The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) may enforce new guidelines that would require all newly planted congregations to adopt a church covenant that affirms the inerrancy of Scripture and male-only clergy. Adopted on Oct. 6 by trustees of the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), the new guidelines do not apply to the tens of thousands of already established SBC churches, but only to the 1,500 new churches planted by the Mission board each year.
"Whether a church is a new work or an existing, well-established congregation, each Baptist church should have a covenant. Church covenants are usually written, and each person must agree to the covenant as a condition of membership into a local congregation. Covenants are based upon and must reflect biblical principles. Although they may state the various beliefs and convictions of the congregation, the covenant of a Baptist church must minimally affirm three things: the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the church and its members; the divine inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible; and the membership of the church consisting only of regenerate persons who have professed their faith in believer’s baptism by immersion,” the document states.
While the document, entitled, “Ecclesiological Guidelines to Inform Southern Baptist Church Planters,” may be used to exclude funding new congregations that refuse to adhere to the guidelines, the NAMB spokesperson Martin King said that is not the purpose of approving such a statement.
"It's a statement of guidelines, not a checklist of dos and don'ts," said Martin King, a NAMB spokesman.
According to King, the guidelines could be part of a negotiation about which new congregations receive NAMB funding. Agency officials will work to be sure its materials, training, strategies and initiatives aren't outside the bounds of the document, he said.
In addition to other factors, the guidelines include a commitment to the “2000 Baptist Faith and Message” – the SBC’s official doctrinal statement. The Baptist Faith and Message, unlike the new ecclesiological guideline, does not explicitly address the issue of women pastors.
"In SBC life, ordination carries with it implications of authority and oversight, and I believe the Bible relegates authority and oversight to men," the new document states. "If a church, however does not ordain its deacons, then the authority-oversight prohibitions would not apply. In that case, the generic meaning of the term 'deacon' ... is that of a servant or a table waiter. Thus, any member of the congregation is qualified to serve."
Despite the approval of the document, King said the NAMB may support certain churches with women deacons, pending the opinion of NAMB’s church planting partners.
The document was written by Stan Norman, associate professor of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; it was then affirmed by the deans of the SBC's six seminaries and by two seminary presidents, Paige Patterson of Southwestern and Phil Roberts of Midwestern Baptist Theological seminaries.
The paper was approved by NAMB trustees with two dissenting votes. The complete document is available at www.namb.net.