(back to part 1 of lesson 1)

Baptists are to read and study the Bible for themselves, and often have differing opinions about what the passages mean. That is why we have Confessions and Doctrine statements. They are advisory and a statement of general common understanding. They are less formal than a catechism that you would learn in a mainline religion. I don’t mind learning catechism. My daughter learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism at school in 4th grade, and it helped us shape her understanding of the Bible. What is the purpose of man? And I agree with Creeds. I occasionally attend Episcopal services, and speak the Apostle’s Creed with them, replacing the Big C Catholic denomination with a little “c” catholic – meaning universal – church. There is nothing there any good Christian could disagree with:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. * On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. *Used to say “descended into hell” Note that the Danish national church adds the phrase “I renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways” as the beginning of this creed.

Similar to the Apostle’s creed is the Creed that came from the Council of Nicea, called the Nicean creed:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

It is worthwhile to know one or both of these creeds, and to repeat it out loud from time to time, speaking truth about what we believe. The group Third Day has this as one of their signature songs. But it is incomplete as a statement of doctrine. A few weeks ago, my pastor reminded us that Doctrine is important. Matthew 28:20, the last verse of the Great Commission, tells us to “team them all things which I have commanded.” And this doctrine should reflect themes throughout the whole Bible. Baptists are a people of the Book. Although Baptists have always believed in the autonomy of a local church, they began to cooperate with one another, and formed associations, meeting annually in conventions. In 1833, the Baptists of New Hampshire adopted a common confession of faith. It was not a creed or catechism that took the place of Scripture, but instead described the core of belief, with scriptural references. This Confession was drawn up by the Rev. John Newton Brown, D. D., of New Hampshire (b. 1803, d. 1868), was been adopted by the New Hampshire Convention, and was subsequently widely accepted by Baptists, especially in the Northern and Western States, as a clear and concise statement of their faith, in harmony with the doctrines of older confessions, but expressed in milder form. In 1868, in response to increasing theological liberalism by some northern pastors, the Baptists of the North and the Baptists of the South parted ways. Although the Southern Baptists still had some learning to do theologically on the issue of owning slaves, they affirmed the divinity of Jesus, a point that was falling out of favor with some of the Northern pastors and their missionaries. To preserve doctrinal integrity, the Southern Baptists separated. It was that issue of Landmarkism that brought about the creation of the first Baptist faith and message, our first statement of common doctrinal understanding. Some in that heresy said that you had to be their kind of Baptist to be saved, and would not let other Christians participate in the symbol of the Lord’s Supper. As good as it sounded to be the only true church denomination, it just wasn’t true. So CP Stealey, the fundamentalist editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger state paper, successfully urged the convention of 1923 to appoint its best scholars to write a distinctly Southern Baptist statement of faith. The team consisted of EY Mullins, SM Brown, RH Pitt, WJ McGlothlin, EC Dargan and LR Scarborough. Drawing heavily on the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, the BFM was written and then adopted in 1925. In many ways, it was a radical document. It described the need for social action without being socialist. It affirmed clearly the separation of church and state and the right of the church to operate separate from government interference. And it firmly established the principles of cooperative action to meet common goals. The BFM served Baptists well. Having a common understanding helped unify our causes in establishing and maintaining colleges, seminaries, orphanages, and hospitals, paid for and maintained through cooperative effort. Our Cooperative Program style of supporting missionaries was unique when it started and is still not widely practiced. It lets our missionaries focus on ministry and not fund raising, as others have to do. It set the stage for dramatic growth of the Convention for the following decades. But in the 1950s, the idea of universal truth was under attack, and Baptists were starting to reinterpret the BFM in a variety of ways. I say that with Baptists, where 2 or 3 are gathered, there are 4 opinions. So Baptist scholar and Oklahoma pastor Herschel Hobbs led a team to revise the BFM, which was adopted in 1963. Then in the late 70s, the charges of liberalism surfaced again, and a number of motions were presented and adopted, creating a split in the convention. In order to clean up the words and bring us back to a common understanding, Adrian Rogers led a team of 15 others to review the BFM and revise as necessary. It was adopted in 2000 and is the text we will study in this class.

(Week 2)

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