The Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) decided it was time to clamp down on the doctrinal disposition of their committee and board members. Trusting them to live godly lives and be active in their local churches suddenly isn’t good enough. At the annual meeting held at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova this week, messengers voted convincingly to add a question about the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message to the questionaire sent out to all prospective committee and board members. The rationale behind this effort was to weed out some Tennessee Baptists who may not be entirely supportive of the SBC. Apparently, this is a concern for folks who believe there should be unequivocal agreement with the direction and position of the SBC.
Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, favored a motion asking nominees for leadership positions to let it be known how they feel about the faith statement. He doesn’t want persons on the Executive Committee making decisions about the Cooperative program if they aren’t totally support of those funds being used by the SBC (Ironically, Sutton’s church designates funds to the SBC, thus bypassing the state convention). Another pastor questioned the constitutionality of the motion because the TBC hadn’t officially taken a position on the 2000 BFM. Parliamentarians ruled that the motion was in order because it meant that only a question about the BFM was being added rather than being required for service. Bill Sherman, messenger from FBC Fairview expressed the minority viewpoint but significant nonetheless: “You’re placing the BFM above the Word of God, and I don’t think any word of man is better than the Word of God.” He offered a substitute motion to put affirmation of the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice rather than the BFM. It was soundly defeated.
I was wondering when this sort of thing was coming to Tennessee, and am not surprised by it at all. This action will cause some consternation among those currently serving on these boards and committees, especially if they are Baptist enough to share Sherman’s sentiment. It will bring about a question of conscience among good Baptists who support the work of the state convention but are at odds with the SBC. Although not officially requiring support of the 2000 BFM, the motion passed at Bellevue will pretty much eliminate those who have problems with this document that has caused a lot of division in only six short years. Many of these denominational servants have given their time, money, and talents to the state convention for a much longer period than that. I hope this is a wake up call.
The time has come that persons who want to included as leaders in the state convention have to endorse the 2000 BFM. Now I know that’s not how the motion is written, but this is its intent nonetheless. This is certainly within the rights of the TBC as an automous body on its own. The state convention can set its own guidelines and parameters for participation. I’m expecting that in the not so distant future that the TBC will take a cue from their Missouri Baptist brethren and kick out the churches who aren’t exclusively connected to the TBC and SBC. In the meantime, the TBC will keep on taking money from Tennessee Baptist churches but that doesn’t mean members from those churches will be considered for committees and boards. Anyway, this is further evidence that the BFM is a creed. Nothing wrong with a creed necessarily, unless you happen to be Baptist. It is a statement of doctrinal accountability (see its preamble), and those who want to keep on serving on boards and committees in the TBC will have to bow down to it.
I’m being a little sarcastic about all this because this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. This time it is happening closer to home. Personally, this action isn’t going to affect me because I’ve never been a candidate for anything going on with the state convention and don’t want to be. However, there are people in our church who still support the TBC and its ministries but may have problems with this recent action. I think the vote taken this week will cause some dedicated TBC leaders to take a serious look at where the state convention is going and whether or not their participation is still welcomed. I suspect there are many in the minority who have been holding on to the convention because there is still good work going on and they want to focus on ministry rather than the mess. We’ll see how long that lasts.
The Kingdom of God is a lot bigger than any state or national convention. Tennessee Baptists who hold on the Bible but not the current denominational direction need not be afraid. It will be an emotional epiphany for some who thought the narrowing doctrinal parameters would never come to this state. I believe that this action will have a positive impact. It will awaken some slumbering traditional Baptists who felt like they were always welcome at the TBC. They’ll have to decide what to do and how much to compromise in order to stay on board. I hope they’ll count their losses and move on to see where else God is at work. Other traditional Baptists, such as myself, will be reminded that Baptist principles and distinctives are as important now as they were as George W. Truett’s day. It is still good to be Baptist.
The real news out of Bellevue this week is that the Bible isn’t good enough, at least for the TBC. The 2000 BFM got more votes than the Bible. After this week, it’s not enough to affirm the Word of God as the sole authority for faith and practice. Sherman tried in vain with that idea. It used to be that being known as a “people of the book” was good enough to work and fellowship together. You can’t be trusted to serve on a committee or board now unless your doctrinal card has been stamped “2000 BFM approved.”
I’m heading into Thanksgiving with another reason to be grateful. I serve a great church where the folks know what being a Baptist is about and we do our best to keep the main thing the main thing. No one can tell us what to do. We take the Bible seriously and choose ways to best carry out the Great Commission in our community and beyond. That little song I learned in Vacation Bible School stills rings true: “The B-I-B-L-E, now that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”