Month: May 2007

Limiting SBC policies to BF&M parameters bad idea, BF&M committee members say

SAN ANTONIO–As the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting approaches, some messengers are considering making a motion that would prohibit SBC entities from adopting doctrinal policies that speak more specifically than the language of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

But several members of the committee that revised the BF&M in 2000 caution that such a motion is unnecessary and would inhibit entities from carrying out their work.

“It would severely hamstring us,” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the BF&M Study Committee, said of the potential motion. “It would basically leave us (the ERLC) in limbo if an issue comes up between that meeting and the next convention as to whether we could address it.

“There are lots of issues that are not explicitly settled in the Baptist Faith and Message and that we haven’t had resolutions on yet that come up that we need to deal with. It seems to me that it’s a violation of the trustee process. We elect trustees to provide that kind of oversight.”

The idea for a motion limiting policies to the language of the BF&M initially came up at last year’s SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., where Texas messenger Boyd Luter made a motion calling for a vote by the full convention on any “doctrinal position or practical policy” adopted by an SBC entity “which goes beyond, or seeks to explain the explicit wording of the duly constituted authoritative language of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

Luter’s motion was referred to the SBC Executive Committee, which issued a one-paragraph statement at its February meeting characterizing the BF&M as a sufficient guide for trustees of SBC entities.

The Executive Committee stated that it “acknowledges the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible, nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.”

C.J. Bordeaux, chairman of the Executive Committee’s administrative sub-committee, told the TEXAN that the statement does not tell entities what to do and affirms that each SBC entity is autonomous.

“We cannot tell the entities what they can do,” Bordeaux said. “…When we came to this thing about the BF&M, there was the realization that we can’t make them do what we want them to do They’re their own private entity, and that has to be up to the individual entity to determine.”

He added that the BF&M is not a specific “battle plan” but merely a “great guide” and a general statement of what Southern Baptists stand for.

Luter, pastor of Comal Country Church in New Braunfels, told the TEXAN in an e-mail he is “gratified with the action of the Executive Committee” but that he has lost respect for the trustees of three entities that have taken doctrinal stands outside the bounds of the BF&M.

“I have lost even more respect for the trustees of the three entities that now have in place de facto doctrinal additions to BFM 2000: NAMB, IMB and SWBTS,” Luter wrote. “Each of these three boards has met at least once since the Executive Committee decision in February, which effectively counseled these trustees that BFM 2000, as it is currently worded (i.e., not being stretched to bear a narrow interpretation well beyond the actual wording), is ‘sufficient’ to inform all entity ‘policies and practices.'”

Luter expressed disappointment that none of the three boards publicly acknowledged the EC recommendation, nor did they “bring their own previous actions beyond BF&M 2000 back into line with the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Though Luter is not planning personally to introduce a follow-up motion in San Antonio, he said he has seen drafts of several potential motions that seek to “bring home more effectively to these trustees their proper expected accountability to the Convention at large in keeping faith with BFM 2000.”

One possible source of such a motion is the participants in a roundtable in December dubbed by host

Dwight McKissic as the Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Convergence, named for two 18th-century traditions out of which Southern Baptists rose. Roundtable participants signed a letter asking the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to reconsider policies and statements concerning private prayer language, and to provide a response at the SBC meeting in San Antonio.

Concerned that “restrictive policies and statements have now introduced conflict and disharmony within a convention that has labored diligently to preserve our common bond of missions and evangelism within the Baptist Faith and Message,” the letter said that task is too great to begin excluding people from service based on “interpretive variances and disciplines of personal devotion.”

Wade Burleson, a participant in the roundtable, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and an IMB trustee, has also criticized the IMB for adopting a baptism policy he said goes beyond the parameters of the BF&M.

The IMB’s baptism guideline, adopted in May, states that baptism “must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of a believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation. A candidate who has not been baptized under the authority of a local church, which meets the standards listed above, is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church.”

Roger Spradlin, a member of the committee that drafted the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message and pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., said that while he understands the concern of those considering a motion in San Antonio, trustee boards need to retain the right to speak more specifically than the BF&M at times.

“I understand the motivation for such a motion because it’s difficult for an entity to pass policies that the whole convention doesn’t necessarily buy into or agree with,” said Spradlin, who is a member of the Executive Committee and former trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “But on the flip side of that, it’s just about as dangerous to try to have a confession of faith that is so broad that it covers every possibility for separate entities. For instance, our seminaries should have a right to ask questions of a professor and to set guidelines that aren’t necessarily specified in the Baptist Faith and Message.”

Though he personally disagrees with the IMB baptism policy, Spradlin said trustees are in a better position than the full convention to debate detailed theological issues and set policy for their entities on such issues as baptism, prayer languages and the gender of professors.

“I think it’s appropriate that they not contradict the Baptist Faith and Message,” he said of entity policies, “but to say that we can’t go beyond that I think is unrealistic.”

Heather Moore, also a member of the BF&M Study Committee, agreed with Spradlin’s assessment, saying Southern Baptists’ confession is a general statement and that entities should be permitted to deal with issues that arise, which are not specifically addressed in the BF&M.

“The committee was given the responsibility to review the Baptist Faith and Message statement and to clarify and to clearly communicate the commonly held doctrinal beliefs by Baptists,” Moore said. “The Baptist Faith and Message is not a complete statement of faith; it is not considered infallible.”

“For issues that arise, not addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, we must allow each SBC trustee board to fulfill the role for which they are elected and to work with their respective agency head and other staff to implement policy in accordance to biblical standards.”

Simon Tsoi of Phoenix was also a part of the BF&M Study Committee and now is on the IMB trustee board where he served on the ad hoc subcommittee that reviewed the baptism guideline.

“We were just doing what we were expected to do as a trustee board to help work together with our administration. We prayed and we discussed this for quite a while,” he said of the review.

Tsoi said he disagrees with the charge that the board went beyond the expectations of messengers who entrusted the board with authority to establish IMB policy.

Land noted that even without a motion requiring entities to adopt policy only within the parameters of the BF&M, the convention has plenty of ways to hold trustees accountable if they take actions that it finds objectionable.

Messengers “could write to the trustees and communicate with the trustees, and they could seek to change the board of trustees through a process of attrition or otherwise. The point being made in the controversy (the Conservative Resurgence) was that these entities are accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention can change the trustee boards.”

Messengers should not think that trustees are out to thwart the will of the convention, Land said, adding that the trustees he has spoken with are very sensitive to the convention’s desires.

“I find trustees overwhelmingly to be very conscientious and very much understanding that they are holding their post in trusteeship for the wider convention. But you can’t have 16.4 million Southern Baptists’ elected messengers trying to, in a two-day convention, provide oversight and review the decision-making authority and the decision-making practices of a dozen entity boards. That’s why you have trustee boards in the first place.”

Defining Baptists by belief and action

Armies and sports teams wear uniforms. Cultures have traditions and often languages. Generations have musical and clothing styles. We distinguish ourselves from others in a variety of useful or comforting ways. Whether our purpose is confrontation, fellowship, or cooperation, we sometimes need to locate ourselves on a spectrum of groups and beliefs. Politically incorrect as it might be to say, it’s universal and unavoidable.

That’s one reason why the TEXAN staff pursued a special report on the terms and doctrines that identify Christians and Baptists. Our goal is not to separate the good guys from the bad so much as to encourage all participants in denominational dialogue to move toward terms and distinctions that we all understand in the same way.

One example would be the term “evangelical.” It’s very popular these days. Americans who aren’t even believers will call themselves evangelical if asked the right questions. Some see it as a broad term to take in all those who believe in salvation by grace. And yet, if you look at Bart Barber’s column on page 12 you’ll find a more specific definition that would not include those who believe the Bible to be errant or who have an unbiblical view of the Trinity. If we’re going to use the term, we need to understand what it means to both speaker and hearer.

The term “doctrine” is actually another example of that. When you additionally refer to “important” or “crucial” doctrines you can scarcely know what another person understands you to say.

It’s not a meaningless exercise, though. An important debate in our denomination now has to do with the relative wideness or narrowness of our fellowship. Both terms sound extreme to our ears but finding that narrow path between them is a struggle to understand the meaning of cooperation between autonomous and diverse churches.

Yes, I sympathize with those who fear that our fellowship will get too specific on matters of interpretation. It’s a natural temptation for reformers to over-sharpen a fine point. But when dissenters get specific about what is too narrow in their opinion, I disagree with those who point to beverage alcohol use, private prayer language, the right of trustees to set specific standards for faculty members and missionary candidates, and the need to broaden our denominational leadership to include those who either do not believe the Bible is inerrant or to whom it does not matter much. Our fellowship is at least sufficiently broad on those subjects.

I can also see the point of those concerned that the convention might become overly broad, theologically. We’ve been there before and we were not better for it. If you want to see a picture of tolerance relatively unbound, look at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I say “relatively” because those who have attempted to further clarify the CBF’s identity were very harshly and intolerantly treated a few years back. That broadness is neither a goal for the SBC nor a worthy goal for any missionary group.

A pushback against a perceived over-broadening is sometimes an even more specific definition of dissent. At one time it was based on theological disharmony. We must be careful that it does not become so specific that anyone who votes “no” or asks a challenging question becomes an adversary in our eyes.

They’ll be some back and forth forever regarding the relationship between a doctrine and various levels of fellowship and partnership demanded or deemed acceptable by our interpretation of that doctrine. The convention’s democratic processes are the best means for sorting those things out. During the flow of this debate thus far I’ve gathered some ideas that seem important.

