The SBC and the Nicene Creed

The Evangelical Rush to Judgment Must Stop

Though the Law Amendment rightly took center stage at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting, the fallout from another motion also has important ramifications for American Protestantism going forward. 

As you might have heard, several motions to regarding the Nicene Creed were made, with two being referred to committee. My concern is less about why that occurred—the reasons are not the slightest bit controversial—and more about the reaction it garnered in some corners of the Protestant world. The fallout has been disappointing, to say the least.

Hearing of the news about the motion on the Nicene Creed, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Christians from other Protestant denominations reacted as though the SBC just rejected the Nicene Creed itself. You might have read that the SBC openly promotes heresy and now proudly stands outside of trinitarian orthodoxy. Or that Baptists are just being Baptists, complete with eye-rolling emojis. Or that Baptists think that saying the Pledge of Allegiance is more important than saying the Nicene Creed.

While poking fun is one thing—bearing false witness is something else entirely. Each one of these claims is a complete misrepresentation of what happened. 

Quite simply, the Nicene Creed was not rejected. Out of the three motions that were made regarding the Creed, two were referred to the Executive Committee. The first, made by avid Law Amendment opponent, Malcom Yarnell, was ruled out of order. (Thanks to John Michael LaRue for clarification on these points.)

As Denny Burk noted, “The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly adopted a rule preventing anyone from amending the Baptist Faith & Message from the floor. Unless messengers suspend the rule, the Nicene Creed will not be added to the BF&M at this meeting.”

Just like the Law Amendment, this will be a multi-year a process. But the process must follow good order, which is similar to how the PCA handles constitutional requests.

A number of SBC messengers seem to be in favor of adding the Nicene Creed to the BF&M 2000. Moreover, there is a resurgence in classical theology in the SBC, along with a renewed focus on building bridges to the historic church, which is refreshing. At the Center for Baptist Leadership, Mark DeVine commented regarding the SBC as a whole that the “[r]ecovery of a robust doctrine of the trinity has been underway for at least a century.”

But none of these specifics seemed to matter to some online commentators, especially those who regard themselves as being careful academic theologians. 

It was disappointing to see some who are thoughtfully working to revive classical theology skewer the SBC over a process they don’t seem to know the first thing about. It’s disconcerting to read Presbyterians carelessly go after the SBC when they have similar institutional processes in their denominations that, without stopping to inspect the finer details, can obscure what’s actually going on. It’s like when journalists report on the release of a scientific paper: it’s inevitable that they will mangle it. The only question is how, not if.

Whether it stems from disagreement with Baptist theology, a reaction against a Baptist church in your past, or even outright malice at a theological tradition you despise, no matter: Christians should not be slandering each other. Instead, making careful observations—and even critiques when need be—that are grounded in the facts at hand is a basic standard that all Christians must hold to.

Now, I certainly have disagreements with the clip that’s been going around of SBC presidential candidate David Allen voicing his reservations about some of the wording of the Nicene Creed. “One Baptism for the remission of sin” is orthodox Christianity through and through. The Nicene Creed is basic Christian orthodoxy that has bound the church together throughout the ages. Baptists should affirm every word of the Nicene Creed without reservation.

And I should add that while I’m no longer a Baptist, I valued my time while I attended an SBC church in my teenage years. I heard the Gospel preached regularly and saw a strong focus on conversion and evangelism, which sometimes in more Reformed denominations can be overwhelmed by more esoteric considerations. 

But I felt no need to pile on my SBC brothers last week during what could be a crucial turning point in the history of the SBC. Protestants of other denominations should express joy when they see orthodoxy advancing in another Protestant denomination. Protestants in the Reformed world need to learn to advance our interests politically to combat the issues of our day, not focus on disagreements and often petty concerns. 

Of course, forging a healthy Protestant ecumenism does not require stopping all denominational critiques on social media or during in person gatherings. But I would suggest that if you want to criticize the SBC, make positive, constructive critiques that are meant to be helpful. Do not dish out endless black pill takes. And avoid posting numerous stream-of-consciousness threads that simply air your grievances with Baptists. 

Above all, don’t make a critique that’s the equivalent of a drive-by report from your run-of-the-mill religion reporter. Which is what I saw happening last week during the SBC Annual Meeting.

In the future, before tweeting or publishing a Substack explainer that lashes out at the SBC, I would encourage you to ask yourself: Am I building up the body of Christ? Do I know all the facts before commenting? Can I raise my concerns privately to Baptists friends or pastors instead of airing my thoughts in public? Is my reaction simply due to a theological tradition I disagree with or a bad interaction I had with a church or a member of that tradition? Due to the one-click nature of social media, human reason can often be overwhelmed by the passions of the moment.

Ecumenicism and unity, a subject to which Richard Baxter, Anthony Burgess, and other key Reformed theologians devoted time writing about, is an important aspect of the church that is often overlooked today. Orthodox Protestant denominations should band together to uphold orthodoxy. This is especially true at a time when debates are less about theological distinctives that may divide Protestants and far more on areas—for example, anthropology—on which all orthodox Protestants should agree. 

Our times are grave and demand serious focus and resolve. The SBC is in the midst of what could end up being a complete recovery of orthodox Christianity. (As Ryan Burge just noted, Southern Baptists are getting more theologically and politically conservative by the year.) Dumping on Baptists affiliated with the SBC, especially without knowing all the particulars, will only increase division and disunity. 

As the SBC goes, so goes orthodox Protestant Christianity in the United States.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect the three motions regarding the Nicene Creed that were offered during the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

4 thoughts on “The SBC and the Nicene Creed

  1. Having been a Christian for 45 plus years now, and as a result a student of human nature, this is no surprise. I also earlier this year got active on Twitter, and I see A LOT of human nature there. I’m an ex-Baptist myself, but from long ago, but thank you for the clarification. Your last sentence is a powerful reminder of the cultural importance of the SBC as we seek to take back the West from the secularists.

  2. “As the SBC goes, so goes orthodox Protestant Christianity in the United States.”

    That is one of the most ridiculous sentiments I have ever heard expressed concerning Christianity in the US.

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