The 2017 Statement of Belief is discussed on the Assembly floor of the Baptist Union for the first time
Last week, the Baptist Union National Leadership Council (NLC) took an significant step in a particular direction. It reported that “the 2017 purported Statement of Faith is not inconsistent with the 1924 Statement of Faith. In future, therefore the NLC will accept the purported 2017 Statement of Faith should a church or other entity adopt the purported 2017 Statement of Faith and include it as part of their constitution. It is not the intention of the NLC at this point in time to bring the purported 2017 Statement of Faith to a future BU Assembly with a view of replacing the 1924 Statement of Faith with the 2017 Statement of Faith.”
Thus, the original proposal was modified as a report from the NLC in order “to gauge the sentiment of the assembly floor in this matter” and to “give time for discussion.” Thus, because the NLC report no longer came framed as a proposal for discussion and final decision, those that came carrying a decision from their local churches, no longer could vote on behalf of their churches. However, the NLC’s decision to withdraw the proposal and rather to present a report, was undoubtedly a wise move in order that the 2017 Statement of Belief should be discussed and not possibly be quashed. Thus, the 2017 Statement of Belief was discussed for the first time on the assembly floor since it’s original formulation in 2017.
There was a number of delegates who spoke and reminded the NLC that the 2018 Assembly had decided that there was a need for a new statement of belief and that this report did not negate or overturn the 2018 assembly decision.
Another delegate requested that each member of the NLC should lead each assembly by a personal affirmation of every statement of the 1924 Statement of Belief beginning with the words, “I believe…”
Another delegate stated that “the strength of the union also leads to its weakness and sometimes the strength of the weakness is our diversity.” While there is no doubt that there is diversity and that particular aspects of this diversity is a strength, to what extent is theological diversity a strength? That is, how far does one go in affirming theological diversity as a strength? To this, another delegate posed the question, “The 1924 Statement of Faith will allow for much leeway. So if you have a church who hold [sic] to an errant view of Scripture, meaning that God has allowed for errors in the Scriptures implying God is a God of error, that may be allowed according to the 1924 statement of faith, but excluded by the 2017. Would the current position be in the BU that churches that hold to an errant view of Scripture would be included in the BU?” This was answered in terms of the need for this very discussion on the assembly floor.
In many ways, this question is the at heart of the issue. Where does a BU church stand in relation to another BU church if they differ significantly on the doctrine of Scripture? This in turn begs the question, “What is the basis of church unity?” To which I would respond with, “Jesus, as revealed in Scripture by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, a clear definition of Scripture is the substrata to unity.
But, what’s wrong with the 1924’s definition of Scripture? Nothing is wrong with it. It’s an excellent statement – it’s just not sufficient. That is, “the battle for the Bible” as it was known, arose in the 1950’s after the formulation of the 1924, and therefore answers not a word, when asked pointedly, “1924, is Scripture without error?” If it vouches to say anything at all, it answers with a loud voice, “It’s inspired, it’s supreme, it’s authoritative.” “Thank you for your answer, 1924, but that was not the question. The question is, is the Bible without error?” And there’s the problem. And every church and all the members of that church cannot collectively and formally answer the question, “Where do you (plural) stand on the subject of whether the Bible contains errors in it?” Or the question, “Is Genesis just a story?” Or “Did Adam and Eve really walk this earth and fall into sin by being deceived by a snake as it is recorded in Genesis 3?” Collectively, every church can only say what they have agreed to say collectively.
But, its worse than that, for every potential pastor coming into the Baptist Union can only be assessed formally against the 1924, as it is the only statement that the Baptist Union has agreed to as its doctrinal stance and by which it measures the answers of those who apply for ministry recognition. But wait, you say, didn’t we collectively affirm a statement on Scripture in 1990, which states that Scripture, “is wholly reliable, trustworthy and true, without any mixture of error” (see here for a full description of this). Indeed, we did, but it is not clear whether this is an official statement of the Baptist Union as it has never been added as an addendum to the 1924, as it was originally proposed. Moreover, just because the Baptist Union may stand by that, every church has its own statement on Scripture by which it stands. What, by the way, does your one say?
So what now? Confusion. A lack of clarity as to where the Baptist Union of churches really stand. Uncertainty as to why pastors and churches will not or cannot affirm a clear, honest and contemporary statement on Scripture. And a greater uncertainty as to whether those that have, can twin with those who haven’t or those that won’t and which is it, haven’t or won’t? And another year of wait until the conversation is taken up again, possibly.