The Baptist Faith and Message, and Ephesians 5

Editor’s note: The premier benefit of working for a college is the opportunity to take classes. This semester, I am taking a theology class, and to the extent that my written submissions are deemed canonical and pertinent to Motu Proprio, excerpts will appear here under the TH200 tag after submission and grading. Formal errors both accidental and deliberate—such as the mandated use of “MLA style”—will be corrected, but in most cases the substance will be presented intact. On that note, this post represents something of a “director’s cut”: My first draft ran too long, and so a lot of material had to be first moved into footnotes and then cut entirely. Here, the essay is presented as originally-conceived.

This assignment arises from the 1999 Baptist General Convention of Texas’ rejection of a 1998 amendment to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message. But before we get into the details, there is an immediate problem: Some familiarity is presupposed with the Faith and Message, the Southern Baptist Convention, and their relationship to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It is therefore with those matters that we must begin.

I. Historical and doctrinal sketch of the Baptists 1520-1920.

Finding the remote origin of the Baptists would seem akin to tracing the source of the Nile, but most seem to agree that the largest tributary, if not the main stem, was a protestant group called the Swiss Brethren that had broken from the reformer Ulrich Zwingli. With all Protestants, they affirmed the primacy of conscience: That each believer is personally, directly, and uniquely responsible to God through scripture. 1 “Zwingli handed us non-theologians the Bible and urged us to delve into it,” they wrote in 1524, “and we took his advice, but in reading the New Testament closely, we have discovered a different doctrine from the one which Zwingli preached to us.” 2 Their 1527 Schleitheim Confession provided a focal point for the so-called “Anabaptists.” 3 Thus was bequeathed to the world an idea that would later serve as the primary, distinctive, foundational impulse for the Baptists, an idea that might be captured pithily this way: “God has no grandchildren.” Not only was the baptism of infants unscriptural, they concluded, it was incompatible with the scriptural model of Christianity: One first believes, and thence will be saved. 4 The Christian must be one who “ha[s] learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe[s] truly that their sins are taken away by Christ,” said the Schleitheim Confession; what is required of one who approaches baptism is a deliberate faith, a personal confession of Christ—infants are incapable of this and therefore only competent, confessing adults may be baptized.

This insistence on “believer’s baptism” made the Anabaptists and their successors anathema to both sides of the Reformation, attracting the ire of Rome and reformers alike. 5 One might expect that we could trace our story from this community, but not so: The Anabaptists evolved into today’s Mennonites, not today’s Baptists. At this point, we must follow the idea, not the congregation.

In England the Congregationalist movement arose in the late 1500s, animated by a desire to purge the Church of England of her Roman tendencies and “prelatical form of government.” 6 Congregationalism took to a logical extreme the tacit presupposition of the Reformation: The absolute sovereignty of the individual believer as judge of scripture, and thus the absolute independence of each local church. 7 From this ferment, John Smythe, an Anglican minister with Congregationalist sympathies, 8 decamped to Holland, to which Anabaptist thought had spread a half-century before. Converted, Smythe established a Baptist congregation that spread its influence first to England and thence—having acquired a more Calvinist theological cast—to her American colonies. 9

As they arrived on American shores, then, the distinctive Baptist “flavor” of Protestantism rested upon two pillars: Their belief in the necessity and centrality of “believer’s baptism,” contributed by the Anabaptists, 10 and their insistence on the independence of each congregation, contributed by Congregationalism. 11 From this point on, Baptists—perhaps inevitably, given this baked-in streak of independence 12—divided along racial lines, regional lines, and virtually any other line imaginable, save these two pillars. “Whatever their differences … they [remained] united in a common preoccupation with the place of baptism in the Christian economy” 13 and their refusal to be told what to believe by any Earthly authority. This, thought Father John Hardon, was “the key to an understanding of this people, bound together only by a ‘rope of sand’….” 14

But those tenets are not, by themselves, an adequate and freestanding theology. 15 The Anabaptists had wanted to be non-credal Christians, fearing that creeds can harden into nooses, but the Baptists have willingly used confessions, albeit while stressing that they are guidelines only, subject to the ultimate authority of scripture. 16 Put another way, such statements are descriptive rather than prescriptive: They “are mere declarations of prevalent doctrinal views, to which no assent beyond one’s personal conviction need be given.” 17 But they nevertheless contain “the basic points of faith which Baptists hold in common…. The common doctrinal element is agreed to exist in two great Baptist Confessions of faith: the Philadelphia Confession of 1688 and the New Hampshire Confession of 1833.” 18 Each of them treats the pertinent question before us today: The Baptist view of scripture.

