A Plea for A Confessional Convention

Written by Ben Lacey

NOTE: This is an opinion piece from Pastor Ben Lacey about the role of the BFM2000 in the SBC. B21 believes this to be an important conversation and will likely have an article from a differing point of view as well.

What does the SBC need right now?


Why? Because as a friend of mine says, “Clarity is kindness”.

Where there is no clarity, there can be no unity. And without unity, our cooperation is crumbling. 

Cooperation requires us to be honest about who we are and what we believe. It requires clarity. 

Clarity is costly. It requires saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. It requires listening to and loving those who don’t understand. And sometimes, it means being willing to part ways with those you love but simply disagree with. Clarity, at the end of the day, requires a decision. 

Previous generations of Southern Baptists enjoyed a shared consensus about what it means to be a convention and do missions together. However, our current cultural and denominational moment has revealed that our consensus has withered and may be on life support. 

The recent discussions about what a pastor is has not only exposed our lack of consensus, but has forced us to consider how much we must agree upon to cooperate. There will be many––who I know, love, and trust––that want to keep the current strategy. They will say that we have never required all the churches to subscribe to a confession, which to their credit, seems to be a valid point.  

However, our old strategies paved the way for liberalism within our churches and seminaries before the conservative resurgence. And besides, we have never lived in a time that is so confused about what a human is, what a man is, and what a woman is. It seems our old strategy––cooperation based on broad consensus––is simply insufficient to navigate these new waters. 

Here is what I am after: I simply want the SBC to say what it is, what it believes, and what is required for cooperation––and mean it! I want every Southern Baptist Church to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. No more half-baked proposals or motions. Let’s not try to duct-tape the cracks in the dam. Let’s not hide behind excuses on why we can’t be clear about who we are. Let’s not shy away from clarity’s cost. If we want to hand the baton that is the SBC to the next generation, clarity, and not ambiguity, is the way. 

What we have done up to this point has gotten us where we are––frustrated and fractured. The way forward in this broken world isn’t by saying as little as possible, but by saying as much as we can about who God is, the fallenness of man, what God has done in Christ, and what he is doing in and through his church all over the world. And thankfully, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 already says all this. 

Requiring subscription to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 will bring the clarity we need. It is a clear enough document that reveals our distinctives, while allowing for some diversity among churches. It provides unity without requiring uniformity. 

I know for some, requiring all SBC churches to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is a step too far. After all, some might say, “Don’t we require all SBC entities to affirm it, is that not enough?” That is true, but I think this is insufficient. All of our entities are downstream from our churches. And theologically unclear and weak churches will no doubt result in weakened and wayward entities. It would be naïve, irresponsible, and even arrogant to assume that we can navigate the cultural challenges ahead without being clear about who we are and what we believe.  By requiring affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 it gives churches, messengers, and entities the clarity and guardrails we need. 

I know some may argue that such a move would be too strong, exclusive, or hinder cooperation with church revitalizations and replants. However, requiring subscription to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is not a weapon to harm those who agree with us. I want our confessional commitment to express and protect our unity and cooperation. I realize certain contexts require wisdom and patience for implementing those convictions. In short, if you’re with us convictionally, we can be as patience as the context requires for those convictions to come to full expression. 

Cooperation without requiring an affirmation of a confession is like a game with no rules, a marriage with no vows, a nation with no laws––it is bound to fail.

I know such a move might mean some (or many) won’t remain in the SBC, which I grieve. Some will leave because they feel we should have more flexibility when it comes to our understanding of who a pastor is and feel as though such a decision violates Baptist polity. Some of those people are my close friends for whom I have deep affection. However, sometimes the godly thing to do is part ways, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. And we trust that God is so gracious and good that he can use even the parting of brothers to bring people to himself. 

I am not angry with those who disagree with me that the SBC should be confessional, or that only qualified men can be pastors, or that women should not preach or teach in the gathered church. If they believe that the only way to be reconciled to God is through repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ, then I rejoice and will pray the Lord blesses their labors even though we may not cooperate. 

I love the Southern Baptist Convention and want it to flourish in the days ahead. But we cannot move forward unless we agree on who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. It is my prayer that God will grant us wisdom, clarity, and unity for the glory of his name, for the good of his church, and the salvation of those who have yet to believe. I think being clear about our convictions for cooperation won’t hinder us in our efforts to take the gospel to the nations but will sustain and strengthen them. This kind of clarity won’t divide us but will bring us together.

And I think the best way for us to come together, to find the consensus we need, is for the cooperation committee to recommend that “closely identifies with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000” be changed to “affirms the Baptist Faith & Message 2000”. If that is good enough for our entities, it should be good enough for our churches. However, if at the end of the day, we cannot come to a consensus, the right thing might be to part ways. If that be so, let us be willing to part in a way that would make much of our Lord Jesus. Our ultimate loyalty is not to a denomination or an institution, but Christ Jesus himself. Denominations will rise and fall, but Christ’s Church will prevail. Let’s seek to be faithful, by being clear about who Jesus is and what he requires of us, and trust and believe our labors will not be in vain. 

Ben Lacey is the Lead Pastor at Trinity River Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.