a baptist perspective

 

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Jason Sampler
New Orleans, Louisiana

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B.A. History Education, SWOSU
M.A. Theology, NOBTS
Th.M. Theology, NOBTS

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

The SBC, Confessions, and the IMB Trustees

In the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, we have adopted three confessions to identify and proclaim our beliefs. These are the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. I don't have the time to provide a detailed description of the history, content, and differences among these confessions. Such is not the purpose for this article. A confession, by nature, is descriptive. It describes the beliefs of its writers and adopters. It is not prescriptive. The purpose of a confession is not to coerce churches into believing certain doctrines but to identify some, or many, areas of agreement for cooperation among various churches or other organizations.

When the BFM2000 was crafted and brought before the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, the messengers representing Southern Baptist churches voted to adopt the BFM2000 as the convention's confession. Major entity employees, seminary professors, and missionaries, among others, were required to sign in affirmation of this confession. It became the standard for cooperation among Southern Baptists in denominational life.

Then came November 2005.

At the end of a two-year study committee comprised of certain IMB Trustees, two changes in policy were presented to the full IMB Trustee Board. In simple terms, the new policies redefined acceptable baptism for missionary candidates and rejected the practice of private prayer language for incoming candidates. When a new trustee questioned the biblical foundation and practical implications for these policies, he was immediately ostracized and a request was made for his removal from the Board of Trustees.

The new polices passed and went immediately into effect. This means that since November 2005 no missionary candidate who fails to meet these two new theological criteria qualifies for service through the International Mission Board. Some have already been rejected and countless more will be disqualified upon application.

What do the BFM2000 and the IMB policies have to do with each other? Like the old saying goes, "You don't swap horses in mid-stream." But that's exactly what the trustees did. They restricted the theological guidelines for missionary candidates and discriminated against numerous Southern Baptists who are (or will be) called to missions. Although they have been instructed to abide by the BFM2000, IMB Trustees have switched their mount. Picture it this way:

The Southern Baptist Convention, which adopted the BFM2000, declared that the doorway into SBC denominational service is seven feet tall and three feet wide. There are many who can fit through such a door. The IMB Trustees, however, restricted the entrance to service in their entity by putting up various barriers. Now, for the IMB, the door measures four feet tall and one foot wide.

But don't trustees have the right and responsibility to set policies for their entity, you might ask? The answer is most certainly, "Yes". There are many qualifications and restrictions when one applies for NAMB or IMB service. You must be in good health. You cannot be strapped with financial debt. You must be able to affirm the contents of the BFM2000. There are others, but you get the idea. However, trustees have neither the right nor the responsibility to narrow the theological parameters for service beyond what the BFM2000 already states. Why? The IMB represents the entire constituency of the Southern Baptist Convention. IMB trustees do not have the privilege of restricting doctrinal parameters outside of those already set by the entire convention. If the messengers of the convention wish to redefine their understanding of private prayer languages and what constitutes acceptable baptism, then so be it. Until that point, the IMB trustees have overstepped their authority.

Some might argue that these restrictive measures are a clear reading and interpretation of the BFM2000. Those opposed to these policies, however, refute such an assertion. There is absolutely no mention of a restriction of private prayer language within the BFM2000. Others will say, "Well, most Baptists don't believe in private prayer." The problem with such a statement is that we aren't taking a straw poll to find the pulse of the convention on this. The fact of the matter is that some within the SBC do believe in and practice private prayer languages. Does that make them non-SBC? The emphatic answer is "No". There is absolutely no statement concerning the rejection of private prayer languages in the BFM2000. Private prayer language is a non-essential that must not be allowed to restrict missionary candidates from qualifying for appointment. The IMB already had sufficient policies in place for the practice of public charismatic behaviors (for an overview of the sufficiency of the old policies as compared to the new ones, see
here). Private prayer language is different and was acceptable under the old IMB policies as well as the current SBC confession.

Concerning the restrictions on baptism, the NT nowhere ties the belief of eternal security to proper baptism. The BFM2000 does state that Christian baptism symbolizes the identification of a believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and that baptism is a person's "testimony to the faith in the final resurrection of the dead." However, this does not apply to the new IMB policy. They specifically make reference that the BAPTIZING CHURCH must affirm eternal security. Even if one wanted to interpret the article on baptism as symbolizing a belief in eternal security, there is no mention of requiring the baptizing church to believe such. Baptisms from evangelical churches that do not believe in eternal security would be invalid. I suspect we should revise our Bibles to read "one faith, one Lord, one SBC-baptism".

What is the significance of these two policies? They restrict the boundaries of fellowship and cooperation within our own convention, and they affect our own people. "You speak in a private prayer language? You're not one of us and unqualified to be our missionary." "Your baptizing church didn't affirm eternal security? Then you don't meet our doctrinal standards, which are different from the SBC."

