Amending the Baptist Faith & Message Shouldn’t Be This Easy

In yesterday’s post about what happened at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I mentioned that messengers voted to amend our doctrinal statement, The Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). For me, this was perhaps the most stunning and slightly terrifying things that happened at our annual meeting. What do I mean by that?

I agree with the changes theologically but I don’t agree with what we did procedurally. All it takes is a motion and a simple majority vote to amend the BF&M. There is no way that it should be that easy to change our entire denomination’s doctrinal basis. Our SBC seminaries and mission boards already must subscribe to the BF&M, and it is a big deal for our entities institutionally and legally whenever we change the BF&M. Also, since 2015, the SBC has been moving toward making the BF&M binding on our church cooperation as well. As Trevin Wax points out, we shouldn’t unsettle the BF&M at the same time we are making it a requirement for cooperation.

This process must be fixed, and it needs to be fixed pronto. Amending our constitution requires a two-thirds vote over two successive conventions. We should have the same requirement for amending the BF&M as well. So here’s a suggestion on how we might do this. Two steps:

1. We all agree together unofficially to have a moratorium on making amendments to the BF&M until we can get this process fixed in our governing documents.

2. In Indianapolis as the first order of business, the EC should propose and the convention should adopt a bylaw change that all proposed amendments to the BF&M be automatically referred to the Executive Committee for review and that any amendment to the BF&M requires a 2/3 vote over two successive annual meetings. We might also require by rule that any changes to BF&M come as a recommendation from a study committee.

I’m not proposing this as the final solution. I’m proposing this as the kind of solution that we need for the EC to be working on as quickly as possible and to have ready before next year’s convention. I suspect that this is a point that can unite Southern Baptists, and that we might all agree together on the unofficial moratorium.

The good news about the recent amendment is that it wasn’t a substantive change to the BF&M. The change merely amplifies what the BF&M already means concerning the office of pastor—that the office of “pastor” is the same thing as the office of “elder/overseer.” We can be thankful that the amendment was benign and even helpful in that sense.

Nevertheless, the change has exposed a weakness in our process, and we should address that weakness post haste.