The new Baptist Faith and Message statement is fast becoming a litmus test for leadership and employment in Southern Baptist life.
John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, said, "If you're going to participate in the trustee life of the Florida Baptist Convention, it [the BF&M] is the framework of 2000," according to an article in the Florida Baptist Witness.
"So just as a matter of record, let the record show that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement will serve as the theological framework for the ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention," he said.
Florida's state board of missions approved a recommendation for a bylaw change that recognized the revised BF&M statement as the official tenet of faith for the state convention. Messengers will consider the board's recommendation when the convention meets in November.
If the recommendation passes, the BF&M statement will be applied as a qualification guideline for new convention employees, suggesting that existing employees will not have to affirm the revised statement.
In other state convention action, the executive committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention passed a resolution to be presented at the state convention meeting in November that will express "official approval and appreciation of" the 2000 statement, according to a news story in the Christian Index.
The charter and bylaws committee of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention also voted to recommend the 2000 BF&M statement as the "doctrinal guideline" for Arkansas Baptists. The committee's recommendation will be considered at the Arkansas convention in late October, according to a news story in the Arkansas Baptist.
The Arkansas recommendation included the phrase "affirming the autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of the believer" before stating the 2000 BF&M statement "shall be the doctrinal guideline for the Convention."
Arkansas Baptists will retain an earlier bylaw section that said the BF&M "shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion."
On the national level, the council of SBC seminary presidents said, "All six of the seminaries stand together in affirming that we will indeed make the Baptist Faith and Message an issue of non-negotiable accountability for all who teach in our institutions."
Speaking to Texas directors of associational missions, former SBC president Paige Patterson said the SBC has the right to require its seminary teachers and agency employees to affirm the 2000 BF&M.
While SBC seminaries have said what the BF&M means for their institutions, other SBC agencies have taken a much lower profile in this heated conflict among Southern Baptists.
A press release from the July meeting of the International Mission Board offered only one paragraph on the BF&M statement. It said that trustees approved a recommendation stating "our mission is to start New Testament churches consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message."
LifeWay Christian Resources took no action on the 2000 BF&M at its last board meeting, said agency media relations official Charles Willis.
Willis said LifeWay, formerly named the Sunday School Board, settled the matter of the BF&M statement in 1969. Since that time, all editors, managers and others have had to sign a statement that they would conduct their work in accordance with the BF&M statement.
Willis said such a requirement is not a litmus test. "It is an affirmation that you support the Baptist Faith and Message and will conduct your tasks in accordance with it," he said.
The revised BF&M statement continues to be a flash point within Southern Baptist life. This is evidenced by orders of BCE's online curriculum "Real Baptists" by state convention employees and leaders.
To order BCE's online curriculum "Real Baptists", go to www.ethicsdaily.com.
Other evidence of heightened concern appeared in a slick 16-page mailing from the SBC Executive Committee to Texas churches. The mailing defended the changes in the BF&M statement and attacked the Baptist General Convention of Texas for its proposed budget changes.
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.