The 2000 BF&M and the Reduction of the Lord’s Day

Founders Journal · Summer 2000 · pp. 1-4

The 2000 BF&M and the Reduction of the Lord’s Day

Tom Ascol

Southern Baptists adopted significant changes to the Baptist Faith and Message statement during the 2000 convention which met in Orlando last June. The study committee which proposed the revisions was chaired by Dr. Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee. Rogers and his committee are to be commended for their work. All of their recommendations were approved by messengers at the convention.

Most of the changes are welcomed revisions to a confession that has been used as a wax nose to fit almost any theological face among Southern Baptists over the last 30 years. Notably, the opening article on Scripture was strengthened by removing some of the neo-orthodox wiggle-room from the language. Article 6, on the Church, was also improved by specifically stating that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Language in other articles, however, was unfortunately left unchanged. Thus the BF&M 2000 still regards justification as God’s “gracious and full acquittal” based upon “principles of His righteousness” rather than declaring that it is upon the actual righteousness of Christ (emphasis added). Also, in article 3 man’s fall into sin is still regarded as an act “whereby his posterity inherit a nature and environment inclined toward sin,” keeping the language of the 1963 statement, rather than reverting back to the 1925 statement which declares man’s fall as an act “whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation ….”

These lack of changes are somewhat understandable. They represent missed opportunities, perhaps, but also must be seen in light of the political and theological context of the SBC. The convention has a long way to go before churches and pastors once again value theological precision. Leaving weak language unchanged while strengthening a few select areas may have been a most prudent decision by the study committee. When a majority of church leaders cannot even give a biblical definition of justification, it is probably wise not to bring up a discussion of imputation.

However, while allowing for the choice to leave some loose language unchanged and applauding those changes which did make the BF&M stronger, one cannot help but lament the inexplicable reduction of article 8 on the Lord’s Day. This article remained virtually unchanged from 1925 to 1963 (with only the word “being” added in 1963 for grammatical clarification). The 1963 statement reads as follows:

The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only being excepted.

The 2000 revision keeps the first two sentences intact. The third sentence is reduced by half, significantly diminishing the statement. A fourth sentence is added which articulates a principle, which if applied to the other articles, would make the whole confession (or any confession) unnecessary. The last two sentences of the 2000 statement say of the Lord’s Day:

It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Christ.

The change in this article appears to be an accommodation to culture, in stark contrast to the changes in the other articles. The rationale behind making any change at all to this article is hard to detect. No one was debating it publicly or speaking against it. The Lord’s Day has not been a topic of controversy in our battle for the inerrancy of Scripture. Why was this issue brought to the forefront by the committee?

The proposal represents a definite break with our theological heritage as Southern Baptists. John Broadus, James Boyce, John Dagg, B. H. Carroll, Williams Rutherford, E. C. Dargan, and many other early Southern Baptist statesmen, in addition to numerous confessions of faith, can all be cited in support of regarding the Lord’s Day as a special day to be set apart by Christians in order to take a break from typical, daily responsibilities, and to give oneself to concentrated efforts in worship, devotion and spiritual service. There are differences as to whether or not this day should be called the Christian Sabbath, but there is great consensus regarding the sanctity of the day itself.

Why the study committee deemed it wise to break with our heritage at this point, as it was adequately expressed in the 1963 statement, remains a mystery. Committee members have left this question unanswered. If it is because the committee believes our forefathers misunderstood the Bible at this point, then this should have been expressly stated in the presentation of their report. No one else in our Southern Baptist family, prior to the publication of the committee’s proposed changes, has made this issue a matter of debate.

Some have suggested that the change is justified because there is no consensus among evangelicals in general or Southern Baptists in particular at this point. But if Southern Baptists are divided over this issue, then why hasn’t it been a matter of public discussion? If the argument is that most Southern Baptists are not practicing what is confessed in the 1963 statement at this point, could not the same be said for personal witnessing (as numerous evangelism professors have repeatedly testified)? Surely we would not, on that basis, change article 11 (which claims that “it is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations”) to fit our low level of practice in this area.

Southern Baptists have obviously been willing to take stands against mainstream evangelical currents in our statements on the family and male leadership in churches. At those points at which culture has clouded the thinking of fellow believers, we have been unwilling to remain silent, much less coalesce to their opinions. Yet, in a day and age when Sunday is regarded as just another day, the revision in article 8 fits perfectly into the secular mind set. As one columnist for The Orlando Sentinel put it, now that the NFL Tennessee Titans (based in the SBC’s headquarters, Nashville) have made it to the Super Bowl, Southern Baptists have conveniently decided that “refraining from worldly amusements” on the Lord’s Day is no longer advisable.

Some might argue that among our most theologically informed there is difference of opinion and therefore the revision is warranted. But all of our seminary professors have signed, without any apparent objections, a statement of faith (either the Abstract of Principles or the 1963 BF&M, which are almost identical) which affirms the sanctity of the day. Assuming, as we should, that on this side of the conservative resurgence in the SBC we now have professors who really believe what they sign, this strongly suggests that we do have a great degree of consensus (though not necessarily unanimity) on this issue among many of the most theologically informed Southern Baptists.

Article 8 should have remained unrevised. It was a good statement in its 1925/1963 form. Many messengers were prepared to make various amendments to the committee’s proposal at this point during the convention in Orlando. Due to a combination of poor planning by the committee on order of business (who originally allocated only 30 minutes for debate an ultimately led the convention to cut off discussion after 50 minutes), violation of parliamentarian procedure by the chairman (inadvertently allowing special preferences to one messenger and allowing those registering points of order to make motions) and questionable tactics by a moderate leader from Texas (who cut in front of other messengers to speak at a microphone and sent word to the platform that he should be acknowledged), no one who wished to speak to the issue was recognized (despite at least two messengers arriving at microphones two hours early and standing first in line for that purpose).

An amendment to retain the 1963 language might well have been adopted by the convention. The effort would have at least called attention to the most drastic change in the study committee’s proposal–a change which clearly moved BF&M away from the historic Baptist position regarding the Lord’s Day and toward the secularization of that day by American culture. Plans are being made for an amendment to reinstate the 1963 language into the Baptist Faith and Message to be proposed at the 2001 convention in New Orleans, if the Lord wills. Such an effort is worthwhile and is worthy of support by all Southern Baptists who want to confess our tenacious commitment to the Word of God at every point, regardless of the pervasive winds of secularism which are sweeping over our culture.