Allow me to give an example. Recently I gave a series of messages on the end times. Since this was a departure from my usual expositional manner of teaching, I resolved to not spoon feed people a particular viewpoint, but rather, I taught all four major positions held by evangelicals: (1). The historic premillenial view, (2). The dispensational view, (3). The amillenial view, and (4). The preterist and/or postmillenial view(s) -- and only at the end of teaching the entire series did I give my opinion, but I tell people that they must come to a conviction on their own as to what Scripture teaches. Every time I teach a series that allows me to articulate various opinions or viewpoints of people regarding the same doctrine, I will always emphasize that evangelicals who hold to those various viewpoints often also hold to a high view of the authoritative, sufficient and inerrant Word of God. When asked how conservative Christians can arrive at different interpretations I remind people that all of us sometimes slip into frail, insufficient and fallible interpretations of the infallible Word. Only Bible teachers filled with pride will never question whether or not they may be wrong in their interpretations.
This is where Al Mohler's brilliant proposal to establish a theological triage system whereby people may know the difference between first tier (primary), second tier (secondary), and third tier (tertiary) doctrines would be healthy for our SBC. There are some who say that everything in the BFM 2000 is PRIMARY DOCTRINE, and if a Southern Baptist expresses any disagreement with any portion of the BFM 2000, he is not a true Southern Baptist and is not worthy of leadership in the SBC.
This kind of thinking is very, very dangerous. Why? It is more 'cultic' than it is Baptist. If a Southern Baptist cannot point out where he/she believes the BFM 2000 is in contradiction with Scripture we are in trouble. In fact, if a Southern Baptist voices a disagreement with some of the interpretations of tertiary doctrines found within the BFM 2000, and we then begin to 'question' that Southern Baptist's conservative credentials, we have prostituted our heritage as Baptists. Why? We will have placed ourselves in the very bizarre place of having people in the SBC being called 'liberal' when they champion their belief of the authority of the Bible over a man-made confession. Think about it -- in 2007 it is possible for Southern Baptists to call 'a liberal' someone within the convention whose conscience is bound to the Word of God, and not the BFM 2000!
Even worse, we now have people in the SBC who are attempting to move the entire convention to an acceptance of interpretations of tertiary doctrines that go far BEYOND those contained in the BFM 2000. Those who are demanding conformity to policies and guidelines that are based upon specific interpretations of tertiary doctrines, without giving room for disagreement, will ultimately destroy our cooperating convention.
Southern Baptists have fallen asleep at the wheel. We had better wake up and speak up. Someone needs to have the prophetic courage and fortitude to show, RIGHT NOW, that to publicly disagree over tertiary doctrines, even those tertiary doctrines found in the BFM 2000, is NOT A REASON to disfellowship, end cooperation, or remove people from leadership in the SBC.
By the way, one might advocate the following as a possible definition of Fundamentalism -- any philosophy that adds to the sacred Word of God. Liberalism takes away from the sacred Word of God; Fundamentalism adds to it. Both ideologies are dangerous, and whereas it seems we successfully resisted the dangers of liberalism in the latter portion of the 20th Century, we must now resist the dangers of fundamentalism in the 21st Century
Allow me to illustrate. It is possible for me to point out at least five tertiary doctrines in the BFM 2000 where solid, conservative evangelical Southern Baptists disagree. Unlike fundamentalists who wish to exclude those who disagree with tertiary doctrines in the BFM 2000, I believe it is a healthy thing for people to discuss and debate various interpretative views on those doctrines that are not essential to the faith, but contained in the BFM 2000. Some wish to remove people who publicly disagree with ANYTHING in the BFM, even if it is a TERTIARY doctrine. Bart Barber recently suggested that I make a list of those places in the BFM 2000 where there are differing interpretations on tertiary doctrines. Dr. Barber believes everything in the BFM is a PRIMARY doctrine, and I'm sure he wishes to prove I can't point to disagreements among Baptists on tertiary issues in the BFM 2000.
I can, and I will.
Listen carefully: Even though I am pointing out five differing interpretations of non-essentials doctrines below, I am not saying these doctrines are not important. They are. And we should debate them, discuss them, and try to come to some consensus. However, I am saying as clearly as I know how that differing interpretations of the doctrines below should not be a reason to cease cooperation in SBC missions, or exclude from SBC missionary service or leadership.
EXAMPLE ONE: The BFM 2000 Teaches Infants Are Innocent And NOT Under God's Condemnation Until They Personally Sin
My blog has contained an interesting discussion about the point at which people are condemned by God.