First, our trustee process still works. Those who want to teach our boards that they are accountable needn’t worry. These folks came from our churches and live among us most of the year. They know more about who Southern Baptists are than they did when they were first elected. Having the convention messengers operate as a trustee board of the whole would spawn scores of unintended and negative consequences.
While I have disagreed with specific board decisions many times over the past 30 years, I’d be wrong to question their legitimate authority to make policy decisions. Accountability to the convention is not the same as accountability to every church or person in the convention.

Next, our statement of faith is adequate and up to date. Some would try to use the Baptist Faith and Message to settle every argument of faith and practice. That isn’t its purpose and it would become divisive if we attempted to use it that way. Our confession is a minimal set of guidelines that expresses a Baptist baseline for our cooperative work. Boards and agencies must often go beyond the specifics of that minimum in order to accomplish their missions.

Additionally, a tiered or layered understanding of how doctrine applies to practice is sometimes useful but may imply too much. I understand the hesitance of our theology wonks (page 11) to prioritize essential doctrines. Rather, different doctrines imply different types of cooperation and fellowship within the body of Christ.

Those who infer from a layered scheme of cooperation an accompanying lower level of importance for some doctrines fall into a trap. The gradient of relative importance is necessarily man-made. You draw your lines in a different place than I. Who’s to choose between them? In the end, all doctrine becomes debatable in the fellowship of those who use the same terms to mean different things. Chaos.

Finally, there is a way to have these deliberations without sin or catastrophe. Mercy and patience with one another will do much to ensure that we do not risk some fracture in every discussion.

The minority must learn to take no for an answer. When a board has spoken, when the convention agrees, and when a board reexamines the matter for the sake of clarity and fellowship, it’s enough.

The majority must never be mindless of the minority. We’ve all been there and we still believe we had a point. We did have a point and, win or lose, we need to hear from both sides when there are two sides.

A further responsibility of the majority is to leave open a means of effective dissent. Doing otherwise assumes our leaders will always be as right as they are now, and their successors will be, and theirs after that. Such an understanding of human nature is based on unfounded optimism and bad theology.

I guess my bottom line is this: Be honest with one another in debate and kind to one another at all times. Honesty will head off our urge to make words mean whatever we need them to mean for the sake of a point. Words like “evangelical,” “Baptist,” “inerrancy,” and “conservative” have fairly objective and useful meanings. To use them according to some private interpretation adds confusion to serious discussions.

Kindness means that we will seek to win no point by ridicule or slander. We do it among our friends, we think it in our hearts, and sometimes we put it in writing. There is no pure thing done in a wicked way. A different spirit during this year’s debate, before, during, and after the convention; whether in the halls, on the floor during discussion, or online throughout the year, would change a lot. Maybe it would change enough to matter so that our prayers for spiritual renewal and evangelistic fervor can become far more than ritual.

The indispensable Book

What happens in our churches when we disregard the sufficiency of Holy Scripture?Confusion, sermons stripped of all but praxis, doctrinal error, and evangelism without power or effectiveness?the situation we see commonly today.

The Bible is indispensable to Christianity. From Pentecost to the present, no period in the history of the church has seen any substantial work of God without the powerful preaching and teaching of Christ through the Scriptures. The New Testament records a time when churches developed around the foundation laid on the teaching of the apostles and prophets. But beyond simple history, the Bible provides formative and principled instruction on the establishment of simple bodies that bear the mark of Christ.

History is filled with men distracted from God who trusted in traditions and the teachings of men, ignoring the Bible and its divine sufficiency.A great crisis in our churches today lies in our ever-increasing desire to exchange the eternal Word for human creativity and innovation. In doing so, the church forgets that the sole source God has given us for our life and church is his Word.

From the seed of salvation to practical beliefs and actions of the Christian’s daily walk, the Bible is adequate to meet every need.

Paul explains Scripture’s sufficiency as he counsels young Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:15, he argues that the “sacred writings” are “able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation.”In the following verse, he clarifies the “Scriptures” as the source of that wisdom and salvation. For Paul, it is imperative for his protégé to understand that Scripture alone is the source of salvation.

Beyond salvation, the apostle goes on to assert that God has provided all Scripture for our profit.Beyond the initial work of salvation, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 explains that the word of God is the “complete” source of “equipping” for “every good work.” Paul’s teaching to Timothy plainly states that every teaching, preaching, instruction, and encouraging word from the Bible is the beginning of “every good work.”

The church will only thrive when we remember that the Bible is something more than a collection of great stories or human writings, even revealed truths. Scripture is the voice of God.

The Reformation revitalized this call to a Scripture-dependant church through the basic principle of sola scriptura (Scripture alone).This teaching fought against the traditions of men and toward a recovery of the biblical church. Similarly, a recovery of this principle in our churches today can restore new life and health that honors God and exalts Christ.

Early in their history, Baptists affirmed their dependence upon the Bible by identifying the canon of Scripture as “the only authoritative source of God’s revealed truth.” Baptist churches exist today because Bible-believing Christ-followers sought to conform the practice of every local church to the New Testament.This practice does not include mere social customs and culturally bound actions, but the church’s faithful commitment to the Bible as the sole ground of authority in determining the basis of how we “do” church.

For preachers, it means moving beyond heart-warming stories and punchy anecdotes to standing on Scripture alone as the revelation of the One who ransoms sinners to build his church.For churches, sola scriptura means that the Bible contains the only model and prescription of the body Christ died to redeem. For denominations, the doctrine means that God’s word stands alone as the source of authority and instruction given by Christ to his bride.

To be true, churches must therefore reach back to the Bible to reach out effectively. The Bible stands alone as the only authoritative source of God’s revealed truth, and from this we make several observations.

-First, since Scripture is God’s Word written, it must affect the way we live out our lives. The Bible should affect the way we think every thought, solve every problem, and answer every question.

From the mind of God through the hands of men, the Scriptures tell us who we are, how our sin offends an infinitely Holy God, and how Jesus came as the God who speaks (Hebrew 1:1-3). From him and his word, we learn that all of creation groans for the redemption that is found only in Christ (Romans 8:22). From it we learn that no man, nor invention of man, is good, but God made himself a man and became the Word of God incarnate (John 1:1-5).

From Scripture we learn everything he requires us to know about man and God (2 Timothy 3:15-17). For every individual from every age, the Bible is the sole and ultimate standard of truth (John 17:17).

-Second, since Scripture is God’s word written, then it must affect the way we worship. When God created the cosmos, he did so by his word. Likewise, when he established the church, he created it in Christ, the living Word (Ephesians 2:10).

If the church is to flourish, then the church must demand absolute confidence in the sufficiency of the word to instruct Christians to gospel-driven, Christ-centered, God-exalting worship. Creativity, technology, and innovations must yield themselves to the authority of God’s word and its power to define what he wants in his body, the church.

More than just a gathering, the church defines herself through the proper practice of faithful, powerful preaching from the Bible. As a result, faithful preaching through the Scriptures reveals a proper understanding of ordinances, evangelism, church leadership, and proper growth and discipleship.

As Baptists, churches remain faithful to the Lord by remaining faithful through the written word of God, the Bible.

Finally, if Scripture is God’s word written, then it must affect the way we fulfill the Great Commission. With Scripture as our authority, a clear and perfect guide in all things, then we should trust it with absolute reliability to be our guide as we partner together to expand the kingdom of Christ on earth.As we faithfully follow the path lit by Scripture, we will see Christ nourish and grow his church.

As Southern Baptists, we must associate ourselves together around his word, submitting ourselves to it as the guide for Christ’s kingdom on earth.

With God as the author and salvation for its end, we would do well to trust the principles of Scripture, always carefully following his judgments, focusing on his ends, and serving his kingdom with great boldness as Baptists until the Word of God (John 1:1) returns and gathers together all of those who follow him. Until then, let’s remain people of the Book.

Mark M. Overstreet is avice presidentand professor atCriswell College in Dallas.

Q&A: Can the doctrines be layered?

In an effort to better understand questions related to cooperation and doctrine, the TEXAN spoke with four Southern Baptist theologians and asked their viewpoints. They are: Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Denny Burk, assistant professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, Ron Rogers, IMB missionary in Brazil and former assistant professor of missions and theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and Stan Norman, who was associate professor of theology, occupying the Cooperative Program Chair for SBC studies, in addition to being the director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry before moving to his current role as vice president for university development at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, Mo.

TEXAN: To call someone a Christian, which doctrines, in your opinion, are essential?

Denny Burk: I think usually when this question is asked, one wants to know what bare minimum is required to ensure that one is going to inherit eternal life rather than judgment. I don’t think that kind of minimalism appears anywhere on the pages of Scripture. Biblically speaking, the name Christian only properly belongs to those who are disciples.

I think of Acts 11:26. Everybody knows that a disciple is not someone who merely embraces the minimum of what is required. A disciple is one who is willing to go to the death for Jesus and the gospel. So the essential question is this: Are you a disciple? Are you following Jesus and his gospel?

Doctrines, essential doctrines, are helpful in so much as they help us to clarify who Jesus is and what his gospel consists of. I don’t think it will do just to affirm the doctrines held to be essential if you are not a disciple of the one to whom the doctrines point. Christianity cannot be reduced to a rote affirmation of doctrines. Nevertheless, right doctrine points to the biblical Christ and gospel and it’s absolutely essential for a person to be trusting in and submitting to the authority of both in order to be called a Christian.

