The SBC and the Nicene Creed

The SBC and the Nicene Creed June 10, 2024

The SBC 2024. The SBC and the Nicene Creed

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is gathering in Indianapolis this week for its annual meeting, and the agenda is full of controversial votes. Messengers will vote on the Law Amendment which addresses the role of women pastors in the SBC. That amendment will have the most publicity. What is arguably more important though is the amendment proposed by Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Seminary, Malcolm Yarnell, to add the Nicene Creed to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.


Adrian Rogers

Many Baptists recoil from creeds out of reflex born of history. The late giant of Baptist preaching, Adrian Rogers once said, “We have no need for a creed. We have the Bible…how can you improve on that?”[1] There are several problems with Roger’s sentiment. First, merely having the Bible is no guarantee of reading the Bible well. Arius had the Bible. So did Nestorius, Macedonius, and Pelagius. All of these men preached false, heretical doctrine.

More than that, I dare say that Rogers had many commentaries on Scripture. Commentaries are an important part of researching for preaching. They provide a sense of the proper translation of the text, historical background, the emphases of the human author, the immediate context, the broader context, and many other resources that a reader may not know without their help.

A book with a ribbon bookmark and a plant. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Preaching without a commentary would be like traveling to Paris without a map, or negotiating a trade deal with Russia and not knowing where the Volga River is. It would be like driving a car without knowing how to pump gas. More than silly, it would be hubris.

The Creed is simply a commentary on the Bible’s teachings about Christian doctrine. Since the Creed is foundational, it is helpful. It is not an addition to the Bible or a replacement. It distills. The Creed keeps us faithful to the Bible.


Baptist Quirks

Some Baptists do not like the Creed because of the phrase “holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Reading the term “catholic” to refer to the Roman Catholic Church, these Baptists find the phrase very objectionable. To be fair, a faithful Catholic would insist that is exactly what the phrase means. The Eastern Orthodox Church, however, recites the Creed and they do not recognize the term “catholic” as indicating Roman Catholic. No, they see the term as meaning “universal.” They are exactly correct.

It is also the case that the primacy of Rome for the Church was challenged until the mid-400s, after the creed was affirmed. So, the idea that “catholic” must mean Roman Catholic is unnecessary.

For Baptists, the Church is not an organization or institution. The Church is a people who share a confession. Those who share that confession are part of the Church Universal. Reading the term “catholic” as universal is the right reading, and would create no issues for a Baptist. Further, accepting the creed would serve as a protection against heresies.


Heresies Continue

Heresies have not subsided with the end of the 400s. No, Christological heresies abound even now, even among SBC clergy. In defending the Creed to an online group of SBC pastors this last week. I was surprised by several responses.

One pastor wanted to argue that Jesus is eternally submissive to the Father. He is following the work of Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware.[2] What these two thinkers note it that there is submission to the Father salvation history, but they project that onto God’s eternal nature.

As our discussion continued I kept pressing the point that in eternity, Jesus and God have one will because they are one. If there are multiple wills, then there are multiple Gods. Will is part of God’s nature. I belabored the point: submission is the act of one will yielding to another will. If there is only one will submission is impossible by definition.


God Has Only One Will

The pastor in question kept quoting John 8:29. In it Jesus says, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” He took the “always” to refer to eternity. Jesus always does, in his logic, what pleases God. He is, therefore always subordinate to the Father. Of course, his reading misses verse 28. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” The question for the reader is this, does Jesus have all of the Characteristics that God has? The answer is absolutely. If not, then Jesus cannot be said to be God. Those characteristics include omniscience. If Jesus is omniscient, how can God teach Jesus? What could an all-knowing being learn?

The answer to this riddle is found in the incarnation. In his human life, Jesus gained a human nature. That nature included a human will. He fully submitted to the will of God in his human will and lived a sinless life. He retained his divine nature and will, however. Jesus can learn because his human nature can learn. He can submit, because he can yield his human will to God. One can be sure that if Jesus learns, then it is his human nature learning. If Jesus submits, it is his human will submitting. His divine will cannot submit, because it is a will shared with God.

Christians call this doctrine two-nature Christology. The technical name is the Hypostatic Union. More here:

An Explanation of Jesus’ Two Natures

Athanasian Creed


Two Natures of Jesus

As my discussion continued, another pastor thought he had caught me in a contradiction. He said since I was arguing that God has only one will, the two natures of Christ render my point untrue. Of course, that is nonsense. I asked if he did not understand or believe in the two natures of Christ. His answer was not reassuring. He suggested that the doctrine is not knowable and that time would be better served sharing our faith. That is the equivalent of saying we should not put out a put out a fire because a hurricane is coming.

While I do not expect that every layperson would have ready fluency with the doctrine of the Trinity, I do expect that pastors would. Having spent three years in seminary and having ready access to the great thoughts of Christians through the centuries, pastors ought to know the doctrine well. Sadly, many do not. This fact ought to cause tremors among our leadership.

Lifeway Polling

As there is a decline in understanding about the Trinity among pastors, there is a large decline in understanding among our laity. In a recent Lifeway poll, more than half of Evangelical Christians hold to the heretical belief that Jesus was a created being.[3] The result is staggering. Not only is this belief in direct opposition to the Scriptures, it is opposed to 2000 years of Christian teaching. If Evangelical Christians are functionally heretical on this topic, then the Evangelical faith has a significant crisis. To put it bluntly, If Jesus is not God in the flesh, Scripture is untrue. If Jesus is not God in the flesh humans are still lost in sin. Only God could save us.

The Trinity and the nature of Jesus are directly tied to salvation. This is critical for Christians to get right.



Layne Wallace on the SBC Abuse Scandal

Layne Wallace on the Trinity




[2] Ware is a professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.


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