Since the overwhelming approval of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) this summer, certain SBC critics have claimed that it is a radical statement portending ominous changes for Southern Baptists. These claims are patently false and can easily be demonstrated to be so by a simple reading of the document. The following questions have been raised by its opponents:
1. Is the SBC becoming creedal?
SBC detractors in Texas and elsewhere have accused the SBC of adopting a creed that will be used to coerce the conscience of individual Baptists or churches. This is contradicted by the preamble to the BF&M itself:
"…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…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."
Baptists have adopted confessions for centuries as the BGCT did in 1998 when it affirmed the 1963 version of the BF&M. Some have hinted that the SBC will use the BF&M in a new way. Again, that is patently false. The confession will continue to serve, as Southern Baptist confessions always have, as "a consensus of opinion...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." We are not creedal. But, neither are we ashamed to publish what Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches.
2. Have Southern Baptists abandoned those teachings which have been especially dear to Baptists such as the doctrines of the priesthood of believers, soul competency, or the separation of church and state?
Again, the answer is emphatically, "No!" The recently revised BF&M states, "Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God."
It further states, "A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power."
The BF&M demonstrates that the SBC remains soundly "Baptist" in every way. Those who say otherwise ought to take the time to read the BF&M. Those who have read it and continue to say the SBC is no longer Baptist make us wonder about their motivation.
3. Does the SBC affirm the autonomy of the local church?
Once again, listen to the BF&M: "A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.…" The autonomy of the local church, as well as the autonomy of associations or conventions of local churches, has been and continues to be, strongly affirmed by the SBC.
As Baptists know, the exercise of autonomy by a local church does not mean it will never be disciplined or disfellowshipped by another Baptist body. This happens occasionally when associations or conventions have conflicts with local churches that find no other resolution. From time to time, the SBC has refused to seat messengers when circumstances have warranted. This in no way contradicts the doctrines of the priesthood of believers or the autonomy of the local church. Rather, it affirms an equally true proposition — that the autonomy of one Baptist body does not nullify the autonomy of others.
Much of the argument against the