The Philadelphia Confession provides, in relevant part:

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers [sic.]  manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. …  All of [its canonical books] are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. … The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. 19

And the New Hampshire Confession provides, in relevant part:

Of the Scriptures We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.” 20

II. The Baptist Faith and Message: Content and context.

Against this backdrop, we arrive at the Baptist Faith and Message, the amendment of which in 1998 prompts our discussion today. First adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention (hereinafter “SBC”) in 1925, the Faith and Message has, throughout its existence, housed its confession regarding scripture in its first section. The 1925 Faith and Message adopted the New Hampshire Confession’s section on scripture verbatim; in the 1963 revision of the Faith and Message, that section received a minor amendment, such that when the SBC met in 1998, its text read as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ. 21

It also seems important to sketch the context of the time and purposes for which the Faith and Message was adopted.

The SBC had been organized in 1845. Like the ever-widening gap between east and west before the Great Schism, the velvet divorce of 1845 between Northern and Southern Baptists had been more cultural than doctrinal; 22 in the 1920s, the gap became a chasm when the Northern Baptist Convention of 1922, having flirted two years earlier with adopting with the Southerners a joint “statement of Baptist doctrine and polity, setting forth briefly the fundamentals of our faith and the peculiar beliefs and observances which characterize and distinguish us,” 23  rejected a motion to reaffirm the New Hampshire Confession. 24 As the fundamentalist-modernist controversy approached its zenith, 25 the Northern Convention had seemingly sided with the modernists. 26 It seems fair to understand the Faith and Message as the SBC responding by siding in turn with the fundamentalists, adopting what the preparatory committee notes called a “reaffirmation of Christian fundamentals … repudiat[ing] every theory of religion which denies the supernatural elements in our faith.” 27 The President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a member of the drafting committee, seemed to have this in mind when he said that the Faith and Message would “guard our young people from the teachings and the poisonous inoculation of error contrary to Christ and His Word.” 28

Of all the issues raised by the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, the most far-reaching is also the most apropos to us today: The character, place, and authority of scripture. The traditional view of Christianity has insisted that it is insufficient to say only that the Bible contains “an account of a true revelation from God,” because it might do that, said J. Gresham Machen,

and yet … be full of error. Before the full authority of the Bible can be established, therefore, it is necessary to add to the Christian doctrine of revelation the Christian doctrine of inspiration … [which] means that the Bible not only is an account of important things, but that the account itself is true, the writers having been so preserved from error, despite a full maintenance of their habits of thought and expression, that the resulting Book is the ‘infallible rule of faith and practice.’” 29

E.Y. Mullins, who would later chair the SBC during the drafting of the Faith and Message, wrote in 1912 that:

“There are three marks which in a general way may be said to sum up the position of the Scriptures in the belief of Baptists. The first is sufficiency…. In the Scriptures we have all the truth required for the religious life of men. [The second] … is certainty. … [The Bible] yield[s] certainty in religion …[; it] tells us how to find God and by following its directions we actually find him. … The third quality of the Scriptures is authoritativeness. The Scriptures speak with authority. … [Therefore] The Bible is God’s message to man given to supply the needs of his religious life. When we find that message we have God’s truth to us which is all we need for religious knowledge, faith, and obedience.” 30

Just as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy cut across denominational lines, this was not a peculiarly-Baptist view of scripture. (Machen, for example, was a Presbyterian.) By 1925, it was variously called “conservative,” “orthodox,” or “fundamentalist” protestantism. 31 Against it was the position of “modernism” or “liberal” protestantism, and its toolbox, the historical-critical apparatus. Liberalism “reject[ed] not only the doctrine of plenary inspiration, but even such respect for the Bible as would be proper over against any ordinarily trustworthy book.” 32 They

“denied the reality of revelation, in the sense in which it has ever been held…. They were avowed unbelievers of the supernatural. Their theories were excogitated on pure grounds of human reasoning. Their hypotheses were constructed on the assumption of the falsity of Scripture. As to the inspiration of the Bible, … being the Word of God, they had no such belief.” 33

They advanced an ersatz Christianity “completely purified from all its ordinarily-accepted supernatural elements,” believing that “[t]he ‘Pauline Lutheran’ conception of Christianity … ‘cannot any longer be accepted in modern life.’” 34 They emptied the figure of Jesus of anything supernatural or divine, 35 purporting to treat Him as merely a great and profound teacher, and then reducing Him yet further—for the liberal, charged Machen,

does not accept the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels. For among the recorded words of Jesus are to be found just those things which are most abhorrent to the modern liberal Church, and in His recorded words Jesus also points forward to the fuller revelation which was afterwards to be given through His apostles. Evidently, therefore, those words of Jesus which are to be regarded as authoritative by modern liberalism must first be selected from the mass of the recorded words by a critical process. The critical process is certainly very difficult, and the suspicion often arises that the critic is retaining as genuine words of the historical Jesus only those words which conform to his own preconceived ideas. But even after the sifting process has been completed, the liberal scholar is still unable to accept as authoritative all the sayings of Jesus; he must finally admit that even the ‘historical’ Jesus as reconstructed by modern historians said some things that are untrue. 36

