According to recent LifeWay Research data, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000′s article on the Lord’s Supper no longer reflects what the majority of Southern Baptist pastors believe and practice. More than 50% of pastors surveyed practice something other than “close communion.” That is to say, the majority of Southern Baptist pastors do not require “baptism by immersion” in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Most require only that one “be saved” with 5% of pastors allowing “anyone who wants” to participate.
This abandonment of the BFM2000 by pastors and autonomous local SBC churches is certainly within the rights of the local church. However, the abandonment of “close” communion by professors at SBC seminaries is not acceptable as professors are required to be in agreement with, and teach in accordance with and not contrary to, the BFM2000. The BFM2000 reads:
VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
Dr. Gregory Wills of Southern Seminary writes on the adoption of “close communion” in the Abstract of Principles, a Southern Baptist seminary confession which precedes the Baptist Faith and Message:
The most controversial practice of Baptists, for most other denominations, was known as “close communion.” It was a simple doctrine: only baptized persons were eligible to participate in the Lord’s Supper. It was controversial because Baptists held that the immersion of professing believers was alone baptism. Because the Greek word baptizein meant “to immerse,” by definition sprinkling and pouring were not baptism. And because only those who professed repentance and faith in Christ were proper subjects of baptism, applying water by any form to infants was not baptism. Baptists therefore viewed Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Congregationist believers as unbaptized. They could not therefore invite them to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Manly’s draft stated this principle indirectly by affirming that baptism was “prerequisite to church fellowship,” and that the Lord’s Supper was, in part, a “renewal” of their “communion” with one another. The committee and the convention opted for a more explicit statement: baptism “is prerequisite to church fellowship and to participation in the Lord’s Supper.” They also made it more explicit in the article on the Lord’s Supper, changing “renewal of their communion…with one another” to “renewal…of their church fellowship.”
When seminary professors do not hold to the BFM2000 and/or teach future pastors in accordance with the BFM2000′s position on “close communion,” it is not surprising to find the doctrine abandoned within a generation. Though the BFM2000′s article on the Lord’s Supper is certainly not the first doctrine to examine in maintaining doctrinal orthodoxy, it is evidence that taking our confessions lightly will lead to the abandonment of historic, biblical, and distinctly Baptist, doctrine.
Today, we find one article of the Baptist Faith and Message largely abandoned in the pew and classroom because of a half-hearted confessional commitment being allowed in our Southern Baptist seminaries. If a half-hearted commitment to confessionalism continues, why should we Southern Baptists not expect more doctrinal abandonment in the years to come? A confession must be affirmed and upheld in its entirety or it will be viewed as negotiable, eventually becoming a useless relic of a bygone doctrinal era.
Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Seminary 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 39.