A Historical Introduction to the Baptist Faith and Message

R. Dwain Minor   -  

I may be taking on too much for one Wednesday Night, but I hope to tell a story that works to introduce the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. It’s a story that takes us from Baptist beginnings all the way to today, and I just don’t know if I have the time. The information I am passing on today comes from various places, but much of it is from Dr. Wilsey’s lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and “Still Confessing” by Daniel Scheiderer. There’s also a good amount of information that I have just picked up along the way. It’s a lot. So, we will see how far this story takes us tonight.

As Southern Baptists, we should understand that we are part of a wonderful and rich tradition. And our beliefs fit within that wonderful and rich Christian tradition.

Now, today is going to be rather history oriented. We will discuss a few passages of Scripture, but we will lay the groundwork for the Baptist Faith and Message. We have to talk history because part of what we believe as Southern Baptists comes directly from our experience as a persecuted minority in Europe and in America.

Creeds and Confessions

I would love to live in a world where everybody looked at their Bible and understood it to teach the same thing. And no one dishonestly tried to make it say something it didn’t. But that is not the world we live in, nor is it the world we have ever lived in. And so, the existence of creeds and confessions are important.

Confessions arose throughout the history of the Church as errors rose. We discussed a few of these during one of the sermons on 1 John. Here are a few examples.

Arius taught that Jesus was a created being who was not equal with the Father. This became known as Arianism and it was a teaching that ran rampant throughout churches in the 4th Century. The result of this, after many years of labor by Athanasius, was the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And of all things visible and invisible.


And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

The only-begotten Son of God,

Begotten of the Father before all worlds,

God of God,

Light of Light,

Very God of Very God,

Begotten, not made,

Being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made;

Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,

And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,

And was made man,

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried,

And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures,

And ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.

And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead,

Whose kingdom shall have no end.


And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

The Lord and Giver of Life,

Who proceedeth from the Father,

Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,

Who spoke by the prophets.

And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.

And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Think about what this did for the Church at that time, and even up to today. The error helped to bring the Church together and clarify what Scripture taught. This was not the only time that this clarification occurred. It happened over and over.

This boiled down clarification is what you get in a creedal statement, or as we call it, a confession. And that is what the Baptist Faith and Message is. It is a boiled down clarification of what we believe. Churches within the Southern Baptist Convention adhere to that statement. The seminaries agree to teach future pastors in accordance with the Confession. The mission boards agree to send people out who adhere to that Confession and to teach those both here and abroad in accordance with that Confession.

How Did We Get Here?

Baptists, as we understand the term today was part of a movement within the Protestant Reformation. The Church had gone astray in many ways and the Reformation had brought the Church back to its Apostolic Roots. The traditional start date for the Protestant Reformation is October 31, 1517. It was on that day that the German Monk, Martin Luther, nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Chappell looking for a scholarly debate on those topics. That list was translated into German, many people think it was his students, and spread abroad. And, well, nothing would ever be the same again.

A good summary of the teaching of the Reformation can be summed up in the 5 Solas. This summarizes quite well the difference between Protestants and Rome.

  • Sola Scriptura-Scripture Alone
  • Sola Fide-Faith Alone
  • Sola Gratia-Grace Alone
  • Solus Christus-Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria-To the glory of God Alone

The Reformers were not creating new doctrines to be believed, but committing themselves to go to the source, “ad fontes”, was oftentimes the cry. They were going back to the Apostolic teaching and interacting with the writings of the Early Church. They set aside the novel teachings of Rome and took up the ancient faith that delivered to us by the Apostles.

And here comes the Baptists.

At this point, I should say that it is important for us to look at our history as Baptists. And the reason is that our belief statement holds within it both our belief in what Scripture teaches and our beliefs that came out of our experience. In fact, the main reason that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says what it does about Religious Freedom is based on the experience of past Baptists.

Baptists are named Baptists because we believe in believer’s baptism. Those Baptists that came after the Reformers were rejecting infant baptism. So, why did they reject infant baptism?

The reason is simple. Over and over baptism is directly related to conversion. That is, people repent, believe, and are baptized. They are not baptized many years before they repent and believe.

We see this in passages like Acts 2,

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

This is of utmost importance because of the central role that baptism plays in the Christian life. It’s portrayal of what Christ accomplished for us should not be given wrongly. Therefore, for Baptists, this was worth splitting over. Those who didn’t agree believed this to be a dangerous error. Therefore, they persecuted Baptists in an attempt to rid the world of this belief.

Southern Baptists really emerge from two different groups. The Anabaptists began in the 1600’s. Their name means “rebaptisers”. And, they faced intense persecution in which they would be baptized a third time, or drowned. The other group came from out of the Church of England in the 1700’s.

John Smith and Thomas Helwyst became the first separatists from the Church of England and the congregation faced severe persecution and had to flee to Holland.  The first known Baptist church was started in Holland in 1608 where John Smith baptized himself and led most of the followers to join the church and they agreed. Today we would look at the beliefs and practices of this church and call it a Minnonite church. A few of the Baptists went back to England and started the Baptist movement in England. This was led by Thomas Helwyst. They were “General Baptists”. Their views are pretty similar to that of the Freewill Baptists today.

