As Free Church believers, Baptists have historically resisted ecclesiastical creeds and have insisted that the Old and New Testaments alone are the final authority for faith and practice. This distinction has led to the conventional description that whereas Baptists are historically confessional people they are not ecclesially creedal people.
Since Southern Baptists existed from 1845 to 1925 without a formal confession of faith, perhaps the Introduction to the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message says it best pertaining to confessions:
1.That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
2.That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future Baptist should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
3. That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
4. That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
5. That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
With the above as a backdrop to the Baptist understanding of the role of confessions in a Free Church tradition, below are helpful links to significant confessions Baptists have historically expressed (s0me links and documents courtesy of the Baptist Center of Theology and Ministry at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary).
Anabaptist and Early Baptist Confessions
Baptist have long argued over their beginnings in church history. Theories from tracing their roots all the way back to John the Baptist on one side and to the Magisterial Reformation on the other exists with scholarly advocates all in between. Perhaps each theory posits a bit actual truth after all. It seems hard to ignore, however, the evidence of strong influence coming from the Radical Reformation; to be more precise, the Anabaptist influence.
Particular Baptist Confessions
Particular Baptists received their moniker from their theological understanding of Christ’s atonement. In their view, God the Father designed His Son’s death on the cross to only pay for the sins of God’s elect whom He chose before the foundation of the world. Hence, they held to a “particular” atonement. In addition, Particular Baptists traditionally held to what’s commonly referred to as “TULIP” or the “Five Points of Calvinism”–total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement (i.e. “particular atonement”), irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.
General Baptist Confessions
In contrast to Particular Baptists, General Baptists held tenaciously to “universal atonement” rather than “particular atonement.” For them, Chirist’s death secured salvation’s possibility for every human being. Hence, they were called “General Baptists.” In addition, General Baptists were more influenced by Arminian rather than Calvinistic theological impulses as were Particular Baptists.
A Comparison of Four General Baptist Statements of Faith: Smyth’s Short Confession (1610), Helwys’ Declaration of Faith (1611), The Faith and Doctrines of 30 Congregations (1651), and the Standard Confession (1660)
Early Baptist Confessions in America
Early Baptists in Colonial America were influenced by both their English counterparts. Thus, both Calvinistic and Arminian impulses run through early American Baptist churches.
Southern Baptists Confessions
In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was born in Augusta, Georgia. While southern churches split over a number of issues, regrettably one of the main issues was slave owner-ship. Yet the convention was both formed and continued to exist until well into the 20th century without a formalized confession of faith. The first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B. Johnson, perhaps said it best: “We have constructed for our basis no new creed; acting in this matter upon a Baptist aversion for all creeds but the Bible.” Hence, for over three-quarters of a century, the Southern Baptist Convention held together without either a public or formal confession. Beginning in 1925, Southern Baptists adopted their first convention-wide confession. Two revisions since have also been adopted–1963 and 2000.
Other helpful Doctrinal Statements and Documents in understanding the history of Southern Baptists