Conservatives were dismayed by liberalism’s cut-and-paste approach to scripture:

The truth is that the life-purpose of Jesus discovered by modern liberalism is not the life purpose of the real Jesus, but merely represents those elements in the teaching of Jesus—isolated and misinterpreted—which happen to agree with the modern program. It is not Jesus, then, who is the real authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within Jesus’ recorded teaching has been made. Certain isolated ethical principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because they are teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern ideas. … The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. … It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men. 37

Whatever other problems there may be with this approach, the biggest is this: The Bible is not taken à la carte. One cannot take each issue in isolation; how we treat any given chapter or verse affects how we treat and understand all chapters and verses, individually and severally. What was at stake was not, therefore, simply this doctrine or that doctrine, or this verse or that verse. The Rev. Clarence E. Macartney, for example, perceived with great acuity that “[t]he great question at issue is not any peculiar theory of inspiration, but the credibility and authority of the Bible.” 38

It seems reasonable, then, to suggest that the Faith and Message is significant not only for what it said, but for the mast to which it nailed the SBC’s colors: With the fundamentalists, who took scripture seriously, against the modernists, who, frankly, did not. This would seem an important heuristic, because it tells us in which direction to take inferences and resolve ambiguities: In favor of a stronger, more authoritative, and more—dare I say—literal sense of scripture. It marks off certain terrain, warning us away from a proposition that would oblige us to side with the modernists.

III. 1998: Amendment and reaction.

In 1998, worried that they faced “a time of growing crisis in the family,” 39 the SBC adopted an additional chapter for the Faith and Message captioned “the family.” “The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an effort to soften the language was soundly turned back.” 40 The text of that amendment reads as follows:

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents. 41

Enactment of the amendment was not without controversy, and in a denomination in which, as we have seen, local autonomy is held as absolute, it is little surprise that controversy boiled over into actual resistance. The following year, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (hereinafter “BGCT”) went out of its way to reject the 1998 amendment, passing a motion to affirm the 1963 edition of the Faith and Message. “While the motion made no specific reference to [the 1998 amendment,] key BGCT leaders publicly stated that the affirmation of the 1963 Baptist Family and Message amounted to a stance against [it]….” 42 The Rev. Clyde Glazener, the then-incoming President of the BGCT, told the Associated Press that he “disagrees with the national leadership’s dictum for wives to submit to their husbands. ‘We may affirm the [1963 Faith and Message], because it does not have that Neanderthal statement.’” 43 The Rev. Charles Wade, the then-incoming Executive Director of the BGCT, added that the backers of the motion “like many of the things the family amendment talks about. But any woman who reads that part about wives and husbands feels like somebody is trying to hammer them back into their place.” 44

IV. Discussion.

We are asked to consider: “How could the Southern Baptist Convention have written their statement on marriage that would have kept all the good and left out the divisive element of women submitting to her husband?” This language is so close to that of Glazener and Wade that one must infer that the question takes their position for granted, but I am not convinced that we may do so. The question is not whether one might write such a statement while leaving out that element, but whether the SBC could have done so. The primary criteria by which any religious decision should be judged is its own: “The ecclesiastical decisions taken by a church or ecclesial community should be consistent with the internal logic of their beliefs.” 45 We must therefore ask whether there is internal coherence and close congruence between the 1998 Amendment and what the SBC believes.

Although the 1998 Amendment did not rely exclusively on Ephesians 5, it is on that text which its advocates have mounted their primary defense, 46 and on which the question focusses our attention. In deference to prevailing Baptist tastes, we shall use the King James text:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is …[, g]iving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. … [L]et every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Given the attitude toward scripture reflected in the confessions and the Faith and Message, and implied in the adoption of the latter, it is terribly difficult to see how the SBC could accept the premise of the question. The supposedly “divisive” (or “neanderthal”) element is a direct quote from scripture, which poses at least five problems for Baptists who would oppose the 1998 amendment.

