Dear Southern Baptist:
On behalf of the Committee on the Baptist Faith and Message, I am pleased to release this report and recommendation to the Southern Baptist Convention. President Paige Patterson appointed our committee by authorization of the Convention as it met in Atlanta last year. Meeting over a period of several months, we reviewed the confessional history of our denomination and considered the challenges faced by the Baptists of this generation. We were guided by the rich heritage embodied in the 1925 and 1963 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message. We have sought to retain all the strengths of that noble heritage, to clarify the truths there expressed, and to address the needs of our own times.
Baptists cherish our doctrinal inheritance. We are a people of the Book, who recognize no other authority for faith and practice but God’s Word. Thus, we receive and affirm those doctrines revealed in the Bible, and we are unembarrassed to take our stand upon the solid rock of biblical authority. Our confessions represent statements of those doctrines revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the source of our authority, not merely a support for our historic doctrines.
In 1925, the Southern Baptist Convention first adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as a public statement of our faith and doctrine. Nearly forty years later, faced with new challenges and questions, the Convention adopted a revised edition of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963. Now, again nearly four decades after the Convention’s last comprehensive action, a new generation must take up the stewardship of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” [Jude 3].
Our generation faces the reality of a postmodern culture, complete with rampant relativism and the denial of absolute truth. A pervasive secularism has infected our society and its corrosive effects are evident throughout the life of our nation. Moral decay and assaults upon cherished truths dominate the arena in which we must now minister, and to which we must now proclaim the Gospel.
Our profound respect for the heritage of the previous statements is reflected in the intentional decision of our committee to incorporate language from both the 1925 and 1963 editions in our recommendation. Both of these historic statements speak to the present, as well as the past.
Scripture instructs us always to be ready “to give an account” for the hope that is within us [I Peter 3:15]. This is our motivation and the cause to which we have dedicated this process. As the Baptists of old acknowledged, each generation faces the responsibility of speaking to the issues of its day, and facing the challenges of its own climate.
The preface to our report sets forth the rationale and method for our work. With the 1963 committee, we cite the principle set forth by our forebears in 1925: “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.”
We now propose a new edition of our honored confession. This generation must set forth its witness to the truths revealed in the Bible. Where necessary, we have proposed changes and additions to certain sections. We have retained the structure of the confession and the substance of each article. We have proposed no new articles. Several of the articles are presented without any revision at all. Our recommendation is intended to clarify our doctrines for this present age, and to define our beliefs against the backdrop of modern confusion.
Our hope is that a rising generation of Baptists will recognize the significance of our biblical doctrines, embrace our Baptist heritage, and own this confession of faith for themselves.
- The following is a summary of revised articles included in our report: We have sought to clarify the intention of both previous editions of the Baptist Faith and Message as reflected in Article I: The Scriptures. We have made the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible even more explicit, and we point to Jesus Christ as the focus of divine revelation. We have removed the statement that identified Jesus Christ as “the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted,” because it has been subject to misunderstanding. Jesus Christ cannot be divided from the biblical revelation that is testimony to Him. We must not claim a knowledge of Christ that is independent of Scripture or in any way in opposition to Scripture. Likewise, Scripture cannot be set against Scripture.
- In the context of modern denials of the omniscience, exhaustive foreknowledge, and omnipotence of God, we have reaffirmed the teachings of the Bible and the consistent teaching of our Baptist tradition, as reflected in Article II: “God.”
God has all knowledge. He knows all things simultaneously. His knowledge is immediate, without the process of thought, reason, or inference. His foreknowledge of events does not necessarily mean that He predetermined them. He knows the workings of his natural, physical, moral, and spiritual laws which work toward definite ends. Man is free to choose in the light of them, but is responsible for his choices. God knows these choices beforehand, but does not predetermine them. Herschel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (1971), p. 36.
- We have made clear our embrace of the substitutionary character of Christ’s atonement in Article II:B “God the Son.”
- We have clarified God’s creation of human beings as male and female, both made in His image. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation. This is reflected in Article III: “Man.”
- Baptists must also make clear our affirmation of the blessing of racial and ethnic diversity, and acknowledge that all races possess full dignity by the creative intention of God. This is also included in Article III: “Man.”
- Given the pervasive influence of a postmodern culture, we are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior and salvation is in His name alone. Baptists thus reject inclusivism and pluralism in salvation, for these compromise the Gospel itself. Salvation comes only to those who call upon the name of the Lord, and come to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Article IV: “Salvation,” includes this clarification.
- We reaffirm the New Testament heritage of Baptist congregationalism in Article VI: “The Church,” recovering the language of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message and affirming the contribution of the 1963 statement as reflected in the last paragraph of the article. The church comprises all the redeemed, and will include “believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
- The Convention has spoken clearly its conviction that while both men and women are gifted and called for ministry, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. This is included in Article VI: “The Church.”
- Our Baptist ancestors of a mere generation ago could not have imagined the need to address the issues of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and all manner of deviant and pagan sexuality. We answer with a clear word of biblical correction. This is found in Article XV: “The Christian and the Social Order.”
In other articles we have made minor clarifications, adjusted language to modern usage, and added phrases from the 1925 statement as appropriate.
Adrian Rogers, Chairman