Russell Moore: I think the question points to which Jesus one claims to believe. So I think the humanity of Christ is necessary for one to be a follower of Christ. Also, a belief in the deity of Christ, a confessing of Jesus as Lord, a belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus–those things the apostle Paul says he delivered to us as of first importance. And so I think that the key issue here has to do with the identity of the Lord Jesus. Who is the Jesus one claims to trust in?

I think the irreducible minimums include a recognition of Jesus in his person and in his work. And I think the question can be confusing simply because often, as Denny mentioned, we’re looking for the bare minimum. So for instance, you can have the question, can someone be a Christian and reject the virgin birth?–something that the church has always held to be foundational. Well, I think you can have people who can believe in Christ who do not yet know about the virgin birth. But I think it’s an entirely different matter to have someone who claims to be a Christian who consciously rejects the notion of the virgin birth. So I think that’s a bit of a complicated discussion. I do not think anyone can be saved who does not recognize and understand the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Ron Rogers: I would agree with the statements of the two brothers ahead of me and simply say that Christology–the person of Christ, who he is and what he did–is the very heart and soul of what it means to be an authentic Christian. I would include in addition to his deity, humanity and virgin birth something specific about his incarnation because John said that he who does not confess that Jesus has come in flesh is not of God. I think that is very crucial for us.

Stan Norman: There are two ways of addressing the question as it is stated. One is an historical, traditional way. How have people regarded themselves historically within the broad spectrum of Christianity, and probably what we’re more interested in is how is someone born again unto the life of a disciple of Christ.

Reflecting on Dr. Mohler’s article, I believe when he talked about theological triage he mentioned categories of doctrine. I think Dr Mohler has used a classical, two-model approach where he talks about major doctrines and minor doctrines. I have kind of modified that a little bit with the three tiers of doctrines, with, of course, the primary tier as the orthodox doctrines. I would put in that the doctrine of the Trinity. As has been said, if you aren’t Trinitarian, you aren’t Christian, or as a country Baptist preacher once said, if you aren’t Trinitarian, you ain’t. Of course, assumed in Trinitarian theology is the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus and along with his substitutionary atoning work–all of that in my opinion is subsumed in that first tier of doctrines, which are essential, I think, for a robust, meaningful, genuine life of discipleship. Going back to what Denny was saying, really, the ultimate quest is, are you born again?

And so I would look at those doctrines probably along with some others that tend to be classified with evangelical beliefs of conversion, justification by grace through faith and so on–those would be clustered as what constitutes a meaningful, regenerated disciple of Christ.

TEXAN: What is essential for one to be a useful, effective Christian disciple?

Moore: Well, I would say all of the doctrines revealed in Scripture are essential to authentic Christian discipleship. That’s not to say that one cannot be a disciple while having a faulty view of a number of given doctrines, but I do think that all Scripture is given for everything that is needed for life and godliness. So while we may say that there are some doctrines that are minor in a relative sense, we cannot say that there are any doctrines that are minor in an essential sense.

And that’s where I think Dr. Mohler’s theological triage argument has been so terribly confused in some quarters. What he is saying is not that there are some doctrines that are minor and therefore not to be quibbled about. What he is saying is, the doctrinal categories that are necessary in terms of agreement have to do with what a particular group or church is actually doing in terms of cooperation with other Christian groups. It doesn’t mean these doctrines are minor.

So often you will have people, for instance, say, well, we have a great deal of disagreement over minor issues such as the millennial question. Well, the millennial question is something that I think that many of us can disagree on who believe the Bible and who hold to the authority of the word of God, but we cannot say that it’s a minor issue. If the Lord Jesus spoke to us about a 1,000-year reign of Christ, then it is necessary for us to hear him and understand what it is about which he is speaking. It’s not a minor issue. Now, relatively speaking, it’s a minor issue when compared to issues such as the Trinity and justification by faith, the deity and humanity of Jesus, but it’s not a minor issue. Baptism is not a minor issue. I go can door-to-door witnessing with a paedobaptist believing him to be grievously wrong on baptism, but it doesn’t mean the issue is minor. It’s a very major issue that has been given to us by our king, our Lord Jesus.

Burk: I would agree wholeheartedly with that. I think submission to every biblical doctrine is important for a disciple of Christ. You can’t claim to be a disciple and then not be submitting to something that he’s spoken to. The Bible tells us when Jesus was led out into the wilderness to be tempted, the devil tried to get him to turn stones into bread and Jesus resisted the devil with these words: “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. And if Jesus’ whole life was characterized by nothing less than someone who is hanging on every word spoken by his father, his disciples’ lives can’t be anything less than that. So you can’t say that any word or doctrine from Scripture is non-essential; it’s all essential for us to submit to, even though you might recognize the relative importance of it along the lines of what Russell was saying.

Norman: In reflecting on the question, the first thing that crossed my mind is: Are you asking about prioritizing doctrines as we understand them hermeneutically, or are you asking about doctrines we share in a cooperative context and how we relate to others who believe differently than we do?

TEXAN: I think the latter. How do we explain that outside the Baptist fold? To be an effective, mature Christian—things essential for discipleship but not salvation perhaps.

Burk: I would reject that distinction.

Moore: Well, I think the way Stan just worded it is actually very helpful, that levels of cooperation is really what is at stake here. So in other words, I could cooperate denominationally with churches that disagree with me about, for instance, whether a church ought to have elders. But in my own local church, that would be a situation that we’d have to have some consensus on in order to carry out our mission as a local church. And so I think the issue of levels of cooperation is really essential here. For instance, could I be involved in a Billy Graham crusade with Presbyterians and evangelical Methodists if we’re simply using a cooperative endeavor to point people toward the gospel” Sure I could. But could I plant a church with evangelical Presbyterians and evangelical Methodists? Well, no, because we’re going to have to decide who to baptize and how. So I think levels of cooperation here really is the key.

Rogers: That is also very important when it comes to our work on the mission field. You know the International Mission Board has encouraged us to be involved with other Great Commission Christians. But we have to distinguish levels of cooperation –with which groups can we cooperate at what point in getting the gospel to men and women in other cultures. And in some contexts we can cooperate with a wide spectrum of Christians to get the gospel to people. But when it comes to planting a church, we will not cooperate with people who do not believe in baptism by immersion or some of those essential things.

Norman: And when we talk about authentic Christian discipleship, there are so many ways that could be expressed. I certainly applaud Denny’s concern that he would not draw the distinction between conversion and a life of pilgrimage. I think, as I understand the question though, with regard to the level of cooperation, what are the doctrines that are essential?

There are some areas where I would draw the line on the level of orthodoxy. For example, I can’t cooperate with you because even though you might claim the label Christian and claim to be a disciple, we don’t even agree on the basic orthodox tenets of the faith. Then there would be levels of, OK, we’re evangelical. … we affirm orthodox doctrine and agree about the importance of regeneration. But then in church planting and questions of ecclesiology, my level there is even further limited by what I believe about Baptist identity and that there are tenets in that which will not allow me to cooperate with you. And then we can turn that around and in the political/social sphere, a disciple and someone who stands in a rich heritage of cultural engagement—I know Dr. Land files friend-of-the-court briefs with some people that on other matters we would never cooperate, but on that particular court case or on this particular civic matter, we have decided to cooperate for a single voice on this particular issue.

I don’t think you can just be quite so reductionistic and say in every case this is what happens. I think the level of the issue will determine the level of cooperation.

Moore: And one cultural and historical context also will often dictate the kinds of questions that must be answered. For instance, you think of the Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted by the SBC in 2000, which speaks to issues of homosexuality and abortion—issues that were not raised in the 1963 or the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message statements.

This is not because the messengers to the 1963 or 1925 Southern Baptist Conventions were pro-homosexual or pro-abortion rights. It’s simply that these issues were not assaulting the church to the degree that they are now assaulting the church, and thus they had to be addressed prophetically in terms of the cooperation of the churches.

Norman: And that may require that we partner with others in certain political engagement that the ’63 or ’25 messengers would not have conceived.

TEXAN: Considering Christ’s call for unity in his high priestly prayer, how do we obey that and at the same time contend for doctrines that we hold dear and which may separate us from other Christians groups?

Moore: I don’t think that Jesus’ high priestly prayer is calling for a global, multi-national organization. I think that what he is calling for is love, faithfulness, fellowship, and that ought to be seen chiefly in the lives of local congregations that are unified, congregations that cooperate together.

But there also is a recognition that we see in the New Testament itself, in the book of Acts, that there are going to be situations in which in this fallen world we do not yet see eye to eye closely enough to be able to cooperate on particular issues. And so when the brethren have a disagreement over, for instance, whether or not baptism is for believers or for infants, there has to be unity at that point of doctrine before those brothers can then carry about the mission of baptizing the nations. So I don’t think that Jesus’ high priestly prayer means a pseudo-unity. I think it means a genuine unity, which means there’s going to have to be contending with one another often as brothers on issues that we can debate as brothers, but we have to debate them. And we have to come to a consensus about what the word of God actually teaches.

Norman: I agree. There are two ways you could address it. One, unity ultimately is understood in the person and work of Christ. And that seems to dovetail nicely into his prayer. He is praying that we would know him and walk with him authentically and genuinely, and so true unity is found in rightly knowing who he is, rightly believing who his is and rightly serving and obeying him. But you could turn it around and say the fact that I have associated myself with a particular denomination is that I am doing so in an attempt to be biblically united with Christ and with other believers.