First, Ephesians was written, as the Philadephia Confession says, “by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life,” and “dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God…, the author thereof….” It is, as was said in the 1963 Faith and Message (which was affirmed by the BGCT, remember), a constituent part of a “perfect treasure of divine instruction” and “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us….” We have heard from Mullins that the Bible is “authoritative” for Baptists. Accordingly, the idea that Baptists could discuss the relationship of husbands and wives while ignoring a directly on-point passage in scripture is stunning given that the Philadephia Confession affirms that scripture isa“sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience….” If “[d]irect opposition … to any one scriptural truth is enough to prove the existence of error in any Christian Dogmatic statement,” 47 how could one possibly accept what amounts to the deletion of a line from scripture? Or set one’s face in direct opposition to it?

Second, if so for one scriptural truth, what about an admonition that appears in multiple passages of scripture? Ephesians does not stand alone; it belongs to a genre called Haustafel, a “table of household duties,” of which, we are told, other examples may be found in several verses of scripture and other early Christian writing. 48 Perhaps the most significant parallel texts are Colossians 3:18 et seq. and 1st Peter 3:1 et seq., and while Ephesians is not identical to these passages, it is materially the same on this point. We have heard Mullins insist that for Baptists, “[t]he Bible is God’s message to man given to supply the needs of his religious life.  When we find that message we have God’s truth to us.” When we find a point reiterated in three places in the New Testament, it would seem difficult to deny its force.

Third, if it is true that the locution “the husband is the head of his wife” is original to Paul, rather than drawing on existing (and uninspired) sources, as Markus Barth maintains, 49 then that would seem to strengthen the conviction that God is speaking to us in this passage, even going by an interpretation that is as deferential to critical theories as can be accepted.

Fourth, recalling the earlier observation that the Bible is not taken à la carte, and that interpretative principles cannot be sealed into the particular passage under consideration, we must note that ignoring Ephesians on this point is at odds not only with Mullins’ insistence that for Baptists the Bible is authoritative, but also that it “yield[s] certainty in religion….” Yet how could the Bible yield certainty if the spirit of the age might at any given time cause a trapdoor to open under any given passage? 50 What avail certain words if their meaning is deemed uncertain? We would turn the word of God into no more than the art of God, for without fixed and definite content, words are nothing more than strokes of ink on paper, 51 their meaning forever at the caprice (as Machen put it) of “the shifting emotions of sinful men”?

And fifth, we must wonder whether the SBC could really take the view (presumably that of Glazener et al) that Ephesians 5 is incidental, representing nothing more than Paul’s personal view—that, like Jesus, Paul had access to no special knowledge; that he “shared the views of his contemporaries,” and if (as we judge it) his views on some subject “were naive, illusory, cast in the childlike and imperfect molds which an unscientific  age affirmed—what normative value can [then] be ascribed to them?” 52 That is to embrace precisely the liberalism that the SBC seemed to reject by adopting the Faith and Message. 53

To be sure, there is interpretative scope in these passages. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, but one sentence sooner, husbands are likewise enjoined to submit to their wives. This leaves “play in the joints,” so-to-speak: “How can persons be mutually subject to one another? “The reciprocal, if not paradoxical, relationship expressed by these words is not a unique Pauline invention.” 54 “The spirit of mutual subjection is cardinal to the whole Christian conception of social relations. It is the antithesis of the spirit of self-assertion, of jealous insistence on one’s own rights…. In substance it rests upon the example and precept of Christ, who ‘did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.” 55 Where the precise contours of a question are uncertain, each Christian is ultimately on the leash of conscience. 56

It must also be observed: Nowhere does Ephesians (or the 1998 amendment) propose that women be “subservient,” as Glazener charged. 57 Agapate, the imperative to “love” one’s wife, connotes “the attitude and acts of unselfish giving,” 58 and one cannot doubt that the SBC would agree that the husband’s headship functions not to his own selfish ends, but rather as Christ’s: The husband “is then ‘the first servant’ of his wife.” 59 Richard Land, one of the drafters of the amendment, observed that St. Paul “has not left us to wonder or guess what he meant about husbands loving their wives. … In writing to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul penned a divinely-inspired essay on this love with which husbands are commanded to love their wives,” going on to quote the famous passage from 1st Corinthians 13. 60

With all these things in mind, it is terribly difficult to say that the SBC was wrong, or that the 1998 amendment is incongruous with Baptist beliefs. By the same token, as Richard Land points out, 61 it is difficult to understand how the BGCT’s negation of (indeed, apparent contempt for) Ephesians can be squared with their professed adherence to the 1963 Faith and Message.