In 1638 a more influential group of Baptists left the Church of England as they rejected infant baptism and embraced the practice of believer’s baptism. These were called “Particular Baptists”. They grew quickly and became the Baptist viewpoint in England. It was they who crafted the 1689 London Baptist Confession. And when they moved to America, from England, they modified chapters 23 and 31 and called it the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. The only changes had to do with singing hymns and laying on of hands upon baptized believers.

The Baptists in America were persecuted and not seen in any sort of favorable light. In New England, the established Church was Congregational. They used the Savoy Declaration, which was a version of the Westminster Confession of Faith put together for churches who believed the same excepting that they were a congregational model and not Presbyterian. And in the Virginia Colonies the established Church was the Church of England. So, in both places they received a lot of persecution. And, as we will see in the coming weeks. This is the reason that our statement of faith says what it does about government and religious liberty.

Baptists In America

For a long time Baptists in America existed as a persecuted minority. That is rather difficult for us to wrap our minds around today, considering how many Baptists churches there are around here, but it is true. The Baptists in the South came from the North looking for respite from persecution.

There is evidence that there were Baptists among the earliest colonists, but no Baptists were organizing. There simply weren’t many of them. So, between 1639-1700 there were 14 Baptist Churches established. Between 1700-1740 there were 29 more established.

The Baptist presence in the south was due to persecution. There was a Baptist church in Kittery Maine that was governed by Massachusetts. It was organized in 1682. The Puritans had established church as they saw fit, and as mentioned above they were congregational. They were completely free from the Church of England. And Baptists were persecuted there because they did not agree with the Puritan view of Church order.

By 1696 many Baptists had fled from Maine to Charleston and the first Baptist church in Charleston was established there. The Church in Kittery Maine, which was established in 1682 was reorganized in Charleston in 1696.

In 1651 Massachusetts authorities arrested three Baptists and fined them. They were John Clark, who was the pastor of Newport Baptist Church, John Crandall, who was a lay leader, and Obadiah Holmes who was a Baptist preacher. Since Obadiah Holmes both preached and baptized, he received the largest fines. Holmes refused to pay these fines due to his conscience not allowing it and he was whipped 30 times. It is said that this whipping removed all of the skin from his back, though he claimed it felt as if he were being beaten with roses due to the grace of God.

In 1668 William Turner and John Farnham were arrested for holding Baptist Church services in Boston.

In 1679 several other Baptist leaders were arrested for holding church services in Boston.

William Screvin was fined and imprisoned for holding Baptist church services and rejecting infant baptism in 1682. It was he, who organized the Baptists in Kittery after a year of preaching and witnessing in the area. And he was arrested again for preaching and holding church services that were not in accordance with the practice of Massachusetts and rejecting infant baptism. That is when the church began buying property in Charleston, where they would eventually reorganize. That church is now First Baptist Church of Charleston and is called by some “The Mother Church of the Southern Baptists”.

Baptists Begin Working Together

As a Southern Baptist, I have always seen the SBC working together for missionary endeavors. What I didn’t realize until studying it, was that Southern Baptists came together because of missionary endeavors.

Five young men convinced the Congregationalists to organize America’s first Mission Board. It was called The American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions. This was greatly influenced by The Baptist Mission Society. William Carey and Andrew Fuller, which are names that you should know, were a big part of that work from England.

In 1812 The American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions sent the five young pastors to Asia. On the way there, Adoniram Judson, who had begun studying baptism before leaving the harbor, became convinced while translating the Bible from Greek that baptism meant “immerse” and not sprinkle. To which I say, I agree. He concluded after months of study that the Baptist way was the right way and he could not work for the American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions because they required the baptism of infants, or whole households. Judson’s wife tried to convince him not to become a Baptist, and so did Luther Rice, but it was to no avail. So, though they made it to India they had lost their missionary support from the Congregationalists.

The decision was made that they would work continue to work in Asia. So, they sent Luther Rice back to the US to organize support for the work in Asia. He travelled all over the US, visiting Baptists. While in Savannah Georgia, Pastor William B. Johnson talked him into attempting to organize all Baptists in Philadelphia to create a Mission Board.

In 1814 delegates from 33 churches organized the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions. This named was, thankfully, shortened to the Triennial Convention that met every three years. 9 out of the 33 delegates were from southern churches. Richard Furman was the first president. He was the pastor of the Charleston South Carolina Baptist Church. Adoniram Judson was appointed their missionary. Luther Rice was not appointed  a missionary, to his disappointment, but was told that he was of far more value to raise funds for the missionary cause.

The Southern Baptist Convention was created in 1845. Until then Northern and Southern Baptist Churches met together for the work of missions. They did not ever actually disfellowship with each other. They separated because they did not believe they could cooperate together. So, in a technical sense this was not a schism but a reorganization.

