Liberty of Conscience and the Doctrine of Scripture in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA) -- By: Andrew Aucamp

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 06:1 (Sep 2008)
Article: Liberty of Conscience and the Doctrine of Scripture in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA)
Author: Andrew Aucamp

Liberty of Conscience and the Doctrine of Scripture
in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA)1

Andrew Aucamp2

Dan Lioy3


This essay examines two questions. First, what is the nature of the Baptist principle “liberty of conscience” or “religious liberty,” and how is the principle meant to be understood in the context of the church’s ongoing mandate to “defend the faith”? Second, how, if at all, has the principle of liberty of conscience impacted on the doctrine of Scripture in the BUSA? Based on the authors’ examination of the data, they conclude that formulating a doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture to defend relevantly the authority of the same, does not threaten liberty of conscience. Also, they argue that it is theologically erroneous and out of line with the historic Baptist understanding of religious liberty to assert that defining a doctrine of Scripture will undermine the latter principle. Moreover, the authors maintain that to insist otherwise is fundamentally inconsistent, as the BUSA has adopted definite views on other doctrines, such as church government.

1. Introduction

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA) consists of over 650 churches in the Southern Africa region. The majority of churches are from South Africa, but other countries include Zimbabwe and Zambia. The 1877 Constitution of the Baptist Union included a Declaration of Principle, which states that the basis of the Union is the unique and absolute authority of Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It also states that each of the churches has liberty to interpret Christ’s laws for themselves (BUSA 1989:5). This declaration highlights two cherished Baptist principles, namely, the primacy of the Scriptures and liberty of conscience.

Baptists have generally been characterized as upholding the supremacy of the authority of Scripture in all matters of life and faith (Hudson-Reed 1983:357). BUSA has historically also sought to uphold this tradition. A 1986 survey of the BUSA (a sample of pastors, ministerial students at the Baptist Theological College, and lay people) showed that the overwhelming majority of members believed the doctrine of Scripture to be of “primary importance” (Miller 1987:167). This statement reflects the belief that the doctrine of Scripture is absolutely essential to the spiritual health of the BUSA. The BUSA has, however, had to grapple with the doctrine of Scripture, and the issue of inerrancy in particular. In brief, the term “inerranc...

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