What We Believe- Summary of Posts on BF&M2K

July 8, 2009

Finally after taking the better half of a year we have managed to work our way through the full of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  I think that this is a very important document for anyone who takes pride in being a Southern Baptist to go through, at least on the surface level.  I’ll admit, there are parts that even I read for the first time in preparing this series.

Nonetheless, I have really enjoyed doing this analysis and in particular looking at how the BF&M has evolved over its three incarnations (see a side-by-side comparison here).  To close everything out I have created a tab in the header that lists all of the What We Believe posts along with the texts of the BF&M and various other Baptist confessions for your viewing and/or educational pleasure.  Enjoy and please feel free to raise any further questions as they may come.

BF&M Resources tab


What We Believe- Article XVIII, The Family, part 2

July 7, 2009

Today we will finish up our analysis of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 by looking at the final two paragraphs of Article XVIII speaking on the practical theology of the family.

3.   The Practice of Marriage

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

I love this paragraph.  For all of the flack that Southern Baptists receive as being sexist or chauvanist, I think that this paragraph accurately reflects a biblical theology of marital roles.  I know that this will not satisfy everybody, but I believe the way in which this paragraph has been set out makes it so that any issue someone has with the statement is an issue they have with the Bible.

We must never forget the first line.  Men and women, husband and wife, are both equally endowed with the image of God and thus of equal worth to each other and to God.  This is the key behind the biblical roles described in the remainder that is there to prevent the abuses that might come if left out.  From here, the rest is basically a solid reiteration of Ephesians 5.22-33.  I totally agree with all that is said here.  And since I am only a man, I must say that I believe my wife would agree with it too (and she isn’t the type that would let any abuse slip by).

4.   The Practice of Child-rearing

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Finally, after defining family, marriage, and the practice of marriage, we come to child-rearing (which is the proper order, even though I myself failed to follow this route).  The paragraph begins with a strong pro-life statement.  This then flows into what appears to be a veiled admonition against divorce.  Next, we have an explication of Proverbs 22.6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it“).  And then we round it out with a word to the children coming from the Ten Commandments.

This is certainly a necessary look into child-rearing, and to my tastes a sufficient one as well for a document such as the BF&M.  We don’t get any rules on what music our kids should listen to, if they can date, whether or not to home school.  All of the things which should be left to the conviction of parents with God have been, and I appreciate that.

So, that does it.  We have walked all the way through the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as I have provided my own personal commentary on it.  Hopefully now we all have a better idea of the core, minimal beliefs that we as Southern Baptists should hold to.  Some parts of it I like, some I don’t, but all things considered, I find it to be a satisfactory document for facilitating cooperation among Southern Baptist churches across the country and around the world.  Thanks for reading along with me.


What We Believe- Article XVIII, The Family, part 1

July 6, 2009

After leaving off for awhile (accidentally actually) we are finally coming to the end of our analysis of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  The last article that we will be looking at is Article XVIII concerning the family:

XVIII. The Family

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-25; 3:1-20; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 1:26-28; Psalms 51:5; 78:1-8; 127; 128; 139:13-16; Proverbs 1:8; 5:15-20; 6:20-22; 12:4; 13:24; 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 22:6,15; 23:13-14; 24:3; 29:15,17; 31:10-31; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 9:9; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 5:31-32; 18:2-5; 19:3-9; Mark 10:6-12; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:21-33; 6:1-4; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Timothy 5:8,14; 2 Timothy 1:3-5; Titus 2:3-5; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7.

This last article, which actually did not appear in the BF&M until 1998 (so, 35 years after the second version of the document was published).  It is basically ordered into four distinct parts corresponding to the four different paragraphs.  The parts are (1) the definition of family, (2) the definition marriage, (3) the practice of marriage, and (4) the practice of child-rearing.  In this post we will handle parts 1 and 2 and tomorrow we will cover parts 3 and 4.

  1. The Definition of Family:

“God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.”