The BFM 2000 in Article III says infants come under God's judgment 'as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.'
Dr. Greg Welty and Dr. Bart Barber of Southwestern Seminary have both publicaly agreed that BFM 2000 does not teach infants are condemned for the sin of Adam.
However, The Abstract of Principles, the institutional confession of Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary teaches:
"Adam transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation . . ."
This 'condemnation,' according to the Abstract is BEFORE anyone has committed 'actual transgressions' or even are capable of 'moral action.' It is interesting to note that the Abstract of Principles is consistent with the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message on this point of condemnation. We are all condemned, according to the Abstract of Principles, for the sin of ONE man (and of course I would say this is very consistent with Romans 5).
The fact that the Abstract says people become 'actual transgressors' when they are capable of 'moral judgment' only compounds the judgment those without moral judgment (infants) ARE ALREADY UNDER due to the sin of Adam.
These two statements on the fall of Adam, one in the Abstract and the the other in the BFM 2000, are NOT compatible.
However, read carefully -- there is room for both interpretations in the SBC regarding the point at which people actually fall under the just condemnation of God, either, (1). At the impartation of the soul (the Reformed view), or (2). When that soul grows to maturity and is capable of moral action (the 'age of accountability,' the Semi-palagian view).
For the purpose of missions cooperation this particular doctrine is tertiary and not essential. Nobody, neither the Calvinist nor the semi-palagian better DEMAND conformity to his viewpoint in the SBC or there will be an irreversible rip in the fabric of our cooperation.
EXAMPLE TWO: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Teaches Closed Communion
Article VII states: Being a church ordinance, (baptism) is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
Baptism has already been defined in Article VII as baptism by immersion, and since the very word 'baptism' (Gk. 'baptizo') means 'to immerse,' one would be hard-pressed to call himself Baptist without believing in baptism by immersion.
However, there has been disagreement for years among Baptists over whether or not Baptists could share communion with believers who have not been 'properly' baptized. There is no question that baptism is a prerequisite to the Lord's Supper (or fellowship/communion) with other believers, but the question becomes, if someone is not baptized by immersion, can they still be a partaker of 'communion' with the family of Christ?
Spurgeon said, yes, absolutely! His church welcomed at the table of communion all Christians, whether properly baptized (by immersion) or not. Why? There was the belief that the Kingdom of Christ transcends the 'local' church, and if we will all share the 'Marriage Supper of the Lamb" together in heaven, even with Christians not 'properly' baptized - as we Baptists define it - then why would we withhold the cup of fellowship and communion from believers here? Like Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle, our church invites all Christians, regardless of the 'mode' of their baptism, to the Lord's Table. Our local church 'membership' is strict (only believers who have been baptized by immersion), but our table of 'communion' is open.
Nathan Finn, a professional historian and an employee of Southeastern Seminary, has written that he believes a large majority of Southern Baptist Churches practice the same form of modified open communion our church practices. I believe there is room in the SBC for both views and if there are attempts by either side on this view to DEMAND that the other side do it their way, then a rip in our fabric of cooperation takes place. I can't sign the BFM 2000 without expressing my disagreement to this article, and if there are people who believe that I should not serve as a trustee because of my disagreement with closed communion, then we have lost our moorings. Closed communion is a legitimate interpretation of the Scripture -- but it is not the only, conservative Southern Baptist view.
EXAMPLE THREE: The Baptist Faith and Message Teaches Justification Is Simply 'Acquittal' and Makes NO Mention of Christ's Righteousness Received.
The BFM 2000, in Article IV B, states, "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ."
Dr. Sam Storms has done an excellent job in pointing out the weakness of this statement in his post entitled Two Theological Concerns With the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
(Justification) is defined/explained in the BFM 2000 as "God's gracious and full acquittal . . ." But justification is not simply acquittal; it is not simply God saying "Not Guilty." It is the positive and forensic declaration that the believer in Christ is righteous. Acquittal alone won't get anyone into heaven. We need the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Protestant theologians in the tradition of the Reformation have traditionally defined justification in terms of forensic or legal declaration of righteousness because of the active and passive obedience of Christ imputed to our account.
Now certainly it is true that justification includes the notion of "acquittal" or the declaration: Not guilty. But acquittal is not itself justification. Justification is the declaration by God that we are reckoned righteous through faith in Christ.
