Friday, December 7, 2012

Benefits of Symbiosis in the SBC (Part 2: Formulation of Confessions)

The Formulation of Baptist Confessions of Faith

            While both General and Particular Baptists have their roots in the Protestant Reformation, certain distinctive emphases peculiar to Baptists distinguished them from other Protestants. These Baptist emphases include the principle of a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism upon an individual’s profession of faith, congregational church government and discipline, a wider fellowship through membership in associations, protection of the autonomy of the local congregation, and freedom to obey God.[1] This, according to Torbet, “represented a distinctly minority viewpoint concerning the nature of the visible church. It was this witness that distinguished Baptists from most Protestants.”[2]
 On certain occasions Baptists were compelled to write confessions of faith that both identified similarities and differences between them and some of the other Protestants. Concerning Baptist confessions, McBeth wrote, “These have usually been hammered out on the anvil of some doctrinal dispute. They express consensus and, thus, rarely satisfy extreme partisans on either side.”[3] A sketch of the formulation of Baptist confessions of faith should aid in understanding that while there are differences of opinion among Baptists concerning soteriology, they nevertheless can and do work together.
Helwys wrote “A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland” to distinguish his congregation from that of John Smyth which had sought admission among the Mennonites (Anabaptists) at the Amsterdam Waterlander Church.[4] The confession written by Helwys was not for the purpose of being unfriendly with the Mennonites but for the purpose of asserting the validity of the baptism of his congregation and for preserving its independent organization and identity.[5] By distinguishing themselves from Smyth’s group in this confession, Hewys’ group also distinguished themselves from the Mennonites. They were anti-Arminian in their view of sin and the will and rejected other Mennonite emphases such as “prohibitions against oaths, the bearing of arms, participation in government, and having dealings with excommunicants.”[6]
Although the confession written by Helwys was anti-Arminian in its view of sin, the will, and anti-anarchy, it was also anti-Calvinistic on the doctrine of the atonement.[7] However this did not stop Baptists from being accused of Pelagianism and anarchy, both of which were associated with Continental Anabaptists.[8] These circumstances led the Particular Baptists to produce a confession of faith. The first Particular Baptist confession, the First London Confession, was drawn up to distinguish the Particular Baptists from both the Anabaptists and the General Baptists and to identify their similar theological beliefs with the prevalent Calvinism of the nation.[9]
The First London Confession, written in 1644, was superseded by the Second London Confession of 1677. The Second London Confession was revised in 1688 and published in 1689. The Second London Confession was in agreement with the soteriology of the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians but it differed by emphasizing religious liberty and baptism by immersion.[10]
The historical context that provided the impetus for the Second London Confession was the renewal of persecution of dissenting groups by the Church of England. The Presbyterians had been the dominant group under the Commonwealth and had success in defying the Conventicle Act. As a result, Baptists and Congregationalists formed a united front with the Presbyterians through a show of doctrinal agreement among themselves. So the Particular Baptists of London made the Westminster Confession the basis of their new confession to show solidarity between them, the Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, although it was modified to meet Baptist emphases.[11] This new Particular Baptist Confession of faith, the Second London Confession, became very influential and was adopted by Baptists in Philadelphia and Charleston.[12]
Shortly after the Particular Baptists published their new confession, the General Baptists followed suit and drew up their Orthodox Creed “to unite and confirm all true protestants in the fundamental articles of the Christian religion.”[13] One of its purposes was to refute Hoffmanite Christology, a teaching that Jesus did not have a human body but was a divine being with angelic flesh.[14] Lumpkin noted that the Orthodox Creed came closer to Calvinism than any other General Baptist confession. He said, “Perhaps, indeed, the Creed is principally noteworthy as an early attempt at compromise between the two great systems of theology, thus anticipating the work of Andrew Fuller and others of the latter eighteenth century.”[15]
In America the Second London Confession of the Particular Baptists was destined to give theological direction to American Baptists.[16] As already mentioned, the Philadelphia Confession was an adoption of the Second London Confession by the Philadelphia Association. However, the Calvinism of the Second London Confession would begin to be modified in subsequent confessions among American Baptists especially after Andrew Fuller of England “significantly altered the doctrine of the atonement and helped break the hold Calvinism exerted over the Baptists.”[17]
