FMB penned SBC’s first Traditional confession*

by Marty Comer, pastor
Sand Ridge Baptist Church
Lexington, Tenn.

Founded in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted no confession of faith for it’s first 80 years. Obviously, Southern Baptists during that 80-year period held beliefs that were similar to their neighbors, and there was a body of shared beliefs among Baptists in the South. What were some of those shared beliefs? Were they much like what traditional Southern Baptists believe today?

Baptists have always considered themselves “a people of the book.” The Bible has been our standard for faith and practice. This simple biblicism has led Southern Baptists through the decades, when confronted with a doctrinal question, to ask, “What does the Bible say?”

Five years before Southern Baptists adopted their first confession of faith in 1925, the Foreign Mission  Board, in 1920, adopted a statement of faith. Leon McBeth provided a great service to Southern Baptists by including it in his A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (pages 485-487).

It is interesting to read this early expression of beliefs commonly held among, and preached by Southern Baptists. Frankly, it reads like a doctrinal statement that could by adopted by Traditional Southern Baptists today. It consists of 13 articles, which those who were appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) were to believe and preach.

Article 1 concerns the Holy Scriptures and describes them as “written by men who were divinely inspired” and states that they are “a sufficient and final authority in all matters of religious faith and practice.” This certainly follows the historic Baptist view of the Bible as being the authority for Southern Baptist beliefs.

Article 2 outlines the Baptist view that there is “one, and only one living and true God” and includes a clear statement about the Trinity, saying that God “is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This article is anchored in the historic, orthodox position Baptists hold regarding the Trinity. Baptists are trinitarian. This is expressed in our preaching, our teaching, our music, our evangelism, and in all things we do.

Article 3 makes clear that early 20th century Baptists believed in the “virgin birth, the deity, vicarious death, the bodily resurrection, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” These they confess are “plainly taught in the Scriptures.” One must remember that in the early 20th century there were vicious attacks on traditional views of Jesus’ life and ministry. Many mainline Protestant groups were moving away from belief in the virgin  birth, bodily resurrection, and the vicarious death of Christ and toward a liberal view that these were not necessary beliefs.

German theologians were teaching that Christ didn’t really die, that his resurrection was a spiritual, not literal resurrection, etc. Baptists were having none of that and clearly proclaimed their belief in the historic, orthodox views of Christ and His work.

Article 4 outlined their anthropology, or beliefs about man. These early Baptist viewed man in his natural state as depraved and without true holiness. The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message gave a more clear pronouncement on this (and several other articles) when it said that man “was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.” There is nothing in the 1920 statement to indicate one should interpret something into their statement that would contradict the 1925 pronouncement.

Article 5 stated that “salvation is wholly of grace through Jesus Christ.”

Article 6 is interesting because it expresses a belief in the savability of any person. It states “that on condition of personal repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ any man can receive the forgiveness of sin and salvation unto eternal life (emphasis added).”

This is a striking statement. It seems clear that the leaders of the Foreign Mission Board in 1920 believed clearly and without wavering that “any man can receive” Christ and be saved. Today, there is a debate in the Southern Baptist Convention about whether “any man can receive the forgiveness of sin and salvation unto eternal life” or whether only those who are chosen before the foundation of the world (the elect) can receive forgiveness and be saved.

There is a new network being developed among Southern Baptists called CONNECT316. You can find out about this network at www.connect316.net.  This group of like-minded Southern Baptists hold beliefs that are in harmony with those expressed by the Foreign Mission Board in the 1920 statement. Here is a summary of beliefs:

1. God desires all to be saved and has made a way of salvation in Christ for any person.
2. Fallen man inherits a sinful nature but is condemned only because of his own sin.
3. The substitutionary atonement of Christ is effective and available for every person.
4. God’s grace takes all the initiative in saving souls. Man’s free response is not a work.
5. Any who repent and believe are regenerated in that moment, not before or apart from it.?
6. In election, God saves His people without predetermining their souls for heaven or hell.
7. God’s sovereign omniscience does not mean He causes human decisions about Jesus.
8. God gives to each person actual free will to accept or reject His call to salvation.
9. When one is saved, God promises to complete the process, sealing their eternal fate.?
10. As we share God’s love, the gospel is the means of bringing any person to Christ.

You can easily see the historic kinship among the beliefs of CONNECT316 Baptists and those Baptists who in 1920 when you read Article 7 of the 1920 statement and compare it with the CONNECT316 beliefs outlined above.

Article 7 says “that regeneration is necessary to spiritual life in Christ, and that this change is effected by the direct action of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of each individual who exercises personal faith in Christ (emphasis added).”

The 1920 Baptists believed that regeneration occurs when “personal faith in Christ” is exercised by the individual. CONNECT316 Baptists believe the same thing: “Any who repent and believe are regenerated in that moment, not before or apart from it.”

In other words, the 1920 Foreign Mission Board type of Baptists and the 2013 CONNECT316 type of Baptists both believe that regeneration occurs at the moment a person repents from sin and places faith in Christ.

This may seem like theological hair-splitting to some, but there is a debate raging today concerning regeneration. Many in the Calvinist camp teach that regeneration occurs before faith is exercised. They say that a person does not confess faith in Christ to be saved (or regenerated), but they confess faith in Christ because they have already been saved (or regenerated). In this system, a person can be saved (or regenerated) before their confession of Christ is made. In other words, it is possible for a person to be saved and not know it. Regeneration can occur and then at a later point a person will confess faith in Christ, but they have already been regenerated.

There are brilliant theologians who can express these ideas far more clearly than I. My point is simply to say that in 1920, Southern Baptists on the Foreign Mission Board believed that any person can be saved and that regeneration occurred when a person repented of sin and exercised faith in Christ. And in 2013, there is a sizable majority of Southern Baptists (as expressed in the CONNECT316 network) who still believe those same things.

You might want to check out what traditional Southern Baptist believe by going to www.connect316.net.

In the current climate in the SBC, those who hold to what are commonly called traditional Baptist beliefs about salvation and related matters will find friends at CONNECT316. And if you want to know if you stand on the same principles as millions of Southern Baptists in the past, get a copy of McBeth’s A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage and read about the 1920 Foreign Mission Board statement. You will find that you are not alone in your traditional Baptist beliefs.
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*Ed’s. Note: SBCToday wrote the title to this article as reflective of Pastor Comer’s first sentence: “Founded in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted no confession of faith for it’s first 80 years.” However, since posting the article, we have opted to clarify the title by adding “Traditional” since this characerization more accurately reflects the article’s content. Any impression that the FMB’s was the first of any confession, or that it was an SBC-wide confession, is unintended. We recognize as historical SBC confessions only the permutations of the BFM, and we recognize and endorse the BFM 2K as the SBC’s latest statement of faith.