There are voices of substantial weight in SBC life who are telling us that there is a “Clear Baptist Identity” beyond what is articulated in the BF&M. When we ask what it is, they tell us that it involves doctrine regarding the church, private prayer language, and baptism, among other things. It has shown up in actions taken by trustee boards of our entities. But, this “Clear Baptist Identity” is known as being absolute nowhere else in Baptist life, least of all in our confession of faith.
Dr. Greg Welty, a professor at Southwestern Seminary and one who believes that the BFM 2000 should serve as the minimum doctrinal standard of cooperation and that SBC agencies and institutions should have every right to add other doctrinal requisites as they please, responds to Alan's concerns by bringing yours truly into the conversation. Dr. Welty says,
Wade speaks of dividing up the BFM into “essentials” and “non-essentials”. But the BFM says in its own preamble that the doctrines contained within it “are doctrines we hold precious and as *essential* to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice”
Dr. Welty must be referring to the two minor points of doctrine in the BFM 2000 that I have publicly stated disagreement over. The BFM 2000 teaches 'closed communion' and I and my church both believe and practice 'modified open communion.' The BFM 2000 also teaches God does not condemn a human until that human being personally and actually sins, but I and my church congregation both teach and believe that condemnation comes to every human being because of the sin of one man (Adam) regardless of personal or actual sins. Personal sins only compound the judgment already in place.
I believe that the majority of Southern Baptists agree with me on the first caveat, and probably close to a majority of Southern Baptists agree with me on the second caveat. My point is simply that there is disagreement on these two minor doctrines among Southern Baptists. However, I believe these two disagreements illustrate the difference between a confession and a creed. You can't disagree with a creed and keep your denominational identity. But since Baptists are a confessional people, and the BFM 2000 is a confession, cooperation can occur in the midst of minor differences over doctrines that are not essential to the Christian faith or Baptist identity. The two tertiary doctrines I have identified in the BFM 2000 are examples of how not every doctrine in the BFM 2000 is an essential doctrine of the faith or Southern Baptist identity. I have a sneaking suspicion the majority of Southern Baptists would agree with me, because many of us are beginning to awaken to one of the major problems in our convention in recent years: Some Southern Baptists are attempting to make every doctrine an 'essential' doctrine and removing people who disagree. Even the BFM 2000 in its preamble states:
That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
When I, or anyone else for that matter, expresses written caveats to the BFM 2000 on minor doctrines, we are displaying a clear Southern Baptist identity. :) But here is where the rub comes: What doctrines are to be considered 'minor' and 'who' is the ultimate final authority on the subject? Dr. Welty asks these same questions in a little more accusatory tone when he says to Alan:
You want the BFM to be a maximal standard, beyond which no one can go, but you can’t even manage to affirm it as a *minimal* standard! Which position shows less respect for the BFM? I’ll let you make that call. . . If you and others don’t come clean about these palpable inconsistencies in your position, it’s going to be hard to take your criticisms seriously.
In reading all the comments offered by Dr. Welty, I can't help but feel he must be confusing Alan Cross with me. Poor Alan. :)
Alan has never given any written caveats to the BFM 2000. I have. So, to me, it seems rather silly for Dr. Welty to ask Alan to 'come clean.' However, since Dr. Welty has used me as the example of someone who 'can't even manage to affirm the BFM 2000 as a *minimal* standard' I think I will answer his charge of 'inconsistency' and show how we as Southern Baptists can be very consistent in this matter of who the ultimate authority is regarding the doctrinal boundaries of cooperation.
The messengers of the SBC make the decision on who should serve as trustees of their insitutions, not fellow trustees (at least, that is the way it is supposed to work). If a trustee has caveats to the BFM 2000, then that trustee should make those known to the convention as a whole, and if the convention wishes for that person to continue to serve as a trustee, even with his stated caveats, then let them give their approval.
The same should be true of any board of trustees who wishes to go beyond the BFM 2000 in establishing doctrinal requisites for Southern Baptist cooperation.
By the way, the boards of trustees of SBC agencies and entities have already been advised by the convention to bring all doctrinal requisites beyond the BFM 2000 to the convention for approval. This is clearly what the Garner motion was all about -- and it passed by a 58% majority of voting messengers. I expect boards who take seriously the wishes of the convention to do just as the convention asked.
And by the way, I have absolutely no problem falling under the same rules. I should be brought before the convention. In fact, I predict I will be brought before the convention in two years when I am up for renomination as a trustee of the IMB. My written disagreements regarding two minor doctrines in the BFM 2000 are known, and will be made known. Let's see whether the convention votes to keep me as a trustee. If the convention determines I should serve, we will all know, by that one act, that the BFM 2000 is a confession, not a creed, and cooperation in the SBC is around the gospel and the essential doctrines of the faith with room for disagreement over minor doctrines.
I, of course, will abide by the convention's wishes since I am a duly elected trustee of the SBC. Likewise, every other duly elected trustee, and trustee boards as a whole, should also abide by the wishes of our convention. In light of the adoption of the Garner motion at the 2007 convention, every SBC board of trustees should make it their official practice to never implement doctrinal requisites that exceed the BFM 2000 without first getting convention approval.
That, Dr. Welty, is consistency. And I think you will find that a 'Clear Baptist Identity' will be discovered in the process. Baptists are people who affirm the essentials of the faith, but give freedom to disagree in areas of non-essentials, for we are a confessional people, not a creedal people.
In His Grace,