Nevertheless, recalling our earlier observation that Baptist confessions are descriptive not prescriptive, and the enduring emphasis of Baptists on the independence of each congregation and believer, we might well end this section by noting that it is not for us, nor even the SBC, to say that the BGCT is “wrong.” Wade complained that the 1998 amendment was “being used as a convenient vehicle to take away Baptist freedom of conscience and the God-given right to an uncoerced faith,” 62 and Glazener that the SBC is “trying to hold people’s feet to the fire and walk lock-step with them.” 63 This seems neither doctrinally nor organizationally plausible. The BGCT is not subordinate to the SBC: As the limits of confessions to bind individuals and individual congregations has been stressed in light of the Congregational impulse of the Baptists, a fortiori those of any ecclesiastical power. Baptist organizations such as the SBC and the BGCT are voluntary associations. The first Constitution of the SBC provided that its purpose was “to combine … such portions of the Baptist denomination in the United States, as may desire a general organization for Christian benevolence, which shall fully respect the independence and equal rights of the Churches,” 64 and under the current Constitution, “the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.” 65 Ulrich Zwingli, the originator of the Swiss Brethren, “demanded obedience to the word of God in all Christian matters, and resolved to reject what it did not enjoin.” 66 The Baptists followed him in this, holding that “the Bible is autocratic,” that we “apply it honestly, under the divine right of private judgment, without trammel….” 67 All Baptist organizations are voluntary, and no creed, confession, or convention can bind the individual who is, as I said earlier, is, in the Baptist worldview personally, directly, and uniquely responsible to God through scripture, over which he or she has that “divine right of private judgment, without trammel.” The SBC and BGCT do not represent contending parties, and we are not referees. It is for each of them to decide for themselves what they believe—and, in the last days, to answer for it.

V. Wrapup.

The foregoing discussion has touched on most of the questions posed, but let us review each one in turn and answer any which have thusfar escaped review.

First, “[h]ow could the Southern Baptist Convention have written their statement on marriage that would have keep all the good and left out the divisive element of women submitting to her husband?” The SBC could not have. As we have seen, the SBC would have acted inconsistently with its professed beliefs about scripture had it chosen to write a statement on a given point and nevertheless ignored the most directly on-point scripture passage.

Second, does Ephesians 5:21’s admonition to submit to one another “[c]hange your view or understanding of … verse 22?” Of course. One cannot wrench a single verse out of context, free it from (or perhaps denude it of) the textual qualifications given it by its author, and then fault it standing alone. As we have seen, the interplay of these verses creates interpretative scope that invites reflection and sheds light on the intended meaning.

Third, “St. Paul used the word ‘submit’ in Ephesians 5:21-33 when talking about marriage. What word do you think fits the message of the Bible best?” When understood in the context that we have discussed, “submit” does not seem at odds with the thrust of Scripture. St. Paul expressly sets the marital relationship in the context of Jesus Christ and his relationship to the Church—and what is that relationship? What did Jesus do for the Church? What did he say on the subject? Jesus submitted to death for the benefit of the Church. And having served the disciples, He told them (and through them, us):

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have [served you], you also ought to [serve] one another…. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Amen, amen, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” 68

He did not come to be served but to serve. 69 He insists that we must do likewise. 70 The theme of mutual service and submission echoes throughout scripture: “For you were called to freedom, … [but must] not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but [rather] through love serve one another.” 71

Fourth, and moving to questions that have not yet been addressed but which do not require extended discussion: “Do you think our culture respects those who follow the Bible’s teaching of submitting to your husband?” Plainly, the answer is no. “The virtue of submission is not popular in modern times.” 72 My wife and I once attended a marital counseling session; the counselor seemed quite scandalized about the degree to which we each seemed deferential to the other, as if there were some fundamental failure of self-actualization in this; how much more shocking might actual submission have seemed!

And finally: “What do you think?” I am sympathetic to the fundamentalist side of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy; as I have suggested before, the great sin of fundmentalism in the eyes of the sophisticated world (and, incidentally, of the SBC in the eyes of the BGCT) was to take the Bible seriously. 73 This strikes me as no sin at all. And while Catholics are not fundamentalists, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Sacred Scripture, while cautioning that “in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, [we] should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words,” affirms:

Those divinely-revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church … holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. … [T]he epistles of St. Paul … [were] composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by which … those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, His true teaching is more and more fully stated, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the Church and its marvelous growth, and its glorious fulfillment is foretold. 74

I affirm with the Church that spouses are persons “equal in dignity,” 75 and that in marriage, which is “a mutual giving of two persons,” 76 their “mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man.” 77 It does not seem to me that the SBC—or St. Paul—would disagree.


