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are not part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings. ( Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2 )
4._____ The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. ( 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9 )
5._____We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. ( John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)
6._____The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Galatians 1:8,9; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40)
7._____All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. ( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)
8._____The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope. ( Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16 )
9._____The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. ( 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
10.____The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved. ( Matthew 22:29, 31, 32; Ephesians 2:20; Acts 28:23)
The 1689 clarifies everything that the BFM does not and distinguishes Baptist thought as exclusively reformed and protestant. Oh, how far we have fallen and how shallow popular Baptist thought has become within the last 100 years (a recent development). No wonder we are having to redress the ancient controversies. The BFM statement is true. Without the clarifications of the 1689, the BFM statement on the Scripture is shallow and broad enough to include many who are not in Christ or even profess to be so.
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