On the Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Debunking a Myth
My favorite television show is Mythbusters—I love watching Adam and Jamie prove that there is just no way MacGuyver could have actually done all that stuff. I am also a big fan of the websites that are dedicated to debunking the various urban legends that get emailed all over cyberspace. One of the things I love about being a historian is the ability to play the role of myth-buster when it comes to the theories that others have about church history. I love to see a student’s face the first time they hear that maybe, just maybe, it didn’t happen exactly the way they’ve always supposed.
I want to debunk a myth that is pervasive in Baptist life. I hear it in conversation. I read it in books, articles, and on the internet. It is one of those sneaky myths because it seems so obvious, until you begin to think about it. It is time to explode the myth. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no such thing as The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M). Before you start writing letters to the Southeastern Seminary trustees, let me explain what I mean.
Messengers to the 2000 SBC annual meeting voted to revise the BF&M. This was not an unprecedented occurrence—the BF&M, which was originally adopted in 1925, was also revised in 1963 and amended in 1998. So the fact that the document was revised was not that unusual, at least so far as twentieth century Southern Baptist history goes. What is unusual is that everyone persists in referring to the current edition as the The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
I think I know why most folks do this. Conservatives want to be clear which version of the confession is being used as an instrument of doctrinal accountability. Moderates wish to be clear which version of the confession they are uncomfortable with. But I think both conservatives and moderates are incorrect in designating the confession as the The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
So if we shouldn’t call the confession the The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, what should we call it? I believe that the document should be called nothing more or less that the The Baptist Faith and Message, because that is what it is—the most current edition of the confession of faith that has been used among Southern Baptists since 1925. No one called the confession the “The Baptist Faith and Message 1925” until it was revised in 1963; at that point, the earlier version was designated by its year of drafting. And few were in the habit of referring to the 1963 edition by its year until the amendment and subsequent revision in 1998 and 2000. The reason is because, strictly speaking, there was no such thing as the The Baptist Faith and Message 1963 until the document was changed. At that time, the 1963 edition became a historical document—just like the 1925 edition—but ceased to be The Baptist Faith and Message. Only the most current edition of the confession is The Baptist Faith & Message.
I would love to see Southern Baptists refrain from calling our confession The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 because that is not really what the document is. Rather, it is the current edition of the BF&M, and until it is revised again in the future, it will remain the current edition. If and when the BF&M is revised, then and only then will there will be a Baptist Faith and Message 2000—a historic confession of faith, just like the earlier editions that have been replaced by later editions. The BF&M 1963 (and 1925) may be used by many churches and other groups, but it is not the BF&M in the same sense as the current edition of the confession. Only the latter is The Baptist Faith and Message proper—the older versions are now historic confessions just like New Hampshire, the Abstract of Principles and the two London Confessions, though like those other historic confessions some churches, associations, and state conventions prefer a historic confession to The Baptist Faith and Message.