  1. See, e.g., Henry Clay Vedder, Baptists and Liberty of Conscience 24 (1884). In this piece, we will look at what makes the Baptists distinctive, but in doing so, it is well to be mindful of B.B. Warfield’s caution that “it is gravely misleading to identify the formative principle of either type of Protestantism with its prominent points of difference from the others. They have vastly more in common than in distinction.” See Warfield, The Theology of John Calvin (1909) (emphases added), available at (last visited Nov. 4, 2014). Nevertheless, our focus is properly on that which is distinctive to Baptist thought.
  2. Hans-Jurgen Goertz, The Anabaptists 68 (2013); cf. 2 New Catholic Encyclopedia 39 (2003).
  3. The term “Anabaptists” was considered a slur, because from their own perspective, the Anabaptists protested, they were not rebaptizing at all; they, too, confessed one baptism. They simply denied that the baptism of an infant “counted.” With a slight modification, the Baptists accepted the label with grace. There is nothing particularly bizarre about a group receiving its name from its opponents; the terms “Methodist” and “Roman Catholic,” with the emphasis on Roman, for example, were coined not by adherents but enemies. See James Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God 30 (1958); Simon Dodd, Why Roman Catholic?, 1 MPA 137 (2012). Some argue that the same is true of the term “Christian.” It seems not implausible to me that a group’s distinctive marks may be seen with greater acuity by its opponents, because conviction lends itself to overconfidence in the persuasiveness and obviousness of tenets which may be taken for granted and so escape attention within the group’s walls while remaining facially controversial beyond them.
  4. Cf. Acts 16:31.
  5. 2 New Catholic Encyclopedia, supra note 2, at 69.
  6. The Catholic Encyclopedia: Congregationalism. (last visited Oct. 19, 2014); cf. New Catholic Dictionary 243 (Pallen & Wynne, eds. 1929).
  7. Having “withdrawn from the ‘tyranny’ of the [Roman] episcopate, [they] were loath to submit to the dominion of presbyteries and formed themselves into religious communities acknowledging ‘no head, priest, prophet or king save Christ.’” Congregationalism, supra note 6.
  8. “Christ alone,” he insisted, is the King and Lawgiver of the Church and the conscience.” Vedder, supra note 1, at 17; Cf. Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists 453 (1887).
  9. The Catholic Encyclopedia: Baptists, (1908) (last visited Oct. 19, 2014); John Hardon, The Protestant Churches of America 21 (1957); Michael Glazier & Monika Hellwig, Modern Catholic Encyclopedia 66 (2003). This is, of course, to massively oversimplify for sake of narrative convenience.
  10. Cf. 2 New Catholic Encyclopedia, supra note 2, at 69
  11. Hardon, supra note 9, at 34
  12. “In our postulate of soul-liberty we affirm the right of every human being to exemption in matters of faith and conscience from all coercion or intimidation by any earthly authority whatsoever … We did not stumble upon the doctrine. It inheres in the very essence of our belief. Christ is Lord of all. Every attempt to put the conscience in thrall to human authority is lèse-majesté to the King of Kings and a negation of the privileges and responsibilities conferred by Him upon the individual soul.” J.D. Freeman, The Place of Baptists in the Christian Church in Authorized Record of Proceedings of the Baptist World Congress: London, 1905 23-24 (1905).
  13. Hardon, at 20.
  14. Id.
  15. The editors of the Britannica remark, somewhat acidly, that “Baptists have generally been more concerned for religious experience and expression than precise theological formulations.” 1 Encyclopedia Britannica 878 (15th ed. 2002).
  16. Cf. 1 Thess 5:21; J.P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology ch. 1 (1887).
  17. Baptists, supra note 9; Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, 1925 preamble, (last visited Oct. 18, 2014).
  18. Hardon, at 24 (italics added).
  19. This confession has appeared with trivial variances under a number of titles and dates: “It appeared first in London, 1677, then again in 1688 and 1689,” remarks the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, and in any event, says Hardon, amounts to a “redaction” of the 1646 Presbyterian Westminster Confession, adapted to reflect Baptist emphases. See Hardon, at 24. It is therefore interesting to consider that the first clause quoted was an addition to the Westminster Confession, and reflects a harder-nosed attitude toward scripture.
  21. Comparison, supra note 17. A further amendment was adopted subsequent to the time period under study.
  22. While slavery may have figured prominently in it, the separation cannot have been about slavery alone, or one would expect to see rapprochement after the civil war.
  23. Tom Nettles, How to Lose Your Way: A History Lesson in Confessions in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination  xiv (Blount & Wooddell, eds. 2007).
  24. Id., at xiii; see, e.g., Gregory Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 289-94 (2009); Stephen Chapman, Interpreting the Old Testament in Baptist Life in The Scholarly Vocation and the Baptist Academy 95-96 (Ward & Gushee, eds. 2008).
  25. See, e.g., Gustav Niebuhr, Southern Baptists Declare Wife Should ‘Submit’ to Her Husband, The New York Times, June 10, 1998, (last visited Oct. 17, 2014).
  26. How did that work out for them? Between 1925 and 2000, the percentage of the US population claimed by churches affiliated with the Northern Baptist Convention and its successor-organizations declined from 1.2% to 0.5%; that claimed by churches affilitated with the SBC grew from 3.1% to 5.6%. As George Weigel has observed, it is the “Iron Law of Christianity in Modernity: Christian communities that maintain a firm grasp on their doctrinal and moral boundaries can flourish amidst the cultural acids of modernity; Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries become porous (and then invisible) wither and die.” George Weigel, An extraordinary Synod, indeed, Denver Catholic Register, Oct. 21, 2014, visited Oct. 24, 2014).
  27. Comparison, supra note 17, 1925 preamble.
  28. Nettles, supra note 23, at xxi.
  29. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism 72-73 (1923).) Inspiration” does not make the exorbitant demands of literalism that critics of fundamentalism such as Harry Emerson Fosdick would charge:

