Christianity,  SBC

Should we add the Nicene Creed to our confession? Yes, but not like this.

There is a proposal on the table to amend the Baptist Faith & Message from the floor of the convention in Indianapolis next month. The measure specifically calls for adding the Nicene Creed to the end of the Baptist Faith & Message. While I fully affirm the Nicene Creed, I have concerns about this specific proposal and likely won’t vote in favor of it. Here’s why:

1. I think it is imprudent to amend the BF&M from the floor of the convention. It happened at last year’s convention, and I expressed my alarm about it at the time, even though I agreed with the amendment. 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. That doesn’t mean we should never amend it. It just means that we should have the appropriate amount of time and deliberation to do so. Also, since 2015, the SBC has made close identification with the BF&M binding on our church cooperation as well. It doesn’t promote stability in our cooperation if our confessional basis becomes a moving target. Indeed, the cooperation committee has proposed to amend our bylaws to prevent what happened last year from happening again. The cooperation group is right to make that proposal, and I am hoping their recommendation will garner unanimous approval from messengers.

2. A year ago, I suggested that it would be wise for Southern Baptists to 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. I still believe that to be the wisest course. Of course, messengers currently have a right to propose changes to the BF&M or to abolish it altogether. But can’t we all agree that just because one can do something, it doesn’t mean it’s wise to do that thing? In this case, I’m arguing that it would be unwise for messengers to keep changing the BF&M annually. Even if the changes are improvements, it creates problems for our institutions and friendly cooperation when it is undertaken so frequently and rapidly. So I would still say that a moratorium on amendments is the wisest course in the short term.

3. The objections I’ve raised so far are procedural and not substantive. What about the substance of the proposal? I love and affirm the Nicene Creed and would be eager for Southern Baptists to make it an official part of our confession. I am a pastor in a church where we confess together out loud every Sunday the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed before communion. For years, it has been a part of our weekly worship together, and it has had an enormous shaping influence on the congregation. I’ve seen the good that it has done in my own church, and I think it would do good in the other churches of the SBC as well. We need a robust trinitarianism in the SBC, and the Nicene Creed would only help us in that regard.

But here is my reluctance about this specific proposal. If we are going to do this, I would prefer that we adopt all three creeds—especially the Athanasian, which is by far the most rigorous of the three. Also, if we are going to do this, I would prefer that the creeds be incorporated in a way that fits into the ordinary structure of a doctrinal statement. Major statements on the doctrine of God shouldn’t be tacked onto the end like an afterthought. The doctrine of God always appears at the beginning of such statements, not at the end. Why would we adopt a proposal that makes our BF&M an outlier among Baptist confessions on this point?

Rather than inserting all three creeds into the BF&M, it might be wiser simply to add a sentence affirming all three Creeds. That sentence could appear in the preface or perhaps in the section on the doctrine of God. Perhaps something along the lines of, “God is a trinity, three in one, as confessed in the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.” If the messengers are interested in doing this at all (and they may not be), this approach would avoid potential controversy over English translations of the creeds. I, for one, don’t prefer the translation on offer in the current proposal. I’m probably not alone in that. 

Of course, what I am proposing would take more time and effort to craft, but that is precisely why we need to heed the advice of the cooperation group to ensure a robust process for revising the BF&M. While I agree substantively with the Nicene Creed and even with the changes we made last year, I do not want the process from last year to be our precedent. So I recommend holding off on any changes until we can get a more rigorous process in place. The BF&M and our cooperative efforts are too important for anything less.