There is some disagreement as to whether Fuller in his modification of Calvinism is to be viewed as teaching a general or particular atonement. Richards saw Fuller’s modified Calvinism as a rejection of one of its fundamental assumptions, namely, particular or limited atonement. Richards also noted that Thomas J. Nettles placed Fuller in the Calvinistic camp and that Nettles showed Fuller’s orthodox Calvinism.[18] The fact remains though, that after Fuller modified the Calvinistic doctrine of the atonement, subsequent Baptist confessions of faith in America began to take on a more moderate Calvinism. In particular, two confessions that gained wide acceptance among Baptists in America, the Principles of Faith and Practice of the Sandy Creek Association and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, both of which reflected a moderate Calvinism.[19] McBeth stated, “The first covenant of the Sandy Creek church reflected a moderate Calvinism, including particular election of grace by the predestination of God.”[20] It was some twenty-nine years later, from 1816 when the Sandy Creek Association adopted its first covenant to 1845 when it adopted its second covenant, that the early Calvinism of the Sandy Creek Association gave way to more emphasis on human freedom and responsibility.[21] The New Hampshire Confession was a restatement of Calvinism in moderate tones by the New Hampshire Convention.[22] According to Torbet the New Hampshire Confession was drawn up to offset Arminian teaching in New England.[23] Lumpkin agreed and saw it as a restatement of Calvinism in moderate tones to offset the message of the Free Will Baptists that was being received with enthusiasm.[24]
The New Hampshire Confession of Faith was the most widely dispersed confession of American Baptists.[25] Before the rise of the New Hampshire Confession, Baptist churches in the south usually adhered to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith as their major doctrinal statement.[26] As a new mood of missionary expansion developed in the nineteenth century, the Philadelphia Confession receded in its adherence and the New Hampshire Confession began to gain wide acceptance among Baptists in America reflecting the missionary spirit of the age.[27]
In 1925 the Southern Baptist Convention revised the New Hampshire Confession by adding ten new sections and published it as the Baptist Faith and Message.[28] The historical context that gave impetus for the 1925 BFM was twofold having both external and internal reasons that led to this confession. Externally, after World War I, Southern Baptists sought to restore communications with the Baptists of Europe. Internally, there was a controversy over evolutionary theory instigated by J. Frank Norris, the primary leader of the Fundamentalist movement in the South, who accused Southern Baptists of “teaching biological evolution in their colleges, tolerating ‘modernistic’ views of Scripture in their seminaries, and making an idol of the denomination in their churches.”[29] These circumstances revealed the need for a more complete doctrinal statement among Southern Baptists. The 1925 BFM was the result.
In 1963 the 1925 BFM would be revisited and ultimately revised into what would become the 1963 BFM. Two internal controversies gave rise to the 1963 BFM. The first internal controversy giving rise to the revision of the 1925 BFM was the “apostasy controversy at Southern Seminary.”[30] Dale Moody, Theology Professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “taught the possibility that one truly saved could fall from the state of grace and lose his or her salvation.”[31] This teaching was deemed inconsistent with traditional Southern Baptist views on the subject.[32] The second internal controversy giving rise to the 1963 BFM was the Elliot controversy. This controversy “all but eclipsed the Moody controversy.”[33] Ralph Elliot, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote The Message of Genesis at the invitation of the Sunday School Board’s Broadman Press. Many of Elliot’s liberal views that questioned the Mosaic authorship of the Penteteuch and much of the historical accuracy of Genesis brought into light the liberal viewpoints that were being taught in the seminaries.[34]
In response to these controversies the Southern Baptist Convention at the 1962 assembly in San Francisco adopted a motion to form a Committee to study the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message.[35] The Committee was chaired by Herschel Hobbs, the president of the Convention.[36] Hobbs had the enormous task of preserving the organic unity of the Convention and of satisfying the conservative base that sound doctrine would be taught in the schools and published by the Sunday School Board.[37] Smith correctly observed, “These competing demands led to the formulation of the 1962 Committee on Baptist Faith and Message. These competing demands . . . also resulted in a doctrinal statement which allowed for wider latitude of interpretation among Southern Baptists.”[38] Therefore, the 1963 BFM with its wider latitude of interpretation among Southern Baptists led to another internal controversy in the subsequent years and ultimately to the Conservative Resurgence and the adoption of the 2000 BFM.
Since the 1963 BFM included language that allowed wider latitude of interpretation for the purpose of preserving the organic unity of the Convention, an ensuing controversy over biblical interpretation erupted. Richards succinctly summarized the central issue that led to the adoption of the 2000 BFM. He said:
When the 1963 version was adopted, it included language that was not to clarify what was believed, but which was made more broad and general so as not to exclude anyone. The difficulty with this was the ability to attach different meanings to words, so that two groups could use the same terminology, but have different meanings. This was central to the issue during the Conservative Resurgence. Finally, in 1999, T. C. Pinkney of Virginia made a motion to the Southern Baptist Convention to ask the president to appoint a committee to consider a revision of the 1963 document.[39]