People often view denominations as separation, and that is true, but denominations also provide vehicles for uniting like-minded believers, unifying them and their convictions and calling as they understand Scripture and their relationship to Christ.

It kind of cuts two ways. I could justify denominational identity and separation along the lines of “I do it in a quest for being united with like-minded believers with like-minded convictions and a like-minded life of discipleship as I follow after Jesus Christ.”

Burk: And I would say I can’t be a faithful disciple of Jesus if I think that the Bible teaches that baptism is immersion of a believer in water and then I don’t submit to that word. If you are allowing all these other people to join your assembly who aren’t baptized, and you’ve defined discipleship in your understanding of the Scripture to be baptism of the believer by immersion in water, you really don’t have any choice. To be faithful means you have to submit to that word. And you can’t just say this is unimportant, this is non-essential, they’re still saved. No, you have to submit to what Jesus teaches on it.

Rogers: I’m wondering if a lot of people are looking to this term “denomination” or denominational identity as a divider when in reality I don’t think it is necessarily an indicator of division in the body of Christ.

TEXAN: First, do you agree with perception of some that there is a narrowing of doctrinal parameters in the SBC? And second, is this to a degree necessary in order to have a denomination?

Moore: I do not see an undue narrowing in the Southern Baptist Convention right now. As a matter of fact, I see a wide and growing latitudinarianism in the SBC, especially at the level of our churches. You can see this, for instance, in the way in which some people read the confessions of faith to say that as long as something is not explicitly mentioned in the confession, we have latitude to go in a completely opposite direction. I think that’s something we ought to be worried about. Often when people are charging the denomination with narrowness, they are charging the denomination with narrowness that is necessary for a denomination to decide how we continue to cooperate together in carrying out the Great Commission. That means that you are going to have new questions that emerge as the culture changes and begins formulating threats to orthodoxy in different ways.

So I don’t at this point see narrowness. Is there always a danger of an undue narrowness? Certainly there is. And we can see that in some examples of some groups that have gone before us that have divided over issues that were not essential to cooperation. But I don’t think we are in any danger of that right now.

Burk: How are you going to cooperate on the mission field if you don’t agree on what baptism is, and the convention or the IMB is going to speak to what they think baptism is. I have no problem with that at all. We need to be specific about it. You cannot disciple in a church, you can’t plant churches, without knowing what that is. So it’s not inappropriate to narrow that. And I agree with Dr. Moore. He sees some relaxing of things that are essential to being Baptist here stateside. I recall reading of a Baptist church that was going to accept as members those who had been baptized as infants. That is so contrary to Baptist understanding and I think a biblical understanding of what baptism is.

Norman: In may experience in denominational service, there have been a few exceptional occasions [where inappropriate narrowness occurred], but we can’t let occasional issues paint an entire denomination as large as ours. The gadflys are really having a profound influence in certain quadrants of our culture today, maybe far beyond what they have earned or should have.

Moore: And most of the charges that you hear of undue narrowness are coming from people, when you actually appear behind the rhetoric and ask what exactly are they talking about, you find a very pernicious agenda, an agenda that’s already been settled in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s an issue that has to do with, for instance, gender roles, an issue that has to do with open communion and open membership in some cases in our churches, an agenda that has to do with a whole wide array of things that have already been settled in Southern Baptist life. And you have a whole group of people who could never win at the church level by speaking to the issues themselves, who if they speak in broad terms of undue narrowness believe they will gain a hearing because of personality issues and what have you that have to be confronted directly.

Norman: The case of the theology professor at Southwestern Seminary who was denied tenure is a good example. The Baptist Faith and Message speaks about males as pastor, not specifically professor, therefore the conclusion is drawn that the BF&M has been breached. And yet, that’s too reductionistic a way to ask the question. Has there been some kind of illogical and ecclesial distinction between our seminary professors and those who serve in a pastoral role in a local church? Do we have a tradition of a pastor-theologian such that the qualifications for pastor do translate into most, maybe not all, professors at the seminary? I don’t think that you can argue against that, yes, we have a long tradition. In fact, it was intentionally conceived that way by Broadus and by Boyce and by Manley. And to argue differently, well, maybe we don’t have it stated in the BF&M, but it is to argue against a long, rich tradition in Southern Baptist life.

TEXAN: Do you believe the Baptist Faith and Message should be a baseline for our denomination’s work or is it a maximal parameter beyond which our SBC entities cannot appropriately go?

Moore: The Baptist Faith and Message is a single statement of belief defining cooperation of the churches denominationally. Each entity must decide what is necessary for that entity to carry out its mission and commission. Southern Seminary, for instance, every faculty member at Southern Seminary must be in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message and also with the Abstract of Principles, the statement of faith adopted by this institution from its founding. There are some issues in the Abstract of Principles that are clarified beyond the degree to which they are written in the Baptist Faith and Message. And that is perfectly appropriate for an entity to have that level of expectation and to have employment standards for each entity that are going to take into account a wide array of issues.

Norman: We trust the trustees of each SBC entity to govern for us in our behalf, and they appoint administrators to implement the policies and procedures that the board approves. We empower them to do this for us and if they deem that there is something that requires greater specificity than what is required by the BF&M, we trust them within certain parameters to make that call. It may be an issue of do we trust our trustees as much as it is how we interpret the Baptist Faith and Message and issue of confessionalism within our denomination.

TEXAN: How should this discussion apply at the mission boards?

Rogers: At the International Mission Board, the Baptist Faith and Message is a good standard for us and I have no problem with asking all missionaries and missionary candidates to affirm the BR&M. It provides us a good parameter, doctrinal and to a degree practical, and it gives us an understanding of where we are as Baptists. So I don’t hesitate. I think it’s a good idea and I’m glad to affirm it anytime I’m asked to do so.

TEXAN: What role, if any, should church tradition play in how we interpret biblical doctrine?

Burk: I think it would be arrogant to ignore how previous generations of Christians have interpreted the word of God. I think it would be even more arrogant to subjugate the word of God to any perceived authority in the church’s tradition. And that was precisely the issue in the Reformation, the issue of authority. And I think the Protestants and the Baptists with them have always insisted on sola scriptura, the understanding that the Bible is the sole infallible authority of our faith. All tradition has to give way to that authority. Yes, tradition has a role to play. But it’s sort of an advisory role. That tradition can be revised.

Moore: The apostle Paul warns us of wolves that will come in and twist Scripture to suit their own agendas. Tradition helps us to see the strategies the wolves use. Whenever you have false teaching in the church, there’s always the taking of Scripture texts out of context and there’s always the twisting of these texts around. For instance, you think of the Arian controversies when people would say Christ is the firstborn of all creation. Church tradition helps us to see how these debates have already been carried out in the life of the church, and so we recognize these things when they come up again in for instance, Jehovah’s Witness teaching or the debates over modalism.

We’re able to recognize the ways in which Oneness Pentecostals argue. Even take church tradition from its broad sense of 2,000 years of church history. In Baptist life, look and see in a very narrow timeframe in the 20th century the kinds of strategies that have been employed. Many problems that we have now in the Southern Baptist Convention have everything to do with the fact that we’ve forgotten some of the lessons learned from the battle over biblical inerrancy in the latter half of the 20th century.

We ought to pay attention to these things and pay heed to these things not because they add to the authority of Scripture—Scripture judges every human tradition—but because they help us to see the ways in which error tends to raise its head.

Rogers: I would add to that that church tradition informs us as we formulate an interpretation of doctrine and practices but it does not regulate in our interpretation of Scripture.

Moore: And church tradition can also often show how our forebears have misinterpreted Scripture. It can be every bit as instructive as the ways in which our forebears have rightly interpreted Scripture. So there’s a great deal we can learn from the ways in which, for instance, the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention justified chattel, race-based slavery. We ought to look at those debates and see how it is that men who understood the Scriptures so rightly in some many ways could get it so wrong at this point. That can help us to look at our own blind spots and our own ways of appropriating the culture in ways that do damage to us.

Rogers: And in that way we will help to inform the future generations as they formulate their doctrine.

Norman: And tradition is a fine safeguard against novelty. There’s a fine line here because if you err too far on tradition, you will stray from biblical authority, and if you err too far on novelty, you are going to stray from biblical authority. The writer of Ecclesiastes said there’s nothing new under the sun and if someone comes to me and says, “We are anti-tradition in every single way. We’re going to formulate it all anew,” you are probably working on a cult. So there is a fine line. On the one hand we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. And we’re probably not going to concede on the person and work of Christ. We’re not going to come up with something novel to add to that. But on the other hand we don’t want to make ourselves so much to antiquity that we are unable to articulate biblical truths that speak meaningfully to our culture. We walk that line, we walk it carefully, we walk it finely, and hopefully we walk it correctly. Sometimes we walk it better than others.

TEXAN: Dr. Moore, you mentioned that it would be possible to become too narrow at some point. How would we recognize that?