From the outset this is a very logically flowing article.  Clearly this article was necessitated by specific societal changes, particularly in regards to the increasing acceptance of  pre- and extra-marital activity and the advance of the “alternative lifestyle” movement in America.  But nonetheless, for what has its impetus as a political response, this article comes across, at least in my eyes, as the most well-reasoned and biblically justified article in the practical living portion of the BF&M (starting from Article XI).

As for the definition itself, it seems airtight biblically.  God did certainly ordain the family within the first two chapters of Genesis, and the reference to “marriage, blood, or adoption” leaps straight from the text of Scripture, where entrance into a family by adoption has such great significance.  This definition, of course, now begs the question which is addressed in the next paragraph, namely, How does one define marriage?

2.   The Definition of Marriage

“Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.”

Wow!  That first sentence carries some serious weight!  We can all agree that marriage is the uniting of two individuals as one (cf. Genesis 2.24), and as long as we are being honest and not just pushing some agenda we can read fairly clearly that this uniting is to take place between one woman and one man.  Yet even after that we get a statement which is likely controversial to many Southern Baptists: ” . . . in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be saying that divorce for any reason is not God’s design for his creation, especially since this topic is not spoken to anywhere else in the article.  Many people believe loopholes and exceptions exist for divorce, but if my reading of the BF&M2000 is correct then our organizing document takes a much stricter stance than the norm.

In the next, extended sentence, we find the writers adding detail and explanation to the truth found in Ephesians 5.23-24 as well as addressing several practical concerns.  They take a stance that marriage is intended for biblically appropriate sexual expression (try getting clarification on that one beyond the obvious disallowal of homosexual activity) and that marriage is the appropriate context for producing children (instead of pre- or extra-marital relationships).  All of this I think we can be on-board with without much hesitation.

Now, in the next paragraph we jump into a pot of boiling water by trying to address gender roles in marriage, which we will struggle through in tomorrow’s post.


What We Believe- Article XVII, Religious Liberty

June 5, 2009

After a short hiatus we are back to our weekly look at what we believe as enumerated in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  Actually, we are rounding third and heading for home, with only one more week after this one to look at the BF&M.  So, in this penultimate week (I really like that word) we will be handling Article XVII on Religious Liberty:

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. 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.

Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.

Ummm . . . okay?  What was that?  I’m not quite sure if what we just read is what we believe from the BF&M 2000 or from the US Constitution 1789?  I definitely picked up a lot of Romans 13 in there, but it seemed to be mixed with a fair dose of the First Amendment and various Supreme Court rulings.  Honestly, I don’t really know why this is even in here?  Looking at it, this is verbatim what was written in the 1925 and 1963 editions (though the Scripture references have increased a tad), which is interesting since to the best of my knowledge the “separation of church and state” was not a well known civic doctrine until after 1947.

Alright, so anyways, let’s take a look at this mess.  Maybe a place to start would be by trimming it down to what I think actually has biblical justification as opposed to simply Constitutional justification.  It would look like:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. (*Church and state should be separate.)  Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.  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.

* = This is dependent upon how we define separate

It appears to me that much of what was written originally (and subsequently removed by me above) was an expansion on one of two sources, either Romans 13.3-4 or Philippians 3.20:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13.3-4)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3.20)

Now, I love Philippians 3.20, but I believe we can take that and Romans 13.3-4 too far.  We are to cherish our citizenship in heaven above our earthly citizenship, but this is not meant to be taken as a renouncement of our earthly citizenship (as say the Anabaptists might), which seems clear to me by the simple fact that the man who wrote Philippians 3.20 is the same man who constantly appealed to his Roman citizenship for protection during his ministry as recorded in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 16.37ff, 22.25ff, &tc).  Thus there must be some moderation here.

Similarly, one does not have any reasonable expectation for governmental respect of the church under the guise of Romans 13.  Surely the state shall be judged for their unfairness, but I do not see any cause to state that the state owes anything to the church.  Is this how Peter and James or Paul and Silas approached the issue?  Certainly not.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not recall Paul at any point before the King or Caesar saying, “Excuse me, I am a Christian.  You owe me religious liberty.”  Proper governmental authority should pay homage to Christ, but there is no delusion that the civil government of this world will or that we should expect it to.