These two opposing groups are generally labeled as either moderates or conservatives.[40] Their major differences were over inerrancy, the doctrine “that the original manuscripts, generally referred to as ‘autographs,’ were without error and that the Bible is true in all respects.”[41] Ultimately this led to the Conservative Resurgence, a battle between Moderates who held to a nonliteral interpretation of the Bible and Conservatives who held to a literal interpretation of the Bible.[42]
The moderates holding to a nonliteral interpretation of the Bible were also in control of Convention affairs. Both sides were agreed on this assessment. Nancy Ammerman wrote:
Both moderates and fundamentalists agreed that moderates had been the people most active in Convention affairs for the previous generation. Fundamentalists said that moderates had staked out their territory—in part based on seminary connections—and had excluded fundamentalists from participation. Moderates thought that fundamentalists were merely showing their lack of interest by staying away.[43]

In the hands of the moderates the SBC schools were drifting into liberalism.[44]
The SBC took a major turn with the election of Adrian Rogers as Convention president in 1979.[45] If the SBC were going to change it had to start with its president. The president was the key to the entire appointment and nomination process by which trustees were given oversight of the denomination’s agencies.[46]
With the election of Adrian Rogers as the SBC president, 1979 marked the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. Dan Martin for Baptist Press wrote, “His election was regarded as the opening gun in a campaign to turn the 14.4-million-member denomination to a ‘more conservative’ direction.”[47] The conservatives succeeded in sustaining electoral victories, controlling convention meetings and controlling the appointment and election of trustees that were charged with governing the agencies and institutions of the denomination.[48] By 1986, the conservatives were able to begin setting the policies that would change the SBC entities. Without the Conservative Resurgence, Jerry Sutton says that “the Southern Baptist Convention would have found itself drifting to the left and eventually would have been in the same anemic theological condition as the mainline Protestant denominations, powerless to effect change in our spiritually starving world.”[49]
The conservatives won control of the SBC by setting their sights on the Convention’s infrastructure.[50] The Conservative Resurgence that began in 1979 culminated with the revision of the 1963 BFM in the year 2000. The BFM 2000 consisted of eleven primary revisions that displayed theological solidarity with both the 1963 and 1925 versions and closed the unintended theological loopholes that resulted from the imprecise language of the previous versions.[51] Although charges were made, that the 2000 BFM was a move away from the theological heritage of Southern Baptists, its theological solidarity with its predecessors proved otherwise.[52]
The history of the formulation of Baptist confessions of faith reveals not only diversity in soteriological viewpoints among General and Particular Baptists but also several modifications that allow for both liberty of conscience and unity of labor by both groups. This in no way implies that Baptists are doctrinally loose. Instead, there is a mutually beneficial symbiotic benefit that arises from both General and Particular Baptists working together. L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles noted that “the diversity of theological ideas within the Baptist framework has kept Baptists from becoming theologically stagnant.”[53] However, before they began to cooperate, both General and Particular Baptists did become theologically stagnant.