Moore: I don’t think you can do it with a list of doctrines. In order to say this is the chart and these doctrines are off limits. I think it would have to be done in the context of life together, mission together in terms of local communities and denominational entities. For instance, someone may say to me, “Our church is not King James only. What should we do with someone in the life of the congregation who is KJV-only advocate?” Well, my response to that is not going to be simple. It is going to be, what’s he doing? If you have someone in the congregation who believes in the confession of faith, who believes in the mission of the church, who believes in biblical authority, who believes that the King James version is the only rightly translated copy of the Word of God today and yet that person has no problem with pastor preaching from the translation of Scripture of which he uses, he tolerates other church members who do not hold that conviction. That is an issue where you ought be able to live with one another and to be able to tolerate that kind of difference. However, if you have people within the life of a congregation who are KJV only, who are standing up and causing division among the brothers because it’s new-age Bible translations, then that is an issue of factiousness that ought to be dealt with in the life of the congregation. Often, these are not very simple but sometimes they have to do with issues within the life of a particular body or group of churches. You could take any number of issues and ask is there a point to where you could become too narrow with these? Of course there is, but you cannot come up with a blanket statement because there is always going to be issues in the life of a given organization or church in which that becomes a stumbling block in the cooperative mission of the church or the institution.

Burk: One thing that I really wish and pray that Southern Baptists would pay more attention to is Baptist distinctives. This is where I believe that we are losing ground in our denomination in terms of an insistence upon baptism and what baptism is, the immersion of a believer in water, an insistence upon a regenerate church membership and all that entails. An insistence upon church discipline. The way that we disciple and preach the gospel. I fear sometimes that we are losing those things in our press for numbers and all of these other things until we end up with a mixed multitude that’s not that much different than what you see in other churches. And it cuts directly against who we profess to be. What’s why I get so concerned about these doctrines that people put in this secondary category as not important, not essential. They are essential. They are essential for our discipleship–regenerate church membership, baptism and all of that.

Now, what does it mean?

LifeWay Christian Resources’ report on their survey dealing with the viewpoints of pastors on private prayer language will be the talk of the town at our SBC annual meeting. Understandable. The main assertion?that 50 percent of SBC pastors believe PPL is a gift of the Holy Spirit?comes as a surprise to many. The lengthier discussion will entail the meaning and significance of this finding.

We don’t know how many of these pastors actually practice PPL. Is their answer one of tolerance rather than conviction? Is it based on an exegetical conviction or on an anecdote? We don’t know.

Here are two things we can reasonably say, based on LifeWay’s report:

  • A surprising number of SBC pastors are open to the theoretical idea of PPL.

  • Southern Baptist pastors are less open to PPL than are pastors of other Protestant denominations. That’s interesting. We can actually think of several other things that SBC pastors are less open to than are other Protestant pastors.

But we can’t infer these things from the report:

We can’t infer that there is a general acceptance among Southern Baptists of PPL as a biblically based gift. We don’t know what the laity think of the matter. We also don’t know what the difference might be between the response of pastors to an academic question and their response to a Sunday School teacher who advocates for PPL in the church. That might be where the tolerance and acceptance part company.

We can’t infer that the assertion that PPL is a biblically based notion is truer than it was before the release of the report. An opinion held by many, while important, is not, by itself, an argument. If, for example, you find that 51 percent of SBC pastors teach a different interpretation of election than you do, does that change your mind about election?

We can’t authoritatively infer the reason for the opinion held by the 50 percent. Is it a sign of the cultural times? Is it a result of a more ecumenical wind blowing across our denomination? Is it a sign of spiritual renewal? No one who does not have more information than we currently do should assert any such things.

My point is that this report is a great discussion starter. A deacon at my church who doesn’t likely read Baptist Press stopped me Sunday to comment on the report findings. It’s of widespread interest among our people. We’ll talk about it for a few weeks without any doubt. Few of us are likely to change our minds.

It’s not a debate ender, though. Those on the “we told you so” bandwagon are going beyond the data if they believe their arguments have been recently shored up.

We’ve discussed charismatic practices in the SBC during the whole course of my ministry. Many of us see a threatened introduction of “unbiblical” practices into the life of our churches.

Others agree, sort of, but also fear that the pendulum has swung so far as to close off any openness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Southern Baptists. Extreme positions are, by definition, threats to productive dialogue.

The bottom line for now is that we will still struggle to find that reasonable and biblical position between the extremes and we’ll continue to disagree over where it is. Nothing happened to change that tradition when LifeWay released the results of a survey last week.

Southern Baptists: more than just evangelicals

We live in the Evangelical Era. The recording industry has discovered evangelicals to be a lucrative market for Christian music. Mel Gibson made the same discovery with regard to film. Evangelical buyers propelled Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” to the pinnacle of American hardback book sales. Even politicians have begun to market themselves to evangelicals since the 2004 elections. He who dismisses the staggering influence of evangelicalism in our nation does so at his own peril. Southern Baptists, too, must carefully assess our own relationship with American evangelicalism by answering three questions: Are Southern Baptists evangelicals? Are Southern Baptists merely evangelicals? What relationship should Southern Baptists have with other evangelicals?

Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?
The question that heads this section is also the title of a book by James Leo Garrett, E. Glenn Hinson, and James E. Tull. Garrett concluded that Southern Baptists are evangelicals, Hinson determined that we are not, and Tull concluded not to conclude anything quite yet. The lack of consensus among the three revealed the two differences that plague us still today: different visions for who Southern Baptists ought to be, and different conceptions of who evangelicals are.

The standard academic definition of evangelicalism has invokes the “Bebbington quadrilateral”?British history professor David Bebbington’s assertion that evangelicalism is the nexus of:

  • Biblicism: An emphasis upon the unique authority of the Bible.
  • Crucicentrism: An emphasis upon the unique efficacy of the atonement Christ made on the cross.
  • Conversionism: An emphasis upon the universal prerequisite of personal conversion for becoming a Christian.
  • Activism: An emphasis upon the universal responsibility of all Christians to proclaim and live the gospel.

Joining the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) simply requires affirmation of Trinitarianism and inerrancy, but this minimalist statement has caused problems for the society. In 2003 ETS refused to eject from its membership open theists Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. More recently, ETS President Francis Beckwith converted to Roman Catholicism, relinquishing his presidency voluntarily but hoping to retain his membership (he later resigned as a member). Considering this expansion of evangelicalism to include denials of God’s omniscience and relinquishment of basic Reformation principles, one wonders whether any plausible definition of evangelicalism can long endure these changing circumstances.

Although ETS has recently demonstrated how far one can wander from the Bible while claiming to affirm inerrancy, no definition of inerrancy can provide enough wiggle-room for some Southern Baptists. Denials that Southern Baptists are evangelicals have therefore typically come from those quarters of Southern Baptist life vehemently opposed to the Conservative Resurgence. The Resurgence, to the degree that it has cemented inerrancy as Southern Baptist dogma, has squarely placed Southern Baptists within the fold of evangelicalism.

Biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, activism, and inerrancy are good things. Southern Baptists have answered Garrett, Hinson, and Tull: We are happily evangelicals.

Are Southern Baptists Merely Evangelicals?
Several important doctrines connect Southern Baptists and evangelicals, but does anything substantial divide us? Some neighborhoods of the Southern Baptist community work to minimize the importance of any distinctive theological attributes of Southern Baptists. These items of Southern Baptist conviction constitute points of tension between the SBC and the wider stream of evangelicalism:

Religious Authority: Although affirmation of biblical authority is part-and-parcel to being evangelical, the market-driven nature of evangelicalism tends to elevate the role of personal experience as religious authority within evangelical groups. Southern Baptists historically have affirmed that personal experience must be regulated by biblical authority.

  • Baptism: Resurgent Calvinism in the SBC has strengthened the ties between some Southern Baptists and some evangelical pedobaptists. Some other evangelical groups espouse theories of baptismal regeneration.
  • Ecclesiology: Although many evangelicals practice a congregational polity similar to that of Southern Baptists, virtually every imaginable form of church order exists somewhere within evangelicalism.
  • Spiritual Gifts: The Pentecostal movement and its daughter movements constitute a significant portion of the evangelical movement, while Southern Baptists have historically resisted the growing influence of these movements.
  • Women: Many evangelical groups disregard New Testament gender roles.

Evangelical ecumenism requires the demotion of these items to facilitate expansive joint ventures with evangelical groups?even the use of Southern Baptist missions money to plant generically evangelical churches. In contrast, Southern Baptists have historically considered many of these items non-negotiable biblical precepts that we cannot sacrifice and remain obedient to God. Southern Baptists are indeed evangelicals, but we are more than evangelicals.

What Relationship Should Southern Baptists Have with Other Evangelicals?
If Southern Baptists are both connected to and distinct from evangelicals, what does that imply for the prospects of Southern Baptist partnerships with other evangelicals? The robust history of Southern Baptist cooperation with evangelicals ought to continue. From Billy Graham to Promise Keepers, we have cooperated with other evangelicals in evangelistic crusades, civic and moral advocacy, academic pursuits, discipleship programs, publication and recording, prayer, and mutual encouragement.

Nevertheless, Southern Baptists have historically recognized the prudence of limiting cooperation in church planting and other denominational endeavors to people who share our Southern Baptist convictions. This juxtaposition of connection and separation is complementary, not contradictory. By sticking with cooperation in those endeavors at which we agree, we avoid the inevitable internecine squabbles that have caused every serious ecumenical movement since the Reformation to result in the further fracture of the body of Christ into yet more schism.

Good fences (and clear definitions) do indeed make good neighbors.

Bart Barber is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Farme

Pflugerville FBC played crucial role in turning back gambling, electing leaders

PFLUGERVILLE?First, they helped turn back gambling in their town, and lately members of the First Baptist Church of Pflugerville have helped elect six professing Christians to the Pflugerville City Council, three of whom are members of the church.

The effort was part of a massive mobilization by townspeople and churches to keep their community “family first.”

