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Baptists have already affirmed “Scripture without error” in 1990, but why have you never seen that affirmation?

Baptists have already affirmed “Scripture without error” in 1990, but why have you never seen that affirmation?

On Monday 26 July 2021, Gavin Johnston, Pastor of Randburg Baptist Church and Michael du Toit, the BTC Registrar, dug into the Baptist Union archives. They found some very interesting minutes and a crucial decision that came to the Baptist Union Assembly of 1990. Stranger still, though, the decisions that were made then, were never carried out and those affirmations are buried in the archives today. Why?

The Decision

On Monday afternoon, 8 October, 1990, the delegates to the Assembly of the Baptist Union meeting in Krugersdorp were presented with a proposal from the newly formed ‘Truth And Order Commission.’ The paper read as follows;

The Holy Scripture comprising the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament is the complete and final written record of God’s revelation to man. It is in its entirety the very word of God. It is powerful, with its own inherent authority. It is the final rule and authority on all matters of faith and conduct.

The Holy Scripture was written by men who were supernaturally moved by the Holy Spirit in such a way that their human writing was divinely inspired. This inspiration of the Holy Scripture extends equally to all parts; the thoughts and ideas are expressed in words which are themselves inspired. It is wholly reliable, trustworthy and true, without any mixture of error [underlining added]. It has been, and will be, kept by the Holy Spirit throughout all ages in such a way that we may have confidence in the text before us today.

Bapitst Union Assembly 1990 7th Session page 5

This statement was presented by Dr. Reg Codrington on behalf of the committee, endorsed by the Baptist Union Executive and was then seconded by Rev. Derrick Stone. It was an expected and much anticipated statement as proposals from two churches had requested clarification as to where the Baptist Union stood on the doctrine of Scripture. After some discussion, it was agreed to include a preamble to this statement – a very specific preamble, one that had been presented to an Assembly 76 years earlier – the same preamble which preceded the 1924 Statement of Belief.

Having no authority to accept a doctrinal statement on behalf of our churches, but knowing there to be unsettlement in some of our churches, we agree to commend this statement to them for their consideration as a general expression of our Baptist belief.

Baptist Union Assembly 1990 7th Session page 5

Then there was some confusion and uncertainty as to how this statement related to the Declaration of Principle which is an entrenched theological statement in the Baptist Union Constitution. The question as to how any theological statement relates to the Declaration of Principle has been asked more than once – here’s the answer -proposed and carried;

To the extent, if any, that this statement is construed as being inconsistent with, or in substitution for, the Declaration of Principle recited in the Constitution, the latter Declaration shall prevail.

Baptist Union Assembly 1990 7th Session page 5

It is helpful to note that the constitutionally entrenched, Declaration of Principle, which relates to “the basis of our unity,” is grounded in only three things; the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, baptism, and the duty of evangelism of every disciple.

The meeting adjourned for the day and resumed on Tuesday morning.

The Assembly resumed on the next day, Tuesday morning. The minutes read simply; “Faith and Order Commission Report (continued): After considerable debate, the motion as amended was carried.” (Baptist Union Assembly 1990 8th Session page 1) Thus our position as Baptists on the doctrine of Scripture was confirmed as that “The Holy Scripture…is…without any mixture of error.” This has never been overturned. It is still.

The Backstory

The ‘Faith And Order Commission’ was formed in 1989 “to give attention to the formulation of a more adequate contemporary restatement of ‘things most surely believed among us.'” That this refers to the 1924 Statement of Faith is beyond question, as this minute appears directly under the heading “THE 1924 STATEMENT OF FAITH” in the Assembly minutes of 1989 (Baptist Union Assembly Minutes 1989 8th Session page 2). The committee, which was confirmed by the Baptist Union Executive in March of 1990 (Baptist Union Executive Minutes March 1990 page 25), comprised of Rev. Ellis Andre, Dr. Reg Codrington, Rev. Martin Holdt, Rev. Peter Holness, Dr. Rex Mathie, Rev. Brian Stone, Rev. B. Harris, Rev. Gordon Miller.

When the Faith and Order Commission reported to the Baptist Union Executive at the June meeting of 1990, before the Assembly later that year, these words are recorded;

It was further agreed that:

1. This Statement be recommended for acceptance by the 1990 Assembly and that the next task of the Commission would be to prepare a document as a guide to the interpretation of Scriptures.

2. The Commission only deal in future with issues which are being raised from time to time, rather than attempt a complete revamping of the 1924 Statement of Belief.

3. The view of Scripture reflected in this Statement should be basic to our Baptist unity.

4. This statement be included in the Handbook if approved in October.

(Baptist Union Executive Minutes June 1990 page 26, page 27)

As the statement was agreed at the 1990 Assembly of churches, it was affirmed at that time that this view of Scripture, Scripture “without any mixture of error” is “basic to our Baptist unity.” Why this statement is not and it seems has never been included in the Handbook as the Executive agreed to do is a mystery. I am convinced that it would have served us very well over the last 31 years.

Of further interest is the Executive minutes of October 1990 which, it would seem, are written after the meeting of the Assembly recording events before and during the Assembly (thus it is difficult to determine when they actually occurred);

Additional sentence

The Rev. Martin Holdt had requested that the following additional sentence be added to the Statement:-

“It is the final rule and authority in all matters of faith and conduct, and is reliable in its account of science and reality.”

After a full discussion during which concerns were expressed regarding the whole matter of seeking “to accommodate the reformed brethren” it was agreed not to include the sentence in the final statement.

Baptist Union Executive Minutes October 1990 page 26

While this minute is telling on many fronts, note this especially: While Martin Holdt’s extra sentence was considered, in some ways, to be an accommodation of the reformed brethren, the inclusion of the phrase “without any mixture of error” was not. Rather, that was “considered basic to our Baptist unity.”

The last minute under the heading of “Faith and Order Commission” of the Executive of meeting of October 1990, reads as follows; “Next task: It was agreed that no further action be taken at this time.” While the minutes do not explain what was meant by this sentence, is is irrefutable that the Assembly of 1990 affirmed an extensive clarification on the doctrine of Scripture to the 1924 Statement that has been lost in time.

The Implications

Why was this statement on the inerrancy of Scripture never been printed in the handbook and included as our doctrinal stance as Baptists as was intended by the Faith and Order Commission in 1990? I’m not sure. We may yet discover. Whatever the reason, these implications pertain:

  1. The Assembly of 1990 has already taken a decision on inerrancy which was not included in the handbook. This needs to be rectified.
  2. This Assembly of 1990 agreed to the preamble and thus, the BU NLC is “to commend this statement to them [the churches] for their consideration as a general statement of our Baptist belief.” This needs to be done.
  3. As the Baptist Union Assembly has agreed to this doctrinal position and to commend this statement to their churches, the question that needs to be answered now, is, “If a local church does not agree to a doctrinal affirmation on the inerrancy of Scripture, is that church acceptable to the union of churches?”
  4. The Baptist Union Executive has agreed twice to commend the 2017 Statement of Belief to her churches but has been prevented from doing so by an Assembly decision in 2017 and 2019, even though the constitution states that, “Notwithstanding the above the Executive shall have full right at any time to bring a proposal to the Assembly” (Baptist Union By-Laws 4.h). Will the Baptist Union National Leadership Committee carry out those decisions in light of the 2018 request by the churches for a new statement of belief and does the 2017 Statement of Belief adequately express our historic and current theological position?


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