Monday, February 11, 2008

What Is SBC Identity?

For several years, there has been a growing controversy among SBC conservatives over the identity and direction of the convention. It has come to be described in many ways. Some have argued that the SBC leaders are now trying to narrow the parameters of fellowship too far and are trying to bring "reform." But others have affirmed the leaders of the conservative movement in their attempt to narrow those parameters and define the SBC more carefully. Their movement is often called the "Baptist Identity" movement.

The issues that sparked this debate were the policies the IMB enacted a couple of years ago. In spite of the fact that the current IMB president has a private prayer language, the Board of Trustees adopted a policy preventing any missionaries who have a private prayer language from serving. They also defined acceptable baptism more narrowly - requiring that candidates be baptized in churches that believe as we do, especially on issues like baptismal regeneration (I happen to agree on that one) and eternal security. Someone baptized in an Arminian church would need to be rebaptized.

Wade Burleson's dissent from these policies caused a two-year firestorm that reached a climax with his censure and eventual resignation last month from the IMB. It is my opinion that too much of the focus of this discussion has been on Wade, pro or con. We need to focus on the issues.

So, the first issue is the one that the SBC needs to decide. What is the true SBC identity. Some have wanted to widen the tent and include more people. Others have been concerned that the wide tent will include the moderates and liberals who left during the conservative resurgence.

I would like to take my crack at Baptist Identity. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, a 26 year pastor, a state convention president and a follower of several of the blogs that have carried his conflict. This gives me a perspective. It does not make my perspective any better than anyone else's. But I think it gives me the right, at least, to air my opinion.

So, as best I can define it, here are the non-negotiables of SBC Identity.

1) A belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and its authority as our guide. Everything else derives from this. People disagree about the meaning and importance of inerrancy, but what did we fight for during the 80's and 90's if not to demonstrate that inerrancy was germaine to SBC identity.

2) Belief in fundamental doctrines of the faith. We cannot brook disagreement on the fundamental doctrines related to salvation - depravity, blood atonement, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. We have differences over some issues in this area (Calvinist controversy) but on the essentials, there can be no debate.

3) Baptism of believers by immersion. We do not say that pedobaptists are unsaved, but we do believe they are in serious biblical error. We value and prize baptism enough to require it of everyone who wants to be a member. Some churches recently have downplayed this. That is their right. But if you are an SBC church, you baptize believers only, and by immersion. If you compromise this doctrine, you may still love Jesus, but you are not really SBC.

4) The free church. We do not believe in denominational hierarchy. We are a voluntary association of free churches. But part of a free church is the ability to leave a voluntary association if my beliefs change. So, a church may embrace

5) Soul Competancy and Priesthood of believers. The problem with this is that these doctrines were so twisted by the moderates that they have become almost nonsensical. But we believe that each person has direct access to God through Christ and does not need a human intermediary. This does not give us the right to do as we please or believe as we please. But under the Lordship of Christ, each of us is given access to God.

6) Common beliefs and practices. We do not have a creed, but that does not mean that we have no common dogma. We have adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as our doctrinal statement and our catalog of common beliefs and practices. The BFM is our statement of commonality. If someone rejects the BFM, they might still be a solid, Bible-loving, God-honoring Christian. But if that rejection is serious or systemic, that person or church is not SBC. Again, disagreeing with the BFM doesn't make you evil, but it may define you as other than Southern Baptist.

7) The Cooperative program. In reality, this is the essence of the SBC. We cooperate to do missions. We pool our money to support seminaries and missionaries. We do not require everyone to give a set amount, but if you aren't into Cooperative Missions, why be a part of the SBC?

This is a rudimentary list. I will probably add more later. But, to me, this is a fairly complete list.


Rev. said...

I'm with you and would happily sign off on your list. The direction of the convention concerns me. As a solid conservative who remembers being mocked at my SBC college for being an inerrantist and creationist, it troubles me that I am now considered by some to be a "non-Baptist" because I hold to historic SBC theology (e.g., Broadus, Manly, Dagg, Boyce, Carroll, et al). I thought Mohler's nomination and the election this June would indicate where we might be as a whole over the "Calvinism Controversy" (which shouldn't exist, IMO). Guess we'll have to just wait and see.

Thanks for your thoughts. May the Lord use you and your co-laborers in Iowa for the sake of our Lord and His Gospel!

Jack Maddox said...

