Being Baptist in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa Post Kuils River Assembly 2019
At the recent BU Assembly representatives from member churches voted to supress a motion put forward by the Executive to initiate a process for churches to consider voting on aproposed new 2017 Statement of Belief (2017 SB). The vote to suppress was carried by a high majority. It was clear that the proposed 2017 SB was seen as unnecessary and divisive by the majority of church representatives. This result was also interpreted as being a definitive ‘No’ to the long standing appeals for a clearer and firmer united theological front of the Baptist Union in light of internal and external doctrinal challenges (especially those on the authority of Scripture and gender issues). That an intention to table and discuss theological revision of our current Statement of Faith has been supressed cannot but lead to the conclusion that many BU churches and leaders desire no further theological position beyond that expressed in that 1924 Statement of Belief (1924 SB). What is most alarming is that the 2017 SB – which clearly articulates a confessionally traditional or ‘conservative’ position, as well as directly addressing some of the most important issues in our generation – has been rejected by many South African Baptist leaders.
The 2017 SB was the final product of a process launched by the Executive in 2016. The stated reason for this original Task Team was to craft an updated 1924 Statement of Belief (1924 SB) that would address the challenges of the hour yet also be as inclusive as possible to reflect the diversity within the BU. Most, if not all on the Task Team, were guided by the maxim ‘unity in essentials’ as we began to update the 1924 SB with ‘healthy doctrine’ that each participant believed was essential for all South African Baptists today to hold forth to our generation, present and future. Two surprising things occurred as we got under way: (1) most of us on the Team agreed doctrinally on what our Baptist essentials ought to look like, and (2) we agreed that we needed to offer a broader and weightier Statement of Belief as the theological ballast for the BUSA. Once our unity and objective was in place, we found that a topical format with tight and weighty propositional content was our best way to articulate those Baptist essentials. The end result was a proposed Statement of Belief with a quantity and quality beyond which we had anticipated, but was one that we heartily believed was needed for our present and future mission as BUSA.
As one can see, our proposed 2017 Statement of Faith:
It was clear to most of us that as the 1924 SB was formed and filled in the context of urgent Baptist needs in the early 20th century, it was now however inadequate to serve the urgent needs of South African Baptists in the 21st century. We also knew that not all within the BU would be happy with every assertion (particularly the mention of male headship in the church), yet after due majority of votes the Task Team believed all our assertions were of a high ranking status and needed to be affirmed by Baptists today. In hope we thus presented our Statement to the Executive at Baptist House in June 2017, who expressed appreciation for our work and stated that they could subscribe to its contents. We were hopeful that their implicit acceptance in 2017 would materialize more explicitly among the churches in Kuilsriver in 2019. As you know, this did not happen.
After it was clear that the majority of the remaining church delegates at the recent Assembly chose rather to reject our proposal, some assessment now has to be made. The response to supress the proposed 2017 SB is clearly symptomatic of an underling condition in the BU that requires diagnosis and anappropriate response. That response for us is to come to the following conclusions:
Since Baptists have traditionally been known as ‘people of the Book’ and as Protestants who are leaders in sound theology and doctrine, our Baptist Union’s preference for a currently deficient Statement of Belief comes perilously close to undoing this divine purpose that has raised up the Baptists. Many of us have become Baptist for the very purpose of being part of a theologically driven fellowship of independent churches. If we were experientially driven, some of us would join an explicitly Charismatic fellowship. If merely socially motivated maybe we would join the Methodists, and if antiquity is our my main concern the Anglicans could the place to go. But since we believe fidelity to the Scriptures needs to determine ones choice of denomination, we are Baptist. But what if the Baptist denomination we are a part of has become a social fellowship that chooses theological minimalism in order to embrace more diversity? What if it slackens on its fidelity to the Scriptures? How then do we relate to our historic Baptist institution which does not want to be Baptist in the way we think Scriptures call us to be? – and this in such a critical hour! Our initial hope for the much needed united theological front in the BU on vital doctrinal essentials is fast dwindling. Have we crossed the Rubicon in Kuils River or have we just been down a few rapids of the Orange River soon to get back to normal? Do we do something new in order to ensure that Baptists in South Africa remain Baptists?
We all need the wisdom from above described in 1 Chronicles 13:32:
“Men from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (NIV 2011)
On behalf of various members of the original draft team of the 2017 Statement of Belief.