The Southern Baptist Convention has a rich history in theology, schools, missions, etc. The theological convictions of the Southern Baptists is stated well in their Baptist Faith & Message. Up to this day the BFM has undergone three editions. You may view these editions here: comparison chart of the BFM (1925, 1963, 2000).
I think the 1963 edition has wonderfully elaborated on certain points in the original 1925 edition. Again, the 2000 edition provides further elaboration. While I think these latter editions have done much good in providing a more thorough confession for Southern Baptists, there are a few places where I think the later editions went backwards in their assertions. My friend, Joshua Breeland, has a slightly different opinion. You may view his article at The Daily Bleat. (Be sure to read the comments on his page, as I did comment on his post.)
The first is under The Lord’s Day. The 1925 and 1963 editions clearly have a covenantal perspective of the Lord’s Day (being the Christian Sabbath, reflecting the same affirmations in the Westminster Confession, Ch. 21 and the Baptist Confession of 1689, Ch. 22), stating that such devotion to the Day entails “refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted.” The 2000 edition chalks it up to the individual Christian’s conscience.
The second place is under The Kingdom. The 1925 edition notes, “The chief means for promoting the Kingdom of God on earth are preaching the gospel of Christ, and teaching the principles of righteousness contained therein.” The later editions substitute “Particularly the kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ.” Yes, this does pretty much express the same idea, but it doesn’t carry the same weight. It’s more vague. It does away with significant terminology (i.e. “preaching;” “gospel;” “teaching;” “principles of righteousness”). You can tell the 1925 edition was basically summarizing Matthew 28:18-20. I’m not sure why those who edited the BFM thought this needed to be modified.
The third, and perhaps the most serious point, is found under the section on Man. There is a major difference here. Let us take a look:
- The 1925 edition reads, “He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.”
- The 2000 edition (including the 1963 edition) reads, “In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”
First, I find it strange that the new editions would do away with the very important and theologically significant terms holiness and righteousness, and put in its place the term innocence. Second, the 1925 edition emphasizes that man’s sin was committed against God’s law, God’s command. The 1963 and 2000 editions, however, do not include this emphasis. Third, the 1925 edition rightly emphasizes that after the Fall (due to Adam’s sin) man inherits a corrupt nature (i.e. sinful nature) and is in bondage to sin (Jn. 8:31ff; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-19). However, the newer editions completely do away with this very significant statement, instead substituting a less severe consequence, “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin” (emphasis added). Lastly, the 1925 edition not only points out that man is born with a corrupt nature, but is therefore under God’s just condemnation before they become capable of any personal moral action (i.e. Adam’s sinfulness and guilt has been imputed to his posterity). The newer editions, however, do not speak of condemnation until one is capable of personal moral action. The problem is a denial of the historical teaching on the doctrine of original sin, that an inherited sinful nature entails guilt (see Rom. 5:12ff). The 1689 BCF will serve to demonstrate this: “They [first parents] being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free” (Ch. 6, para. 3; emphasis added). In short, how we understand the imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to mankind will influence (if we are theologically consistent) our understanding of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and holiness to us (Rom. 5:12ff).
All things being considered, the Baptist Faith & Message is a Baptist confession that deserves to be read and studied. Baptists have historically been confessional, meaning they have decided amongst themselves to delineate their biblical and theological convictions by means of a confession. Such confessions help to promote unity and theological education in the body. In our day, however, it seems like the majority of Christians are anti-confessional, or simply don’t take the time to study their own confessional standard. My prayer is that more Christians will take it upon themselves to do so. I believe such a humble commitment will only produce greater unity and theological education among Baptists.