The split happened over slavery in the 1840’s. Slavery was the reason that Baptists in the north and the south could not cooperate. Some of the leaders of the home and foreign mission boards were in the north and had helped organize abolitionist meetings in the North. Georgia Baptists seem to have wanted to stir the pot and see where things stood in 1844. They claim it was a test to see if they could work together. Whatever the motivation, they nominated Pastor James Reeves as a home missionary. He was a slaveholder and intended to take one slave with him. The board refused to consider him. Officially the board had stated it would be neutral, but this put them in a position where neutrality could not be had. If they chose to send him as a missionary it would seem they advocated for slavery. If they chose to not send him, it would seem that they were against slavery.

In Alabama something similar was done with the Foreign mission board in the same year when Basil Manly wrote resolutions that were adopted by his local association. It was a request for them to clarify their position. The main question put forward was this, “Do slaveholders who have given liberally to the board have the same rights as non-slave holders?” The board responded by saying, “If anyone should offer himself as a missionary, having slaves, and will insist on retaining them as his property, we could not appoint him. One thing is certain we can never be a party to any arrangement that would imply approval of slavery.”

Southerners took these actions as a statement that the two could not cooperate with one another. And so, in May of 1845 the Southern Baptist Convention was created.

Now, here is what I have to say about this. The SBC’s stance on slavery at its founding was evil and it still is evil and the SBC has admitted as such and apologized for its racist past in a 1995 resolution. But the purpose of the SBC was good. That stated purpose was, “Organizing a plan for eliciting, directing, and combining the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel.” Though they had compromised culturally, their commitment to missions and evangelism were admirable and is still at the center of SBC life today.

Baptist Faith And Message

Baptist Churches in the North succumbed rather quickly to theological liberalism. Many of them no longer believed that Scripture was without error. Many began to deny the resurrection….among other things. The Southern Baptist Convention by and large held to the Philadelphia Confession mentioned earlier, or some variation of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. But the churches did not have a confession. And there was some variation among them.

In 1859 it was decided that the SBC would create their own seminary. It was established in Greenville South Carolina and would later move to Louisville, Kentucky. It was named The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The founding faculty crafted the Abstract of Principles, which was a very condensed version of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Though some held to the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, the Abstract of Principles functioned as a quasi belief statement for the SBC until 1925.

In 1925 the Baptist Faith and Message was written. This was the result of a desire to reunite with Baptists worldwide. There was some cooperation, but it ultimately failed. The northern churches had drifted and so there was a storm of controversy concerning this confession. But, the confession itself worked to solidify the beliefs of Southern Baptists and helped to maintain clarity of doctrine in a time when there was much drifting away from the Apostolic Faith.

In 1963 there was much controversy concerning what was being taught in the Southern Baptist seminaries. The Message of Genesis by Ralph Elliott was at the center of the discussion. He taught that the first eleven chapters of Genesis were not historical accounts. He was a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. These views were being taught at a Southern Baptist Seminary and funded by Cooperative Program money and being printed the SBC’s own Broadman Press. It was decided that there would be a study of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message to determine what to do next. They would craft a statement that adhered to what the Southern Baptists Convention believed in that day, which was by and large conservative. But Baptists adhered less to the 1689 London Baptist Confession and so the Baptist Faith and Message was adapted. Controversy over The Message of Genesis arose in the 1962 meeting and the Sunday School board stopped printing it. Though the 1963 BFM was a conservative document, wiggle room was given for the many liberal professors within the denomination.

The drift toward liberalism continued on. But Conservatives were able to hold a revolution of sorts in the 1970’s – 1990’s that culminated in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Conservatives had been unable to affect change for a long time. And this dissatisfaction led to a grassroots movement that would change the denomination.

By the 1970’s it was rare to find SBC leadership that was not liberal or very tolerant of liberalism. Shockingly, the Seminaries were filled with liberal faculty members who were very well hidden by their Seminary Presidents. It was in the 1970’s that the churches realized there was a problem.

Conservatives within the SBC began establishing alternative organizations and seminaries. The Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship came together and created a newspaper to discuss their concern. Luther Rice Seminary, Criswell College, and Mid America Baptist Seminary were created.

The President of Criswell Bible College, Paige Patterson, and Texas Apellate Court Judge Paul Pressler came together and made a plan to turn the convention around. The Liberalism that ran rampant in the SBC claimed that the Bible was true spiritually but not literally true. Paul Pressler found that they could elect a conservative president who could elect people for the Committee on Committees that would be conservative and commit to nominating only conservatives for every SBC Institution. If you fast-forward to today…it worked. They advertised this mode of change by phone and by travel and Adrian Rogers was elected as President through this grassroots campaign. And this initiated the changes in the denomination. Every year support would be rounded up for a conservative president and every year a conservative president would appoint conservative committee on committee members who elected conservatives board of trustees who appointed only conservatives.

In 2000 the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 was adopted. In 1963 the BFM had been changed to give a little wiggle room for liberals. The phrases that gave them wiggle room were taken out and there was a strong affirmation of God’s Word in the new statement of faith. And language that clarified gender roles, marriage, and family were added.

R. Dwain Minor