Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I am a simple person. That would make me a simple Baptist would it not. It may be that in this day it is my simplicity that could cause my downfall in relation to present day Southern Baptist life as opposed to what I've experienced in my history with the SBC.

I've always prided myself, in a non-sinful way I hope, in being a non-creedal Southern Baptist. I've viewed the difference between a creed and a confession, which we have utilized for years in the SBC as, simply put, in a creed you have declared what you must believe to be a part of a particular group and in a confession you have declared what you hold to without coercion of any kind. I would have to say that I, as I read one say it, have no creed but Christ and no document of ultimate authority but the Bible. [This is why the sacredness of the text is so important to me.]

I know this will cause some to believe I do not believe anything for sure but, as a Baptist, I have believed the Bible as I have interpreted it under what I believed to be the leadership of the Holy Spirit and have attempted to guard the freedom of EVERY person to interpret scripture, to hear God's voice for themselves, and to obey what he/she hears.

I am now wondering if the words I've just written apply to all Southern Baptists except those under employment to the Convention. If this exception is true, and it is, I find myself wondering when the preceeding words will no longer apply to anyone who calls himself/herself Southern Baptist.

I hear the reasoning going like this. Since employees/missionaries are paid by Southern Baptists our BF@M is a minimal standard for them and they should be required to sign it. OK and I suppose it would have stopped there with no one thinking much about it were it not for the fact that now you have the odd case of the BOT of the IMB going BEYOND the BF@M in a REQUIRED fashion with the baptism and private prayer language thing. ["UUUUMM not so fast my friend, I have an objection to that I'd like to talk about," one said.] It has come out that NAMB did this a while back but it was under the radar so to speak. Thus the following eighteen months of debate.

What we now have is the situation where the President of the IMB would be personally disqualified from being appointed by the very organization he leads. But he can continue to lead since the requirement is not retroactive. Which I guess shows that it is NOT principle upon which it is based, because principle is true for the past, present and future even if we just discover it, but this is based on preference by those who have the authority to decide such matters.

Then the question is asked, if missionaries are required to sign it as a minimal standard why shouldn't Trustees? OK. Then, the argument goes using the same logic, since Southern Baptist money is used to pay these employees/missionaries/trustees [money IS used for expenses for trustees though not salary] shouldn't those who are required to sign it be required to do so without caveats at all? Remember, [according to their logic] if you have caveats you are lying if you say you affirm the BF@M, ie, it must be ALL or NOTHING. [Though "no caveats" has never been the standard until this debate.]

I recall being overseas to Chile, Brazil, and Indonesia for the IMB in the seventies, eighties, and nineties [some after the BF@M signing became a big deal] and I talked with many missionaries who signed, some with caveats, [it was not considered lying in those days remember] many with concerns that what I'm writing about now would, in fact, be a result. [I'm NOW wondering if the same logic will ultimately lead to everyone's identity as Southern Baptist being somehow tied to signing, without caveat, the BF@M, thus completing the shift from confession to creed.]

If this shift is the reason so many are calling for a tiered approach to a confession I can see the significance of the struggle.

But I'm wondering if we are not perhaps struggling more with Southern Baptist identity than we are with Baptist identity. Our Baptist identity has always been the fundamentals of the faith. You can name them. So can I. But our Southern Baptist identity has been shaped by our cooperative efforts at evangelism and missions. It IS our unique cooperative approach to missions that has defined us as a Convention. We are Baptist because of the fundamentals of the faith. We are Southern Baptist because we cooperate with people who DO NOT interpret the scriptures exactly as I do. It is this Southern Baptist identity that is at risk today.

It seems, I say again, seems, we are shifting to a creedal approach to identifying who Southern Baptists are. My simplicity is causing a great deal of struggle in me as to where I will stand if that shift from a cooperative effort to a theological creed is acomplished. As I said, I AM a simple Baptist.

I really like what a life-long friend recently said of himself. "I'm neither a creedal Baptist, nor a conventional Baptist, but I AM a convictional Baptist." May this be so of me and all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters as we cooperate with one another out of personal conviction NOT coercion.

I've just reread what I've written about the ongoing debate and I've gotten dizzy headed trying to figure it out. I did confess at the beginning that I'm a simple person. That makes me a simple Baptist and the bottomline is that this simple blogger is struggling with where we are going as Southern Baptists.

Paul Burleson


Bob Cleveland said...

Paul: I'm with you.

I'll admit to having been in the SBC for only about 25 years, so I'm a Johnny-come-lately, compared to you. I'll say this in that light: I'm not at all concerned with where the SBC is going.

I can see enough wrong in it that God might be setting it up to be a really good bad example.

I can see enough right in it that God may want to refine it, and prosper it.