This leads us to the idea of whether or not the Bible teaches that “Church and state should be separate.”  In as much as this means that the church should not depend upon the state for anything nor use authority within the state to determine authority within the church (think like the Church of England and it’s mixture with the monarchy) then certainly the two should be separate.  But to the extent that this concept is taken today, that we must have a pluralistic public square and that the state should not honor the church solely or at all, I do not believe this to be the case.  It is plausible (though not highly likely) that the state could operate in a way which is both honoring to and subservient to the church.  This would seem to be okay.  What must be avoided is the church becoming dependent upon anything from the state.

All that said, I do believe that the writers were on the right track in saying, “The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.”  This is what I meant above by the church not being reliant upon the state for its well being.  It’s funny, this is so right and yet our convention seems to have a reputation in direct contrast to this, constantly wanting to use our power and influence to push our agenda through legislation and crying foul and prophesying utter doom when this does not work out.

In the end, this article is definitely a mess.  There is so much inappropriate in here, and that which is appropriate and good to meditate on we tend to disavow in practice.  Oh well, they can’t all be winners.


Ringing the Man-Centered Bell Again- Jerry Vines and His Great Commission Caveat

June 4, 2009

If you keep up with anything in Southern Baptist news then you have heard about Dr. Danny Akin’s proposed Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) (I’ve even posted on it here already).   In the wake of Dr. Akin’s chapel message on this point there has been a document floating around which people within the SBC have been hemming and hawing over whether or not to sign.  Now, I’ll be honest, as much as I support what Akin said in chapel, I don’t necessarily think that I am all that in favor of a petition circulating our convention since all that does is bring a whole bunch of unneeded theological/opinion posturing to the table.  

Case in point, Dr. Jerry Vines.  Full disclosure: it is well known on this site that I am not the biggest fan of Jerry Vines’ ministry, particularly in light of last fall’s horrendous John 3:16 Conference.  That said, he has decided to interject himself into the GCR conversation by signing the document and then appending the phrase “with caveats” to it, which of course leads to the obvious question (and Internet hot topic) of, “What are his caveats?”  Thankfully we did not have to have another poorly named conference to flesh these out as he answered the question recently in an interview with the SBC’s own Baptist Press (here). 

So, what are his caveats?

In Article II ["We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God"], I understand Gospel-centeredness to include that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

In Article V [" We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission"], I understand the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 to be a minimal guide, not a maximal one.

Good night!  This is exactly what I’m talking about!  First, neither one of these things is essentially to fulfilling the Great Commission (and thus shouldn’t be caveats at all!), and second, both of them are simply an attempt for Dr. Vines to further push his anti-Calvinist agenda within the SBC.  

1 John 2.2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  That is a nice verse, divinely inspired and glorious in its revelation.  However it does not exactly say that “Christ died for the sins of the whole world.”  Besides, if we are going to use one verse to make a theology, why don’t we use John 10.11 (“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”) or Matthew 1.21 (“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins“)?  My point being, universal redemption (or unlimited atonement) is not a cut-and-dry doctrine, especially for consideration within the gospel.  

In his great book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, here is what J.I. Packer has to say about the extent of the atonement and the gospel:

It is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable, and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching.  You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon.  But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say, or ever has reason to say, when preaching the gospel.  For preaching the gospel . . . means inviting sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, who, by virtue of his atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in him.  What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given.  And this is all that has to be said.  The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all. (p.76)

Thus, this caveat definitely seems extraneous given its tenuous justification and lack of necessity as demonstrated by Dr. Packer.

