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A Healthy Bit of ‘Gun-Shyness’

A new issue of The Southern Seminary Journal of Theology admonishes future Baptists to continue believing the Bible, keep themselves morally pure, uphold and express their Christian faith and encourage fellow church members to do the same. Who would argue with that?

We know that the Bible says, “Repent and be baptized.” Baptists believe that command, as do our Church of Christ friends. Each group understands and implements those words in profoundly different ways.

Likewise, as evidenced by yet another celebration of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 25-year rightward shift, words such as “conservative,” “accountability” or even “unity” sometimes have different meanings.

Traditional Baptist church members would be wise to read the SBC’s promotional article, if not the journal itself. They should also keep a watchful eye out for two disturbing emphases, increasingly touted by Fundamentalists these days:

1. A renewed call for church discipline. There’s no doubt we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. In the early 1900s, Baptist churches booted members for card playing, dancing and just about everything else. Today, we perhaps view sin too lightly. But shall we trust current SBC seminary presidents, or their future graduates, to drive such a train?

2. A renewed call for confessionalism. What this means is that each Baptist congregation states what it believes. No problem there, but what about the convictions of each individual priest before God?

This “anniversary” journal contends that such 20th-century Baptist giants as Herschel Hobbs, Russell Dilday and E. Y. Mullins placed too much emphasis on “individual freedom” and “soul liberty.” They seem to forget that one man–Roger Williams–founded Providence, R.I., and The First Baptist Church in America for “the oppressed of conscience.” Brown University, the nation’s first Baptist college, soon thereafter became the only Ivy League school to not require sole allegiance to one denomination.

In 1920, George W. Truett preached on the U.S. Capitol steps that Baptists honor the right of every person, whether “Turk, Jew, or infidel,” to accept or reject Jesus Christ. All are invited, voluntarily, to accept God’s free gift of salvation.

Perhaps the scariest part is that Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones calling for a renewed emphasis on “confessionalism.”

Well-meaning Baptists point out, accurately, that we should all be more willing to (1) trust each other; (2) worship together as a community of believers; (3) work with all Christians with whom we share a common faith; and (4) express that faith corporately as the body of Christ.

They observe (once again, accurately) that many moderate Baptists, having been deeply wounded by Fundamentalism, remain “gun shy” of anything that reeks of turning a confession (what Baptists generally believe) into a creed (what Baptists MUST believe).

I would remind our well-meaning friends that traditional Baptists have never stood for anything other than Christian unity alongside those with whom they differ. While standing firm for “No creed but the Bible,” the Baptist Faith & Message 1963 was (and is) a wonderful, non-binding statement of what we have generally believed.

In contrast, BF&M 2000 omits the “Preamble,” which Dr. Hobbs called its most important section, emphasizing its non-binding nature and our individual freedom under God. In its place is Al Mohler’s statement that BF&M 2000 be used as “a measure of doctrinal accountability.”

As long as that smoking gun remains loaded, it probably won’t hurt any freedom-loving Baptist to retain a healthy bit of “gun shyness.”

Mark Ray is immediate past president of Mainstream Alabama Baptists.