Except that I know many people whose hearts are in this, I really don't care. I just want to speak the truth when God sets up the situation for me.

The Gospel was so, so simple when Jesus walked the earth. It will be, when He shows up again, and folks are going to have to unlearn a lot of "stuff", in my opinion, when He does.

Les Puryear said...


Good post from a simple Baptist. :) However, my brother, you seem to me to be anything but a simple Baptist. You seem to me to be a deep thinker and a great discerner of events. In that regard, I see you as not simple.

I know what I am about to say is considered heresy in Southern Baptist circles, but I am a creedal baptist. I see nothing wrong with a creed which states what I and other like-minded baptists believe. That's why I always say I subscribe to BFM2K and the 2nd London Confession.

I think I understand what those who say "no other creed but the Bible" mean. I think they mean that the Bible is sufficient for doctrine and they will use only the Bible to determine their beliefs. To this I say a hearty "Amen." I do not believe those who subscribe to a creed would argue about the authority of scripture over their creed. However, I do think they might make the point that their creed is based on the Bible.

Whether we Baptists want to admit it or not, I think all of us do have a creed. It's a creed made up of our individual beliefs as guided by the Holy Spirit through scripture. The problem is that we may have as many as 16 million creeds, which I think greatly contributes to the fussing and fighting inherent in baptist polity.

It's going to be very difficult to have our cake and eat it too. Either we have one statement of doctrinal beliefs to which all Southern Baptists agree or we have the potential for 16 million with the assorted battles that will continue. I don't see us doing both.

BTW, I believe the technical definition of a creed is a "statement of beliefs." IMHO, the way that you have defined "creed" is the application of it, not the definition of it.

Thanks for the conversation and I hope to see you next week. :)


Paul Burleson said...

Bob, I'm looking forward to some fellowship at the Convention as well.

I certainly agree with you about the good and the bad in our Convention and God's ability to work with either for His glory and our good.

I do, however, always want to remember what Joshua and Caleb show us in our journey.

From them I learn to love and stay with people who might make bad decisions while not agreeing with the decisions, when it is possible.

I also see that bad decisions have a consequence to them. Reaping what is sown is a principle for us all as, I'm sure, you and I both have learned to our dismay. :)

This concern doesn't eliminate my confidence in the character of God to accomplish things, but, as we tried to teach our kids growing up, make good decisions when you make them because bad ones do bring their own kind of pain.

This is more of what I'm concerned about with our Convention. Thanks for stopping by.


I see completely what you're saying. I think you are probably correct in your thoughts to a great degree. [I don't generally use categories of right and wrong except in moral or ethical things.]

My observation would be that you and I approach being a Baptist from a differing philosophical viewpoint. This doesn't make one or the other right or wrong, just different.

The idea that each of us is creedal actually is perhaps correct. If it is necessary for all to share the same creed for fellowship to insue it would need to be articulated. But my understanding is that fellowship is around Jesus being called "Lord" and the meaning of that forms my creed that would be essential for fellowship with believers to transpire.

As you can see, I'm a convictional Baptist but my fellowship is beyond that conviction.

There are two things that I REALLY like about what you've said. One is your honest statement about your creedalism. You believe that and practice it. I believe we ONLY believe what we practice, as Peter Lord says, everything else is religious talk. I'm of a different philosophical approach to creeds and that's what I practice.

The second thing I like is that your spirit is so good in the saying of it. I get the feeling we could have a differing approach to MANY things scriptural/Baptist and not demand the other be what I am.

I recognize what you said is correct. We both have our creeds and practice them. My philosophy is each is to find their's without coercion from us. That is uniquely Baptist in my understanding of the Christian life. I guess you could call it the priesthood of the believer or soul competency or some other nuance of Truth that I hold tenaciously to, but, none of these should separate us from loving and enjoying one another, in Christ, as I sense you and I and others do. I like that.

[And perhaps even winning people to Christ together. I'll go on that car ride with you as a learner.] :)

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

Our Lord's message was a simple one, "Come to Me". So much is contained within that simple statemment. You have a whole ministry called Vital Truths that reflect that message and its foundation. It is easy then for me to understand what you mean by being a simple baptist. My father with his 8th grade education used to say "that people are down on that which they are not up on." If you are not up on the simple, truthful, and eternal message of Jesus then it is very easy you will get down on the message. This leads to all kinds of complicating issues when His message was actually anything but that. Keep it simple Paul, I think you have broken the code. Love ya brother.

Steve in San Antonio

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul: Now you've done it. You mentioned my earthly hero.


He was one of two who saw the light and when he was outvoted, his attitude was he'd just stick around, and wait until all the disobedient wimps had died off. He did, they did, and he got his portion.

