I have submitted the following resolution to the 2023 Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention for adoption at the annual meeting scheduled for June 13-14 in New Orleans, Louisiana. My hope is that the committee will recommend it to the convention and give the messengers an opportunity to vote on it. From their beginning in 1845, Southern Baptists have been clear about the nature, qualifications, and function of the office of Bishop/Elder/Pastor. All three designations are used for the same office. It is only in recent years that Southern Baptists have begun to speak on this issue equivocally. Though some contemporary Southern Baptists may be unclear on what a pastor is, our heritage is free from such uncertainty. May this resolution provide the messengers gathered in New Orleans the opportunity to reaffirm that heritage and speak with clarity on this unambiguous New Testament teaching.
2023 SBC Resolution on the Office of Bishop/Elder/Pastor
Whereas, The Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 was identified in its preamble as the “New Hampshire Confession of Faith, revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of present needs”; and
Whereas, The revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963 was led by a committee who declared that it “sought to build upon the structure of the 1925 Statement” while “in no case [seeking to] delete from or to add to the basic contents of the 1925 Statement”; and
Whereas, The committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted in 2000 stated in its preamble that it “respects and celebrates the heritage of the Baptist Faith and Message, and affirms the decision of the Convention in 1925 to adopt the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, ‘revised at certain points and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs . . . .’ and further affirmed their “respect the important contributions of the 1925 and 1963 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message”; and
Whereas, Article XIII of the New Hampshire Confession states that in a gospel church the “only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons”; and
Whereas, Article VI of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message states that a church’s “Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons”; and
Whereas, The same article (VI) in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message substitutes the word “pastors” for the words “bishops, or elders” in the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, so that it says that a church’s “Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons”; and
Whereas, The same article (VI) in the revision of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message retains the exact language found in the 1963 version when it states that a church’s “scriptural officers are pastors and deacons”; and
Whereas, The New Testament uses all three titles that the Baptist Faith and Message has used to describe the one office of bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7), elder (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros; Acts 14:23, 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19), and pastor (ποιμήν, poimēn; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-5), thus demonstrating that from its first expression in 1925 through its revisions in 1963 and 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message has affirmed that, along with deacon, the only other office in a New Testament church is that of bishop/elder/pastor; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the messengers from Southern Baptist churches convening in the annual meeting in New Orleans on June 13-14, 2023 affirm that the only officers of a local church that the New Testament recognizes is that of deacon and of bishop/elder/pastor; and be it further
Resolved, That Southern Baptist churches be encouraged to remember our biblical heritage and teach that these are the only two officers appointed by Christ to serve along with all the members of a New Testament church and to insist on all the biblical qualifications that the New Testament requires of all those who would hold either office of bishop/elder/pastor or deacon.