    “Historically, the Church normally has taken biblical inspiration to involve more than mere human intuition or illumination. The Church Fathers, Medievals, and Reformers generally shared a robust view of inspiration. While opinions differed about whether the human agent was more passive (per dictation and verbal theories…) or active (per dynamic theories, according to which the human author freely chose words, style, etc.) in writing Scripture, almost none would say divine inspiration was merely some higher development of man’s natural insight … or an intensifying and elevating of man’s religious perceptions. … Traditionally, then, the Church has understood the doctrine of biblical inspiration to affirm that God, having chosen to write the texts of Scripture through human agents, is the ultimate author of Scripture.” (Jodeph Woodell, The Scriptures in The Baptist Faith and Message, supra note 23, at 2 (Footnote and internal quotation marks deleted).)

  30. E.Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs 10-13 (1912).
  31. The term “fundamentalism” has acquired—I dare say “was given” a pejorative cast, having the ring of “extremist.” See, e.g., Harriet Harris, Fundamentalism and Evangelicals 34-37 (2008). Its origins and precise sense, however, connote no such critical judgment.
  32. Machen, supra note 29, at 76.
  33. Dyson Canon Hague, The History of the Higher Criticism in 1 The Fundamentals 14, (last visited Oct. 21, 2014). By contrast, the Southern Convention had already taken the part of the fundamentalists on this question: In 1923, the Convention adopted “as the belief of this body” remarks by President Mullins : 

    “We record again our unwavering adherence to the supernatural elements in the Christian religion. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself through men moved by the Holy Spirit, and is our sufficient, certain and authoritative guide in religion. Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He was the divine and eternal Son of God. He wrought miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead. He died as the vicarious, atoning Saviour of the world, and was buried. He arose again from the dead. The tomb was emptied of its contents. In his risen body he appeared many times to his disciples. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. He will come again in person, the same Jesus who ascended from the Mount of Olives.  We believe that adherence to the above truths and facts is a necessary condition of service for teachers in our Baptist Schools…   The supreme issue today is between naturalism and supernaturalism. We stand unalterably for the supernatural in Christianity.”

    Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 1923 19-20 (1923.) The Committee preparing the Faith and Message concluded that “matters of science have no proper place in a religious confession of faith,” but appended the 1923 resolution for inclusion in the Convention’s minutes. See Nettles, supra note 23, at  xix.

  34. James Orr, Revelation and Inspiration 33 (1910) (quoting Wilhelm Bousset, What is Religion? 277 (Low, trns. 1907)).
  35. Id., at 148.
  36. Machen, at 77.
  37. Id., at 77-79.
  38. Clarence Macartney, Shall Unbelief Win? July 13, 1922, (last visited Oct. 20, 2014). Take, for example, the liberal disavowal of the virgin birth:

     “[They say that there] was no Virgin Birth. The opening chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke are pure myth, and the alleged facts and acts of those pages are merely a pious, devout and natural effort of believing men to account for the personality of Jesus …  [But] if we are to take that part of the Gospels as mere pious musing and guessing, will it not weaken our regard for the other parts? If for example the stories of the nativity of Jesus are mere human effort to account for a personality who defied human classification, then who can find fault with the man who says that the accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus are merely imaginations on the part of His followers who wished to have Him die a glorious and sacrificial death? Or that the accounts of the Resurrection are merely the tributes of devotion and admiration, not the records of fact, but stories arising out of the conviction that Christ was too great and holy a man to beheld of death, and thus in keeping with other tales of the reappearance and reincarnation of great men? And so with the Ascension and the Second Epiphany. The moment we take this view of the account of the Virgin Birth, do we not prepare the way for the repudiation of any other part of the Gospel story by any man who wills to do so?”

