An Examination of the CBF’s Views and Disagreements with the 2000 BFM

BibliographyAn Examination of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s

Views and Disagreements of Specific Areas of

The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message


The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is an organization whose stance on inclusiveness has lead to diverse interpretations of the Bible and a misunderstanding of the pastoral office. They vigorously support the ordination of women and sidestep the issue of homosexuals in ministry by overtly proclaiming “soul competency” and the autonomy of the local church. This paper will examine the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s opposing views of soul competency: “freedom in religion” and the “priesthood of all believers” in the current Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message.

Brief History

    The 1963 Southern Baptist Statement of Faith was revised to, “build upon the structure of the 1925 Statement, keeping in mind the ‘certain needs’ of our generation.” Conservatives felt that changes to the statement allowed moderates “theological loopholes.”  These ‘loopholes,’ labeled as “Biblical criticism,” “documentary hypothesis,” or “historical-critical method,” were taught to students at institutions like Southern Seminary, making reformation in Southern Baptist seminaries a priority issue.
Friction between the moderates and conservatives escalated, especially after the presidential election of Adrian Rogers in 1979, which conservatives called “The Conservative Resurgence.” The election of a conservative president allowed conservative appointments to the Committee on Committees, which was crucial to the process of hiring conservative seminary presidents. The moderates soon became the minority of the convention’s board and agencies. Out of frustration for being continually “shut out” of convention leadership, the moderates created the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991.

The conservatives considered the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message to be “ambiguous” on the issue of biblical interpretation and “theological matter.” The moderates’ misuse of “criterion” was a reason the statement of beliefs was rephrased. The Baptist Faith and Message was rewritten in 2000, at the dismay of moderates. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship claimed that Baptist distinctives were forsaken in the revised statement.

Soul Competency: Freedom of Religion

“Soul Competency” was defined as, “that inner authority through which persons recognized and responded to biblical truth.” Moderates criticized Conservatives for their interpretation of the Bible, which they felt had been limited to “only one understanding and one interpretation.” Moderates felt that every person was “free” to interpret the Bible in “their own way,” which included the exploration of Jewish and Muslim religious views.Conservatives were seen as “separatists” who “avoided associations with religious ‘liberals’” but affiliated with other denominations if they agreed with the “plenary inspiration of the Scriptures.” Conservatives seemed strict in their regard of Scripture and doctrine by staunchly adhering to the “truth of inerrant Scripture,” which was not to be “disputed” or “reconciled” with new scientific or philosophical theories but rather “held and proclaimed.”  Moderates, on the other hand, were more “change minded,” in that “doctrine and revelation do not change, but that interpretation in the light of changing knowledge do.”Daniel Vestal, leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, claimed that the difference between Moderate and Conservative Baptists was simply a “different understanding and interpretation of Holy Scripture.” He insisted that the Bible does not “claim nor reveal inerrancy.” In fact many Moderates interpreted the Bible based on the “culture and times in which it was written.” If there were perceived contradictions (“paradoxical passages”) in Scripture with the sayings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, Moderates upheld Jesus’ words over other Scripture. This is what was referred to as the “criterion.”

Moderates believed “Biblical inerrancy” meant that the Bible acted as the “arbiter” of the Godhead, which made it the object of “idolatry” by “de-emphasizing” the role of Jesus as the criterion. Moderates blamed Conservatives for “humanizing God” by describing Him as being “exclusive, intolerant, and legalistic.” Moderates preferred to convey God as being “inclusive, forgiving, and accepting,” which influenced their mindset to allow “liberalism” and “neo-orthodoxy” into their midst. To Moderates, “Freedom in Religion” meant “blessing one another amidst our differences and finding ways to build bridges.” The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship sought to cooperate and unify itself with all believers in Christ and reasoned, “Baptists are only a part of that great and inclusive Church.”

In addition to the freedom of interpretation, Moderates thought one’s experience was important in the quest for God, which was epitomized by Vestal’s use of Walter Rauschenbusch’s quote, “When we Baptists insist on personal experience as the only essential thing in religion, we are hewing our way back to original Christianity.”

Soul Competency: Priesthood of All Believers

The Core Values of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship included the autonomy of the church to “ordain whomever they perceive as gifted for ministry.” Moderates often used Galatians 3:27-28 to justify the call and ordination of women to the pastorate. Any opposition to a woman’s call to the pastorate was seen as “contrary to Biblical and Baptist heritages,” which emphasized the “priesthood of all believers and congregational authority.”

To Moderates, excluding women from pastoral leadership was similar to the biblical defense of slavery in 1845. The ordination of women was a Moderate’s response of “affirmation” of females and was rationalized thusly: “He (Jesus) called women to follow him; he treated women as equally capable of dealing with sacred issues. Our model for the role of women in matters of faith is the Lord Jesus.”

