Though the non-negotiable principles of Baptist Identity are apt to multiply over time like dandelions in a spring lawn, there are certain 'bedrock convictions' of the new Baptist Identity movement that reveal the movement is neither historically Baptist nor mainstream Southern Baptist in identity. The three main problems associated with the new Baptist Identity iniative include:
(1). A Top-Down Ecclesiology
Baptist Identity people within the Southern Baptist Convention act as if the highest authority in the convention is a document the convention produces (the Baptist Faith and Message), an agency the Convention creates (the IMB, the NAMB, Seminaries, etc . . .) or a person the Convention anoints. The first is creedalism, the second is hierarchialism, and the latter is authoritianism. These three isms typify Roman Catholic ecclesiology, and though there are many Christians within the Roman Catholic church, Baptists have historically resisted the tendencies of Roman Catholic ecclesiology - but not the new Baptist Identity movement. This top down ecclesiology of Baptist Identity people manifests itself in various ways in our convention.
First, the sending out of missionaries. The Southern Baptist Convention historically recognizes that the local church sends out missionaries, NOT THE INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD. The IMB was created to facilitate churches sending THEIR missionaries. Recently, that dynamic has changed. Now we have the absurd practice of a local Southern Baptist church approving the baptism and sending of a missionary, only to then have the IMB ordering that autonomous church to 'rebaptize' the prospective missionary because the IMB says the administrator of the missionary's baptism was not a qualified administrator. I say this reverently; For God's sake, and in honor of His Word, will someone please show how it is historically Baptist for an agency to supercede the authority of a local church and order a church to 'rebaptize' someone that the church has already accepted into membership, determining their baptism to be biblical (by immersion, after coming to faith in Christ)?
Second, Baptist Identity people wish to use the BFM as a 'tool of accountability.' They have forgotten that confessions of faith are confessions, not creeds. The historic Baptist practice is for the local church to establish her beliefs and lay them out in local church confessions. Periodically, Baptists would gather together to write a common consensus of faith, called in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Faith and Message. Historically, these broad convention confessions were not intended to lay out anything that went beyond "the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament." Let me say that again. The Baptist Faith and Message was initially, and I quote, "not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament." The local church was the place doctrine was narrowed as the church saw fit. The convention was built on cooperation among diverse churches, not conformity among identical churches. Yet, over time, the BFM has been used to narrow the doctrinal parameters of cooperation beyond the simple conditions of salvation. Every time the BFM is narrowed to include more doctrines of a tertiary nature, cooperation among diverse churches within the SBC ends. And, Baptist Identity people applaud this end to cooperation by setting forth tertiary doctrines that go way beyond the fundamentals of the gospel, and then demanding conformity to these tertiary issues by calling them 'bedrock convictions.' Then, the Baptist Identity advocates make extreme statements like:
Cooperation must end where our bedrock convictions are compromised.
The Baptist Identity movement has now pushed to to narrow the parameters of cooperation by using backdoor policies at SBC agencies. They claim that the Convention had no idea what it was doing when the Garner Motion was passed in 2007, and the BFM is only a minimal standard of doctrine to which churches must conform. Other policies that exceed the BFM are needed to keep everyone in doctrinal shape. It ought to be a requirement for everyone with an affinity to the Baptist Identity movement to memorize the preamble of the Baptist Faith and Message (emphasis mine) and what Southern Baptists have historically believed about the doctrines contained within our convention confessions:
1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
(4) 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.
(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
This top-down ecclesiology is the first huge problem with the Baptist Identity initiative.
(2). A Loss of Church Autonomy
A natural result of a hierchial, authoritarian, creedal ecclesiology within the Southern Baptist Convention is the loss of local church autonomy. The Baptist Identity movement wishes to exclude from cooperation any church that dares to do it differently than they do. The Baptist Identity advocates use labels in order to attempt to marginalize or neutralize those who disagree with them.
Yet, any study of history would lead people to recognize that true Baptist identity is found in churches that practiced autonomy, that dared to go against religious establishments, and sought to follow Scripture alone as their guide. Of course, humility has been the key component of Baptists over the centuries. A soul that recognizes no authority but Christ is humble enough to acknowledge that he is neither Christ nor His vicar. Therefore, a true Baptist will judge no man until it is time for Christ to judge the heart.
Most Baptist Identity advocates pastor small churches or preside over declining ministries. The attitude that leads to demands for absolute conformity, authoritian control over one's belief system, and separation from those who disagree leads to isolationalism and a declining membership. Avowals that 'I have the truth, and you don't' turn people away. When it comes to the fundamentals of the gospel, we don't mind that people turn away. But it is the demands for conformity on tertiary issues that is harming our convention. It is time for Southern Baptists to realize that Baptist Identity is a fringe movement of the SBC, and displays neither the mainstream spirit or theology of the majority of the people within our convention.
Let me repeat something that all Southern Baptist need to remember: The Southern Baptist Convention was built on cooperation among diverse churches, not conformity among identical churches. We need a restoration of understanding of what local church autonomy means.
(3). An Extra-Biblical Theology
The Apostle Paul put it succinctly in I Corinthians 4:6:
Let us not go beyond what is written.
Extra-biblical convictions, extra-biblical doctines, and extra-biblical traditions are fine when they remain personal. But when you include us, you violate Scripture.
One of our member's family has been raising prized herefords since the Land Run of 1893. He took me on a tour of his large operation recently and explained the process of keeping a growing, healthy herd of cattle.
He said that over time, inbreeding causes mutations and deformities that lead to a sick herd of cattle. He has to travel to North Dakota, Michigan, and other far reaches of the United States to find bulls that are different to breed with his cows. It is the introduction of differences within the herd that keep the herd healthy.
I'm convinced that the Baptist Identity movement is going the opposite direction of my rancher. The proponents of Baptist Identity are taking out any bulls and any cows within the Southern Baptist herd that look different, and are erecting fences to keep different cattle out. If we don't identify the problem and learn to 'cherish' differences then we are going to mutate into a convention that our forefathers would have not been able to recognize.
In His Grace,