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Warning to Baptists: fighting words to follow, including "creeds," "confessions," and "individual vs. congregational authority."

The subject of long-standing debates in Baptist circles is gaining renewed attention as the North Carolina chapter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) revises its foundational statement.

CBF is a national alliance of 1,900 moderate Baptist congregations that broke from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1991, in part because of concerns that the SBC was becoming too authoritative—"too creedal" and "too Catholic," as some complained.

In a section titled "Priesthood of All Believers," CBF North Carolina currently affirms "the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply Scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit" without creeds or clergy control. The revision replaces that section with this: "We confess that the Christian faith is best understood and experienced within the community of God's people who are called to be priests to one another …."

"The debate is [preferring] emphasis on the community or the individual," said Tony Cartledge, associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School. "Traditionalists dislike any thought of a magisterium-like body setting doctrinal standards … while those who favor a more 'Bapto-Catholic' approach appear to fear hyper-individualism."

The new statement includes the Apostles' Creed, an early statement of Christian belief used for liturgical and teaching purposes. "It is included not as a matter of coercion or discipline, but as a way for [us] to express [our] connection with Christians throughout the ages," said Larry Hovis, CBF North Carolina's executive coordinator.

But critics such as ...

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In the Magazine

November 2010

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