During the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas a motion was made as follows: “That the President of the Southern Baptist Convention appoint a committee to review the Baptist Faith and Message of May 9, 1963, for the primary purpose of adding an Article on The Family, and to bring the amendment to the next convention for approval.” In response, Convention President Thomas D. (Tom) Elliff appointed the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, which presents the following report.
The committee was keenly aware that this task is a sacred trust. The Baptist Faith and Message has not been amended since 1963 when the inimitable Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs led the effort to develop a statement of faith for Southern Baptists. It has stood the test of time as a clear declaration of Southern Baptist faith. The assignment to produce a concise, clear statement that expresses the generally held beliefs of Southern Baptists concerning family was a daunting one. Therefore, the committee approached its responsibility with prayer, reverence, and diligence.
The statement on family is thoroughly biblical. Every line is deeply rooted in the clear teaching of Scripture. Its language is theological and thus in keeping with the language of the original document. The committee sought to use words and phrases that would carry the same timelessness as the Hobbs statement. The proposed article is stated in the positive. The intent is to declare what is believed rather than to describe what is disbelieved. Again, the original statement of faith follows this pattern.
The committee felt a commentary on the Article would be helpful. This commentary expands and provides a strong foundation for the proposed Article. While the family statement stands firmly on its own, the commentary enhances understanding. The commentary will be a useful tool for those who seek to comprehend Southern Baptist beliefs regarding family.
XVIII. The Family
God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed 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 provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for 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.
Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25; 3:1-20; Ex. 20:12; Deut. 6:4-9; Josh. 24:15; 1 Sam. 1:26-28; Ps. 51:5; Ps.78:1-8; 127; 128; 139:13-16; Prov. 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; Eccl. 4:9-12; 9:9; Mal. 2:14-16; Matt. 5:31-32; 18:2-5; 19:3-9; Mark 10:6-12; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Tim. 5:8, 14; 2 Tim. 1:3-5; Titus 2:3-5; Heb. 13:4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7.
The family was defined by God as the foundational institution of human society. From the beginning, God has used the family as the primary classroom and as the foremost object lesson for teaching His people about Himself and for challenging them to the holy lifestyle He demands. Before there were civil governments or assemblies of worship, God established the home by creating the man and the woman and bringing them together in the Garden of Eden to engage in spiritual ministry through companionship, dominion, procreation, and worship.
God’s purpose for marriage was introduced in creation (Gen. 2:24) and then reaffirmed in the Gospels (Matt. 19:5) and the Pauline epistles (Eph. 5:31). This biblical principle for marriage transcends time and culture. Marriage, according to Scripture, is a covenant commitment to the exclusive, permanent, monogamous union of one man and one woman, and thus it cannot be defined as a flexible contract between consenting human beings. Rather, the strong and enduring bond of marriage, pledged in the presence of God Himself, is enriched by the couple’s unconditional love for and acceptance of one another.
Believers must resist any claims of legitimacy for sexual relationships that biblically have been declared illicit or perverse lest they fall prey to an accommodation to the spirit of the age. Deviation from God’s plan for marriage mars the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and distorts the oneness God intended in the sexual union between one woman and one man. The perversion of homosexuality defies even childbirth, since it negates natural conception (Rom. 1:18-32).
In marriage, two people physically become one flesh (Gen. 2:24); two families are socially grafted together; and the husband and wife portray spiritually the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:23-27). The union is designed to provide a lifetime of spiritual and emotional support (Deut. 24:5), to offer a channel for the mutual satisfaction of sexual desires, and to present the best setting for conceiving and nurturing the next generation. The complementary relationship between husband and wife is presented as part of the pre-Fall perfect setting (Gen. 2:8-25) and then carefully defined within the canon of Scripture for succeeding generations (Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
Marriage, according to God’s plan, is a lifelong commitment. The breaking of its bonds brings hurt to all those involved, and thus every effort ought to be made for marital reconciliation and restoration (Mal. 2:16). Jesus clearly did not advocate divorce but called attention to His design for marriage presented “in the beginning” at creation (Gen. 2:24), while noting that the “hardness” of the human heart could on occasion circumvent that plan (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:6-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:1-16).
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women just as it brought chaos and tragedy throughout the world. The husband’s loving, humble headship has often been replaced with domination or passivity. The wife’s voluntary and willing submission has often been exchanged for usurpation or servility. Redemption in Christ would call for husbands to forsake harsh or selfish leadership and to extend loving care to their wives (1 Pet. 3:7) and for wives to forsake resistance to the authority of their respective husbands and to practice willing, joyful submission to that leadership (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
God commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). This love is protective, nurturing, serving, and edifying. It is not replaced with, but accompanied by, headship. This headship calls the husband to a loving leadership in which he cares responsibly for his wife’s spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.
As defined in Scripture, the husband’s headship was established by God before the Fall and was not the result of sin (Gen. 2:15-17; see also Num. 1:2-3, 17-19). It is a responsibility to be assumed with humility and a servant’s heart rather than a right to be demanded with pride and oppressive tyranny. The wife is to respond to her husband’s loving headship with honor and respect (Eph. 5:21-22, 33; 1 Pet. 3:1-4).
