The Baptist Faith and Message says some good things about the nature of a local church. It would be helpful if pastors and churches would take time to consider seriously the claims of this statement. Other Baptist confessions have more complete statements, but what the 2000 BFM says is good as far as it goes:
VI. The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Notice the emphasis on life and activity. Churches are comprised of baptized believers who “associate,” “observe,” are “governed,” “exercise,” and “seek to extend the gospel.” Church members are to have spiritual life. At least, that is what we formally confess. Our practice, however, tells a different story.
Despite what the confession says, the majority of Southern Baptist church members are not “associating together” in church, being “governed” by the laws of Christ, “exercising” spiritual gifts, or “seeking to extend the gospel.” What we say we believe and what we actually believe and practice are two different things.
It might prove useful if the articles of the BFM–or at least selected articles–were expounded in a devotional and applicable way during the Bible study times of the annual Southern Baptist Convention. Pastors could be given models of how to teach the confession to their churches and encouraged to use the confession to promote spiritual health through reworking the church’s approach to how members are accepted and maintained in the body of the church.