Southern Baptist Table Manners & Majority Practice

Who has better table manners? That question once again comes to the forefront in Southern Baptist life following the release of a recent survey on Lord’s Supper practices among SBC churches conducted by Lifeway, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. While some found the survey results to be surprising, my own observation is that these results reveal what many believed to have been the practice among a majority of our churches, notwithstanding the Baptist Faith and Message. However, before you answer my question, you might want to give it some thought. Just to be fair, it is a trick question. You see, Southern Baptists’ confession of faith — unlike a creed — does not require any cooperating church to do anything that it does not want to do.

The BF&M is not binding on any church. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention messengers — meeting in annual session — are free to refuse to seat messengers from a particular church which fails to abide by certain doctrinal beliefs. Churches who have affirmed homosexuality or who have called women to serve as senior pastors would fall into that category. Apart from these areas, I would be surprised if any church was disfellowshipped from the SBC for failing to follow the “letter of the law” when it comes to partaking of the Lord’s Supper. I’m sure to the consternation of many within the leadership class of the Convention (see Baptist Press’ posting of a previously published article on the Lord’s Supper which failed to include a reflection from anyone arguing for the majority position of modified open communion), the Lifeway survey in question revealed that a clear majority (57%) of Southern Baptist churches surveyed practice either open or modified open communion.

According to the survey, the majority of churches open the Lord’s Supper or Communion to “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ” (52%) or “to anyone who wants to participate (5%).” Only 35% of survey respondents limited participation in the Lord’s Supper to “anyone who has been baptized as a believer.” However, it was not clear from the BP article whether or not “baptism” was defined in a specifically Baptistic way (i.e., “believer’s baptism by immersion”) or whether “baptism” could also include believers who had been baptized by non-immersion modes (i.e., sprinkling or pouring).

The results would seem to be at odds with the language of the Baptist Faith & Message on this point:

VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

If one were to abide by a literal reading of the BF&M at this point, there would be little doubt that those churches which allow any believer — regardless of their baptism status — or anyone — regardless of their salvation status — to partake of the Lord’s Supper would be running afoul of Southern Baptists’ adopted confessional statement. For the record, the church I pastor practices a modified, open communion which invites “anyone who is born-again and has placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” to partake. Am I violating the language of the Baptist Faith and Message with my practice? Perhaps, although I could try to make a lawyerly argument which would try to get around the language. But, I don’t even have to make that argument.

You see, the Baptist Faith & Message is a man-made, fallible document. While it can be used as a guide, it can never replace the infallible Scriptures as our final authority for our faith and for putting our faith into practice. In fact, the Preamble to both the 1963 and 2000 versions of the BF&M clearly states this most Baptistic principle:

(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

It would appear, at least according this one Lifeway survey, that a majority of Southern Baptist churches have chosen to ignore the guide provided by the Baptist Faith and Message and have instead chosen to follow the advice of the BF&M committees (1963 & 2000) by relying upon the sole authority for faith and practice — the Scriptures — in instituting their Lord’s Supper practices. While I do not think that Article VII of the BF&M enjoys majority support, neither would I move to amend what it says. I think that we can generally agree on a confession of faith without trying to dictate to autonomous churches how they should practice the Lord’s Supper. If that were the case, then at least one prominent church — with an equally prominent pastor — would need to come under censure, for I’m pretty sure the fence around the Lord’s Supper table was quite low when my son and I took communion there this past February.

What does this survey mean for Southern Baptist faith and practice? In the whole scheme of things, not much. Of course, there are always those in our midst — identifying as Southern Baptists — who have no real understanding of cherished Baptist principles such as autonomy of the local church. For every issue, some folks would like to use the Baptist Faith and Message as a creed with which to ensure doctrinal conformity instead of as a confession to encourage cooperation and fellowship. To some of those folks, I would say, “Be careful what you ask for.” If you want to use the BF&M in such a way, then we can always look at the churches — perhaps your churches — which have strayed from the clear language of the article immediately preceding the one on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In case you’re wondering, it’s the one which limits the Scriptural officers to “pastors and deacons.” I’m all for grace, but I still have a little law — and a little fight — left in me!