[1] R. Albert Mohler Jr.,  Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, “Is There a Future?,” edited by David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 26-27; Torbet, History of Baptists, 31. Mohler only identified the emphases of a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, and congregational church government.
[2] Torbet, History of Baptists, 31.
[3] McBeth, Heritage, 677.
[4] Torbet, History of Baptists, 36.
[5] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1959), 114.

[6] Lumpkin, Confessions, 115.
[7] Lumpkin, Confessions, 115.
[8] Lumpkin, Confessions, 144.
[9] Lumpkin, Confessions, 144-145; Torbet, History of Baptists, 45.
[10] Richards, Winds, 18.
[11] Lumpkin, Confessions, 235-236; Richards, Winds, 37.
[12] Richards, Winds, 11.
[13] Lumpkin, Confessions, 295.
[14] Lumpkin, Confessions, 41, 295. Lumpkin identified Melchior Hoffman with Docetic Christology (41). 
[15] Lumpkin, Confessions, 296.
[16] Torbet, History of Baptists, 213.
[17] Richards, Winds, 45.
[18] Richards, Winds, 55-58.
[19] Richards, Winds, 46.
[20] McBeth, Heritage, 229.
[21] Lumpkin, Confessions, 357; McBeth, Heritage, 229.
[22] Lumkin, Confessions, 360.
[23] Torbet, History of Baptists, 514.
[24] Lumpkin, Confessions, 360.
[25] Lumpkin, Confessions, 361; Richards, Winds, 46.
[26] McBeth, Heritage, 242, 677.
[27] McBeth, Heritage, 677; Richards, Winds, 45-46.
[28] Lumpkin, Confessions, 361; McBeth, Heritage, 677; Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 102.
[29] McBeth, Heritage, 677.
[30] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 19.
[31] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 19-20.
[32] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 19.
[33] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 22.
[34] Richards, Southern Baptists, 6878 of 9258.
[35] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 37.
[36] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 154,
[37] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 39.
[38] Smith, 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, 39.
[39] Richards, Southern Baptists, 7494 of 9258.
[40] Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1995), ix. Ammerman preferred the terms fundamentalists and moderates rather than conservatives and moderates.
[41] Richards, Southern Baptists, 6999 of 9258.
[42] Richards, Southern Baptists, 7013 of 9258.
[43] Ammerman, Battles, 156.
[44] Timothy C. Seal, “A Comparative Analysis of the Theological Heritage of the 2000 Revisions to the ‘Baptist Faith and Message’ in Relation to the 1963 and 1925 Confessions,” (PhD. Dissertation, Mid-America Theological Seminary, 2003), ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, accessed August 14, 2012, 18.
[45] David S. Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2008), 10.
[46] Ammerman, Battles, 168.

[47] Dan Martin for Baptist Press, “Rogers Willing to be Nominated” in The Christian Index: The Georgia Baptist Convention News Magazine (April 17, 1986), 3.
[48] Ammerman, Battles, 212.
[49] Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, (Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 3.
[50] Ammerman, Battles, 215.
[51] Seal, “2000 Revisions,” 1-3.
[52] Timothy Seal made a scholarly case in his dissertation, “A Comparative Analysis of the Theological Heritage of the 2000 Revisions to the ‘Baptist Faith and Message’ in Relation to the 1963 and 1925 Confessions,” that no theological deviation occurred in the 2000 BFM.
[53] L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible: The Baptist Doctrines of Biblical Inspiration and Religious Authority in Historical Perspective (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 18.

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