Conservatives required a pastor to be the “husband of one wife,” which made women disqualified for the position. Women in the pastorate did not fit into God’s “order of authority,” where God is head of Christ, Christ is head of man, and man is head of woman. Although women were “held in high honor” for their work in Christ’s kingdom, women could never be considered for pastoral leadership because “man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.” Women felt “devalued” and “wounded” by Conservatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, but found “healing” with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s endorsement of women in ministry.

The “priesthood of all believers” also included homosexuals. Moderates in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship believed God could call homosexuals to ministry, and their lifestyle was left to “freedom of individual conscience” and the “autonomy of the local church.” Although the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship claimed they reject homosexual practice, the organization regarded homosexuality as merely a “different perspective.” A Moderate expressed the thoughts of many Cooperative Baptist Fellowship members, “Do we really want to sit here and say God’s Spirit cannot call a homosexual (even a practicing homosexual) to follow God’s call?”

In conclusion, the Moderates’ efforts to be inclusive lead to diverse interpretations of the Bible and a misunderstanding of the pastoral office. “Soul competency” was advocated to allow individual freedoms of interpretation that took precedence over Biblical truths, which in turn adversely affected the teaching at Southern Baptist seminaries. Many disenfranchised Southern Baptist women, who sought affirmation for their call to ministry, were drawn to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship because of their emphasis on “soul competency” and the “priesthood of all believers.” The unwillingness for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to convey a solid Biblical position on a person’s call to ministry made the ordination of homosexuals a viable option. Although the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship divorced itself from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991, they continue to denounce the activities of the Convention and have acted contrary to their stated purpose of being “the presence of Christ in the world.”

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti



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End notes:

[i]<!–[endif]–> David Hull, Baptist Understanding our Faith and Message [online], accessed 26 June 2003, 1111; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith. Valley Forge, VA: The Judson Press, 1969, page 393.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iii]<!–[endif]–> Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist

Convention. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000, page 415.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iv]<!–[endif]–> Sutton, Reformation, page 417.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[v]<!–[endif]–> Ibid., page 82.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vi]<!–[endif]–> Ibid., page 63.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vii]<!–[endif]–> Bill J. Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist

Convention, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990, page 4.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[viii]<!–[endif]–> Steve DeVane, Patterson Predicts SBC Split in Article for Baptist Paper [on-line], accessed 24 June 2003, available from: 3192&srch=1; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ix]<!–[endif]–> Sutton, Reformation, page 415.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[x]<!–[endif]–> Michael Foust, Seminary Magazine Addresses Issues Involving Baptist Faith and Message [on-line], accessed 30 June 2003, available from: fall2000 /NR033.php; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xi]<!–[endif]–> Leonard, God’s Last, page 75.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xii]<!–[endif]–> Walter B. Shurden, and Randy Shepley, eds., Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of

the SBC Holy War; Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996, page xvii.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xiii]<!–[endif]–> Ibid, page xv.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xiv]<!–[endif]–> James C. Hefley, The Truth in Crisis- The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention, Volume 1, Hannibal, MO: Hannibal Books, 1999, page 17.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xv]<!–[endif]–> Hefley, Truth vol. 1, page 46.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xvi]<!–[endif]–> Ibid., page 46.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xvii]<!–[endif]–> Shurden, Jugular, page 267.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xviii]<!–[endif]–> Bob Allen, Two Churches Targeted Over Women Pastors [on-line], accessed 24 June 2003,

available from:; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xix]<!–[endif]–> Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Statements Comparison and Commentary [on-line], accessed 26 June 2003, available from:; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xx]<!–[endif]–> Ibid.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxi]<!–[endif]–>Shurden, Jugular, page xviii.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxii]<!–[endif]–> Daniel Vestal, Daniel Vestal Q & A: A Conversation with Coordinator Daniel Vestal [on-line], accessed 23 June 2003, available from:; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxiii]<!–[endif]–> Ibid., page 268.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxiv]<!–[endif]–> Daniel Vestal, Why I am Baptist. Atlanta: CBF Resource Center, 2002.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxv]<!–[endif]–> Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Who We Are: Identity, Vision, Mission, Core Value and Initiatives [on-line], accessed 6 June 2003, available from: about/mission.cfm; Internet.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxvi]<!–[endif]–> Hull, Understanding; Internet.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxvii]<!–[endif]–> Ibid.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxviii]<!–[endif]–> Leonard, God’s Last, page 152.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxix]<!–[endif]–> Ibid.,page 268.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxx]<!–[endif]–> Ibid., pages 151-152.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxxi]<!–[endif]–> Shurden, Jugular, pages 122-123.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxxii]<!–[endif]–> Robert O’Brien, Woman Calls CBF Chaplaincy Endorsement a ‘Healing’ Moment [on-line], accessed 7 July 2003, available from:; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxxiii]<!–[endif]–> Bob Allen, CBF Council Adopts Value Statement ‘Welcoming but not Affirming’ of Gays [on-line], accessed 6 July 2003, available from: newsid=2016&srch=1; Internet.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxxiv]<!–[endif]–> Ibid.


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[xxxv]<!–[endif]–> Cooperative, Who We Are, Internet.


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