Comments

Southern Baptist Table Manners & Majority Practice — 30 Comments

    • Bart,

      Hope you are doing well. It would depend on how we are defining our terms. My understanding of open communion is the one practiced by only 5% of the survey respondents, that being “anyone who wants to participate” can partake. A modified, open communion, which is what 52% of the respondents practice — and the one I practice at the church I pastor — that being “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.” I suppose we would have to make sure that we are using the same language when describing our practices, but the majority position is not close or closed communion. Therefore, I would argue that the majority position is some type of modified, open communion whereby a person’s baptismal status (i.e., never baptized or baptized in a mode or manner not consistent with Southern Baptist belief) does not preclude them from observing the Lord’s Supper. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

    • David,

      As I was writing, that was in the back of my mind, but not really the main point that I wanted to tackle in this particular blog post. I do think you bring up an excellent point for further discussion. Are you aware of the BF&M, as it relates to Baptism and Lord’s Supper practice, being used to deny employment within any of our SBC entities? Can a person have any differences in practice that deviate from the language of BF&M and still be employed? I don’t know the answer to the first, but the answer to the second is obvious. That’s why I used the example of “pastors and deacons” — as opposed to “elders” — in my concluding paragraph. If we want to use the BF&M in such a way to deny employment or trustee positions to those who do not fully subscribe to the BF&M, then we need to make sure that we are using it in a consistent and fair manner. By that, I mean that we need to make sure that every employee or trustee is in lockstep, 100% agreement with every article of the Baptist Faith & Message, not just the ones that some like to cherry pick. I would love for you to let me know what your answer is regarding the Lord’s Supper practice and employment within our entities. That would make for a good follow-up post on this subject. Thanks for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

      • Howell,

        I do not have any direct data with regard to the answer to your question. I suppose we would have to ask those responsible for doing the hiring. Perhaps someone like CB Scott has some info on this. I, like you, would be very interested to hear the answer to this question. I do know that my signing the BF&M with a caveat on this particular point was not ultimately enforced as demanding resignation from the IMB (before I resigned for other, non-related, reasons), though some who had discrepancies with other points were asked to resign. My guess is that the seminaries (and more particularly, some of the seminaries) may be more strict with regard to this point.

  1. “Sit! On my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
    How has He accomplished His promise to the Lord?
    “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.”
    Them? The Jews? Not at all. Gentiles , Baptist!
    For you have exchanged the truth of God, by disregarding the fact that the crucifixion of God’s only begotten son is the sin of murder caused by bloodshed, into something to be CELEBRATED!
    And therefore by participation in the Lord’s table upon that discernment of the Lord’s body you made yourselves GUILTY of the body and the blood of the Lord. The Lord’s table only sits in the presence of his enemies, “For thou preparest a table before Me in the presence of Mine enemies.” Because you people approve of the Lord’s death as good, and something to be celebrated, by wrongly assuming his death to be in place of your’s, you stumble over the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus is an accountable sin caused by bloodshed and is not the direct benefit of his death in place of your’s. For a man to save himself he must have the faith to confess directly to God that he is truly sorry Jesus lost his life by bloodshed when he was crucified and be baptized into this Way or he perishes.
    There are no exceptions.
    “And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Jesus.

  2. The BF&M is a sufficient guide for cooperation between sister churches of a “like-minded” Baptist understanding of theology and missions.

    On the other hand, when our entities are hiring an employee or the trustees of the various agencies, boards, and institutions are accepting a trustee nomination, there should be no allowances whatsoever for signing the BF&M with caveats.

    If I am going to be paid with Southern Baptist money, or serve as a watchman to a Southern Baptist entity, I should be willing to abide by the adopted confessions of faith of the SBC. If I cannot do that, I should not seek employment with an SBC entity or accept a nomination as a trustee to a SEC entity.