In the end, Southern Baptists have two choices. Choice #1 is that we can allow these policies to stand, placing an undue burden on a missionary force that is already weighed down by spiritual warfare. Choice #2 is that we can recommend the trustees to reconsider the scope and gravity of their restrictiveness. They are godly men and women who have made a theological declaration that our convention has never endorsed. The 'battle for the Bible' is over. When will it be time to enjoy the peace, to prosper and grow, and to remain faithful to our heritage and confession while refusing to exclude many of our own?

posted by Jason Sampler at 1:15 PM

25 Comments:

Blogger martyduren said...

Good job, Jason. I will link to it--thanks.

6:26 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Nate Goodwin said...

Are you suggesting that individuals call for the trustees to reconsider the policy or that the SBC call for it to be reconsidered? A follow up question is then how do we go about that in the best possible way from your understanding?

7:26 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger art rogers said...

Excellent thoughts, Jason. Since Marty says I'm a big blog pimp, I'll pimp yours. ;)

8:23 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Nate,

I do not know whether individuals will address this issue at the next convention. I'm sure there will be discussion on it, but I'm not privy to such specific knowledge. If I understand your follow-up question, the answer is that you show up to Greensboro, listen to the issues, and vote they way you feel Christ leads you.

My answers aren't very specific. Sorry, but it's the best I can do. I'm not well-versed in the innermost workings of the convention.

Thanks for stopping by.

Blessings,
Jason Sampler

6:03 AM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Martin S. and Arthur T.,

To quote the old Bartles and James commercial, "Thank you for your support."

Blessings,
Jason Sampler

P.S. Did I REALLY just quote a commercial concerning alcohol??? Oops!!!

6:05 AM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Ben Stratton said...

There are many Southern Baptist pastors who support the new IMB policies who believe the BF&M actually teaches our viewpoint on baptism. Please consider the following:

1. "Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper." Article VII
Here we see that baptism is a local church ordinance. Note very carefully the BF&M does not teach that baptism is a Christian ordinance or a Kingdom ordinance, but a local church ordinance. The responsiblity to baptize has been given to the local church.

2. "A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel..." Article VI
If baptism is a church ordinance, what does the BF&M say a church is? If a church is a congregation of baptized BELIEVERS, then a Presbyterian church is not a N.T. church as they baptize infants. If a church is a congregation of BAPTIZED believers, then a Methodist church is not a N.T. church as they baptized by sprinkling. If a church is a congregation of baptized believers associated by covenant in the FAITH and fellowship of the GOSPEL, then how can Pentecostals and Free Will Baptist Churches be N.T. Churches? By denying the security of our salvation, these groups have compromised what the Bible teaches about salvation. While there may be saved folks in all of the above mentioned groups, by their doctrines and practices, the BF&M does not consider them N.T. Churches and hence they cannot administer valid baptism.

6:28 AM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason,
Thanks for you continued thought and expression about the current situation. I am interested in your distinction between a descriptive confession and a prescriptive statement (creed?). You begin your essay with this distinction, but do not continue that line of thought (at least not explicitly).

Do you disagree with the a confession functioning prescriptively? It does not seem so, since your concern is in the tightening of requirements (beyond BF&M2000--not the use of them per se.

I find it odd that we as SBCers have shunned creedal language, when we have used "confessions" as creeds for many years (and continue to do so everytime a professor or missionary has to sign the BF&M). It's seems hypocritical to me to denounce "creeds" and then use them under another name. There is really no other way to operate missionary and educational entities of cooperating autonomous churches unless a confesssion is used as a standard--and therefore functions as a creed.

James

7:46 AM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger steve w said...

Jason,

Thank you for bringing up the new IMB policies again. Not many blogs have been talking about them recently, that I am aware of. I have said from the first day I heard of them that these policies need to be rescinded. Although I probably should not be, I am still shocked that these policies were ever implemented!

To this day no one has given me a sound explanation of why the doctrine of eternal security should be elevated over the doctrine of Christ, or the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, just to name two other biblical doctrines.

Anyone, pray tell me where God's holy, sufficient, inerrant, infallible word ever singles out one doctrine as THE litmus test of valid baptism!?

- Steve Walker

12:06 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Ben,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Sorry for my delay in responding as it's been a busy day at church. I would offer a few responses.

First, no one is denying your assertion that many pastors in our convention would agree with your interpretation of baptism.

Second, everyone can agree that the BFF2000 teaches that baptism is a church ordinance. Just as with my first statement, this is not up for debate among any of us.

Third, when engaging in hermeneutics, one must always ask "What did the author(s) have in mind when crafting this document?" Do you believe the authorial intent of the authors was to promote Landmarkism?

Fourth, do you admit that your position is the minority position of the convention? That is, do you believe the majority of Southern Baptists reject your interpretation of the BFM2000? It is clear by the pragmatism, if by no other criterion for examination, that the majority of our SBC churches are not Landmark churches. While Landmarkism is a strain within our convention, it is not the dominant stream.

