Baptist Faith & Message 2000
Article VI: The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
Unifying Principles from Article VI
Historically, Baptist have been strong on their view of the local church, and the statement made in the Baptist Faith & Message confirms this for Southern Baptists. The unifying principles abound from article VI. We all agree that the church is founded upon the New Covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ. We all agree that the church is an “autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.” We all agree the membership in the church is “by covenant in faith and fellowship in the gospel.” We all agree that there are only two ordinances (baptism and communion). We all agree that the church is to be operated “under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.” We all agree that the two “scriptural offices are pastors and deacons,” though we’ll need to address this one further. And we all agree that the office of pastor is to be “limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
There are, however two areas in which we need to clarify the doctrine of the church. In the area of local church autonomy, we must remember that this means that local churches “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.” (BF &M, The Preamble). Therefore, the SBC has a right to hold the local churches accountable on doctrine and practice only so far as the BF & M demands. This means that local churches will be similar in many ways, but not uniform. So, we must be careful not to confuse the denomination with the local church, which leads to a second area in need of clarification.
While we all agree that the scriptural offices of the church are pastors and deacons, we must give the local church some freedom to work out their understandings of Scripture. Please note that the biblical terms of elder/overseer/pastor each refer to one office and that the term elder is used far more than the others in the New Testament. I have chosen to use the more familiar words to Baptists of pastor and elder. The following models must be given a hearing in the SBC because each one is firmly congregational, even though we may disagree on the biblical accuracy of one or more (this is not necessarily an exhaustive lists since a number of variations of these can play out in a local church):
- Pastor/Elder-ruled: Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable by the congregation, but he makes the majority of decisions on behalf of the church.
- Pastor/Elder-led: Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor makes some independent decisions but is held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.
- Pastor & Deacon-led: Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable directly by the deacons, and both the pastor/elder and deacons make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities. This appears to be the dominant model in the SBC at this time.
- Pastors/Elders-led: Some churches have chosen this model in which a plurality of pastors/elders make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.
Out of these three, it is my understanding of Scripture that only models 2 and 4 are biblically validated, but within the boundaries laid out by the BF & M, each of these is permissible at the local church level. Notice that I have excluded the elder-ruled model because accountability to the congregation is lessened to such a degree that one would be hard-pressed to prove that it is Baptistic as opposed to Presbyterian.
Despite what some Southern Baptists are saying, each of these models maintains congregational-rule, and we pray each of them is ultimately Christ-ruled. No matter the model of congregational church polity adopted, there is no reason that we cannot be unified as Southern Baptists.
For His Glory,