    • CB,

      Good morning! I had just finished posting a reply to David Rogers before I saw your comment. I would not necessarily disagree with your “no caveat” approach. However, if we are going to use the BF&M in that way, then we need to make sure that every article and every point within each article is not only subscribed to by entity employees and trustees, but that they also practice what they have subscribed to. If we are going to use the BF&M in this way (which I don’t necessary disagree with), then it needs to be consistently and fairly applied across the board. I can already think of several issues within the Baptist Faith & Message — namely those who are serving in churches which go beyond the allowed “pastors and deacons” — that should resign henceforth from their positions (some quite lofty). Look forward to the dialogue on this with you and others. God bless,

      Howell

      • Due to our ecclesiology (BTW, a baptistic ecclesiology is closer to the NT than any other in human existence at the present.) we cannot demand sister churches to abide by all of the BF&M. Therefore, we see the BF&M as a sufficient guide for cooperation and nothing more.

        Yet, since our entities are not local churches, but rather they are entities of the “convention of churches” known as the SBC, and we have set polity and practice for employees and trustees to abide by in their personal conduct, we can and most definitely should demand a “no caveat” policy for those who receive their livelihood from the treasury of the SBC.

        • CB,

          Do you not agree that this (e.g. hiring policies of entities) would make more sense if the stated position of the BF&M and the beliefs and practices of the churches of the SBC actually coincided?

          • No. The cooperation between local churches is not the same as the employment of individuals by the SBC.

            There are no two local churches within the SBC that are exactly the same. Remember the book we both read in our early training: “Rope of Sand, Strength of Steel”? As sister churches, we are of a far more “lax” relationship as sister churches than are relationships of employment within the various entities of the SBC.

        • CB,

          Thanks for the reply. Just to be clear, do you advocate that all entity employees or trustees subscribe to AND practice everything in their ministry and churches in accordance with the clear and unabmiguous language of each and every artilce and point found within the BF&M? If so, then we have a problem at at least one of our seminaries (perhaps more) and probably some of our other entities which have allowed employees and trustees to serve when they are in violation of the clear language of Article VI, which allows only “pastors and deacons” as officers of the church. Under the 1963 and 2000 versions of the BF&M, elders are not considered one of the allowed Biblical offices. Some will try to argue that “elders” is a term which is the same as pastor.

          While I would not necessarily disagree with that argument, I would make the argument that the language was changed from the 1925 BF&M — which allowed for “bishops, or elders, and deacons.” Since this language was changed to only allow for “pastors and deacons,” churches which employ any type of elder system would run afoul of the BF&M and should similarly be disqualified from serving as employees or trustees of our entities. I do not want to go that far, but I do believe we need to used the BF&M in a consistent and fair way without cherry picking which doctrines we will enforce and which we will let slide. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

          • Howell,

            When we speak to the issue of employees and trustees in their” ministry.” we must give attention to what we mean by “ministry.” (Sounds a little “Clintonish” does it not? ;-) )

            As employees of the SBC each individual should adhere to the directives of the entity as approved by the convention.

            As members of ministers of local churches, each person (employees of the SBC entities) should adhere to the prescribed and accepted practices of the local church to which they belong as members or serve as vocational ministers.

            I realize that “sounds” somewhat strange, but how else can we a ministers and employees maintain the biblical directive to do all things decently and in order?

          • CB,

            I think I understand where you are comeing from even if you are employing former Southern Baptist statesman Bill Clinton in your argument ;-) That being said, I’m still not sure that you have answered my question, although perhaps I did not phrase it correctly. Do you believe that the BF&M should be applied consistently and fairly, requiring employees and/or trustees of our entities to subscribe to and practice every jot and tittle of the BF&M without caveats? If that is your position, then I believe we (the SBC entities) are woefully deficient in applying such a standard. Again, there are entity heads who not only belong to churches which practice elder rule, but who would subscribe that this is acceptable. By the clear language and statutory history of the BF&M, elders are allowed as officers of the church anymore than women are. I am being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I could make that argument if need be. Thanks and God bless,

            Howell

          • Howell,

            In no way do I doubt that some employees of the SBC, regardless of the position they hold, are in violation of the “letter of the law” of the BF&M. Some are even in violation of the “spirit” of BF&M as well.