Now, in my opinion, there is room in our convention for people who have the defective view of justification as defined in the BFM 2000. I would never seek to remove those who hold to it; though I would hope they could be taught better, and in accordance with the Scripture. In addition, even though The Abstract of Principles is different from the BFM 2000 and correctly states that justification includes receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith, I don't believe we should demand SWBTS and other agencies of the SBC to sign the Abstract. There is room for both interpretations on justification for the purpose of missionary cooperation.
Let me say it again -- if there are demands for TOTAL CONFORMITY to what the BFM 2000 teaches, without allowing for disagreements on issues like this, then anyone who believes justification is more than just simple acquittal will have to step down from SBC leadership or missionary service because he can't 'endorse' such a low view of justification. (By the way, I just noticed this discrepancy between the BFM and the Abstract today through Dr. Storm's blog).
EXAMPLE FOUR: The BFM 2000 States, Contrary to Scripture, That The Holy Spirit Baptizes Every Believer Into the Body of Christ
In Article II C, on 'God the Holy Spirit,' the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, "At the moment of regeneration He [i.e., the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ."
Again, read carefully Dr. Sam Storms on this subject . . .
I agree with the BFM that Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of regeneration for all believers. The classical Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism as separate from and subsequent to conversion lacks biblical warrant.
But this statement asserts that the Holy Spirit baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. The problem is that there isn't a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything. It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit, the result of which is that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
Some have argued from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul is describing a baptism "by" the Holy Spirit into Christ or into his body. Part of the motivation for this is the seemingly awkward phrase, "in one Spirit into one body," hence the rendering, "by one Spirit into one body." But what sounds harsh in English is not at all so in Greek. Indeed, as D. A. Carson points out, "the combination of Greek phrases nicely stresses exactly the point that Paul is trying to make: all Christians have been baptized in one Spirit; all Christians have been baptized into one body" (Showing the Spirit, 47).
The translation of the ESV is certainly the most accurate in 1 Cor. 12:13. It reads:
"For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (emphasis mine).
Much the same terminology appears in 1 Corinthians 10:2 where Paul says that "all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Here the cloud and the sea are the "elements" that surrounded or overwhelmed the people and Moses points to the new life of participation in the Mosaic Covenant and the fellowship of God's people of which he was the leader (see Grudem, Systematic Theology, 768).
In the other texts referring to Spirit-baptism (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16), the preposition en means "in", describing the element in which one is, as it were, immersed. In no text is the Holy Spirit ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The Holy Spirit is he in whom we are engulfed or the "element" with which we are saturated and deluged, resulting in our participation in the spiritual organism of the church, the body of Christ.
If the biblical authors had intended to teach that the believer is baptized "by" the Spirit they would most likely have used another preposition, probably hupo followed by the genitive, not en with the dative. This is what we see in such texts as Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5, and Luke 3:7 where people were baptized "by" John the Baptist; or texts such as Matthew 3:13 and Mark 1:9 where Jesus was baptized "by" John; or Luke 7:30 where the Pharisees had not been baptized "by" John.
I can only conclude that those responsible for writing the BFM 2000 were misled by a mistranslation of 1 Cor. 12:13. As I said, the Holy Spirit doesn't baptize anyone in anything. I encourage all to read again the prophecy of John the Baptist that Jesus "will baptize you with [lit., "in", the Gk. Preposition en] the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16).
Dan Wallace, noted Greek scholar, disagrees and argues that the preposition en is an example of "means". He writes: "the Holy Spirit is the instrument that Christ uses to baptize, even though he is a person" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 374). However, Wallace is also clear that it is still Christ himself who is the agent of the baptism, i.e., he baptizes, not the Spirit. So, even if one accepts Wallace's understanding (which I don't), the point is still the same: Jesus Christ baptizes either "by means of" or "in" the Spirit, but the Spirit himself, contrary to the BFM, never baptizes anyone.
I have yet to fully digest this statement by Sam Storms, but I can assure you, I am sharper theologically after having read it. Were we to exclude a man from SBC leadership like Dr. Sam Storms, simply because he points out his disagreement with the BFM 2000 on this particular doctrine, we would be like the blind man who doesn't see his own medicine bottle lying on the counter. We put people in leadership who can't even articulate the issues, and ignore the very person who can help us get a better understanding of the Bible. Championing free and open debate on doctrinal issues allows the cream to rise to the top.
EXAMPLE FIVE: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 Says That All Southern Baptists Should Do All IN Their Power to Put An End To War
Article XVI on 'Peace and War' states, "It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord.
All I will say about this is to give a simple anecdote: If we applauded more at the 2006 SBC when Dr. Condoleezza Rice when she said that we will obliterate the terrorists with our bombs than we did when Dr. Jerry Rankin stated we should do more to win the world for Christ through our mission efforts, are we actually in fulfillment of the BFM 2000?
