Yesterday the comment section of Art Roger's blog contained this interesting comment from Bill Brown:
"New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote their own statements of faith, because when they were formed the Southern Baptist Convention did not have one.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary adopted Southern's Abstract of Principles when it was formed.
Until very recently New Orleans, Southern, and Southeastern's faculty signed ONLY their institution's (respective) statement of faith. Southwestern, Golden Gate, and Midwestern's faculty signed the current version of the Baptist Faith and Message.
After one seminary president pushed behind the scenes to have all International Mission Board missionaries to subscribe to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (this was shortly after the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the BF&M 2000), and to be subject to scrutiny as to their fidelity to the BFM 2000 during the term of their service, International Mission Board executives pointed out that 3 of the 6 seminaries did not require faculty to sign the Baptist Faith and Message.
The presidents then had the trustees adopt the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a secondary doctrinal standard and faculty had to sign both."
Seems to me like a lot of people have been doing quite a bit of signing in the last five years. I don't necessarily disagree with the principle of employees signing a document that expresses one's general affirmation of foundational Biblical principles of the gospel --- there must be some standards of the Christian faith, without a doubt.
But the problem arises when there is a demand for conformity on the non-essentials. Cooperation within a convention is killed when that happens. When major confessions around which we cooperate are loaded down with doctrines that are not essentials of the Christian faith or Baptist identity, then everyone within the Southen Baptist Convention loses.
Again, we should require conformity on the essentials, but every confessional document will contain items that are not essentials of the Christian faith and the historic disctinctives of Baptist believers. Remember, Baptists have always been known as 'people of the Book,' and our inherent Baptist values of religious liberty, free dissent, and freedom of conscience, have been the forces that insure we consistently base our distinctives on the Bible, and not tradition, and if we do happen to fall into the trap of traditionalism, courageous Baptist dissenters have always been there for us to provide correction.
There must be room for some allowances in those areas of NON-ESSENTIALS to the Christian faith and historic Baptist identity or we better change the name of our funding mechanism to the 'non-cooperative program' since there is no need for cooperation in complete uniformity. In short, there must be some flexibility within the SBC regarding doctrinal interpretations over the non-essentials in order for us to continue to expand our ministries to reach the world for Christ.
The demand for absolute creedal conformity can also become a two-edged sword that cuts deeply those who once thought they wielded it. Without flexibility over non-essentials in our statements of faith, a whole lot of good people could be fired, terminated, excluded, and shipped to Siberia, (sorry, just had to throw that one in :) --- right now!
Let me illustrate to you what I mean.
I wish in this post to only address those employees of Southern and Southeastern Seminaries. Your employment is directly tied to your affirmation of the Abstract of Principles, which you signed upon your employment. As you know, your respective seminary's charter contains this fundamental law:
"Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting professorships in this Seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees."
The future employment of every employee of Southern and Southeastern, by charter and bylaw, is dependent upon an adherence to the Abstract of Principles. Every employee has affirmed by personal signature his or her agreement of, and practice in accordance with, the Abstract of Principles.
Many would say that integrity demands employees either live completely and totally by the Abstract of Principles because they signed them, or they should voluntarily resign from their positions if they choose not to abide by the Abstract of Principles. If they can't totally and completely affirm all of the Abstract and refuse to resign, then the trustees should move to terminate in accordance with the charter. And who could argue? It's a matter of integrity.
Okie dokie. Now that I'm getting in the groove of thinking like a few of my fellow bloggers on this issue, it's time to put this principle into practice. :) Let's take a look at those things which our SBT and SEBT professors should and should not be doing and believing according to the document they personally signed called The Abstract of Principles.
(1). First, every professor must drink wine at the Lord's Table in fulfillment with his contractual obligations.
Article XVI states, "The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine."
Let's not argue about how many brain cells might die when one drinks wine at communion, one's integrity as an employee of the institution is at stake.
If a professor objects by saying, 'Culture' has changed! I know that our Southern Baptist forefathers were drinking wine at communion in 1858 when the Abstract was written, but modern Southern Baptist's don't drink wine at communion! One might understand the professor's thinking, but should it not be expected that a written caveat to the professor's affirmation of the Abstract might be found, possibly right next to his signature? If not, some might say integrity demands he resign. :) Hmmm.
(2). On Sunday, the Lord's Day, the professor had better have not ever gone to a ballgame, or even watched one on television (including in the privacy of his home), or read a secular book, or watched a movie from Blockbuster, or participated in any other 'worldly' amusements or he has violated his contract and the Abstract.
Article XVII states, "The Lord's Day is a Christian institution for regular observance, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
No excuses here. His employment is determined by by his unqualified compliance. If a professor has violated this Article, both the charter and personal integrity demands the employee of SBT or SEBT resign. :) Hmm.
Those two were just for grins: Now comes the serious stuff.
(3). A professor better affirm and teach that God graciously elects from before the foundation of the world only some, not all, of the guilty human race for salvation, and that His election of some sinners is not because of anything foreseen by Him, but purely because of His free and sovereign grace.
Article V states: "Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life -- not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ -- in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified."
(4). A professor better believe and teach that the Spirit's regenerating work precedes a sinner's faith, and this regenerative and effectual Spirit work leads to the sinner believing. Further, he better believe that when the Spirit regenerates and the sinner believes, all other graces (repentence, perserverance, etc . . .) are guaranteed.
Articles X and XIII state, "Saving faith . . . is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness." "Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end . . ."
(5). A professor better believe and teach that God alone justifies the ungodly by free grace, and not because of anything they have done, including faith.
Article XI states, "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal of sinners . . . not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ
What I have written in this post is a logical deduction using the arguments of those who demand 'doctrinal accountability' and 'personal integrity' for those who 'sign' confessions, creeds, or statements of faith.
I am not advocating that the professors who have 'violated their integrity' be terminated. I am simply showing the absurdity of not giving freedom to Southern Baptists to express disagreement in those confessional areas that are non-essentials of the faith. There are some Southern Baptists (maybe one hundred out of 16 million) who would actually believe and do everything the Abstract of Principles demands.
I personally believe that employees of any SBC agency should be able to sign the Abstract and write down where they personally disagree, and unless it is a violation of an essential of the Christian faith and the historic understanding of Baptist identity, we should allow them to keep their jobs.
But I will abide by the wishes of others regarding this issue. I just hope that not too many people listen to those who demand absolute conformity and uniformity, without caveats, when signing confessional documents or a bunch more people will be without jobs in the SBC. :)
I keep having this image in my mind of King Saul falling on his own sword.
Let's keep the doctrinal requisites for our cooperation in the SBC as broad as possible. Let's cooperate around a high view of the nature of Scripture, an evangelical belief in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, our historic Baptist identity (believer's baptism, religious liberty, etc . . . ) and the coming judgment for sinners who reject the only Savior given to men.
I think we might actually be able to continue to expand the kingdom of Christ through our Southern Baptist ministries if that kind of gentle, understanding spirit characterizes our love for one another and our cooperation with each other.
Does anybody else see the logic in what I am saying, or am I whistling in the wind?
Have a great day.
In His Grace,