            Again, I attribute some of this to our unique and biblical ecclesiology. Our ecclesiology is well suited for the Church in its manifestations as local churches. However, it is sometimes not so well suited for the operation of Southern Baptist entities, for they are, in no way, local churches.

          • CB,

            Been out of pocket today in El Paso with hospital visits. I think you are right about the limitations of our eccesialogy for use within our entities. I do find it interesting that there are some who are trying force a close/closed communion on churches. Of course, they can’t force in the sense of mandate, but they can apply pressure. My contention is that the BF&M is not always applied consistently or fairly when it comes to doctrinal conformity. There are severa articles that come to mind which either are reinterpreted to weaken their affect or ignored altogether. I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored whether or not one has a problem with how the Baptist Faith and Message is being applied. Thanks and God bless,

            Howell

          • Howell,

            Since you have brought up the subject of oxen, I have an observation I would like to share with you.

            During my years of personal involvement in the SBC political structure, I have found that several people own a “pet ox.” Rarely ever have I found a person who is willing to sacrifice their personal pet ox for a community B-B-Q.

            It seems that everyone who owns a pet ox feels that someone else who owns a pet ox should sacrifice theirs. However, everyone who owns a pet ox feels that they should get a chief seat at the B-B-Q and instruct the chef how to cook the ox.

          • CB,

            What an astute observation. I would tend to agree with you about what happens within the political structure of the SBC. I still find it amazing that some people fail to see (either naively or willingly) that politics is alive and well in the Southern Baptist Convention. Always has been, always will be. Thanks and God bless,

            Howell

  3. CB,

    It sounds like you may be missing my point here, which I probably didn’t express very well.

    I agree with you that the standard for adherence to the BF&M ought to more strict for entities than for individual churches. Churches are autonomous. Entities are not. However, I think the reason entities ought to require a stricter standard of adherence is because they are representing the convention as a whole, and not each individual congregation separately. They should, thus, represent what the majority of the convention believes or wishes to enforce, since it is impossible to represent what each individual congregation believes or wishes to enforce. The problem is when the written statement of belief does not actually coincide with with the majority believes. In other words, in our current situation, there is an anomaly in the system. The system, in theory, is good. The anomaly in the system is not. Do you not believe there should be a way for dealing equitably with the anomaly in the system?

    • David,

      I did understand the point. I think maybe I did not answer in a complete manner.

      Let me take issue with your statement here and maybe as we go we will come to clarity as to what each of us are intending in our comments.

      I think herein lies one problem we have and maybe have always had as Southern Baptists. You stated:

      “The problem is when the written statement of belief does not actually coincide with with the majority believes.”

      The written “statement of belief” will always reflect that which was approved by the majority during SBC is session. It is impossible for any document of the SBC to reflect in a complete manner “with what the majority believes.”

      Therefore, it is my position that employees should (must) adhere to the directives which the SBC has given approval while in session. Otherwise, how shall any competent supervision or governance of employees of the SBC be enforced or evaluated by the convention as a whole?

  4. CB,

    I can appreciate what you say here. It is consistent and coherent. Would you not also agree, though, if this is the case, that a discrepancy between what the majority of SBC churches believe and practice and what the BF&M states (and mandates for denominational entities) is an anomaly crying out for resolution?

    I see a correlation here with the original thinking behind the Conservative Resurgence. SBC entities were liberal. The grassroots of the SBC was not. It required proper observance of protocol, but something needed to be done to bring the SBC in its official stances and practices in line with the convictions of the grassroots. The Lifeway study appears to indicate that, in this case, the grassroots of the SBC does not believe in or practice close/closed communion.

    • David,

      I think you have brought to light something has always been a difficulty for Southern Baptists. it seems to me that we, as Southern Baptists, have always been an “anomaly crying out for resolution.”

      I believe that this is one reason it took near three decades for us to come to an “almost final” with the CR.

      Our ecclesiology (again, I believe ours is the most biblical) bring us a hard road to follow when it comes to conformity related to theology, polity, and practice as a people trying to the best of our human ability to maintain integrity as “a people of the Book.”

      • Forgive my typo errors today.

