Southern Baptist Convention president Bart Barber, a pastor in Farmersville, Texas, recently announced on a Twitter video that he expects there will be a motion to amend the SBC’s Constitution and Bylaws along with the motion for the newly elected SBC president to appoint a committee to study both the Constitution and Bylaws and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
The proposed amendment from Virginia pastor Mike Law would clarify that the SBC only cooperates with churches that do not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind. For the amendment to be voted on by messengers at the convention in New Orleans next week, the SBC Executive Committee will need to advance the amendment at its Monday meeting prior to Tuesday’s annual meeting.
If the EC chooses not to advance it, it could also be considered if a new motion is introduced asking the messengers to vote at this year’s annual meeting. For that to happen, messengers would have to approve voting on it at this year’s annual meeting, then subsequently approve the amendment by a two-thirds vote at both this year’s and next year’s annual SBC meetings.
Barber, however, said there is a deeper problem with the SBC constitution. “At present, Article III of our constitution says that to be considered cooperating with the convention a church needs to have a faith and practice that is ‘closely identified’ with the Baptist Faith and Message. Now, the thing is nobody knows what ‘closely identified’ means in terms of actually applying it [in the case] of individual churches,” Barber said in his Twitter video .
Barber and others tend to think the problem of unclear language in Article VI of the Constitution can be solved by changing or amending the BF&M. While less cumbersome parliamentary process, requiring a simple majority vote at a single annual meeting, this is an area where Baptists need to tread lightly. Does a lack of clarity in the Constitution call for a comprehensive review of the BF&M?
The BF&M is basically a statement of faith of doctrinal beliefs that Southern Baptists hold in common. The original BF&M was adopted in 1925 and revised in 1963 and again in 2000.
The 2000 version was not popular among all Baptists. Some did not like it because it was the culmination of or a biproduct of the Conservative Resurgence of the SBC that began in the 1970s and ran through the 1990s. Some churches today still identify with the 1963 version but most have adopted the 2000 BF&M.
When looked at objectively, the 2000 version of our confessional statement is a solid, conservative summary of doctrines that Baptists hold dear to their heart.
The BF&M was never intended to be a creed because Southern Baptists traditionally have been non-creedal. Yet, if we continue to narrow down what it means to be Baptist, we get dangerously close to stepping over a fine line.
The BF&M 2000 was drafted by a committee of Southern Baptists strongly identified with the Conservative Resurgence, led by Adrian Rogers (now deceased), a former SBC president from Cordova. Anyone who knew Dr. Rogers knows that any document that he was associated with would be undeniably and unashamedly conservative.
When the attempt to narrow the definition of what it means to be a pastor arose last year, three former members of the committee that drafted the BF&M 2000 (Albert Mohler, Richard Land and Chuck Kelley) issued a statement in June of 2022 through Baptist Press. They wrote:
“In light of recent questions about Article VI: The Church, we hope to help Southern Baptists to understand the confession’s statement concerning ministry. Speaking of the church, that statement reads: ‘Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.’
“As background, it is important to know that the committee sought to identify the one word about the pastoral role that Southern Baptists would best understand. As Dr. Rogers stated and the committee concurred, the one word that virtually all Southern Baptists understand is the word pastor.
“The language means that a pastor is one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor’s functions.
“Thus, the statement means simply what it states, that the office of pastor is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture. In the Baptist understanding, office and function are inseparable. As we wrote in the commentary on the BF&M, ‘Central to the pastor’s role is the responsibility to preach and teach.’ Pastors also provide spiritual leadership and oversight for the congregation.”
The men also wrote, “When the confession was adopted and revised in 2000, Dr. Rogers and the committee made clear that it does not speak to every job category and ministerial title within a local church. But it does specifically define what the Southern Baptist Convention means by pastor, and what we believe the Bible teaches. The word pastor should be reserved for those who fulfill a pastor’s function and office.”
Therein lies the real problem. Over the past 20 years, Baptists have diluted the word “pastor.” We now have worship pastors, youth pastors, children’s pastors, associate pastors, etc. In some of these churches, women have the title but it does not mean the same as the man in their congregation who is the church’s pastor.
From the comments of the men who led in the BF&M 2000, it seems obvious that their intent is that the pastor is the man called by God who enters the pulpit every Sunday and faithfully preaches the Word of God and shepherds his flock.
If a church has multiple ministers, their role is to help the pastor in their respective areas. It’s that simple. We have confused the issue with our own definitions.
Those who drafted the Baptist Faith and Message were wise. They firmly stated the basic tenets of the Baptist faith while leaving some “wiggle” room, also known as local church autonomy.
As the convention approaches, Baptists should be wary of moves to change our confessional statement unless absolutely necessary. The current BF&M has served Southern Baptists well for 23 years. B&R