Then on the second caveat, this is really just more of the same.  Why does Jerry Vines want to “caveat” that the BF&M 2000 is a minimal guide for building theological consensus?  Well, let’s look at the things that Danny Akin says are not covered in the BF&M and do not need to be held in agreement for us to unify within the GCR: 

  1. The exact nature of human depravity and transmission of the sin nature.
  2. The precise constitution of the human person.
  3. The issue of whether or not Christ could have sinned. (We all agree He didn’t!)
  4. The ordo salutis (”order of salvation”).
  5. The number of elders and the precise nature of congregational governance.
  6. The continuance of certain spiritual gifts and their nature.
  7. Does baptism require only right member (born again), right meaning (believer’s) and right mode (immersion) or does it also require the right administrator (ever how that is defined).
  8. The time of the rapture (pre, mid, post, partial rapture or pre-wrath rapture).
  9. The nature of the millennium (pre, amill or post)
  10. And, saving the best for last in our current context, we are not in full agreement about Calvinism and how many points one should affirm or redefine and affirm!

Now, of these, I wonder which of them Dr. Vines believes is necessary for building theological consensus?  I would highly doubt he is being strict over mind/body/soul issues (#2), the possibility that Christ could have sinned (#3), proper administration of baptism (#7), or eschatology (#8 and 9).  That leaves #1, #4, #5, #6, and #10.  Of these, at least three (and probably four considering the nature of polity issues) are related to Reformed theology.  Maybe Jerry Vines feels like he can’t be in cooperation with someone who believes in the possibility of speaking in tongues.  But what seems more likely the case based on precedent and the above statistics is that Jerry Vines would have trouble consensus-building with Calvinists.  I’m sorry Dr. Vines, but as a Southern Baptist, and particularly one who sat on the committee which wrote the BF&M 2000, that’s pathetic!  Again, caveat unnecessary.

Why does it have to be more of the same?  Like I said earlier, Dr. Akin’s message was grand, but now that it has made it into the hands of SBC “dignitaries” watch out.  The only thing likely to come of it now is more of the fabulous SBC infighting which the point of the whole freakin’ message was against in the first place!


What We Believe- Article XVI, Peace and War

May 13, 2009

After last weeks mammoth paragraph on Christians and the Social Order and before the coming weeks treatises on Religious Liberty and The Family, we have a short blurb on how Baptists should handle conflict among peoples:

XVI. Peace and War

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. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Because evangelical Christians, and Baptists in particular, tend to align ourselves heavily with conservative politics, at least in this present day, then we often inherit some of the charges laid against these parties in matters that should not actually be a criticism of the church.  The issue of peace and war is one possible example.

Should Christians be war-mongers?  There certainly is sufficient testimony of God’s people at war in the Scriptures as well as in the last 2000 years since the creation of the church.  There are even times when God explicitly called his people into conflict (cf. Joshua 6).  But, among Christ’s last words to the disciples prior to his trial and execution was the command to Peter to “put [his] sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52), which pictures for us a kingdom that is to be won without conflict because it is a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18.36).  

So then where do we fall?  The article says, “In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”  I believe this to be right.  Christians should not desire war, but if the time comes when it is unavoidable then we have freedom to defend ourselves.  Of course, this takes great discernment.  

I read recently from John Piper that he does not own a gun, even to protect his house, citing the same reason given by Jim Elliot for not using guns to protect their missionary group in Ecuador: “The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.”  This is a convicting thought, but we must also view it in light of other types of conflict, namely conflict that occurs between countries and acts of terrorism.  At what point must we stand up to defend our person and our families from senseless violence?  Does “turn the other cheek” always apply?

Looking into the OT we see an account in Judges 20 where the tribe of Benjamin drew their swords against the rest of Israel and the remainder of the nation went to God to receive instruction on how to proceed in defending themselves in battle against this attack.  Innocent people had been hurt and more were in danger and so God commanded his people to take action, which meant entering into war.  Similarly 1 Samuel 23 pictures for us David being led by God into battle in order to protect the city of Keilah.  Now, I realize these are Old Testament stories, but is there any place in the NT where a new law prevails?  It is not quite fitting to transpose the words about personal conflict (i.e. “turn the other cheek”) into matters of familial and national security.  As much as God is a God of peace he is also a defender of the weak, and so, as I stated before, we need to be able to use discernment in fleshing this reality out when it comes to war and peace. 

