IMB Trustees and My Beef
My beef with the trustees is doctrinal. I disagree with their theology, or specifically the new guidelines that have enacted regarding baptism and prayer languages. The purpose of posting trustee contact information was primarily so that Southern Baptists could write to inquire of the justification for these changes. In addition, they could also ask about the Burleson issue.
In an effort to present my thoughts on this matter, I submitted an essay to the Baptist paper in my state. Whether they will publish it is uncertain. However, I have decided to post it here so that you may understand my differences with the IMB trustees. The article is not a full-fledged argument. In order to make it publication worthy, I had a word limit. Therefore, there are some issues that are not fully developed, but this was for the sake of publication. Below is the article that was submitted yesterday:
As Baptists, we call ourselves a “People of the Book”. We pride ourselves on our desire to conform to the whole counsel of Scripture when it comes to our religious practices and to the teachings of the New Testament in matters of church life. In addition, Baptists have consistently been a confessional people. Confessions express shared beliefs among a cooperating group of believers or churches. Southern Baptists have composed three confessions in our one 160 year history, the most recent being 2000’s revised Baptist Faith and Message (BFM2000). What happens, though, when some Baptists begin to redefine core doctrines of our faith in a way that does not adhere to Biblical teachings or with our most recent confession? Could some Baptists formulate guidelines/beliefs that overstep the Bible or our confession?
This scenario is exactly what has happened recently. In November 2005, the trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) voted to change certain policies regarding the requirements for missionary candidates. In an effort to narrow the requirements for missionary candidates, trustees revised their understanding of the issue of private prayer language and what constitutes proper baptism. The size of this article does not allow for me to provide an in-depth analysis of the entire situation. Instead, I will focus specifically on why I believe the changes to candidate baptism requirements should be revoked.
The previous IMB policy for proper baptism of missionary candidates can be summarized as follows: 1) baptism by immersion following conversion; 2) baptism is viewed as an expression of faith in Christ, not seen as part of the salvation process; 3) the candidate’s home church must be SBC affiliated which testifies that the candidate’s baptism is sound and biblical; and 4) the candidate must have been in good standing for at least three years. These guidelines sufficiently express Biblical and Baptist theology. However, the new policy adds additional requirements to the old guidelines. The church which baptizes the candidate must: 1) baptize by immersion only; 2) reject baptismal regeneration; 3) and believe in the doctrine of eternal security. These additions seem harmless enough on the surface, but on closer examination, may turn out to be not just extra-biblical and un-Baptistic, but harmful as well. In fact, my contention is that these new guidelines fall in line much closer with Roman Catholic theology than Baptist beliefs. Why would I suggest these things?
First, baptism is identification with Christ, not with a particular church (Acts 8.12, 8.38; 10.47-48; Rom. 6.3-5; Gal. 3.27). If baptism identified a person with a church, then logically one should be rebaptized every time he or she joins a new church. These new changes explicitly make the baptizing church’s theology vital to “proper” baptism. The BFM2000 defines proper baptism as symbolic of a believer’s faith in Jesus. Although it is considered a church ordinance, baptism does not identify a person with a local church. Baptism comes first, then church membership. The latter is dependent upon the former, but not vice versa. There seems to be an underlying assumption on the part of the trustees that one’s baptism is an endorsement of the theology of the baptizing church. I have been a Southern Baptist all of my Christian life. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma, but that does not mean I believed everything my church believed. I have disagreed on more than a few points of doctrine with various churches over the years, but I still worshipped and served in a cooperative manner. My baptism was not an endorsement of every doctrine of my baptizing church. It was my identification with Christ.
Second, baptism is identification with Christ, not with particular doctrines. We do not expect new converts who are baptized to understand everything about theology. Theological growth is expected after conversion, not before (e.g., the Great Commission’s order to “baptize” precedes the commandment to “[teach] them to observe all that I commanded you”). We all have grown and refined our theology as we have walked with Christ longer and studied our Bibles more. Even more significantly, though, the IMB trustees are not regulating what a convert must believe at the time of baptism, but what the baptizing church must believe. As Baptists, we believe in the eternal security of those Christ has saved, but we do not think that eternal security validates our baptism. If this was the case, it would follow that those having been scripturally baptized (by immersion as believers in a symbolic manner) who did not believe in eternal security were not really baptized! Do the IMB trustees really believe that?
As far as I can tell, no Baptist confession or theologian has ever required a church to hold certain doctrines before considering their baptisms to be valid. Baptist confessions tie proper baptism to identification with Christ, not a host of other systematic doctrines. So, what is the problem? First, eternal security has nothing to do with proper baptism. Second, these trustees have started with this doctrine, but who is to say this will be the only one? What if they later add other doctrinal requirement for baptism? What if the baptizing church does not believe in a literal seven-day view of creation? Will baptisms performed in a church like that be considered invalid by the IMB? What about churches that practice elder (instead of deacon) leadership? Will missionary candidates from elder-led churches one day be required to resubmit to ‘proper’ baptism by deacon-led churches? What about Calvinistic versus Arminian churches? How absurd is this? I’m not predicting that the trustees will continue to restrict the rules for right baptism and slide down this slippery slope, but even if they stop here they have already gone too far.
Third, this policy is more in line with Roman Catholic theology than with Baptist theology. Men such as Cyprian and Augustine, and events such as the Donatist Controversy, were vital in the formulation Roman Catholic theology on baptism. In these instances, the Roman Catholic Church defended the view that proper baptism depends on the doctrine of the church for the right administration of baptism. For Catholics, proper baptism is tied directly to the transfer of the church’s right doctrine to the baptized person. In other words, the correctness of Church doctrine validates the act of baptism. Am I accusing IMB trustees of being Roman Catholic? No. However, a similar line of thinking taking place: the Church possesses right doctrine, confers it upon baptismal candidates, and validates one’s baptism.
Fourth, IMB trustees have overstepped biblical and confessional beliefs and must be corrected. Trustees are elected by SBC church messengers at annual national conventions. Trustees are elected to oversee and to hold accountable the various SBC entities (IMB, North American Mission Board, seminaries, etc.). They are elected by us and are accountable to us. When they err, they should be corrected. I am not one of the IMB trustees. I was not part of their discussion on this issue, although I sincerely believe they gave this issue much thought before voting. I hold no ill will toward any of them; rather, I am extremely thankful for their hard work and for their gifts in overseeing a most treasured organization, the IMB. However, one of our responsibilities as Baptists is to hold trustees responsible for their decisions. In this case, I believe they are biblically and Baptistically wrong in adding these new restrictions to “proper” baptism. Therefore, I urge you to consider this issue carefully. Then, inquire about how you can become a messenger for your church and attend the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina this June. I suspect there will be a motion to rescind this latest policy change. Search the Scriptures, read the BFM2000, and decide if these policy changes are necessary. Then, vote your conscience.
posted by Jason Sampler at 2:23 PM