"We will be the first Southern Baptist college to require a signature to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message in a public forum," Caner said.
Trustee Bailey Smith, an evangelist and former Southern Baptist Convention president, offered the following recommendation during the trustees' Dec. 4 meeting: "In affirmation of our alignment with the doctrinal statement of our Georgia Baptist Convention and in full support of our motto, 'Biblically Centered, Distinctively Baptist,' I move that we adopt the Baptist Faith and Message as the confessional statement of faith for Truett-McConnell College.
"I further move that we request our president to bring back to our March 2010 board of trustees meeting a plan to implement guidelines and policies that would assure that our faculty and administrators are in full agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message and will teach, lead, and direct this institution within the doctrinal guideline of this statement of faith."
Trustee chairman John Yarborough gave ample time for questions and discussion, but it was apparent that the trustees were prepared to vote. Yarborough asked those in favor of the recommendation to stand and the vote was unanimous.
Truett-McConnell College, now with 519 students, was founded in 1946 in Cleveland, Ga., and began classes the following year. TMC offered two-year degrees until its accrediting agencies' approval in 2002 to add four-year degrees, initially in music and now also in Christian studies and education. Caner became TMC's eighth president in August 2008.
Caner had set the stage for the vote when he addressed the trustees earlier in the day by referring to it as "a moment in history."
"I believe I have been preparing for this day since 1982 for I am not a Baptist by tradition or by convenience. I am a Baptist by conviction," Caner said. "The 20th century saw the degradation of sound biblical theology. But thankfully on a national level our seminaries, mission agencies, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and our other agencies are now faithful to the Word of God, but we can't say the same about all our state Baptist colleges. I will stand on the Baptist Faith and Message."
"The Georgia Baptist Convention and our churches deserve nothing less than a faculty that will abide by nothing less than the essentials of the faith," Caner continued. "We can change the landscape of faith in America if we are willing to change one institution at a time."
Institutions "that do not faithfully support the theology of Southern Baptists do not deserve the faithful support of Southern Baptists," Caner said. "In 1925, Southern Baptists declared our unified faith to the world in the Baptist Faith and Message." Other denominations, he said, "decided to reject any confession of faith."
"I will gladly, and fully, stand in the power of God's inerrant, infallible, inspired Word on essential subjects such as verbal plenary inspiration of God's Word, the Trinity, the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ, a New Testament church, the soon-coming return of our King, the fulfillment of the Great Commission, religious liberty, the biblical makeup of family and the defense of the unborn child."
Caner cited BF&M Article XII on Education: "In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists."
The trustee recommendation gives Caner three months to develop the guidelines and policies for implementing the plan. Every indication suggests that the faculty and administration will be given a reasonable amount of time to decide how they will respond to the guidelines presented by Caner and approved by the trustees.
Caner met with the faculty on Wednesday following the trustee meeting to inform them that they would not be expected to sign the BF&M until August 2011. "I gave the faculty and administration 18 months to sign the Baptist Faith and Message because I wanted to be pastoral in my approach to this issue," he told The Christian Index, Georgia Baptists' newsjournal.
Sam Pelletier, chairman of Truett-McConnell's Christian studies department, offered to have the Christian studies faculty sign the BF&M a year earlier. "We would also be willing to sign the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy," Pelletier said. "Not only I, but the rest of the department is unanimous in their desire to pioneer in the signing of these documents."
"Over the eight years I have been at Truett as head of the Christian studies department, I have asked all new hires for the Christian studies department if they would affirm both of these statements, and all those whom we have hired have agreed," Pelletier said. "I would have liked for the previous administration to have made this a requirement for the faculty in the Christian studies department, but this did not happen."
"I applaud Dr. Caner and the trustees for making the affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy requirements for teaching in the Christian studies department at TMC," Pelletier said. "This decision will ensure the theological integrity of the college for years to come."
Ed Pruitt, director of the college's World Missions Center and associate professor of Christian studies, also affirmed the BF&M action, saying, "I am thankful that Truett-McConnell College has trustees with vision and foresight. In a day when so many Christian institutions are departing from their biblical foundations, I think it is absolutely essential for Truett-McConnell trustees to secure this institution to biblical Southern Baptist moorings."
"As a conservative Southern Baptist," Pruitt said, "I stand ready to wholeheartedly affirm the BF&M 2000 without reservation ... . I believe that by Truett-McConnell trustees, administration and faculty affirming this foundational statement of faith, it sends a clear message to Georgia Baptists. That message is that TMC is not ashamed of being Southern Baptist and we stand ready to defend the fundamentals of what it means to be a Bible- believing, God-honoring institution of higher education."
