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BF&M takes center stage at SBC
June 26, 2007
By Michael Foust

More than 8,500 messengers gathered June 12-13 for the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. BP photo

Southern Baptists meeting in San Antonio June 12-13 re-elected Frank Page as president, focused on a call for repentance and passed a motion identifying the Baptist Faith and Message as the denomination's "only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs" while saying it's not a creed but a guide.

With more than 8,600 messengers in attendance, it was the first annual meeting held in San Antonio since 1988.

The pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., Page was elected unopposed, one year after he surprised many observers by being elected on the first ballot in a three-man race. Page this year used his first presidential address June 12 to say the denomination must repent of its "hubris" and "arrogance" in order to hope for revival.

"For 30 years we've been trying to raise baptism levels among non-revived churches among non-revived people who've lost their passion for the lost," said Page, adding he was paraphrasing longtime evangelism professor Roy Fish. "But interestingly enough, we've become strangely passionate about our own agendas.... 'Why am I not as deeply passionate about the lost?'

"... I have seen a factionalism that deeply disturbs me, and I have asked Baptists across this land, 'Although we have ... significant differences, would you take my hand and work with me in the winning of the lost to Jesus and the winning of this world to Christ?'"

The following day, messengers unanimously passed a resolution calling on Southern Baptists to "humble ourselves in individual and corporate repentance" and urging the denomination "to embrace a spirit of repentance, pursue face-to-face reconciliation where necessary, and enter into a time of fasting and prayer for the lost."

California pastor Rob Zinn preached the convention sermon and delivered a similar message, saying, "We are a denomination that talks a lot and does little when it comes to evangelism." Addressing the topic of dismal baptism numbers within the SBC despite lofty goals, Zinn said, "Our attitudes stink." The denomination, he added, must be willing to change its methodology while staying true to the Gospel message.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned BF&M-related motion dominated conversation about business matters both on and off the floor. With a vote of 57.7 percent to 42.2 percent, messengers adopted the following statement: "The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention."

For at least some, the statement was open to interpretation. Page gave his viewpoint at his press conference.

"I do think that what is happening is an attempt by many people and I do not know if it's a majority to say that the pendulum has swung far enough," he said, adding there was "a day and time when the BF&M was an extreme document to some and now it's almost like it's being seen as more moderating, a moderating influence.

"I do believe we've gone far enough and that the Baptist Faith and Message is enough and I encourage entities not to go beyond that in their doctrinal parameters. I think that's what many people are saying. The current issues that have evoked this discussion are different than the conservative-moderate issues of the past. There are issues within ... the family of conservative theology, and there are many people that are arguing various secondary and tertiary issues that are still within the framework of inerrantism or an extreme conservative viewpoint. So I don't think it's the same issue that we've had in the past."

One reporter asked Page if he was saying that "when the BF&M is silent on a subject" that an entity "should not take action in any way that goes beyond the BF&M."

"No, that's not what I said," Page said. "I said in doctrinal parameters I think they need to be very careful in moving past them. We do respect the trustee system and if they do, they do have that right. I simply said I urge them not to go beyond doctrinal parameters. There are multitudes of issues that trustees have to deal with as regarding personnel, regarding issues of all kinds that may not be directly doctrinal at all."

In other matters:

Messengers adopted an official definition of the Cooperative Program, saying CP "is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries." The definition came from a recommendation from the executive committee and passed overwhelmingly.

Messengers passed a resolution condemning child sexual abuse, saying Southern Baptists "express our deep level of moral outrage and concern at any instance of child victimization" and that "we implore Southern Baptist churches to utilize materials from LifeWay Christian Resources and state conventions and other relevant research that help churches prevent child abuse." Messengers also passed a global warming resolution centered on concern for the poor, urging "Southern Baptists to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." It also says "Christians are called by God to exercise caring stewardship and dominion over the earth and environment"

Chuck Colson addressed the SBC Pastors' Conference, urging pastors to engage the culture. He pointed to twin threats in the world: a battle over absolute threat and a battle against radical Islam. "I can't imagine any time in history when you would look around as a Christian and see a world that is filled with more danger than the world in which we live today," he said.

Messengers approved a reallocation of Cooperative Program dollars previously allotted to GuideStone Financial Resources. The new allocation, recommended by the Executive Committee, will increase the allocation for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1.49 percent to 1.65 percent for the 2007-08 budget year, resulting in a net increase of $320,962. The approved recommendation also will increase executive committee funds from 3.32 percent to 3.40 for the expressed purpose of providing funds for the stewardship ministry recently assigned to the executive committee, resulting in a net increase of $160,480 in 2007-08.

Additionally, a one-time distribution of $347,710 will go to each of the convention's three smaller seminaries: Southeastern, Midwestern and Golden Gate Baptist theological seminaries. For the 2008-09 budget year, the same recommendation called for the ERLC's allocation to continue at 1.65 percent and the executive committee's portion to stay at 3.40 percent. The remaining .52 percent of GuideStone's .76 percent allocation would be included in the overall seminary allocation, resulting in an increase from 21.40 percent to 21.92 percent for the foreseeable future. Guidestone earlier this year announced it no longer needed CP funding and was releasing its portion for use by other entities.

Next year's meeting will be June 10-11 in Indianapolis, Ind. (BP)

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