To close our look into this article, let’s peak a little into its history, namely the inclusion, removal, and then readdition of the declaration that “Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace,” as we go from the 1925 to the 1963 to the 2000 versions of this text.  It surely is an interesting sentence, as my first reaction hears it as an implicit ode to premillenialist eschatology.  But if this is the case it would make no sense for it to disappear during the 60′s when men like W.A. Criswell who were well-known for their premillenial dispensationalism were in their stride.  On the same token, if this is not a wink towards premillenialism then why is it here.  If all that is being viewed is the second coming of Christ then this would be a better fit in Article X on Last Things.  Alas, the only sensible explanation then would seem to be that it is simply a call for Christians to pray for the second coming, but even that I question if it is a good teaching.  Oh well, “The secret things belong to the LORD.”


What We Believe- Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order

May 9, 2009

After weeks of anticipation (at least on my side) we are finally getting to the article in the practical theology portion of the Baptist Faith & Message that really goes for the jugular– the Christian and the Social Order.  Because of its length I will break it down it the three smaller pieces: the general command, the specific command, and the means of influence.

First the general command:

XV. The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The first portion begins with the general command for every Christian to be motivated by and for the supremacy of Christ.  This is a perfect sentiment, drawing straight out of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ words to be salt and light (Matthew 5.13-16).  Even better is the statement that no “truly and permanently helpful” change can occur outside of “the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus.”  I love and totally embrace this statement.  I pray that all others do as well, but in observing how so many Christians attempt to “influence” the world through “Christian determinism” outside of grace I’m afraid that isn’t so.  We will return to the means of influence later, but it is important above all else to start with the fundamental understanding that outside of a saving relationship with Christ, all earthly change and control is nothing more than pagan moralism.

From the general command we move into specifics:

In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.

This is a very interesting section.  When comparing it to the wording of this same article in the 1963 version of the BF&M we see a lot more in the way of specifics have been added.  In 1963 the only specific commands in the “Christians should oppose . . . ” sentence were “every form of greed, selfishness, and vice.”  Now, under the 2000 writing we see this expand to also include “racism” and “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”  This is not an extrabiblical extension (I believe it is perfectly inline with what Scripture reveals), nor is this a sign that society is more depraved now than in 1963 (it’s not and I have argued extensively on this site to that effect), it is simply telling of the ways in which the culture has become more open with and the Christian church has become more accepting of various forms of sin which in 1963 were almost unmentionable and clearly not what God sought in his children.  Now 40 years later we just assume God has changed or theologians were ignorant or some combination of the two and so we try and rationalize our sins.  Despite the fact that fundamentalists are prone to abuses in seeking to fulfill these oppositions, I am thankful that our denomination has enough integrity to say “This is what we believe, even if it’s not cool, and we’re not afraid to put it in writing.”

Finally, we see how they prescribe for us to influence the culture towards these standards:

In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.

This command harkens back to the cooperation article prior to it, but also goes further.  We should be willing to work both through interdenominational means and secular means with any person or group who is of “good will.”  Of course, like many things in the BF&M, this phrase is up for interpretation, but at least it leaves the door open for cooperation with those outside of the body of Christ.  There is a growing movement which says that Christians should not do this, that they should not work with those outside the church to reach God’s ends.  

Actually, there are several strains saying this, from radically different perspectives.  There are those who are saying to not work with the education system because it is secular and will contaminate our kids (sorry, that didn’t sound unbiased, did it?).  There are also those who say we should not work with the government because the only proper government is the one where God (or Pat Robertson) is ruler.  And finally there are those who say we shouldn’t work with those outside the faith to promote biblical ends because, well, who’s to say that we’re right, and if we try and influence people towards our beliefs we are being intolerant (sounds like a president I know of).  All of these seek to isolate the church and its beliefs from the realm of public ideas for one reason or another, but none that are particularly biblical.  Instead, we should really try embracing the last part of this sentence which instructs us to influence the culture while “always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising [our] loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  We say it and affirm it, but so few actually practice it.  It’s not a problem with our belief; it’s a problem with our follow through that makes us into hypocrites and legalists and bullies.