Servanthood does not nullify leadership but rather defines and refines its outworking. The balance between servanthood and leadership is beautifully portrayed in Jesus Himself (Luke 22:26; Heb. 13:17), who models servant leadership for the husband and selfless submission for the wife (Eph. 5:23-27; Phil. 2:5-8). Not only did Jesus model the Creator’s plan for different roles, but He also affirmed the equality in Christ of the husband and the wife (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7). As the wife submits herself to her husband’s leadership, the husband humbles himself to meet his wife’s needs for love and nurture (Eph. 5:25-29; 1 Pet. 3:7).
Wives, on the other hand, were created to be “helpers” to their husbands (Gen. 2:18). A wife’s submission to her husband does not decrease her worth but rather enhances her value to her husband and to the Lord (1 Pet. 3:4). This humble and voluntary yielding of a wife to her husband’s leadership becomes a resource for evangelism (1 Pet. 3:1-2), an opportunity for glorifying God (1 Pet. 3:4-6), a channel for spiritual growth as ultimately the wife trusts herself to the Lord, and a means for bringing honor to His Word (Titus 2:3-5).
The term “helper,” which is also used by God to identify Himself (Ex. 18:4; Deut. 33:7), describes the woman God created to become a partner with the man in the overwhelming task of exercising dominion over the world and extending the generations (Gen. 1:28; 2:18). There is no hint of inferiority in the term, which describes function, rather than worth. As the man’s “helper,” the woman complements him through her own unique function in the economy of God; as one “comparable to him,” she, too, is created “in the image of God” (Gen. 2:18). Both bear God’s image fully, but each expresses that image in God-ordained ways through manhood or womanhood. Thus, distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order (Gen. 1:27). Their differing roles in relating to one another provide a picture of the nature of God and the way He relates to His people. As the realities of headship and submission are enacted within loving, equal, and complementary male-female roles, the image of God is properly reflected.
Parents and Children
The family is the natural setting for molding and nurturing a child in the ways of the Lord (Prov. 22:6). Parents are admonished to take seriously their responsibility for the spiritual formation of their children by introducing them to God (salvation) and teaching them His Word (discipleship). Fathers and mothers are responsible (1) to model biblical manhood and womanhood through incarnational living, in which their children are able to observe the sanctification process in the lifestyle of their parents (Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25; Josh. 4:6-7); (2) to teach their children moral values from the Scripture; and (3) to lead them to love and serve the Lord through consistent discipline (Ps. 78:4-8). The boundaries of a young child are established by his parents (Prov. 3:12; 13:24; 22:6; 23:13-14; 29:15, 17; Eph. 6:4). However, the ultimate goal of parents is to move the child to personal accountability to God (Ps. 119:9-11).
Childless couples, as well as single men and women, have the opportunity to pass on a godly legacy through involvement with the children within their extended family circles, in their churches, and in their respective communities.
Doctrine and practice, whether in the home or the church, are not to be determined according to modern cultural, sociological, and ecclesiastical trends or according to personal emotional whims; rather, Scripture is to be the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). God chose to reveal Himself to His people through family language: He used the metaphor of the home to describe the heavenly dwelling where believers will join Him for eternity. He selected the analogy of family relationships (husband/wife and parent/child) to illustrate how believers are to relate to Him: God is the Father; Jesus is the Son; the Church is the Bride of Christ; believers are His children. The most basic and consistent spiritual teaching, character development, and discipleship training should occur within the family circle (Deut. 6:4-9). A Christ-centered family has the potential to give a “word about God” to a world indifferent to spiritual truths. Those within the family circle have a unique opportunity to study the Bible and to learn theology through object lessons built into the very structure of the family.
Godly families help build the church just as churches ought to help build godly families. Scripture makes frequent connections between the life of the family and the life of the church (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:1-2). Leadership patterns in the family are consistently reflected in the church as well (1 Tim. 2:9-14; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
We heartily affirm and commit ourselves to upholding the concept of the family as God’s original and primary means of producing a godly offspring and thus passing on godly values from generation to generation (Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 78:5-7).
The committee expresses appreciation to Dr. Thomas D. (Tom) Elliff for the privilege of serving Southern Baptists in this very significant capacity. It is pleased to commend its report to messengers of this 1998 Southern Baptist Convention and recommend the adoption of Article XVIII on The Family for inclusion in the Baptist Faith and Message.
Anthony L. Jordan, Chairman
William R. (Bill) Elliff
Richard D. Land
Mary K. Mohler
Dorothy J. Patterson
O. Damon Shook
John G. Sullivan
- Anthony L. Jordan
Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma
- William R. (Bill) Elliff
Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
- Richard D. Land
President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern BaptistConvention
- Mary K. Mohler
Homemaker and Director of the Seminary Wives Institute of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Dorothy J. Patterson
Homemaker and adjunct faculty member of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- O. Damon Shook
Pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
- John G. Sullivan
Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention