Friday, September 10, 2010

CBFNC and Priesthood of the Believer

I have been away from blogging for a while due to being consumed with a long-term writing project. However, I want to return to blogging momentarily to comment on the proposed efforts of CBFNC to revise its foundational statement. In 2007, CBFNC appointed a committee to start the process of revision. The current statement is included here:

The committee has been at work for a several years now and has produced this revision:

Two other Baptist bloggers, Aaron Weaver and Tony Cartledge have each written blogs about this effort and their posts are very insightful and detailed as to the differences, etc. Those blogs can be found here:

I share two concerns about this proposed document. First, I have some questions about including the Apostles Creed (although, curiously, it is not named). While I don't have any difficulty with the Apostles Creed personally, I find it interesting that a group of Baptists who consider themselves to be non-creedal would include a creed in their foundational document. I wonder if the text could be referenced, as the document does with the Baptist confessions that it mentions. But, I question whether the text of the Creed ought to be included and it is unusual for a Baptist confession to include the text of an ancient creed (The Orthodox Creed of 1678 notwithstanding).

Second, and more troubling, I have big problems with leaving out all references to priesthood of the believer, liberty of conscience, etc. This concept is at the very center of the Baptist tradition from my understanding of the primary sources which I have read. It is not some invented concept that Enlightenment-era American Baptists developed. It is the very heart of the tradition from John Smyth to the present. It is clear. Sometimes it is stated more blatantly than at other times. But, it is a thread that runs through all types of Baptists for 4 centuries of our history. It is seen in confessions of faith, writings of Baptist theologians and preachers, documents produced by local churches, and most importantly, the actions of Baptists as they have sought to live and give expression to their faith. How can you talk about salvation in the Baptist experience without starting with a sinner standing alone in fear and trembling before a holy God? What use is it to discuss religious liberty without first starting with an individual conscience opposed to the majority? How can you think of a democratically-run congregation without first starting with an individual conscience? And why encourage discussion in a Sunday School class unless we trust every individual to read the Bible privately and to interpret it as they see fit under the leadership of the Holy Spirit? These are not trivial matters. This is the very core of our tradition as Baptists.

The proposed CBFNC foundational statement needs a robust statement of this concept included. At the very least, they should bring the statement on priesthood of the believer which is in the current foundational statement into the revised version. Perhaps a good compromise would be to bring from the former document the entire section titled, “Our Principles,” which contains statements on the “Centrality and Authority of Scripture,” “Priesthood of All Believers,” “Autonomy of the Local Church,” and “Freedom of Religion.” The document is terribly lacking if something resembling this is not included somewhere. Without it, CBFNC will be saying to the world that we are something very different than what we have been.

The first Southern Baptist Convention meeting I attended as a pastor was in 1988 in San Antonio. I was also a Ph.D student at Baylor and had an interest in Baptist history. I recall the feeling of shock that I and thousands of other Moderates felt as we heard read and then saw passed the infamous resolution on the priesthood of the believer. I remember Randall Lolley’s protest as he led several others to the Alamo where they ceremonially burned their voting ballots in response to this egregiously terrible resolution. The ironic thing now 22 years later is that CBFNC is in danger of doing the same thing that the Fundamentalists did in 1988 to this cherished doctrine. The only difference is that at least the Fundamentalists left the terminology. The committee which has produced this revised document has not even done that!

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