Overall, this is a fairly decent article and if we could apply it properly without being too weak or too strong in the execution we would probably be in a pretty good place.  But alas, sin!


What We Believe- Article XIV, Cooperation

April 29, 2009

The next article that we come to in our trek through the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is the 14th covering the issue of cooperation:

XIV.  Cooperation

Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

Exodus 17:12; 18:17ff.; Judges 7:21; Ezra 1:3-4; 2:68-69; 5:14-15; Nehemiah 4; 8:1-5; Matthew 10:5-15; 20:1-16; 22:1-10; 28:19-20; Mark 2:3; Luke 10:1ff.; Acts 1:13-14; 2:1ff.; 4:31-37; 13:2-3; 15:1-35; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:5-15; 12; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 4:1-16; Philippians 1:15-18. 

It’s funny, but my main thought in reading through this article is that is serves primarily as an apologetic for the organization which commissioned its writing in the first place, the Southern Baptist Convention.  Nice.  But we must ask ourselves, Is what it says truly biblical?  Reading through the verses used as justification and scaling back the language used in the article which sounds more of corporate or political organizing I think that we do see a biblcal truth portrayed here, at least to some extent.

Many of the passages used in justifying the claims here are passages speaking of general cooperation between Christians which may or may not be usable in a context wider than the local church.  Texts such as those given in Ezra and Nehemiah demonstrate the principle of helping out our brothers, living a servant lifestyle, or what I would more generally put as “bear[ing] one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2).  However, that verse, Galatians 6.2, is conspicuously absent from the justification list, most likely because it is traditionally interpreted as a local church verse.  The question I ask is, If we are claiming a universal church of all believers, how is cooperation at all divorceable from this call in Galatians?  And if it is not, then how come we seek to make a special distinction for “associations and conventions”?  I’m not sure if I see this myself.

One special exception picturing a larger specialized gathering might be found in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.  At this point we see a special convening of the church to deal with particular controversies that had arisen in the early days.  This certainly sets a precedent for coming together in a unit larger than the local assembly for clarifying doctrine, but is this what we are doing in the Southern Baptist Convention.  In part yes, but we are also doing much more.  We have things like the Cooperative Program which function on a large scale like Paul’s offering for the church at Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians and elsewhere.  We also have our missionary organizations, NAMB and IMB, which are collections of skilled people trying to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and Acts 1.8.  All of these fall under the umbrella of the SBC and all are good and God-honoring things.  However, to say that they are specifically laid out as the pattern of Scripture seems like a stretch to me.

On another note, a very interesting statement is made when the article says,

“Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”  

Why is this so interesting?  Well, I, at least, find it interesting in light of recent cries foul by certain commentators among the non-Calvinist wing of SBC life who berate upstanding Southern Baptists like Al Mohler and Mark Dever for their associations with Presbyterian and charismatic and even just plain non-SBC brothers through ministries such as Together for the Gospel, Ligonier and Desiring God.  In particular I recall the provost of one of our great Southern Baptist seminaries commenting at a recent (controversial) gathering that it is confusing for Southern Baptists to be so friendly with paedobaptists.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t joining “together for the gospel” be a justifiable end for teaming up across denominational lines with people maybe a little more reformed than ourselves?  What does that say when even our seminary leaders are having trouble affirming the BF&M in its entirety?


What We Believe- Article XIII, Stewardship

April 25, 2009

This week we continue in the articles of the Baptist Faith & Message which instruct us in practical matters, looking at Article XIII on stewardship:

XIII. Stewardship

God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause on earth.

Genesis 14:20; Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 8:18; Malachi 3:8-12; Matthew 6:1-4,19-21; 19:21; 23:23; 25:14-29; Luke 12:16-21,42; 16:1-13; Acts 2:44-47; 5:1-11; 17:24-25; 20:35; Romans 6:6-22; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 6:19-20; 12; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; 12:15; Philippians 4:10-19; 1 Peter 1:18-19.

