Baptists have strived to avoid doctrinal statements that “resembled a creed or statement of beliefs to which their people were forced to subscribe.” Confessions of faith were however at times solidified at the precipice of doctrinal dispute. The Baptist Faith and Messages doctrinal statements were written and revised on three occasions in the face of such discord. This paper seeks to identify that, while the three versions have significant differences in vocabulary to combat the cultural issues of the time, all three remain unchanged in their core message and remain cohesive with traditional Baptist teaching.
The evolution controversy in the early 20th century generated the need to react to the heresy by modifying the New Hampshire Confession of 1833 in a manner that reinstated Baptist faith by applying the same biblical principles amidst a changing culture. The Baptist Faith and Messages was thus created as a doctrinal statement of confession to affirm biblical beliefs without a creedal formula. A similar need arose to revise the BFM in 1963 in order to defend the entire Bible as the inspired Word of God in contrast to the Ralph H. Elliot controversy. The need for the 2000 version of the BFM arose in part due to the egalitarian view, which allowed females the same offices as men (such as elders and pastors), which Baptists have traditionally reserved for men alone.
The doctrinal statement of 1925, section XII, offers a basic overview that the church body of Christ are to be baptized, observe the ordinances, be governed by Christ’s laws, exercise the gifts, rights and privileges of the Word, and extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. The specific church offices are defined as: bishops or elders, and deacons. The doctrinal statement of 1963, section VI, additionally notes that the church is an autonomous and democratic, that the church body is governed by Christ, and as such, the members of the local congregation are thus equally responsible. The offices of pastors and deacons are specified and the redeemed in Christ of all ages are included as part of the church body. The doctrinal statement of 2000, section VI, expands even further that the office of pastor is reserved for men and that the redeemed of all ages includes believers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
All three doctrinal statements affirm that the church is to be comprised of baptized believers who share covenant faith and fellowship of the Gospel, in which the ordinances are to be observed. In the 1925 statement, the two ordinances are implied but are not stated, whereas the 1963 and 2000 statements specifically mention observation of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Governance by Christ’s laws is used in the 1925 and 2000 version, but the 1963 version rewords this instead to: believers being committed to Christ’s teachings. The meaning is of course the same, but the wording that Christ’s laws are to govern the believer is...