“We have great leaders in the community now and they are not thinking like the world,” said Mike Northen, the associate pastor of education and administration for First Baptist Church. “We wanted people who took a biblical approach to city government.”
In 2004, the community began to mobilize after realizing that Pflugerville, which has a population close to 35,000, was close to becoming a gaming town, with the threat of horse racing and related gambling being proposed by the Austin Jockey Club.

When the churches and others in town began to learn about the destructive effects that often follow the gambling industry, they began to organize to stop the proposal.

“A lot of things at race tracks go on that you just don’t know about,” Northen said. “You can find any vice you want to there.”

A grassroots movement began within the community. At FBC, Pastor Steve Washburn and the staff made it a priority to battle the horse-track initiative. So, they began encouraging their church and community to put families first.

“We have always tried hard to be a community neighbor,” said Northen, who has been at FBC for nine years. “We sometimes have two or three groups a night coming into the church to use our facilities for their meetings and functions.”

Concerned citizens began going door-to-door asking people to sign a petition to keep the horse track out.

Pflugerville Pfamilies Pfirst, a group founded to uphold community standards of morality and values, was formed and played a prominent role in fighting against the track initiative. Many citizens such as Northen simply began to do some investigating on the horse racing industry and came up with significant information that could be used to support a stance against AJC, finding that gambling addictions, drug use, and prostitution have all been linked to horse racing.

“I had many sleepless nights? All of us were in it together,” Northen said. “But we were strong and we kept fighting them.”

After the dust settled, the race track initiative died, not because of a decisive vote, but because the idea of horse racing in Pflugerville was overwhelmingly unpopular. According to a non-binding referendum vote, 70 percent of the town was against the race track.

“When the light is shed on them, things will start coming out and they can’t pull the wool over our eyes anymore,” Northen said. “They backed out when they realized that we weren’t going to quit.”

Since the horse-racing initiative, the town that has a school district population higher than the town population has become more alert on issues that stand in opposition to the community’s values.

“It woke up our church members and the rest of the population that they need to pay attention to city government,” Northen said.

The community has turned back strip joints and liquor stores, while managing each year since the horse-racing initiative to progressively elect evangelical Christian leaders in their town. In the last three city council elections, there has been a steady increase in the number of Christians elected.

The Lord has used this to affect the church as well, Northen said. Not only have pastors learned how to approach the sensitive subject of social and political issues, but they have also grown to appreciate one another as more people in the community are attending church.

“The pastors here are preaching God’s word,” Northen added. “We wanted to see a stronger a Christian community, and more people in the community are going to church.”

Passing motions at SBC tough sell

Getting a motion passed from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is an uphill battle. Convention bylaws stipulate motions that deal with the internal operations or ministries of an SBC entity must be automatically referred for consideration by that entity, which then reports its decision at the next year’s annual meeting.

The man who wrote the book on Baptist polity–former Baptist Sunday School Board president James Sullivan–said the wisdom of this procedure can be understood when it is remembered that occasionally, motions have been made from the floor of the conventions that have dealt with matters already under study or consideration by the trustees of an institution.

“For the Convention, not having all details in hand, to try to deal with complex situations would probably intensify the problem and slow down an ultimate, satisfactory solution.”

The number or motions introduced from the floor of the convention settled down to about a dozen in 2002 but grew to a record number of 29 proposals in 2004, 24 in 2005 and 25 in 2006.

While most proposals end up being referred to an SBC entity, many of the suggestions made by messengers are accepted favorably and lead to the development of ministry initiatives or changes.

Here are a few proposals offered last year that led to changes or recommendations this year:
• A request to improve physical accessibility accommodations at the annual meeting led to this year’s Local Arrangements Committee adding a subcommittee to consider those needs.
• This year’s Committee on Order of Business considered a call for 15 minutes of praise, confession and prayer during the annual meeting.
• A call for an administrative expense analysis of SBC entities led the SBC Executive Committee to ask trustees of the boards to be mindful of fiscal responsibility and stewardship and recommend revisions to strengthen the SBC Business and Financial Plan relating to audits, administrative expenses and business procedures. The EC declined to recommend the proposed analysis, feeling that would “usurp the role or invade the province of trustees.”
• Calls for study regarding the influence of Calvinism, unregenerate church membership and the emerging church movement may be undertaken if this year’s messengers approve an EC recommendation to reinstate the research-related SBC ministry assignment to LifeWay Christian Resources.
• An EC statement drafted in February suggests trustees do well when guided by the Baptist Faith and Message in crafting doctrinal policies. They stopped short of recommending Texan Boyd Luter’s proposal that messengers vote on any doctrinal position or practical policy adopted by an SBC entity that goes beyond or seeks to explain the explicit language in the BF&M. (See related article by David Roach on Luter’s motion in this issue of the TEXAN.)

Ryan Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., initially called for a study of the emerging church movement, fearful that some Southern Baptist leaders “are drifting dangerously close to identifying the SBC with this movement.”

Johnson told the TEXAN he has come to believe the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist seminaries are equipping Southern Baptists with both the doctrine and methodology to reach the culture and re-establish the church’s witness.

“I am confident that LifeWay will put the right people on the case to research it,” Johnson said, expressing gratitude that the matter is being addressed.

Following a vote calling for LifeWay to examine these issues, Executive Committee member Roger Moran of Missouri charged that the Acts 29 Network of churches, which has hosted meetings at which Southern Baptists have spoken, encourages lax attitudes toward sinful behavior in order to gain a hearing among unbelievers.

Moran argued that because some of the network’s churches have allegedly sponsored meetings at pubs to facilitate theological discussions, presented what he said were R-rated movies during film nights to address ethical concerns, and hosted poker nights as fellowship, Southern Baptists, by any association with the network, are nurturing the “fleshly nature of our people.”

Regarding the call for a study of the influence of Calvinism, John S. Connell of Georgia told the TEXAN of his concern that “the Calvinistic cauldron is already boiling in Southern Baptist churches” and if not addressed will cause the SBC to explode within 10 to 15 years.

Connell shared a manuscript he wrote on the subject with EC members and convention officers, as well as seminary presidents, in which he warned that Calvinism would ultimately destroy the greatest mission program in the world.

Another motion that prompted further study asked GuideStone Financial Resources to consider allowing members of SBC churches to participate in their financial and insurance products. GuideStone will report this year that such a study is underway.

Sometimes SBC entities respond to a referred motion by stating that the desired action is already being taken, as happened in these cases:
• NAMB trustees declined to employ a disabled person in order to raise disability awareness by SBC churches, stating their own sensitivity and inclusiveness toward those with disabilities and the lack of ministry assignment in this area of local church policy.
• Jerilyn Leverett of Wesleyan Drive Baptist Church, Macon, Ga expressed gratitude for the subcommittee and regret that NAMB had not devoted more energy to the 95 percent of disabled persons who do not attend church. “There needs to be a coordinated missions emphasis utilizing people with disabilities,” she said, to reach people with disabilities so they in turn can serve through their local churches.
• When one messenger shared his concern that Cooperative Program giving has been presented as “the only legitimate way to determine if a church or pastor is genuinely mission minded,” the Executive Committee explained that reporting in the Annual Church Profile currently includes a category reporting total mission expenditures of each church. While G. Wayne Dorsett was not surprised that ACP reports include that information, he remains concerned that CP giving is the only criterion for considering candidates for SBC offices and trustee posts.
• Last year a Lufkin pastor proposed that the Executive Committee develop a plan of action in the event that a disaster prevents the annual meeting from being held. According the Article XI of the SBC Constitution, such provision has already been made.
• Similarly, a call by a Texas pastor to amend bylaws to require convention officers to be chosen from churches that give 10 percent through the Cooperative Program and the local Baptist association was regarded by the Executive Committee as having been addressed. Last year messengers voted to remove a similar stipulation from the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee’s final report, while embracing other initiatives to heighten CP giving.
• A messenger asking that a LifeWay store be opened in Phoenix was told that the city remains a potential site.
• After a messenger asked for a committee to be appointed to examine how IMB and NAMB might work in greater partnership, both entities responded that such a mechanism for cooperative work already exists through the Inter-Missions Council that meets regularly throughout the year.
• A call for an external audit of all funds handled by the IMB Central Asia Region for the years 1999-2005 was rejected after being referred to IMB trustees who concluded appropriate action was taken in 2004 following both an audit and supplemental procedures accomplished by a qualified CPA.

But Texan Ron McGowin express dissatisfaction with the response, raising questions about the amount actually embezzled and the efforts to return funds to the region. He also questioned the limitation of the audit to a smaller time-span than the 1999-2005 period called for in the motion.


Several messengers appealed for changes that the Executive Committee rejected.
• A call for the Committee on Nominations to appoint at least one pastor under the age of 40 to committees and boards was declined. The EC noted that trustees under age 40 are regularly appointed for service “without regard to their age, gender or ethnicity.”
• A call for a comprehensive study of the makeup and function of all SBC entity boards was declined, noting that such information is included in the 2006 SBC annual and in governing documents available online. EC staff agreed to compile the information for a chart in the SBC Book of Reports.

Just because an SBC entity doesn’t think an idea merits consideration doesn’t mean a messenger won’t urge an action that overrules or limits an SBC entity. Repeated calls have been made in recent years to give immediate consideration to a matter if sought by a simple majority of the messengers instead of the two-thirds now required.