Of all the practical theology articles, the one on stewardship probably has the highest likelihood of going way off course from what the Bible says, but thankful (surprisingly?) the authors of the BFM 2000 did not take the bait.  In fact, at no point has the BF&M ever been constructed too tightly on this matter.  I appreciate that, though unfortunately I do not think this is a point that many of our churches have actually taken to heart.

What I mean is this: whenever there is a special need in the church, or even a time for offering, the appeal to the congregation often comes in two unbiblical ways.  First, we always put tongue-in-cheek and add the disclaimer that giving is “Only for church members” and that guests should not give (maybe even that they should “offer” their visitors card instead).  Clearly we don’t want to impose upon non-believers as their conscience should not be leading them to give seeing as how their conscience is not even leading them to believe, but carrying this out too far simply adds into the consumerist Christianity that is rampant among believers today.  Great percentages of people hop from church to church, consuming ministries without ever putting down roots or contributing back in the first dime.  People will populate pews and attend classes, and yet will always take this disclaimer as a good enough reason for them not to give.  When presented in this way we make giving an offering sound like an idea our individual local church has had and not like a biblical concept promoted for believers throughout Scripture.  And particularly in the SBC one will find that a sizable amount of the giving to a local church does not actually stay in the local church, with so many commitments to cooperative programs and new works standing each week.  Thus, giving on a Sunday morning is not just lining the pastors’ pockets– it is lining the missions field in places that probably know very little about whatever local body it was that sent money there to support them in the first place.

Second, and more to the point, we speak frequently of the tithe, a tenth of the income that is to be given back to the Lord, and yet, in speaking this way we fail to find any biblical basis for asking for such an offering.  Sure, we often point back to Abraham’s giving of a tithe to Melchizedek, but this neglects the context of what the tithe was used for, which is better garnered in Numbers 18.21-24:

To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel

So the focus of the tithe, the Scriptural recipients, were those within the Levitical priesthood.  The tithe served as income for the priests so that they could focus on making sacrifice and intercession for the people while not neglecting to provide for their families.  These men were set apart by God from birth to an important position within the sacrificial system and it would not have done to have them splitting their time between the temple and the field or market.  Thus the tithe was there to support them.

Unfortunately, for those promoting a tithe today, we no longer have a parallel for the Levitical priesthood in the church.  In fact, all believers, through the sacrificial death of Christ and the gifting of the Holy Spirit, are now on par with the Levitical priests, able to interact directly with the one mediator between God and men, that being Jesus (1 Timothy 2.5), and so with the passing of the Levitical priests and the sacrificial system we also see a passing of the requirement for the tithe.  Jesus speaks to this in places such as Matthew 23.23 where he displays that, like many other requirements under the law, this call to give a tithe is not  really a matter of the letter of the law but of the condition of the heart.  

Therefore, when later we interact with Paul, we find him making statements such as, “For if the readiness [to give] is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8.12).  Too many times this is neglected in the church and instead the fixed concept of a tithe is pushed not as a matter of conviction or proportion, but as a payment into the great debt that we owe God for his blessings, a supremely unbiblical ideology which John Piper refers to as the “debtor’s ethic.”  Hopefully this will be one place where we can find our churches coming in line better with the BF&M and avoid promoting their own extrabiblical understanding of the requirements on the New Testament saints.


What We Believe- Article XII, Education

April 15, 2009

As we get further into the Baptist Faith & Message we are starting to tread upon articles that deal more with the day to day practicalities of Baptist living and not so much with doctrine as the earlier articles were centered upon.  This week’s article is concerned with how the Bible informs our beliefs on education:

XII. Education

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.

Deuteronomy 4:1,5,9,14; 6:1-10; 31:12-13; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Job 28:28; Psalms 19:7ff.; 119:11; Proverbs 3:13ff.; 4:1-10; 8:1-7,11; 15:14; Ecclesiastes 7:19; Matthew 5:2; 7:24ff.; 28:19-20; Luke 2:40; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 2:3,8-9; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; Hebrews 5:12-6:3; James 1:5; 3:17.

