The 1919 Statement of Belief and the Tradition of Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries -- By: Jeffrey T. Riddle

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 20:2 (Spring 2003)
Article: The 1919 Statement of Belief and the Tradition of Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries
Author: Jeffrey T. Riddle


The 1919 Statement of Belief and the Tradition of
Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries

Jeffrey T. Riddle

Pastor, Jefferson Park Baptist Church
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

Jerry Rankin, President of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced in January of 2002 that he was sending a letter to all IMB missionaries requesting their acknowledgement of agreement with the newly revised Southern Baptist confessional standard, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This announcement was met with immediate uproar from the Baptist left.1 Typical are the comments of Earl R. Martin, who referred to Rankin’s letter as “a bombshell” that “sent reverberations through Baptist mission fields and scandalized many Baptists back home.”2

One of the persistent criticisms from the left has been that this request represented a novel departure from Southern Baptist missiological practice.3 There has been a “revisioning” of Baptist history by some that has imagined the Baptist Christian forebears as not merely noncreedal, but as virulently anti-creedal and even anti-confessional. Southern Baptist evangelicals in our era, however, are rediscovering the strong confessional heritage of Southern Baptists.4 An objective examination of the historical record, for example, reveals that the establishment of a confessional standard for Southern Baptist missionaries is hardly an innovation. In fact, in 1919 the Foreign Mission Board approved a thirteen-point doctrinal statement to be used as a standard for evaluating mission candidates. William R. Estep says that this statement “reinforced Baptist distinctives and may be seen as the initial step that led to the Baptist Faith and Message by the convention in 1925.”5 Indeed, the need for confessional boundaries on the mission field contributed to the drive for doctrinal clarity among Southern Baptists as expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. Estep notes the groundbreaking significance of the Board’s adoption of the 1919 statement:

Up to this time no confession of faith had been adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Seminary had asked members of its faculty to sign an ‘Abstract of Principles’ drawn up by the President, J. P.

Boyce, and revised by him in 1887. The Southwestern Seminary adopted the popular New Hampshire Confession of Faith and its succe...

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