I ain't going nowhere, either.

Paul Burleson said...


I think your father was a VERY smart man. His fruit ain't too bad in that department either. :)


Atta boy. I'm with you.

Paul Burleson said...


I don't have a clue why my little picture isn't coming up on the comment section. I guess it is just another evidence to all of you of the Grace of God. :)

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

I'm seeing your picture with every comment. God is gracious. I like the other half of the picture which does not come up; now there God was very gracious with you.:)

Steve M.

Paul Burleson said...


Your last eight words could NOT be more true. :)

Larry Hamblen, California said...

Paul . . . Just an aside. I read your profile and I'm happy to meet an honest Southern Baptist. You dance! Wow!

We were not permitted to dance growing up in SBC in California. But, I always wanted to learn! lol However, since my life is pretty much wrapped around pastoring an SBC related church, there's not much opportunity!

Thanks for your honesty. I play racquetball though, and will challenge you to a match, should you ever come and visit me in Coronado, California!

Larry Hamblen

Paul Burleson said...


Good to hear from California. I'm out there a lot and if I'm ever close, racquetball it is. I must warn you though, on the court there is NO grace. :)

Several years ago Mary and I decided on a simple philosophy of life about things to do and as to the right or wrong of those things.. If the scripture condemns it...DON"T do it. If the scripture commands it...DO it. Everything else leave to the Spirit's unique work for each believer. He's told us it's OK. I'm glad. There are boundaries within our behavior in this as in everything we choose to do. The main one is...Does it honor Him? It does.

Bowden McElroy said...


What I have a hard time understanding is the motivation behind moving beyond the BF&M: to "clarify" our Southern Baptist Identity.

Isn't the BF&M - our agreed upon statement of faith - in fact our identity as Southern Baptists? Can't the trustees who voted to impose doctrinal stances not in the BF&M see that they are saying, in effect, we've examined our identity and we don't like it, therefore we're going to change it whether the convention wants it changed or not?

If the current debates in SBC life were framed in terms of what the BF&M should say, then it would all make more sense to me. But because I see this (insisting on doctrine our statement of faith doesn't address) as a clear cut, no gray area issue, I'm often left puzzled as to how it ever became an issue in the first place.

It seems so simple to me: if you don't like the BF&M, then work to change it. If you succeed, fine. If not, keep policies consistent with what the Convention has agreed upon.

Paul Burleson said...


Your opening sentence says it all for me. Why go BEYOND to clarify?

My fear is, and you and I both know we can't/shouldn't assign motives, so I'm speculating here, that they are not satisfied with where Southern Baptists are theologically on certain issues and desire to take us further than our BF@M permits.

There is some OBVIOUS ambiguity in the BF@M for good reason. In fact, some abiguity was removed in 2000 that I was not for being removed. But that's another whole issue.

I don't personally think Southern Baptist identity is measured in terms of nuances of doctrine but the mission cause we carry on.

Our BAPTIST identity IS measured by the fundamentals of the faith.

Salvific matters are measured by reference to the scripture only not by the word Baptist at all. So the tiered idea might be helpful with my understanding of things.

Thanks for stopping by.

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul & Bowden: When you mess with the BF&M, you're not just changing a statement; you're inevitably telling some Baptists that they're not really Baptists any more, or they're going to have to change what they believe.

I've rarely seen a problem in an SBC church caused by what someone believes. Now, when it comes to what people DO, that's another matter.

As I recall, none of the recent flap has been caused by what we believe, in line with the BF&M.

GuyMuse said...

I think you hammered the nail dead on with, "I'm wondering if we are not perhaps struggling more with Southern Baptist identity than we are with Baptist identity." In all the debate going on, we forget that Southern Baptist is only one of the 31 flavors of Baptists around the world. While there are some things that definitely tie us all together, there are MANY things that are different as you begin to dialogue with Baptists from different countries. I personally find it very refreshing to see the broad richness of belief, experience and practice coming from fellow Baptists from around the world.

Paul Burleson said...


I think you recall things correctly.


I'm afraid the loss of the "kindom" idea by Southern Baptists may be more damaging than any of us realize.

To forget about the Kingdom and focus on our little group does foster pride. That's a problem in and of itself. It results in us straining at gnats theologically. The first century religious folks struggled with that as well. Not too good to be in that company. It may be that we are actively resisting the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus for unity in John 17. How would you like to be a hinderance to what Jesus asked the Father to do?

All in all, I'd say it MAY be our worst problem in Southern Baptist life. Thanks for dropping by.

Paul Burleson said...

Make that "kingdom" please. If I'm not careful I'll short change the "kingdom" like I think a lot of others are in a different fashion. :)