I’ll be honest right up front: I don’t really know what to do with this.  There are parts I agree with, but there is also so much that I feel is either redundant or implied that goes over-and-beyond what is biblical fact and is more of personal opinion.

I will say that I fully agree that, “Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Both Scripturally and historically, Christianity has always promoted enlightenment and understanding.  The forced ignorance that the Catholic church promoted for so many years was thankfully corrected during the Reformation to return us to a place where we encourage and see poor, uneducated Galilean fisherman become powerful public figures overflowing with the wisdom of Christ (cf. Acts 4.13).  The empowerment and freedom that have come to so many through the ability to simply read the Bible is an astonishing testimony to God’s purpose for all men to be one in Christ and to benefit from the Holy Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 3.14-17).  Thus, when the BF&M speaks of “the cause of education” being “co-ordinate with the cause of missions and general benevolence,” I concur and support that statement for the above reasons.

As well, it is not that I don’t support what the BF&M says about “[a]n adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people,” or that “[t]he freedom of a teacher in a Christian [setting] is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ;” what I am fearful of is the broader application that the vague statements here can be used to make.  There are two ideas about education, particularly as it occurs in America, that I inherently reject.  The first is that Christians should be engaged in strictly Christian learning environments.  The second is that the public school environment should be friendly to Christian ideals.

First, as a father of an 8-year old, I find it to be a disturbing trend among many Christian parents to immediately choose to abandon public or secular schooling and instead place their child(ren) in private Christian and/or home schooling.  This is the sexy thing to do right now, but I am just not fully convinced that it is the best (or even a beneficial) practice.  First of all, very few parents are capable of providing the well-rounded education that a child needs to be able to succeed in the larger society once they reach college and beyond.  Teaching may look easy, but unless a student is incredibly gifted to start, there are often many bumps in the road that even trained teachers will struggle accomodating for, so much less will a minimally-trained, personal biased parent be able to deal with adequately.  Second, no matter what parents say or do, the non-sterile environment of the public school system is crucial to spiritual formation and is unable to be replicated by a bunch of kids meeting at the park or in church.  So many parents say that the child is not safe and receives too many harmful influences in the public school setting, but that’s real life lived in a fallen world.  The problem with kids growing up in the Christian fairytale land that we often create is that they don’t truly come to a full understanding of the horror of sin until they are old enough to get in real trouble with it.  A 10 year old coming home and saying the F-word for the first time is much better than an 18 year old drinking away their freshman year of college because they’ve never been out from under the guise of their Christian upbringing.  Of course this is hyperbole, but it is not so far from reality in most cases.

The second idea that I reject is that the public school setting should be more friendly/promoting of Christian ideals.  Parents kick and fight to keep “In God We Trust” in the pledge or to ban evolution from the classrooms, but often times these are just empty rituals that assuage their consciences to see performed and have very little bearing on what God actually requires of us.  The world is fallen, we should expect it to be fallen.  The arrogance of evangelicalism is that we assume the whole world should live up to the extra-biblical standards of perfection that we shout out from a bullhorn and yet suck at following even ourselves.  The ideal is not that our kids should be placed in a “Christ”-lined bubble; it is that we should be real parents, shepherding our children, living transparent lives in front of them, and demonstrating what the Christian life exercised in a fallen world really looks like.  Too many children are having to learn how to live as Christians on the fly as adults (or even worse, are simply abandoning the faith) because they grew up only seeing cookie-cutter, phony bologna “Christianity” practiced by their parents and the church, and so when the feces and fan interface, they are left totally unsure of what to do and doubting everything that they had always believed.  Parents rarely do their children any good by trying to “protect” them from the world.

Sorry to rant.  As you can see, I feel passionately about this.  The point of the matter is, as Christians we should be about education, but we need to be open enough to understand that God gave all knowledge and wisdom and all things worth knowing reveal the glory of the one who established them.