A similar call has been made repeatedly to allow a simple majority of messengers to consider a resolution that was not brought to the floor by the Resolutions Committee.

The Executive Committee argues that such issues “should be sufficiently compelling to sustain the two-thirds vote required to preempt the referrals normally made to the entities involved” in the case of motions to bring out of committee a resolution not introduced by the committee assigned to consider it.

Rodney Albert of Missouri said the two-thirds majority requirement has the potential of thwarting the will of the majority. Believing the Executive Committee is “more inclined to dispose of these matters than to understand them,” Albert expressed disappointment that greater concern is not shown in protecting “the right of the majority” on either a motion or a resolution.

Another effort was rejected that called for amending the bylaws so that trustees serve a single seven-year term.

“We are ignoring a huge talent pool…when we continue to allow the repetitious service of policy makers” through renewed terms of service, said Barrett M. Lampp of Florida.

Messenger Wiley Drake of California remains dissatisfied with the Executive Committee’s refusal to recommend his repeated calls for allowing the submission of resolutions by messengers on the first day of the annual meeting. The EC said the current deadline of 15 days before the convention provides for thoughtful deliberation by the Resolutions Committee. Drake told the TEXAN he will again call for this change at this year’s convention meeting.

Two of last year’s proposed motions prompted spirited debate before being referred—one calling for an investigation of the IMB for allegations of impropriety and the other asking the 2008 annual meeting to be moved to hurricane-stricken New Orleans.

An Oklahoma messenger called for the EC to appoint a committee to investigate what he alleged was impropriety among IMB trustees. He deferred to SBC President Bobby Welch’s suggestion that the matter first be given consideration by an internal IMB committee.

IMB trustees responded last January by approving without dissent a report presented by their executive committee in consultation with executive staff. Trustees did not address fellow trustee Wade Burleson’s charge that the nominating process for appointment of trustees had been manipulated or that undue influence by outside SBC agency heads had occurred, finding those requests outside their authority—a point which Burleson later cited as a reason for his initial call to have an outside committee conduct the investigation.

The IMB response noted their prerogative and responsibility to further define parameters of doctrinal beliefs and practices beyond the BF&M for missionaries who serve Southern Baptists.

David Crosby of New Orleans told the TEXAN that the SBC fails to understand the “wonderful mission opportunity and powerful witness they could have by immediately scheduling our annual meeting in New Orleans.” While larger secular conventions are making the city a destination, Crosby said the SBC postpones selection of that site “because we are still in recovery.”

The EC estimated that breaking contractual agreements with the city of Indianapolis would cost the SBC approximately half a million dollars and questioned whether the city could accommodate the large crowd.

Crosby countered by citing the tens of thousands of Southern Baptists who have endured inconveniences by “sleeping on cots and eating bologna sandwiches” in order to share the gospel “with powerful words and deeds.”

As messengers hear reports from the SBC entities to which last year’s motions were referred, they will have an opportunity to question the decisions that were made and even call for the original motion’s reconsideration if two-thirds of the messengers agree.

In his book on Baptist polity, James Sullivan praised the fairness shown each messenger even during years when spirited debate was commonplace. “Extremisms are usually discouraged by the very process of democracy,” he wrote. “If an extremist persists in presenting prejudiced and unjustified view or making extremist motions, a deliberative body will soon recognize his off-center positions. This person will tend to lose his influence with that body.

They may vote to hear him, but they will cease to respect his views if he has moved very far from the center of the assembled constituency.”

Common doctrines unify diverse Baptist churches

Southern Baptists gather every year in June to adopt a budget that funds ministries across North America and the world. They celebrate the 69 new churches started every week across the country, cheer on the more than 15,000 students taking classes in Southern Baptist seminaries and shake hands with several of the 10,548 international and North American missionaries that Southern Baptists support.

Ask a messenger to an annual meeting what it means to be a Southern Baptist and you might hear about the Cooperative Program, the voluntary funding mechanism through which local churches contribute to the worldwide missions enterprise. Another person might point to distinctive convictions about believer’s baptism and a regenerate church membership.

While the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement revised seven years ago serves as the guideline by which Southern Baptist entities operate, individual churches vary as to what they emphasize and insist are crucial beliefs.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is unique among the 41 state conventions and fellowships, having formed as a confessional body of affiliating churches that affirm a minimal set of doctrinal beliefs, hold biblical inerrancy as the foundational element and work together in mutual accountability.

Anyone sitting through the two-day Southern Baptist Convention marvels that over 43,000 local churches cooperate to fund $200 million in ministry efforts worldwide despite varying degrees of financial support and theological agreement. As elected boards of trustees govern the various Southern Baptist entities between annual meetings where they offer their reports to messengers of local churches, some of their decisions have prompted critics to question whether cooperation is being tested beyond the boundaries of doctrinal agreement.

Among the headline-grabbing actions of the past year were:
>Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees announced Oct. 17 that the school would not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language, nor hire professors who advocate the practice.
>An ad hoc committee of International Mission Board trustees spent most of a year reviewing controversial personnel standards implemented late in 2005 regarding a missionary candidate’s baptism testimony and neo-Pentecostal practices. In May the board voted to clarify the guideline on baptism to refer to the authority of the local church and reclassify the policy on tongues and private prayer language to a more flexible “guideline.”
>In January, Southwestern Seminary acknowledged an earlier decision to deny tenure to a Hebrew language instructor who did not meet Southwestern’s criterion of appointing only “pastor-qualified” professors to teach biblical studies and theology students–citing as their reason the BF&M confession of faith which limits the role of pastor to men. A survey by the TEXAN of the five other SBC seminaries revealed slight differences in that policy. However, none has women teaching theology or pastoral ministries courses.

As criticism of these actions occurred among various Southern Baptists, calls were made for trustees to focus on primary points of doctrinal agreement, leaving greater latitude for interpretation of what are sometimes deemed secondary or tertiary issues. Deciding which issues are given less priority depends on who is making the interpretation.

Several years ago, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler offered the analogy of triage–a process that allows trained emergency medical personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urgency.

“A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority,” Mohler said.

In his 2004 commentary available at, he presents “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” describing first-level theological issues as those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

“Southern Baptists have historically confessed with all true Christians everywhere belief in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the full deity and perfect humanity of Jesus Christ, his Virgin Birth, his sinless life, his substitutionary atonement for sins, his resurrection from the dead, his exaltation to the right hand of God, and his triumphal return,” according to a 1994 resolution SBC messengers unanimously adopted.

Union University President David Dockery helped write that resolution. He told the TEXAN that in affirming the truthfulness of Scripture, the doctrine of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ, Southern Baptists stood with orthodox Christians in continuity with the consensus of the early church. Denial of such fundamental truths of the Christian faith represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself, Mohler wrote.

Dockery called the focus on the nature and truthfulness of Scripture “a good and right thing to do” as Southern Baptists sought to bring renewal and recover an orthodox confession over the past 30 years.

He added that “other pressing issues have come to light,” citing the nature of God and open theism.

Supporting the need for “a full-orbed renewal to orthodoxy for the 21st century,” Dockery said Southern Baptists have countered “certain contemporary feminist models” used when addressing God with an insistence on biblical language. Their belief in Jesus as the sole and sufficient Savior counters universalism and soteriological pluralism, he added.

When believing Christians disagree on “second-order” issues they often draw their boundaries by organizing into congregations and denominational forms. While Baptists and Presbyterians stand together on “first-order” doctrines, Mohler wrote that disagreement over the meaning and mode of baptism prevents their fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.

But Mohler views debate over the nuances of end-times doctrine, for example, as a “third-order” issue over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.

“A structure of theological triage does not imply that Christians may take any biblical truth with less than full seriousness. We are charged to embrace and to teach the comprehensive truthfulness of the Christian faith as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. There are no insignificant doctrines revealed in the Bible, but there is an essential foundation of truth that undergirds the entire system of biblical truth,” he added.

In his book “The Doctrines That Divide,” Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor of the historic Moody Church in Chicago, explains why important doctrinal controversies that exist within the broad spectrum of Christendom should not be set aside for the sake of unity, believing many of them lie at the core of the gospel message.

“In days gone by, many believers were tortured, eaten by wild beasts, or burned at the stake because of their doctrinal convictions,” Lutzer wrote. “To speak of unity and to minimize doctrinal differences is to sacrifice truth on the altar of wishful thinking,” Lutzer warned. “Unity, unless it is based on agreement regarding the content of the gospel, would not be worth the price.”

Writing in “One Gospel: Toward a Southern Baptist Consensus,” Dockery said it is unlikely, apart from God’s intervention, that Southern Baptists are going to come to unanimity on some positions that he described as secondary matters.

In contrast to the “cultural and programmatic identity” he round as a Southern Baptist growing up in the 1950s, Dockery characterized today’s denomination as a gathering of loosely connected groups, including fundamentalist, evangelicals, revivalists, purpose-driven churches, quasi-charismatics, culture warriors and Calvinists.

Speaking Feb. 16 at Union’s Baptist Identity Conference, Dockery warned that such balkanization, often fueled by differences over secondary theological issues, could re-ignite a battle in which those engaged are “prone to concentrate on the frustrations or disappointments, while never thinking of the ultimate issues or implications for which the battle is being fought.”

Dockery told the TEXAN: “We cannot move forward with our shared Baptist work without confessional convictions and confessional boundaries. This, however, does not mean that we should expect, or demand uniformity of belief or conviction.”