  39. Niebuhr, supra note 25.
  40. Id.
  41. The passage appends the following string-citation: Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25; 3:1-20; Ex. 20:12; Deut. 6:4-9; Josh. 24:15; 1 Sam. 1:26-28; Ps. 51:5; 78:1-8; 127; 128; 139:13-16; Prov. 1:8; 5:15-20; 6:20-22; 12:4; 13:24; 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 22:6,15; 23:13-14; 24:3; 29:15,17; 31:10-31; Eccl. 4:9-12; 9:9; Mal. 2:14-16; Matt. 5:31-32; 18:2-5; 19:3-9; Mark 10:6-12; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Tim. 5:8,14; 2 Tim. 1:3-5; Titus 2:3-5; Heb. 13:4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7.
  42. Art Toalston, Texas Baptists Counter Official Southern Baptist Stance on Marriage, Christianity Today, Nov. 1, 1999, (last visited Oct. 15, 2014).
  43. Associated Press, Moderate Baptists may reject dictum of wifely submission, Amarillo Globe-News, Nov. 8 , 1999, (last visited Oct. 20, 2014).
  44. Id.; accord Toalston, supra note 42 (“‘That amendment, though it spoke about family and had some decent things in it, also had in it some barbs that were intended to hammer women about subservience, in my judgment,’ Glazener was quoted as saying”).
  45. Simon Dodd, The Church of England approves women bishops, Motu Proprio, July 18, 2014, (last visited Oct. 15, 2014).
  46. See Toalston, supra note 42 (quoting Richard Land as saying that “critics of the family article have looked with a jaundiced eye solely at that line which urges wives to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, and overlooked the completeness of the article and the entire Ephesian passage, which address the distinct, but equally valuable roles of the husband and wife in the marriage relationship.”
  47. Hodge, supra note __, ch.1.
  48. Markus Barth, The Anchor Bible: Ephesians IV-VI New Translation and Commentary 609 n.6. (1974).
  49. Id., at 618.
  50. Cf. James Orr, Holy Scripture and Modern Negations, 1 The Fundamentals, supra note 33, at 76, 80 (“in this whirl and confusion of theories, is it any wonder that many should be disquieted and unsettled, and feel as if the ground on which they have been wont to rest was giving way beneath their feet?”).
  51. Cf. Simon J. Dodd, Religion and spirituality, 4 MPA __ (2014), available at
  52. Orr, Revelation, supra note 34, at 149; accord Orr, Holy Scripture, supra note 50, at 79-80.
  53. The parties appear to stipulate the liberal-fundamentalist construct: “Glazener was quoted … as saying [that] it is a ‘hopeless task’ to think that the BGCT and the SBC’s ‘fundamentalists’ can reconcile their differences,” and SBC President Paige Patterson that “the BGCT leadership has made crystal clear for the sake of Texas Baptist churches where they stand on family and church issues” and that it is therefore “up to the churches to decide with whom they agree—with a liberal, culturally acceptable view of family and church, or with a Christ-honoring, Bible-believing perspective.” Toalston, supra note 42).
  54. Barth, at 609.
  55. 10 The Interpreter’s Bible 717-18 (1953) (citation omitted).
  56. Cf. Encyc. Veritatis splendor, no. 64 (John Paul II, 1993); Simon J. Dodd, Doubt, 4 MPA __, __ text accompanying nn.24-26 (2014), available at
  57. See Toalston, supra.
  58. Barth, at 621.
  59. Barth 618; cf. 10 Interpreter’s Bible, supra note 55, at 721.
  60. Toalston, supra.
  61. Id.
  62. Charles Deweese, Liberty of Conscience,  (last visited Oct. 23, 2014.
  63. Toalston, supra.
  64. SBC Constitution of 1845, art. II, (last visited Oct. 22, 2014).
  65. SBC Constitution, art. IV, (last visited Oct. 22, 2014.
  66. Armitage, supra note 8, at 330.
  67. Ibid.
  68. Jn 13:12-17.
  69. Mt 20:27-28.
  70. Mk 9:35.
  71. Gal 5:13; cf. 1 Pet 2:16.
  72. 10 Interpreter’s Bible, supra note 55, at 716.
  73. See Simon J. Dodd, Who’s Afraid of Fundamentalism, 4 MPA __ (2014), available at
  74. 1 Austin Flannery, Documents of Vatican II 756-57, 761 (1992) (footnotes omitted).
  75. CCC ¶ 2203
  76. CCC ¶ 1646
  77. CCC ¶ 1604.