Robert Loffredo, professor of chemistry and physical sciences, indicated to the trustees that he wanted Truett-McConnell to remain a liberal arts college. When questioned after his comment, he stated, "I have no problem with the Baptist Faith and Message. I believe it, but if I make a commitment to embrace it, I wouldn't want it to become a legalistic kind of document."
T. Michael Davis, associate professor of mathematics, responded to the trustee action by commenting, "As to whether the decision is wise, I cannot say; only time will reveal whether it was a good one. But I do believe that the trustees are wise, because I join with many others in praying for them every day that they would be wise and strong in their leadership."
"I can see how this decision would strengthen the school's relationship with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Regarding the school's standing and accreditation, our main concern is always the quality of education we are offering the students who attend Truett," Davis said.
"I work with some fine Baptist faculty members who strive in every way to provide students the highest quality education they can, and I have known many eminently qualified, outstanding professors who were and are not Baptist. On the other hand, I have also known both Baptist and non-Baptists who make very poor professors."
Davis concluded, "Personally, I affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. I know that this affirmation in itself does not make me a good professor, but it does serve to clarify my position on some very important theological matters for those who employ me -- Georgia Baptists."
Roy Hardy, professor of mathematics, commenting on the trustee decision, said, "I have always been 'Baptist.' I am an ordained deacon and an active member of a fundamental Baptist church. Nevertheless, I do not agree with all other Baptists. I feel I have grown spiritually by discussing my beliefs with other Baptists and with Christians of other denominations. I have read the Baptist Faith and Message. I agree on almost every point but am not convinced the 'Message' is divinely inspired or infallible. I feel it goes well beyond the 'essentials' of the faith."
Hardy continued, "I have taught at TMC for 12 years. When I came to the school, I debated the resident Bible professor who believed we no longer had the infallible Word of God and that all modern translations had errors. What if I had been forced to affirm my agreement with the position of the college at that time? Isn't it just as dangerous to now require every professor to 'agree' with the predominant view of the denomination?"
Michael Justus, associate professor of history, affirmed the trustee decision by saying, "In our quest and commitment as an institution to be 'Biblically Centered, Distinctively Baptist,' this decision is a very important and positive step. Georgia Baptists have a right to expect the faculty and administrators of their colleges to adhere to Baptist principles and beliefs as stated in the Baptist Faith and Message. For an institution to fail to live up to this standard is to misuse Cooperative Program funds entrusted to us."
Justus added, "Also, as a bivocational pastor of a GBC church, I believe wholeheartedly that this is the right thing to do. I commend the trustees and the administration in taking this bold stand."
Janet Forney, chair of the department of business, stated, "I fully support the trustees' decision. It is vitally important that the faculty at Truett believes, lives and instructs in accordance with biblical standards. Our students should learn from our example. In an age when students in secular institutions are taught not to believe in Scripture, the classroom at Truett should provide a venue for further sharing and support of biblical beliefs."
Kurt Wise, professor of natural science and director for the Center for Creation Research, stated, "Personally, I am excited about the trustees' decision. Having attended at least one institution which abandoned its original mission and purpose, and having over the years seen too many churches and schools stray from the faith, I realize that unless we diligently resist it, the natural trend for any institution is to part from the truth."
"We need to be proactive in placing 'Ebenezers' in our path to remind us of where we came from, warning pylons to inform us when we go astray, and tethers to keep us as close to the truth as possible," Wise said. " statement of faith -- and the BF&M is a good one -- is one excellent way to tether TMC to its proper moorings."
Wise continued, "Although it can be argued that such a move will narrow the diversity of students, faculty and administration, it will also permit greater security, spiritual depth and divine blessing. I believe there are many Baptist families -- biological and spiritual -- who will feel much more secure about sending their young people to TMC given the existence of such a statement of faith. So, I believe it will lead to an increase in enrollment."
"I suspect also that there will be many Baptists who will be much more willing to support TMC after making such a decision, so I believe it will improve Truett-McConnell's support," Wise said. "Also, when the faculty and administration are more unified in their faith, it will be possible to teach and promote a more consistent and deeper understanding of God and His Word."
"Finally, taking such a stand makes a public statement of identification with Christ and His teachings. Although such identifications often result in conflict with the world and conflict with those of the world, I believe those who take such positions are blessed by God," Wise said.
Trustee Bailey Smith commented, "I feel grateful to be a part of a school that has taken such a bold step in making public their commitment to the word of God and the Baptist tradition."
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
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