A quick reading of the proposed revision to the Baptist Faith and Message statement released yesterday finds four stumbling blocks for faithful Baptists.
1. The introductory statement drops the 1963 language of "soul's competency before God," "freedom in religion," and "priesthood of the believer." These are core Baptist values. Only Baptist revisionists would cast them aside.
2. The statement dismisses Jesus as the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted. When the Jesus principle is dropped, Baptists are at risk to pastors becoming the sole interpreters of the Bible. When the Jesus-principle domino falls, it topples the priesthood of every believer and congregational democracy.
3. There are a number of internal inconsistencies. In Adrian Roger's public statement, he justifies the revision of the 1963 statement on the grounds that Baptists face a crisis from postmodernism, rampant relativism, and the denial of absolute truth. He said, "A pervasive secularism has infected our society and its corrosive effects are evident throughout the life of our nation."
Yet, his document advances the very thing he warns against when it waters down the observance of the Lord's Day.
The 1963 statement urged believers to refrain from worldly amusements and to rest from secular employment. The revised document allows Christians to engage in activities "commensurate with the Christian's conscience."
Two ironies surface here. First, across the American religious community, people of faith are speaking for a restoration of the idea of the Sabbath as a way to protect us from our emerging 24/7 society. Second, the document allows for Christians to follow their conscience on observing the Lord's Day, but it does not encourage Christians to follow their conscience pertaining to other matters.
Another internal inconsistency is the advocacy of "an autonomous local congregation" and the assertion that women are not qualified to be pastors. With this sharp change, the document pulls up the drawbridge into the 21st century and padlocks Southern Baptists into a 19th-century cultural castle.
A third inconsistency relates to the article on peace and war. The revised statement rightly adds a sentence urging Christians to "pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace," picking up identical language from the 1925 statement. However, the new statement does not go as far as the 1925 statement, which urged Christians "to oppose everything likely to provoke war." Praying for peace and not taking transforming initiatives to remove those forces likely to cause war reflects a shallow spirituality and a truncated social ethic.
Why call for prayer but not initiatives to remove the causes of war?
4. The statement makes the theological tent much smaller. The revised statement inserts "His substitutionary death on the cross," replacing the broader statement of "in His death on the cross." Such a shift excludes other understandings of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Clearly, other changes have been made that deserve substantive critique. For example, the article on the Christian and social order spells out sexual immorality, while it ignores the profoundly harmful forces of materialism, commercialism, and consumerism.