A Progressive Theo-Political Blog Bringing You The Best and Worst of Baptist Life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Speaking To But Not For - Though Not In N. Carolina

Baptists have always claimed that one Baptist can not speak for other Baptists.

Thus, Baptists engaged in public policy have always operated by the following motto:

Speaking To But Not For

Baptists like James Dunn and Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee and Baptists like the late Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission have never presumed to be the official spokesmen of locally autonomous Baptist congregations. When testifying before legislative committees in Austin or Washington D.C., these Baptists have always been careful to point out that they speak only for themselves.

Hence, the motto "Speaking To But Not For"

No one Baptist speaks for another. The very distinctive that makes us Baptist is called ‘freedom of conscience,’ ‘soul freedom,’ ‘voluntarism’ or ‘the priesthood of the believer. Each of these expressions suggests that as individuals we stand free and therefore responsible before God for our own beliefs. Back in 1971, James Dunn summed up this baptistic idea:
No one group can be the conscience of Baptists. But because we care, we may stir the consciences of those who share a common calling in Jesus Christ. No one report can bring conviction concerning moral imperatives in a confused and confusing social order. Yet, God’s Holy Spirit can and does work through weak instruments to speak a prophetic word, to challenge injustice, to call for advance and to apply a biblical faith to all areas of life.
Unfortunately, the Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has decided to completely trash the historic Baptist belief that "No One Baptist Speaks For Another." Check out this story. A snippet below:
The Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs announced its intention to move from a committee that speaks "to" Baptists to a committee that engages policy makers in the public forum and speaks "for" Baptists.

Ron Varner, pastor of Falling Creek Baptist Church in Goldsboro, reported for the Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs and said he regretted that he is near the end of his term on the council, because "it's just starting to get good."

"We're talking about a shift from just talking 'to' North Carolina Baptists, to talking 'for' North Carolina Baptists in the public forum," he said.

Sadly, the Baptist ideal of The Unfettered Conscience is no more in North Carolina.

The state best known for its rich Genealogy of Dissent has indeed changed dramatically in recent decades.

Apparently the Council plans in the upcoming weeks to take various conservative political positions FOR North Carolina Baptists. The Council even plans to hold a public forum on "what Charles Spurgeon could teach 21st century Baptists on politics." I got $50 that says the forum will forget to mention that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the most vocal and influential British Baptist peacemakers of the nineteenth century...

typed by Alexis



Blogger Leland Bryant Ross said...

Yeah, and I bet they won't mention Spurgeon's position on tobacco and alcohol, either.


9:47 PM

Blogger Norman said...

Here is some further cogitation on the issue:

10:50 AM

Blogger Cat's Dad said...


You're all worked up over semantics. This can't be good for your recovery. ;)

Dunn, Walker, Strickland and Paynter may have been careful to claim that they speak only for themselves, but they'd never have had the podium before the legislative committees if it weren't for their positions with their agencies--agencies which bear the name "Baptist." Thus, they're presumed by the committees to be --and, for all practical purposes, are--speaking for the Baptists who employ them.

The motto doesn't apply to these instances when they're before public policy committees. Since the individuals aren't speaking to Baptists, they must be speaking to legislative committees for Baptists.

It sounds like the NC CCLPA just recognizes the reality of the situation.

As proof of what I'm saying, consider the Baptist blood-bath that arose over the BGCT's funding of the BJCPA. Would either side have expended all that energy if it felt like Dunn and Walker only spoke for themselves as individuals?

Baptist ideals will live on--even in NC.

Get well soon!

9:40 AM

Blogger D.R. said...


I believe the moderates and liberals have completely flipped soul competency on its head. B.H. Carroll's understanding of soul freedom, the forerunner of E.Y. Mullins "soul competency" was very different from what you guys assert today.

Recently I have been studying the historic understandings of soul freedom for a series I am doing for my church on the BF&M 2000. It seems that from an historical perspective soul freedom meant that one was "responsible" for their own beliefs, but never did it mean that one was "free" to believe what they wished in the local church (or even in the seminaries).

B.H. Carroll made this very clear when he set forth his definition of soul freedom and yet also demanded that those who taught at Southwestern Seminary not only sign, but affirm, in whole, their Statement of Faith.

Then on the subject of confessions (which Carroll ironically called "creeds"), he points out that:

The modern cry: 'Less creed and more liberty,' is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy — it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but nonetheless deadly.

So, it seems that Carroll, a critical figure in Baptist History seems to suggest that soul freedom cannot exist properly without accountability.

Having said that, let me actually address your post and your application of soul competency to this situation.

First, soul competency does not mean that one cannot speak for Baptists. Confessions were created specifically to speak for a group of Baptists. Leo McBeth in his History of Baptists explains that historically Baptist Confessions were created for one of two reasons - to bring two or more separate bodies together under one banner or doctrinal tent or for a smaller group of Baptists to separate from a larger group by outlining its differences.

So, in a way, Confessions themselves were statements that spoke for the Baptist group as a whole. Now, going back to B.H. Carroll, additionally about Confessions, he had this to say:

All the modern hue and cry against dogma [i.e., doctrine] is really against morals. The more we reduce the number of the creed articles, the more we undermine practical religion. . . . A Christian's creed should enlarge, and not diminish, up to the last utterance of revelation in order that each article might be transmitted into experience.

and further,

A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.

When we take these things into account we see that what the NC group is proposing to do is exactly what B.H. Carroll himself would endorse - to speak for Baptists on a wide range of topics - to widen our tent of agreement. The more we can agree on these sorts of ethical issues, the more impact we can have in public policy, something that William Wilberforce and John Newton understood as they sought English Christians to oppose slavery.

So, while you've seemed to simplify Baptist creed as "no one can speak FOR Baptists", you've also turned Baptist history on its head and forced the 20th century (at least since E.Y Mullins) to speak FOR 400 years of Baptists.

I don't know about other Baptist on here, but Aaron, you certainly don't speak FOR me in regards to soul competency and Baptist history.

11:58 AM

Blogger Cat's Dad said...


Very informative and enlightening. I'll be waiting to hear BDW's response.

Hobbs was also careful to point out, in his book The Baptist Faith and Message, that soul competency never meant that one could interpret scripture just any old way he wanted to, and still be Baptist.

But you would think otherwise if you listen to today's moderates and liberals.

7:44 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Cat's Dad,

Thanks, but I am not sure BDW has the time to respond. I know that if I wasn't in the midst of studying it, I wouldn't have time either.

As for Hobbs, another tidbit that I came across in my studies is that according to moderate/liberal scholar Jeff Pool, Hobbs advocated for the sentence "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ" to be included in the BF&M 1963 out of a desire to rebuke men like Ralph Elliot who asserted that Melchizadek was a priest of Baal and those who suggested that neither Jonah nor Adam were real, physical men. Hobbs' belief was that the insertion of this phrase would correct those who disagreed with Jesus on the Old Testament. But it was never meant to be used as a means of pitting Jesus against Paul or the OT writers.

And it certainly didn't give one license to say what Ron Sisk did in 2000: "Not all Scripture rises to the full level of Christ."

So attacks on the BF&M for taking out this sentence and replacing it with one that actually comes closer to Hobbs' original intent are quite ironic.

What I've found over and over again is that while history is often written by the winners, in the case of the SBC, it has been too often written by those now on the outside looking in.

12:54 PM


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