Now a time for confession. I am a George Bush fan. I am, frankly, in agreement with the Iraqi War. I have never wavered on this, and believe if we do not militarily move preemptively against Islamic extremists, we will find ourselves attacked by them.
My point, however, is this -- I would never seek to promote my political ideology upon our convention. There is room enough in our convention for people with differing views on the Iraqi War -- and if and when our convention is identified too closely with any political party -- either Democratic or Republican, we are in violation of the BFM 2000. Let's keep our focus on the gospel.
I do believe this post is probably the longest one I have ever written. I hope you read it carefully. If you did, you will then understand my closing three thoughts.
(1). Demands to 'sign' the BFM 2000 and 'remove' from leadership anyone who expresses disagreement with the BFM 2000 on the tertiary issues mentioned above is evidence of a seismic shift in the historic understanding of what it means to be a Baptist. Many of us were silent when 'liberals' were attacked, but now, some of us who are 'conservative' are being attacked because we dare express disagreement with a handful of tertiary doctrines in the BFM 2000. Friend, the BFM 2000 is NOT the Bible -- and nobody should pretend it is. The BFM 2000 is fallible and mutable. God's Word is infallible and unchangeable.
(2). Among the reasons scholar J. Gresham Machen opposed Fundamentalism in his day, according to John Piper, were these: (a). The absence of historical perspective; (b). The lack of appreciation of scholarship; (c). The substitution of brief, skeletal creeds for the historic confessions; (d). The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine.
My concern is similar to Machen's: If we close our eyes and let people act as if 'orthodoxy' is 'signing a creed' and forget that Baptists have historically debated quite vigorously different and various tertiary doctrines, while at the same time working together for the furtherance of the kingdom at large, we will eventually lose our spirit of cooperation. Let's work toward better, more doctrinally precise confessions of faith -- but let us never succumb to the temptation of believing 'signing' something is 'evidence of orthodoxy.' Confessions are a consensus of belief, but majority views are not necessarily orthodox views. That's why we never sign confessions without the ability to express dissent on those interpretations of tertiary doctrines with which we disagree.
(3). It is time that Southern Baptists realized that doctrine is important -- but so is debate. You never really get more precise doctrinally unless you champion free and vigorous dissent. We should NEVER seek to remove from missionary or ministry any Southern Baptist who affirms the primary doctrines of the faith, but believes differently on tertiary doctrines from those who are 'in charge.' Frankly, if we let 'those in charge' demand conformity to their particular interpretations of tertiary doctrinal issues -- letting them convince us that to agree with them is synonymous with 'Baptist' orthodoxy -- we wind up losing the very Baptist orthodoxy we seek to protect.
I affirm wholeheartedly the major doctrinal and gospel tenets of the BFM 2000, but unless we begin to realize that debate of tertiary doctrines is not harmful to the gospel and come to the place where our convention is characterized by unity in the essentials; liberty in the non-essentials; and charity in all things, we will be unable to figure out how to keep the main thing (the glory of God in the proclamation of the gospel) the main thing.
All of us should approach any resolution or recommendation that demands Southern Baptists to treat the BFM 2000 like a cultic creed and refrain from 'public' disagreement as a huge caution flag. We are a confessional people who champion the freedom of dissent and debate. I for one do not believe doctrinal preciseness is a bad thing -- it's the growing demand that SBC'rs sign faulty, skeletal creeds that contain interpretative 'fiats' regarding tertiary doctrines that will get us in trouble. Soon, leadership may very well begin to issue interpretative fiats they wish to worm into the BFM 2000 (i.e. 'A cessationist's view of the gifts' or Landmark view of ecclesiology' etc . . .).
The restoration of a cooperative spirit among Southern Baptists around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the freedom to express conscientious dissent on interpretations of tertiary Biblical doctrines is essential to the expansion of His kingdom through the sharing of the gospel and our own growth in understanding Biblical doctrine.
The stifling of public dissent on doctrinal matters, and the inability to base our cooperation in missions on agreement over the fundamentals of the gospel alone, ultimately dumbs down the entire convention to the point of real Biblical illiteracy.
Let's work toward a more doctrinal preciseness as a convention, but let us be crystal clear that confessions that form the basis of our cooperation in missions and ministry should be as broad as possible, for until we see Christ face to face, all of us see in a glass darkly and will struggle with fallible interpretations of tertiary doctrines of the infallible.
Unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, charity in all things.
In His Grace,