I continue to read questionable interpretations surrounding Southern Baptists' consideration and adoption of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message.1 According to the minutes, the study committee was recommended by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and established at the 1962 convention:
Since the report of the Committee on Statement of Baptist Faith and Message was adopted in 1925, there have been various statements from time to time which have been made, but no over-all statement which might be helpful at this time as suggested in Section 2 of that report, or introductory statement which might be used as an interpretation of the 1925 statement.
We recommend, therefore, that the president of this Convention be requested to call a meeting of the men now serving as presidents of the various state conventions that would qualify as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention committee under Bylaw 18 to present to the Convention in Kansas City some similar statement which shall serve as information to the churches, and which may serve as guidelines to the various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is understood that any group or individuals may approach this committee to be of service. The expenses of this committee shall be borne by the Convention Operating Budget.2
And, according to then President of the Southern Baptist Convention and hence, by default, the new Chairman of the study committee, Dr. Herschel Hobbs, the first act of the first study committee meeting was to establish precisely what the committee understood was the convention's purpose for their establishment:
At its initial meeting the committee agreed that Convention action provided three alternatives: to write a new statement; to study and recommend reaffirmation of the 1925 statement; to present a revised form of the 1925 statement. Unanimously it was agreed to follow the third course.
Pursuing this course a study was made of the 1925 statement, not article by article, but word by word. There was never any disposition to hurry through the work. Each facet of belief and practice was given an open-minded and sympathetic hearing. The committee was conscious of the fact that its responsibility was to present a statement of faith for Southern Baptists, not simply for any single regional group of them3 (italics original)
Hence, according to the committee itself, its self-identified purpose was not to pen a new confession nor to recommend reaffirmation of a previous confession. Rather, according to the chair of the committee, the commission they received from the convention and thus the purpose they pursued was to present a revised form of the 1925 statement. And, indicative of examining the document thoroughly, Hobbs notes the committee committed to go through the document word by word.
Even so, by framing the committee's revisionary work as hopelessly shackled to a strict reading and reaffirmation of the 1925 confession, one blogger attempts to make the study committee's purpose precisely what the committee itself denied--a reaffirmation of the 1925 statement of faith. Joshua Breland writes:
The committee that revised the BFM1925 in 1963 did not intend to reject previous doctrines found in the 1925 edition of the BFM. What took place was a rewording for “clarity” or “emphasis” not doctrinal rejection and revision. This is detrimental to the notion that the Baptist Faith and Message 1963 was a doctrinal departure from the historic doctrines found in the BFM1925. The committee reports that they were affirming, not denying, the previous doctrinal statements found in the BFM1925, which included imputed guilt.
Afterward, Breland concluded "...the document itself [i.e. 1963 confession] simply does not allow for the reader to read the document as contrary to the 1925 edition."
In response, several things might be said. First, Breland imagines a purpose for the 1962-63 study committee neither implied nor stated by the convention or the committee itself. According to the convention minutes, Hobbs and the study committee were commissioned to present to the Convention in Kansas City some similar statement as the 1925 confession in order to serve as information to the churches and could serve as guidelines to the various SBC agencies. And, some similar statement to the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message cannot be reduced to no departure from the 1925 confession.4 The convention seems to have offered no guidelines whatsoever instructing the study committee to present a document neither deviating nor departing from the 1925 confession.
In fact, such strictures would not only fly in the face of an historic Baptist confessionalism5, it remains fundamentally contrary to the very preamble to the 1963 confession Breland cites. For example, Article 2 of the Preamble states:
(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time (1925 statement, repeated in the 1963 revision)
According to both the 1925 and 1963 statements, confessions should not be regarded as "complete" statements indicating any quality of "finality." How is the incompleteness and relativity of confessions indicated in the BF&M itself consistent with Breland's notion that one confession cannot depart from another confession but must be read strictly on the terms of the earlier confession? Instead Southern Baptists confess themselves free to revise their statements of faith.
What is more, the Hobbs committee added in the 1963 preamble, "Baptists are a people who profess a living faith…A living faith must experience a growing understanding of truth and must be continually interpreted and related to the needs of each new generation"6 (italics added). Reading confessions as if they are once-for-all depositories of biblical truth simply cannot be sustained by Baptists' historic understanding of confessions to be merely guides bearing no quality of finality whatsoever. The only finality we confess remains in the infallible Word of God.
Perhaps the most glaring overlook Breland committed in wrongly judging the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message as little more than a slightly polished reissue of the 1925 statement is his insistence on putting words in Herschel Hobbs' mouth pertaining to Article III. Man. In the chart below, observe the specific underlined phrases from which contention presently arises:
According to Breland, a surface reading of the 1963 statement makes it appear that "man is not born condemned and does not become condemned until actual transgression is committed" concluding that if that is so, then the 1963 edition "rejects the previous edition’s teaching on man and imputed guilt."7 But since, according to Breland, the Hobbs committee "did not intend to reject previous doctrines found in the 1925 edition of the BFM," the 1963 confession must therefore indicate "imputed guilt" precisely as did, in Breland's mind, the 1925 statement.
