A new survey from LifeWay Research indicates that the vast majority of Southern Baptist pastors observe communion in ways that violate their denomination's guiding faith statement.
The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), last revised in 2000, stipulates that baptism "is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper"–the denomination's terminology for communion–which is a symbolic act for "members of the church." But according to LifeWay's survey of 1,066 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors, 96 percent of SBC churches allow non-members to participate in communion, and only 35 percent restrict communion who those who have been baptized.
LifeWay emphasizes the stats are a research finding, not a statement on denominational health. "Clearly, though, this survey points out a difference between the beliefs expressed in the [BFM], and the Lord's Supper practices of many Southern Baptist churches," said director Scott McConnell.
Roger S. Oldham, the SBC's vice president for communications and relations, explained to CT that the BFM "is not a creed [Southern Baptists] must embrace" but a "consensus confession" that serves as a "guide in interpretation" of the Bible. SBC trustees and employees are required to affirm the BFM, but not pastors of cooperating churches.
Oldham said that communion has long been debated within the SBC. The BFM reflects a doctrinal consensus among Southern Baptist pastors as recent as 2000, although it "seems clear" its position on the Lord's Supper "may have slipped to a minority position among pastors and churches."
So what does this research finding mean for Southern Baptists? Should the BFM be changed? Or should SBC churches change their practice?
"That is a decision that will be made by the messengers of the convention," said Oldham to CT. "[The study] reveals the diversity of thought among Southern Baptists around a number of important subjects. As this debate continues, I expect to see thoughtful expositions of Scripture being produced that will espouse a variety of viewpoints–but I fully anticipate each essay will appeal directly to Scripture to make the case for the position espoused by its author."