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Alabama Baptists react to Baptist Faith and Messagecomment (0)

June 22, 2014


Discussions revolving around the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) dominated the concern of the 11,918 messengers at the recent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.

Of the 799 Alabama Baptist messengers attending the meeting in Orlando, Fla., June 13-14, several noted thoughts on the BF&M.

Bill O’Brien, retired director of the Global Mission Center at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, said, “This convention reinforced the reality of an acceleration and intensification of the remaking of the [SBC] as a top-down movement.

“One leader alluded to the proposed [BF&M] document as the last step in the reformation of the denomination,” he said. “While the document has powerful implications for future agency employees and missionaries, it remains to be seen what the fallout will be for local churches. Hopefully, it will force many churches and their members to revisit what Baptist beliefs and our heritage are all about, so that we cannot be swayed and shaken by a combination of eloquence and intimidation.”

Jim McCain, pastor of Ruhama Baptist Church, Birmingham, agreed with the possibility of a top-down movement.

Anxious feeling

“The frightening thing to me is that we seem to have moved beyond the point of no return in a top-down rather than a bottom-up denomination policy,” he said. “God help us.”

Still, “in the midst of great diversity there is also great unity,” McCain and his wife, Diane, noted. “The things that unite us are still our cooperative ventures.”

Roger Willmore, pastor of First Baptist, Weaver, also noted a unified spirit during the convention.

“To me this convention was not characterized by controversy,” Willmore said. “That is not to say all messengers agreed on every item of business. ... There is a difference in unity and uniformity. I observed that our convention (denomination) is attempting to stay in touch with the world in which we live and at the same time maintain doctrinal and biblical integrity.” 

Willmore explained he initially had questions about the proposed changes to the BF&M. “However, after listening carefully to the proposed amendments and concerns expressed by various messengers and then hearing the response by the [BF&M] study committee, my questions were answered and my concerns were removed,” he noted.

Accurate reflection

“I believe the newly adopted [BF&M] is a good document and fairly represents the beliefs of Southern Baptists. I am pleased that once again we, as Southern Baptists, have clearly established our view of Scripture,” Willmore said.

Charles F. Hobson Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, Wetumpka, applauded the committee for “including in its revision an explicit statement on soul competency and the priesthood of the believer.”

Robert Paul, pastor of First Baptist, Elba, described his reaction to the new statement as “emotional trauma” and “emptiness.”

“Since my first [SBC annual meeting] in 1990 I have tried to ride the fence of my own understanding of theology and Baptist polity and my emotional commitments to being Southern Baptist,” Paul said. “The past 11 years have been relatively peaceful. I could fellowship with like-minded Baptists and still participate in Southern Baptist life. The fence was comfortable.”

But Paul said his fence was torn down and replaced with a line in the sand. “It seems to me that we have in the past used our confessions to draw a circle to include as many Baptists as possible,” he noted. “Not anymore. One member of the [BF&M] committee made it ... clear that there are now narrow limits to what a Baptist can believe.”

Jim Clayton, a member of Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer, said he was grateful for “the strong affirmation vote given to the leadership and study committee on the [BF&M] that will carry us into the new millennium. We are a people of the Book unembarrassed to take a stand.”

Gary Hollingsworth, pastor of First Baptist Church, Trussville, said, “I was somewhat surprised by the disagreements over the revision of the [BF&M]. It was refreshing to see those who spoke in opposition to certain points still be so supportive of many other aspects of the convention.”

Hollingsworth, along with Herman Pair, associate pastor of First, Oneonta, and Robert F. Blackburn, an associate pastor of Southside Baptist, Huntsville, also noted a respectful nature among messengers.

“Generally speaking the messengers and leaders were considerate and kind to one another — even in debate,” Pair said.

Blackburn said, “Despite some minor opposition to the BF&M committee’s report, I appreciated the conduct of the participants and those in leadership. ... I was impressed with the ... fair and sensitive manner the (issue) was handled.”

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