But why tacitly presume the 1963 "rejects" the understanding of the 1925 statement just because the language in the 1963 statement appears to conclude differently than the 1925 statement? Is it possible that it's but a surface reading of the 1925 statement of faith which produces Breland's conclusion that the Mullins committee meant the statement on condemnation to indicate the doctrine of imputed guilt? If the 1963 statement can bear a surface reading (what Breland calls a "first reading"), why can't the 1925 bear a surface reading? In short, why is it not just as feasible to presume the Hobbs committee was clarifying the 1925 statement not rejecting it?
Breland goes on to suggest the answer is "found in the preamble of the BFM1963." To the contrary, the answer is found in Hobbs himself.
In an article entitled Southern Baptists and Confessionalism: A Comparison of the Origins and Contents of the 1925 and 1963 Confessions,3 Dr. Hobbs offers commentary to almost all of the substantial changes to the 1925 statement of faith the committee presented to the 1963 Southern Baptist Convention. I limit my focus to Hobbs' explanation on changes to Article III. Fall of Man. Pay close attention to the embolden I've added:
The 1925 and 1963 statements on “Man” agree in substance, with certain additions in the latter. Both state that man was created by a special act of God. But instead of quoting Genesis 1:27; 2:7 the 1963 statement simply says that God created man “in his own image,” adding that man is “the crowning work of his [God’s] creation.” For “state of holiness” (1925) the 1963 statement reads “was innocent of sin” and “endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice.” It was by the exercise of his free choice that man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Both statements mention Satan’s temptation. Thus man fell: “from his original holiness and righteousness” (1925); “from his original state of innocence” (1963).
The 1963 committee chose “innocent” and “innocence” over “holiness” and “righteousness” with the conviction that they more fully agree with the Scriptures. For instance, in a state of innocence man could not be righteous until by his free choice he chose righteousness instead of unrighteousness. Thus the result of the fall is that men inherit, not “a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin” (1925), but a “nature and an environment inclined toward sin” (1963). In the latter “condemnation” comes upon individuals following transgression “as soon as they are capable of moral action.” This, of course, agrees with the position generally held by Baptists concerning God’s grace in cases of those under the age of accountability and the mentally incompetent. The 1963 statement adds that only by God’s grace can man be brought into holy fellowship with God and fulfil the creative purpose of God.8
According to Hobbs, the 1963 confession denies imputed sinful guilt and contrarily affirms inherited sinful nature. They even tied it clearly, according to Hobbs, to the "age of accountability" view generally held by Southern Baptists, a view which fundamentally presumes inherited sinful nature contrary to imputed sinful guilt.
Nor does this make the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message necessarily reject the confessional language of the 1925 statement. "Reject" is simply an inadequate term with which to frame the discussion of these confessions. Hobbs' committee sought clarity of doctrinal affirmation in the revisionary process not rejection or abandonment .
What is more, it remains argumentative to simply assume the 1925 statement definitively affirmed imputed sinful guilt in its statement on human depravity. Recall Hobbs was well aware of E.Y. Mullins' chief role in composing the 1925 statement. He also remained very much aware of and was decidedly in agreement with Mullins' denial of imputed sinful guilt. Mullins unequivocally stated:
“Men are not condemned therefore for hereditary or original sin. They are condemned only for their own sins. They are called to repentance and faith by the gospel. It is their own act of rejection which is the basis of their condemnation”9
Knowing Mullins did not subscribe to imputed Adamic guilt, why would Hobbs presume the 1925 statement suggested imputed sinful guilt, a teaching Mullins flat denied? It seems much more reasonable to assume that the Hobbs committee reformulated the earlier confession's language not to reject the affirmation of the 1925 article on human depravity but to clarify it. If this is the case, then, in a round-about way, Breland could be right about no real change ("rejection") between the 1925 and 1963 statements of faith. Of course, it would also mean that neither the 1963 nor 1925 statement of faith affirmed imputed sinful guilt with the 1963 statement only clarifing inherited sinful nature. But I suspect few, if any, strong Calvinists would draw water from this well.
Whatever the case, Dr. Herschel Hobbs, in his own words, sets the record straight. The so-called original sin we find in Scripture does not universally infect the human race as imputed sinful guilt because, as Augustine primordially taught, we all "sinned in Adam"; rather, according to the 1963 BF&M, human depravity universally affects Adam's progeny as an inherited sinful nature utterly inclined toward wickedness, depravity, and outright rebellion against God.
1Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1963, pp. 269-278
2Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1962, p. 64
3 Herchel H. Hobbs, Southern Baptists and Confessionalism: A Comparison of the Origins and Contents of the 1925 and 1963 Confessions, Review and Expositor Volume 76, 1 (Louisville, KY: Review and Expositor, 1979), 50-68 (all subsequent citations will be Origins followed by page number)
4nor am I necessarily arguing the 1963 departed from the 1925 at this point. All I'm suggesting is, neither the convention nor the committee appears to have placed this strict adherence qualification to the 1925 statement to guide their revisionary process as Breland insists
5for Baptists, confessions are dynamic documents not static documents. Another way of saying this is confessions describe what some Baptists have believed in the past; confessions do not prescribe what all Baptists must believe now
7in fact Breland himself admits that's precisely what he thought it said here and here. But as we shall see, Breland should have stuck with his original notion for it was closer to the actual truth than he now unfortunately is
9The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression, p. 302