What Is The Baptist Faith & Message?

During the 2021 Annual Meeting of Missouri Baptists in Branson, Missouri, messengers adopted a resolution encouraging all Missouri Baptist pastors “to consistently provide instruction to their congregations on the content of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

The resolution cited general unfamiliarity with The Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). It also said agreement on the gospel and the core doctrines of our faith is essential both for unity and effective Great Commission work. Finally, the resolution noted that the BF&M 2000 is “the accepted guiding statement of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The missionary staff of the Missouri Baptist Convention offers the following study in support of this resolution. At the same time, we believe the confessional statements in the BF&M are vital, not only to Missouri Baptists, but to all Southern Baptists and our cooperative work of obeying the Great Commission. Our goal is to help pastors and other church leaders equip their members to understand the biblical truths that unite us as Southern Baptists. This is the first in a series of columns exploring the BF&M.

A confessional statement

Simply put, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is a statement of beliefs that Southern Baptists hold in common. These beliefs are expressed in eighteen articles of faith, ranging from The Scriptures (Article I) to The Family (Article XVIII). Copies of the BF&M 2000 are available for viewing and downloading online at bfm.sbc.net and in booklet form at Lifeway.com.

The BF&M is best described as a confession – a statement of how Southern Baptists understand Scripture and all it reveals about life and godliness. Put another way, the BF&M features valuable summaries of biblical doctrines.

From the earliest days of Christianity, followers of Jesus have valued the ability to articulate the gospel message simply and positively. As the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called and about which you have made a good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12, emphasis added).

We don’t consider the BF&M a creed because we don’t want to leave the impression it is somehow binding on Southern Baptists, or that it stands alongside, or above, Scripture. As Herschel Hobbs, who chaired the BF&M 1963 committee, writes, “Baptists have always shied away from anything that resembled a creed or a statement of beliefs to which their people were forced to subscribe.” 

Even so, confessional statements like the BF&M enjoy widespread acceptance by Southern Baptists, which, says Hobbs, “demonstrates that, despite their doctrinal differences here and there, they are a people united in their faith in the basic body of beliefs commonly held by Baptists.”

As the introduction to the BF&M 2000 states, “Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.”

The introduction continues: “Our confessions of faith are rooted in historical precedent, as the church in every age has been called upon to define and defend its beliefs. Each generation of Christians bears the responsibility of guarding the treasury of truth that has been entrusted to us [2 Timothy 1:14] …”

A contemporary response

Southern Baptists introduced the BF&M in 1925 in response to a growing trend of anti-supernaturalism, as well as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that began in the Northern Presbyterian Church and spread to other denominations. The BF&M was a revised edition of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which Baptists nationwide commonly employed.

In 1963, Southern Baptists replied to attacks on the authority and truthfulness of Scripture by adopting revisions to the BF&M. In 1969, Southern Baptists adopted a motion encouraging the agencies, boards, and institutions of the convention to use the BF&M as a guideline in employment, editorial content, and policy.

In 1998, the convention added an article on the family, thus answering cultural confusion about marriage and family with the clear teachings of God’s word. 

In 1999, SBC President Paige Patterson appointed a blue-ribbon task force to review the 1963 BF&M. Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, and former three-time SBC president, served as chairman. The task force embraced the 1925 and 1963 editions, and recommended some revisions, resulting in the BF&M 2000. 

It’s important to note that the BF&M 2000 neither subtracts from nor deletes original text. The foundational beliefs of Southern Baptists have remained firmly grounded in Scripture. 

At the same time, the 2000 edition features some clarifications and additions. For example, Article VI (The Church) makes it clear that only men may serve as pastors, and Article VII (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) clarifies baptism as an act of obedience and the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to Christ’s death – statements lacking in the original document. In addition, Article XII (Education) provides additional details on the responsibilities of teachers in Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries.

Most significantly, perhaps, are the addition of Article XVIII (The Family), as well as the expansion of Scripture citations at the end of each article – nearly double the number in the BF&M 1925. 

Visit bfm.sbc.net for a side-by-side comparison of the 1925, 1963, and 2000 editions.

Nature and function of confessional statements

It may prove helpful to note the following statements about the nature and function of statements of faith, taken from the 1925 report to the Southern Baptist Convention:

1. That they [statements of faith like the BF&M] constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

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 Baptist should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

3. That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

4. That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

5. That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

The introduction to the 1963 edition of the BF&M states: “Baptists emphasize the soul’s competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer. However, this emphasis should not be interpreted to mean that there is an absence of certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified.”

Baptist churches, associations, state conventions, and other networks have adopted similar statements of faith as a witness to the world and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. As one example, every member of the MBC missionary staff must affirm the BF&M 2000 as a condition of employment. Further, Missouri Baptists who serve on their state convention’s executive board, or on other MBC boards and committees, must affirm the BF&M 2000. 

As the BF&M 2000 committee expressed, “We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice.”

Next: ARTICLE I of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: The Scriptures

Order your copy of Understanding The Baptist Faith & Message from High Street Press.