Is The Curtain Rising?
It's an exciting time when the curtain starts rising in the theater. You know the show's about to start, the plot's about to be revealed, and you're going to be transported into another kind of reality for a while. Well, I get that impression these days, with reference to the Southern Baptist Convention, and particular reference to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Especially when I compare it to the 1963 version.
I smell a plot. An agenda. An objective. And not just to solve problems, either. And I can't wait for the plot to unfold all the way. I have a feeling it won't be long.
Let's start with a basic premise: that the fundamental Baptist Distinctive is the competency of the soul in religious matters. The Priesthood of the Believer. That's what's always been told to me, and that's also what Herschel Hobbs said in his book, "The Baptist Faith And Message". That hints at a kind of relationship to God, Priesthood, which would seem to refer back to the time when the Temple had priests, and the only intermediary between the Priest and God, was the High Priest. Well, in the Christian church, we have only one High Priest, and that's Jesus, Who wants a personal relationship with us. With you. With me.
When He mentioned that some folks who said "Lord, Lord" weren't going to see heaven, His rebuttal to their self-proclamations of worthy works was "I never knew you". Thus, I think it's important that we know Jesus, and that He know us. And, since He seems to want that, I don't want to settle for any less of knowing Him, than the maximum available.
There's an old axiom that "the minimum requirement often becomes the maximum obligation". I don't think that's supposed to apply to being a Christian, and I really feel the obligations of Christianity are more privileges than obligations, anyway.
Let's pile on another premise: Somewhere, sometime, someone wants to diminish local church autonomy, and priesthood of the believer, and move toward "top-down denominationalism". Authority figures. Directives. Requirements. Stuff like you see in other denominations, including those who determine which preacher will pastor which church. And if you want to become like them, the first thing you'd have to demolish is the Priesthood of the Believer. See, Priesthood of the Believer mandates, to me, autonomy of the local church! Autonomy in pastoral selection. Autonomy in local church polity, and in local church governance.
My dad always told me when I looked at a puzzling situation, to examine the facts, look at the possible explanations, and then pick the one that made the most sense. So, let's do that.
FIRST CHANGE: there was a subtle difference in the BFM2000, over the 1963 version. The first blatant one was in the Preamble; the 1963 version contains a statement that " ... Baptists bodies, both large and small, have issued statements which comprise a consensus of their beliefs." The 2000 version deleted that and included a new sentence "Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability."
WOW. I didn't see anything like that in the 1963 version, nor in the 1925. Doctrinal accountability? By whom. To whom?
It doesn't say. But I suspect that, if you check with First Baptist Church of Decatur (GA) and their pastor Julie Pennington-Russell, she might have an illustration.
NEXT CHANGE: 1963 Version says "Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, Whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures". The 2000 version said, referring back to the 1963 version and certain doctrines determined by that committee, "Our living faith is established on eternal truths."
WOW again. The foundation of my faith is no longer to be the Living Lord Jesus Christ (with Whom I need a personal relationship, remember?), but rather some "eternal truths." This one scares me, since if I have an authentic relationship with Jesus, the Living Man (and God), then your words cannot change it. If my faith is based on "truths", then you can slip in some new words and make some new truth; I'm sure some will go along with it and thus change their faith. And, let me hasten to add, my personal relationship is with the Man, the Savior, and is in line with what the Bible says.
ONE SMALL, BUT OBVIOUS CHANGE: The 1963 version said (referring to statements of faith) that "Such statements have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority". That statement was deleted from the BF&M 2000!
WOW! WOW! Why would that statement be deleted, other than as a part of a long-term plan to change the nature and the purpose of the document?
Which would, coincidentally, change the nature of the SBC, and the purpose of the hierarchical structure set up to (up until now, anyway) assist the local church in the carrying out of the Great Commission.
YET ANOTHER CHANGE: This one's a little subtle, but I think it's cute anyway. The 1963 version states the Bible is "The record of God's revelation of Himself to man". The 2000 version says the Bible "..is God's revelation of Himself to man".
This is important, to me, because God revealed Himself to man in His actions ... in what He did ... in the birth of Jesus ... in Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross ...in His disappearance from the tomb ... in His interaction with mankind on earth. The new version shifts the revelation to the words of the book, which I realize do reveal God and do reveal Jesus and do reveal the Holy Ghost. But, linking to the words rather than the deeds removes all hint of personal interaction of God ... of Jesus ... with you and I today.
Frankly, that's happened to me too many times, for me to accept any sort of hiding of God's desire to reveal Himself to man, today.
To you. To me.
AND FOR A REALLY BIG CHANGE: The Preamble of the 1963 version states "Baptists emphasize the soul's competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer". The 2000 version amends that to "We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the word of God.".
First, there seems a "de-personalizing" of "the soul's competency before God", to "the principle(s) of soul competency...". Second, the obvious change from "the priesthood of the believer", to "the principle(s) of ... the priesthood of believers". Is the desire to move the priesthood to the church .. the ekklesia .. rather than you as a believer? Or me? If not, why the change?
ONE FINAL CHANGE: The Baptist Faith and Message 1963 said "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ". The 2000 version deletes that sentence and states "All scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation". That's a big difference. It hints at a system of belief in which you and I can't go to Jesus for guidance, explicitly not for the interpretation of scripture, and presumably not for other matters, either.
SO, WHERE AM I GOING? Simple. Every one of these changes seems to de-emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus; both the availability, and the importance, thereof. Ironically, that's the one thing Jesus, Himself, said we must have to see heaven.
I don't know what all to make of this, but I do know one thing: IF I'm right, and the curtain is going up (as I surmised above) ... in the exposure of what seems to be going on ... then the curtain is surely descending on the Southern Baptist Convention.