Which Baptists Actually Believe the Bible?


by Bruce Gourley





            Prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church refused to allow laity to read the Bible, believing that laity were incapable of understanding the text, and were susceptible to heresy if they tried to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.  Baptists were birthed in opposition to this belief, daring to declare that not only was God’s intention that everyone read the Bible, but that no one and no creed could tell the individual what he or she must believe.  Reading and interpreting the Bible was a matter between the individual and the Holy Spirit working in that individual’s life to help the believer understand the text and apply it to his or her life.  This is called the “Priesthood of all Believers,” a biblical concept found in 1 Peter 2:4-9.  Clergy and laity have equal access to the Bible and are equally empowered by God to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

            However, by the end of 20th century, fundamentalist Southern Baptists arose to power within the Southern Baptist Convention.  The new fundamentalist SBC leadership rejected their Baptist heritage, instead turning to the Roman Catholic Church model of a controlled-access, censured Bible.  In 1988, fundamentalists succeeded at the annual convention meeting in passing a resolution redefining the “Priesthood of all Believers” as coming under the authority of the believer’s pastor.  As in the Catholic Church of centuries ago, believers in the pews were told that they could no longer think for themselves when it came to the Bible, because if they tried to understand the Bible apart from their pastor’s directives, they might fall into heresy.

            The fundamentalist leadership of the SBC was obviously afraid of the laity reading the Bible for themselves.  However, it soon became apparent that the fundamentalists were also afraid of the Bible itself!

            Al Mohler, president of president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, succinctly summarized fundamentalists’ fear of the Bible when he pronounced that the SBC’s new Holman Christian Standard Bible was a “translation we can control.”[1]  To the fundamentalist leaders of the SBC, the Bible is only acceptable if they can control it to further their ends:  in terms of translation, interpretation, and application. 

The betrayal of Baptist heritage, suppression of access to the Bible, and newfound allegiance to the Roman Catholic model has found full expression in the passage and enforcement of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.  With the passage of the BF&M 2000 at the annual SBC meeting that year, the Southern Baptist Convention fundamentalist leadership finally had a document they could put their trust in.  This new “instrument of doctrinal accountability,” written largely by a handful of fundamentalist mega-church pastors, seminary presidents and their wives, and other fundamentalist elites, was designed to solve the fundamentalists’ problem of not trusting the laity or the Bible.

Let’s listen to fundamentalist leaders describe how belief in the Baptist Faith and Message is more important than belief in the Bible:

“It is not enough to believe every word of the Bible,” according to Jim Richards, executive director of the fundamentalist Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.  “To say that we have no creeds is to say that we have no beliefs.”[2]

Reiterating the primacy of the BF&M 2000 (rather than the Bible) as the “instrument of doctrinal accountability” for the Southern Baptist Convention, Convention President Jack Graham declared, “No one should serve Southern Baptists without accountability” to the document.[3]

Arguing that the BF&M 2000 is the only proper way for Baptists to approach the Bible, Al Mohler declared of the document, “On these truths we take our stand and we will not give an inch.”[4]

Lost in fundamentalist’s insistence on placing the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 above the Bible is the very centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the author and director of one’s faith.  Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that the supremacy of the BF&M 2000 is necessary because otherwise believers could freely use the "experience of Jesus as the criterion by which we judge the biblical text."[5]  God forbid that just any ol’ Baptist would dare to make Jesus the author and sustainer of his or her faith!

            As these quotes reveal, the fundamentalist leadership is afraid of you, your Bible and Jesus working freely in your life.  They believe that they alone hold the key to understanding the Bible.  In order for you to understand the Bible, you must promise not to question their beliefs spelled out in their “instrument of doctrinal accountability.”  Otherwise, you are automatically suspected of being a heretic.  If you can’t affirm the BF&M 2000, you have no right to consider yourself a “Bible-believer.”

            The Roman Catholic Church of centuries ago would be proud of today’s fundamentalist SBC leadership.  Back then,“heretics” who dared to read and interpret the Bible for themselves were put to death by the Church.  But today you have a choice:  you can choose to bow in submission to the creeds of men which have supplanted the Bible and restricted Jesus, or you can choose to put your trust in the Bible itself and your faith in Jesus Christ. 

            Your Baptist forefathers faced the same choices.  They chose the Bible over creeds, even when it meant physical persecution.

            What will you choose today?




[1]  Michael Foust, “Mohler, Draper: TNIV Controversy Makes HCSB Translation even more Important.”  Baptist Press, June 12, 2002.  http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=13580

[2]   Mark Wingfield, “It’s ‘Not Enough’ to Believe Every Word of the Bible, SBTC Leader Says.”  Baptist Standard, April 8, 2002.  http://www.baptiststandard.com/2002/4_8/pages/sbtc.html

[3]   Marv Knox, “Graham Discusses the Future of SBC & Texas Baptists.”  Baptist Standard, June 17, 2002.  http://www.baptiststandard.com/2002/6_17/pages/graham.html

[4]   “Quotable Quotes.”  Baptist Standard, June 18, 2001.  http://www.baptiststandard.com/2001/6_18/pages/sbc_quotes.html

[5]   Mark Wingfield, “Faith Statement Not Creedal, Hemphill Says.”  Baptist Standard, February 26, 2001.  http://www.baptiststandard.com/2001/2_26/pages/hemphill.html