Southern Baptist should claim the best of their Baptist confessional heritage, he said, as well as drawing from numerous confessions, citing the Standard Confession of 1660, the London Confessions, the Orthodox Creed of 1678, the Philadelphia Confession of 1742, the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, the Abstract of Principles of 1858 and the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963 and 2000).

Not only will such historic confessions provide guidance in “seeking to balance right beliefs and right living,” Dockery said they help Southern Baptists know “how to relate to one another in love without convention, pointing out for us the important differences between primary and secondary issues in Christian doctrine and practice.”

“It is possible to hold hands with brothers and sisters who disagree on secondary and tertiary matters of theology and work together toward a common good to advance the kingdom of God. Gut we need to be of like mind on first-order issues,” Dockery insisted in his booklet.

Union’s School of Christian Studies Dean Greg Thornbury told the same audience that Southern Baptists ought to emphasize the basics of what it means to be a Baptist. By doing so, a host of secondary issues will be addressed for a segment of Southern Baptists he tagged “the angry young men.”

Among the frustrations he has noted across denominational life are the lack of respect for men in positions of authority, a lamenting of the demise of revivalism and the rise of Calvinism, and Calvinists who are tired of being misrepresented as anti-evangelistic.

A rediscovery of holiness and ancient forms of discipleship, a renewed awe and wonder of the Bible and a return to the prophetic voice of the church will allow Baptists to focus on what’s important and not waste time debating over disputable issues, Thornbury said.

“There should not be people in our membership rolls who never come to church, show no discernible evidence of conversion or holiness and who are not currently now participating in a local body of believers,” he added.

LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer later reflected on those in attendance at the Union gathering that an outsider might have described as likeminded.

“I knew better,” Rainer wrote in a column for Baptist Press. “Present were five-point Calvinists and others who would not affirm all five points. Also in attendance were cessationists and non-cessationists, people with differing views of women in ministry, bloggers and print-media writers. There were some who thought leaving ‘Baptist’ out of a church’s name was wrong; and there were others who had already taken the denominational label out of their church’s name. The views on eschatology held by the attendees were many.”

Rainer wrote that he rejects the need to choose sides, preferring instead to build bridges lest God’s hand of blessing move beyond Southern Baptists.

“Though I may disagree with some on secondary and tertiary issues, I will not let those points of disagreement tear down bridges of relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ,” he added, preferring to join with those who will work together on common causes of missions, evangelism and the health of the local church.

In an interview with the TEXAN, Rainer deferred to Mohler’s assessment of primary, secondary and tertiary issues.

“The doctrinal statements that became the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 clearly identify those issues that we as Southern Baptists hold to be foundational to our denomination’s beliefs,” he stated.

In each of the highlighted examples from the past year, various Southern Baptists have argued that those actions went beyond the BF&M to address matters best left to the individual’s conscience to interpret.

Following the vote of Southwestern trustees to forbid advocacy of private prayer language, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington told the TEXASN that the school had shifted from an era of openness he found during former president Kenneth Hemphill’s administration.

“Southwestern Seminary does not believe in the legitimacy of private prayer language,” he stated. That “philosophical shift” caused him to question the school’s belief about biblical inerrancy, noting the apostle Paul’s instruction that the exercise of the spiritual gift on tongues should not be forbidden.

Having called on SBC President Frank Page and the Executive Committee to consider revisiting the BF&M to clarify the view toward private prayer language, McKissic said he was praying that “continualists, semi-cessationists and cessationists can coexist in SBC life and through all our agencies.

As the IMB board reviewed their 2005 personnel stipulations related to baptism and private prayer language, one missionary leader on the field voiced those concerns to the ad hoc trustee committee.

“We lost some good personnel that could not turn around from short term to long term,” explained former Texas Rodney Hammer, regional leader for Eastern and Central Europe. Referring to Southern Baptist missionaries who were “bumped out” by either of the new restrictions, Hammer told the TEXAN: “They were proven, effective FR&M 2000-signed biblical inerrantists, missionary experienced. Others entered the process and found they wouldn’t be able to make it,” he contends.

He takes the recent statement by the SBC Executive Committee urging entities to regard the BR&M as a guideline for setting policy as a warning to be cautious.

“If there is an SBC consensus document on important doctrines of the faith, these [guidelines on baptism and private prayer language] go beyond that. Eternal security of the believer and the administrator of the baptism are not in the BR&M statement on baptism,” he stated.

Committed to remaining under the authority of the trustee board as he carries out the policies they set, Hammer remains hopeful Southern Baptist will continue to look at these issues.

“I trust the Lord and his sovereignty,” he said, making it clear he has no desire to resign. “I don’t have to agree with this step, but I’d like to think we have room to dialogue.”

Regarding Southwestern’s policy of appointing only “pastor-qualified” professors to teach biblical studies and theology students, Texas pastor Benjamin Cole of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington charged Southern Baptist leaders with extrapolating narrow principles for church ministry.

“The suggestion that the New Testament precludes a woman from teaching in a seminary classroom rests upon a foolishly anachronistic interpretation,” Cole wrote in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram column.

Cole said he is increasingly frustrated by what he called “narrowing trends” in the denomination.

When it comes to deciding how each SBC entity applies the convictions stated in the BF&M to its own ministry assignment, that decision is left to the trustee boards elected by messengers in annual session. Issues that surface at one of the mission boards might arise at one of the seminaries, but are likely to be different than those faced by GuideStone, LifeWay or the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“There are lots of issues that are not explicitly settled in the Baptist Faith and Message and that we haven’t had resolutions on yet,” said ERLC President Richard Land in an interview with the TEXAN.

When those issues arise, the ERLC needs the freedom to address them, he said.

Any effort to prohibit SBC entities from adopting doctrinal policies that speak more specifically than the language of the FR&M would hamstring the ERLC, Land added.

“It seems to me that it’s a violation of the trustee process. We elect trustees to provide that kind of oversight,” he said.

Both mission boards have developed guidelines that apply BF&M convictions to the task of starting churches. The International Mission Board trustees defined levels of cooperation with other Great Commission Christians, some of whom differ with Southern Baptists in theology and church practice.

Those lines have to be drawn on the mission field, said Ron Rogers, an IMB missionary who teaches and trains church planters in Brazil.

“When it comes to planting a church, we will not cooperate with people who do not believe in baptism by immersion,” he cited as an example during a discussion with three other Southern Baptist professors.

“We trust the trustees of each SBC entity to govern for us in our behalf,” added Stan Norman, vice president for university development at Southwest Baptist University. “We empower them to do this for us and if they deem that there is something that requires greater specificity than what is required by the BR&M, we trust them within certain parameters to make that call.”

Instead of an undue narrowing in the SBC, Southern Seminary theology dean Russell Moore is concerned at “a wide and growing latitudinarianism in the SBC, especially at the level of our churches.”

Explaining his perspective in the discussion with other Southern Baptist leaders for the TEXAN interview, Moore said, “Some read the confessions of faith to say that as long as something is not explicitly mentioned in the confession, we have latitude to go in a completely opposite direction.”

“We may actually—and must—enlarge the essential doctrines category when we think and act in the Baptist context,” Rogers added. Thus, within Southern Baptist life, Rogers said, “I would probably be more apt to dismiss or limit the ranking of doctrine.”

In his column for this issue of the TEXAN, Texas pastor Bart Barber of First Baptist Church of Farmersville draws a similar conclusion. Citing views on religious authority, baptism, ecclesiology, spiritual gifts and gender roles, Barber said: “Evangelical ecumenism requires the demotion of these items to facilitate expansive joint ventures with evangelical groups. In contrast, Southern Baptists have historically considered many of these items as non-negotiable biblical precepts that we cannot sacrifice and remain obedient to God.”

Criswell College New Testament professor Denny Burk added, “I get so concerned about these doctrines that people put in this secondary category as not important, not essential.” Referring to critical matters like baptism and regenerate church membership, Burk insisted, “They are essential for our discipleship.”

When seeking to identify primary doctrines for Southern Baptists, Dockery said those truths on which the clear teaching of Scripture and the consensus of the Baptist tradition speak with a clear voice are to be considered essentials.

“We need to recognize that some things which are secondary matters for the greater Christian tradition, such as believer’s baptism by immersion, are nevertheless primary and distinguishing doctrine for Baptists.”

It is when “biblical Christians equally anxious to interpret and follow Scripture reach different conclusions” that these matters are to be considered secondary or tertiary, Dockery said.

“We must not divide over secondary and tertiary matters in the name of truth and we must not compromise primary biblical doctrines in the name of love.”

Jim Richards to be nominated for SBC first vice president

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla.?Donald M. (Mac) Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., has announced his intention to nominate James W. Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.


In a June 1 news release, Brunson said, “Jim Richards has led SBTC to do denomination right. With a leaner staff and a focused mission, this convention has done a lot to show the way.”


Richards is the founding executive director of the eight-year-old state convention.


Brunson pastored First Baptist Church of Dallas, which is affiliated with the SBTC, from 1999-2006.


On the subject of missions, Brunson added: “The SBTC has proved its commitment to a focused mission by helping start over 350 churches during its short lifetime. The convention devotes more money for church planting than for any other budget item. Dr. Richards has been the leader in keeping that vision in place.”


Richards, a Louisiana native, pastored in that state for 21 years before entering denominational service as an Arkansas director of missions in 1995.


“His experience has positioned Dr. Richards to be a pastor’s friend,” Brunson said. “He brought a personal perspective of love and respect for local church ministry to his leadership of our state convention.”