Hey Dave

Not to nitpick but it is the current IMB pres who has a prayer language...not the SBC pres


Dave Miller said...

Thanks, Jack. I knew that. But now, with the miracle of editing, there is no proof that I ever actually made that mistake.

Rex Ray said...

Dave Miller,
This comment is not about my father, David Ray, (known by Dave), but as you gave your background, let me explain where I come from by telling you some about the most influential man in my life. He was a dissenter against sin. He made enemies where ever he went. As a part time preacher and school teacher in small towns, he was never hired the next year. I never went to the same school over 1 year until I was in college. As a Chaplain in World War II, he was on the front lines with Patton’s permission until the war was over. He should have been the first to come home with 5 dependents, but he was kept in prison for 9 months. The head Chaplain was a Catholic and my father disobey his rules to stay 50 miles behind the lines. This caused the Catholics embarrassment and he tried every trick in the book to have him court marshaled. This guy dug his own ‘grave’ when the truth was known.

Dave, if we are to accomplish anything, we both need to admit when we’re wrong. If we can’t agree to do that, then we’re both wasting our time

I think we should agree on the definition of a ‘moderate’. This name was given by their enemies much like the ‘hated name Anabaptist’ was given to those who withdrew from the majority who were baptizing babies for salvation in 251 AD.

In my opinion I think of a moderate as its opposite definition in politics. I think of them as the ones that resist change. In other words, I think of them as ultra conservative. They like the old songs, the old kind of preaching. They don’t like a ‘new way’ to do things. They did not join the ‘us crowd’.

I missed out on the C/R. Didn’t even know it was going on. I believe the majority of Baptists still don’t know what the C/R was. Most Baptists that go to the SBC know, but then only a few know what it ‘really’ was. That’s what we disagree on.

You said, “…moderates and liberals who LEFT during the conservative resurgence.”

The question is: did they leave or were they removed? There is a difference.
In 1998, the old president, Tom Eliff, told the new president, Page Patterson that all barnacles and parasites had been removed from the ship of Zion. (He was referring to moderates and liberals being removed from leadership positions in the SBC.)

You said, “We do not have a creed.” Will you tell me can a ‘confession’ become a creed, and explain your statement?

Dave Miller said...

Rex Ray,

Brief response, then, perhaps, more after Sunday.

Your dad sounds like a man of courage.

I think it is accurate to say that the term "moderate" was not pejorative, but was actually chosen by the moderates themselves. many in the CR were labeling their opponents as liberals, and people said, "We aren't liberal, we are moderate."

No one was kicked out of the SBC. Some were removed from leadership positions because of theological issues (real or perceived). The CBF formed voluntarily, because the conservative direction of the SBC did not sit well with some.

A confession (ie. BF&M 2000) is our statement of common belief. I am not sure of the technical difference between creed and confession.

From my perspective, Southern Baptists made a joint decision that we wanted to be a conservative denomination, holding the line on inerrancy and other fundamental doctrines.

More later.

Dave Miller said...

I copied this from Wade's Blog - Rex's Question

i will give a complete (if unsatisfying answer) by Monday.

I asked you to explain what you meant about the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy when you wrote :
1. ‘Illusions’ does not refer to the Bible.
2. ‘Illusions’ refer to those apparent contradiction in the Bible.
3. The contradiction is an illusion.
4. No part of the Bible is an illusion.”

Since you didn’t see them then, can you see them now, or is: “There’s none so blind that refuse to see.”

Will you explain what your 4 statements mean?

Rex Ray said...

While you are waiting for more time, I will quote a letter I wrote to the Baptist Standard:

Heretics & Moderates February 2, 2000
Similarity of Heretics and Moderates
1. They were told their brothers should love them “as much as I love you.”
2. Accusers gave them slanderous names.
3. Their names should have been ‘original’ and accuser’s ‘radical.’
4. Were criticized. Moderates were called barnacles, parasites, snakes, ungodly.
5. Falsely accused. New convention’s Plumbline: Deny deity of Christ, call for ordination of gays, defend distribution of child pornography.
6. Rejected leader’s new Bible theology. Heretics rejected leaders making Lord’s supper into graven image, (wine into blood, etc.) Moderates wondered how the Holy Spirit used the Bible 1900 years without leader’s new word ‘inerrant’ and rejected them making the Bible a graven imagine.
7. Considered non-Bible believers.
8. Fellowship withdrawn. “I cannot have fellowship with those who do not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.” Coffey, president of new convention.
9. Persecuted by fellow Christians. One burned at stakes. Other fired from jobs.
10. Recipients of deepest hatred in the world...religious hatred.
11. Had attitude of song verse. “Though the church is moving, I shall not be moved.” History records leaders improving on God. In spite of Peter’s“...are you going to correct God...?”, Christian Judaism improved how Peter saw Gentiles saved. Leaders improved symbol of baptism into saving babies, improved symbol of Christ’s blood into reality, and now leaders have improved the Bible into being perfect. Maybe it is the way it is to keep us from worshipping the messenger.
___Rex Ray

Dave Miller said...