        That should have been: “I believe that this is one reason it took near three decades for us to come to an “almost final” ‘resolution’ with the CR.

  5. CB:

    You said:”The BF&M is a sufficient guide for cooperation between sister churches of a “like-minded” Baptist understanding of theology and missions.

    On the other hand, when our entities are hiring an employee or the trustees of the various agencies, boards, and institutions are accepting a trustee nomination, there should be no allowances whatsoever for signing the BF&M with caveats.

    If I am going to be paid with Southern Baptist money, or serve as a watchman to a Southern Baptist entity, I should be willing to abide by the adopted confessions of faith of the SBC. If I cannot do that, I should not seek employment with an SBC entity or accept a nomination as a trustee to a SEC entity.”

    I strongly disagree with your approach. You, sir have turned the 2000 BF&M into a FUNDAMENTALIST CREED!! But you are consistent in not allowing anyone “like you” to serve in the SBC.

    Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler would be proud of your “position”

    It is truly sad what this one document has done to the SBC.

    • Tom Parker,

      Your liberalism is bleeding through because, obviously, your wounds from being soundly beaten during the CR are still open. We owe you no apology. Had your ilk defeated us, the SBC would now be the property of Methodists and sodomites. We were/are right and you were/are wrong. Period. End of story.

      We did not turn the BF&M into a creed of any kind. I, personally, am not a Fundamentalist, but I do adhere to the fundamentals of the faith.

      I would hope Judge Pressler and Dr. Patterson would agree with my position. If they do not, they are, as are you, in error.

      The “document” as you call it has done nothing to the SBC to harm it. “The BF&M is a tool and is as good or as bad as the men who use it.” (I borrowed that line from my “credo” about handguns. I hope you liked it. :-) )

  6. Hey, Just to throw a wrench in the convo….what about the BFM and those who write curriculum or advise on curriculum? James MacDonald wrote an article: Congregationalism is from Satan” and he was an advisor on the Gospel Project. There are other examples of such.

    Do we get around this because they are not specifically SBC even though we “employed” them to consult on a project? How far do we take this when it comes to our entities?

    • Lydia,

      I think you have excellent points. If our entities are going to use the BF&M for doctrinal accountability, then they need to use it consistently and fairly across the board, not just cherry picking certain issues. I have used the “pastors and deacons” vs. “elders” language in the 1963 and 2000 BF&M as the most obvious issue apart from the Lord’s Supper which is being ignored. Lifeway, perhaps more than any other entity, could have problems when it comes to those it employs (either as employees or consultants) for its curriculum and other areas. Your last question is the pertinent one. How far are some willing to take this argument? We shall see. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

    • Tom Parker,

      Allow me to ask you a question or two. Does the college wherein you are an instructor have a policy and procedure manual for employees? Does there exist guidelines to which you are expected to prescribe in order to maintain your teaching position in the institution?

      Tom Parker, the answer to both questions is yes? Why do you adhere to the mandates of behavior and operations as directed? because the institution pays you to perform your duties according to their standards, right? Of course that is right.

      Tom Parker, those of us who work for entities of the SBC should abide by the structured mandates for employment. If we cannot do so in good conscience, we should resign or not take the position in the first place. (Not everybody is suited to work for a SBC entity, Tom Parker.)

      If we cannot abide by the mandates of the institution and refuse to resign on our own, we should be fired. It really is that simple. Tom Parker, it is no sin to fire people who refuse to maintain the integrity of the position to which they were hired to perform.

      So Tom Parker, I am OK with that.

      • Wow, CB you are a true–FUNDAMENTALIST!!! You and those like you stole a wonderful and loving denomination and turned it into something I do not even recognize. I know you lose no sleep over the folks you hurt by this mischief. But don’t worry, you and the other FUNDAMENTALIST can have the SBC and myself and others will if we haven’t already find some other place to call home.

        BTW your comparison of a procedural manual for community college to one of a Seminary or baptist entity is like comparing apples and oranges.

        BTW it is a sin to destroy the lives of other ministers as you and those that completed the TAKEOVER OF THE SBC did!!

        One final thought, by your thought processes you are not really a Baptist.

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