Rex Ray, again, just a note and more tomorrow.

NOTE: I am planning to be straightforward and direct with you. You seem like a guy that can handle it. I have come to count you a friend and will try to demonstrate that even when we have strong disagreements.

First, I have no doubt that many unkind and unchristian things were done in the name of the conservative movement and that there were some innocent conservatives who got caught in the cross-fire of the two warring sides.

However, I lived through this and followed it carefully. It is a pure fantasy and fiction that those on the moderate side (I am not tied to the term and am willing to agree on another) were the victims of the evil done by conservatives.

Moderates were at least equally guilty of unkindness and unchristian behavior. They were just as guilty of schism and political maneuvering. The difference is that they were found to be a minority in the denomination and so many left.

Who was burned at the stake? I am a little confused by that one. And I will say again. NO ONE has been kicked out of the denomination. We settled that we would be a Bible-believing denomination that held inerrancy as a standard. That having been settled, some chose to go elsewhere.

They may have FELT excluded, but no one was kicked out.

As to terminology, the conservatives labeled them liberals and they labelled the conservatives as fundamentalists. The terms conservative and moderate came to be used because they were the less pejorative. I fail to see how the term moderate could be considered insulting.

The rest of your statement is a very slanted, one-sided view of what happened.

There was plenty of over-inflated rhetoric and unkind words on BOTH sides. The myth of the persecuted moderate is basically just fiction.

What moderates never seemed to understand is that we in the CR REALLY BELIEVE that inerrancy is an important doctrine.

They constantly said it was a smokescreen and an excuse for a political power grab.

I believe inerrancy is a watershed doctrine. It matters. The political working was the only way to advance the orthodox cause.

And, as Tom Nettles and L Russ Bush demonstrated, inerrancy is the historical position of our denomination. The encroachment of liberalism in our schools was a departure from accepted Baptist doctrine and practice.

There are some questions I have for you.

1) Are you Southern Baptist, or have you left and gone elsewhere? I don't know your history. I'm just interested.

2) Do you believe there are mistakes in the Bible?

3) If so, how do you determine what is true and what is not.

I'm looking forward to the discussion.

Dave Miller said...

My SSP (Spiritual Sparring Partner)Rex Ray wrote:

I asked you to explain what you meant about the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy when you wrote :
1. ‘Illusions’ does not refer to the Bible.
2. ‘Illusions’ refer to those apparent contradiction in the Bible.
3. The contradiction is an illusion.
4. No part of the Bible is an illusion.”

The Chicago Council dealt with some of the difficulties related to inerrancy and its critics. It admitted that there are several apparent contradictions in scripture, but affirmed that when the full truth is revealed, the apparent contradictions will prove to be illusions.

An illusion is something that appears to be real, but is not. The Chicago Statement never asserts that there are illusions in the Bible, it just states that the apparent contradictions in the scripture will one day prove to be illusions.

Really, pretty simple stuff.

Hope your Sunday was blessed.

Rex Ray said...

Dave Miller,
And here I thought you would be saying some deep thoughts on why there are no errors or discrepancies in the Bible, but you say its “simple stuff.”

Let me combine errors and discrepancies into one word: ‘errors.’

The jest of what you are saying is that ONE DAY:
1. Errors will prove to be illusions.
2. Errors will prove to vanish.
3. Errors will prove to be gone.
4. Errors will prove to disappear.
5. Errors will prove to evaporate.
6. Errors will prove to be removed.
7. Errors will prove to be departed.
8. Errors will prove to be extinct.
9. Errors will prove to be destroyed.
10. Errors will prove to be a figment of imagination.

The list could go on, but the mentality of what you are saying is the same as the ones that bragged how beautiful a suit was until a boy said, “The king has no clothes.”

Dave Miller said...

The Bible is remarkably unified in its presentation. In those few difficult passages, we recognize that there is a solution, even if we do not know it yet.

Let me ask you a question, again. If there are errors in the Bible, how do we know what is true and what is not?

Rex Ray said...

If there were not errors in the Bible, we would not need the Holy Spirit teach us. As wind separates the chaff from the grain, the Holy Spirit separates truth from untruth or the words of God from the words of men.

That’s the same reason you can spot an illusion.

Dave Miller said...

Rex Ray, I have a huge problem with that. The Holy Spirit helps us discern what is true and what is not? How do I know the Spirit is speaking in this?

We are to judge spiritual messages by the Word. You are saying that we should judge the Word by spiritual messages.

That, essentially, puts your feelings as the judge of the Word.

God's Word is perfect. He speaks only truth. If there is confusion about a particular issue, we keep searching until our understanding matches the Word of God.

SelahV said...

Dave, hello. SelahV, here. I've been reading some of what you write at Tim Guthrie's, Tim Rogers' and Peter Lumpkins' and Bart Barber's sites. That said, I have just finished reading your post without reading the commment stream. I will get to the comment stream after I post this comment. You have nailed what I think is most consistent with what I've been reading regarding the Baptist Identity subject as I understand it. I especially liked this succinctly written little gem: "The BFM is our statement of commonality."

That is how I've always understood the BFM as long as I've known about the BFM.

I think over the years, with more and more issues being brought before the Convention due to the cultural wars of Prayer in School, Alcoholic Abstention, Abortion, Choice Debates, Homosexuality, and Political persuasions, we have evolved into a Convention of unbelievable diverse thinkers, educated and uneducated theologians, and ethical and unethical apologists.

And from that diversity voices have risen to form divisions and cause fissures within the convention and the "commonality" we have so eagerly pursued and loyally maintained through the years. Therefore the Conservative Resurgence necessitated a move I'd say some folks have trouble accepting as a common bond.

Now for the comment thread. selahV

Dave Miller said...

Rex Ray, I am not sure exactly how to respond to that post. It wandered into the realm of the bizarre. But I will take a crack.

I believe the promises of John 14-16 tell us the Spirit will illuminate the truth of God revealed in the Word. I think some of the verses were more literal than we sometimes understand. They were promises to the disciples that the Spirit would carry them in the process of the revelation of scripture.

That same Spirit illuminates the truth to us. None of those texts tell us that the Spirit will help us distinguish truth from error in the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is God-breathed an useful...

Shouldn't it say, "that part of scripture that the Spirit shows you is true is God-breathed and useful..."

If all scripture is God-breathed how can some be the words of God and some be the words of man?

Jesus promised that not a jot or tittle of the law (OT scripture) would pass away. It is all God's and all true.

I will not even attempt to deal with the rest of it. The science of textual criticism has given us a pretty accurate representation of the original texts. There are still questions, but they are relatively minor.

And the canon was settled by the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church, recognizing the difference between God's Word, good writings (Shepherd of Hermes) and pseudopigrapha and other false gospels and false teachings.

The Spirit worked to provide us a perfect Word.

I cannot understand why you believe some of these things. However, I have read enough of your writings to believe that, in spite of holding ideas I find heinous, you are a genuine follower of Christ.

Rex Ray said...

I’ve been down this road so many times, but I’ll go over it again.
‘Scripture’ is God’s Word and is true…perfect…any way you look at it, period. It is breathed from the mouth of God.

The lies of the devil etc are reported in truth, BUT they are not true and are NOT breathed from the mouth of God but from the devil.

Included with the devil’s lies, are lies of men, their ignorance, and their stupidity. These untruths are not from the mouth of God and we should NOT believe them.

The big problem is like you say…how do we know one from the other? Paul said to “Study…rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

We would agree the “word of truth” is the Bible. The question is: If it were ‘all’ true, why would we have to divide it? We have to divide the untruth from the truth.

I agree if the Holy Spirit taught Christians everything, then we would all believe the same thing. It was Christ’s prayer that we all have the same mind. I don’t understand what he meant exactly, but I’m not going to worry about it.

Some would have us to believe that God wrote the Bible as the hand that wrote on the wall, but that creates the danger of worshiping the messenger as I heard one messenger at a SBC yelling, “We have our inerrancy and no one is going to take it from us!” It was if inerrancy was as important as Jesus.

Do you believe this ‘oldest Bible’ will be more correct than the one we have now? Isn’t it a fact that “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” was added to Scripture?