Fifth, and most importantly, you seem to disregard the fact that there are two definitions of the church in the BFM2000 article. The second definition is as follows: "The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." Are you willing to argue that Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Assemblies of God do not comprise this 'church'? Are you willing to say they are not qualified to administer baptism, a church ordinance, under this definition of the church?

Finally, I can just as easily argue that the articles on the church and the ordinances allow for the ordinances to be under the authority of the universal church. Read carefully the two articles again. Article 7 does not say the ordinances are LOCAL church ordinances, but that they are 'church ordinances'.

In the end the problem is that enforcing your interpretation (as the only legitimate interpretation) on the convention's oversees missions organization severely restricts a majority of Southern Baptists who may not interpret the document in the same manner as you.

Well, that's enough fodder for now. I look forward to reading your thoughts in response.

Blessings,
Jason Sampler

1:32 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Micah said...

Jason,

thanks for your points in your last comment. Comment #4 and particularly comment #5 are clearly my position, and I think, the position of most SBC'ers. Thanks for the clear statement.

2:30 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Minor revision to my response to Ben. Concerning #4, it should read:

"Fourth, do you admit that your position is the minority position of the convention? Stated inversely, do you believe the majority of Southern Baptists would disagree with your interpretation of the BFM2000? It is clear by the pragmatism of our convention towards the Lord's Supper, if by no other criterion for examination, that the majority of our SBC churches are not Landmark. While Landmarkism is a strand within our convention, it is not the dominant stream."

I apologize for my lack of precision.

3:34 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger No Name said...

Jason, Good stuff and good answers to Ben.

5:28 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger JUSTAMOE said...

ANY year's version of the BF&M is REPRESENTATIVE (not exhaustive) of the theological persuasions of EVERY kind of Baptist EVER to walk on the planet earth, and CAN be the basis for missions/evangelism cooperation among us IF we WILL cooperate (typed this about 1000 times since January). That's the question: will all the members of the SBC choose to cooperate with all the other members of the SBC?

Everyone: simply let everyone else choose his/her version of the BF&M, and let's get on with the work, for Pete's sake (and Polly's, and whoever else isn't saved)!!

6:53 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Ben Stratton said...

Bro. Jason,

Good to hear back from you. Let me see if I can answer some of your questions and concerns:

2. At one time I would have agreed with you that no one in the SBC was denying baptism was a church ordinance, but after some of my discussions with fellow pastors on the IMB policy issue I have learned that a number of Southern Baptist pastors do not believe baptism is a church ordinance. They basically believe it is a Christian ordinance. Yet this is still a pretty rare belief among Southern Baptists as a whole.

3. Let me put it like this. I would not really call W.A. Criswell, R.G. Lee and J.D. Grey Landmarkers. Yet the churches these men pastored (FBC Dallas, Bellevue, FBC New Orleans) all rejected alien immersion during their pastorates. So it was with the men that originally authored the BF&M in 1925. (and 1963) There men were not trying to promote Landmarkism, but there were writing down some of the basic beliefs of Baptists of the day. And up until a few years ago, one of the basically beliefs of the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches was to reject alien immersion. While they didn't spell it out as clearly as I would have liked, they did give some of the foundations reasons behind it. I was reading just the other day where W.J. McGlothlin said in 1908 that of the first 18 professors at Southern Seminary, only 3 believed in accepted alien immersion.

4. I'm not sure about convention wide, but here in Kentucky I would say 60%-75% of Southern Baptist churches reject alien immersions. (In my own local association, only 1 church out of 36 receives alien immersion.) I believe many other states have similar overall numbers to Kentucky. A few weeks ago Bro. Wade Burleson told me the stats were similar in Oklahoma.

5. I don't think the baptism issue is directly related to the issue of the nature of the church. Those are two different issues. Also I do not think you can use the BF&M to prove baptism is a universal church ordinance. To prove this look at the 1925 BF&M. It has some of the same wording about a N.T. church being a local body of baptized believers, but only mentions the local church. While the 1963 BF&M added the wording about the universal church, and the wording about baptism "being a church ordinance", I think you would be hard pressed show any Southern Baptist leaders who authored the 1963 document (except perhaps some die hard liberal) that believed baptism was a universal church ordinance. It is obvious from the reading of the BF&M that they are referring to baptism being an ordinance of the local church for they mention the "baptism being a prerequisite to the privilege of church membership". Is that universal church membership? Of course not. They are talking about the local church.

I understand that many with the SBC feel that by enforcing our interpretation, we are limiting others from the mission field. I on the other hand feel that Southern Baptists are returning to what we have historically believed.

7:29 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger CB Scott said...

Jason,

You are smart. You really are. I guess it just took a while for me to see it. Of course, I see very little after putting up with you and Ben Cole arguing about grammar until 3:00 A.M.

Truly, I enjoyed getting to know you. People like you give me great hope for the future of the SBC.

IN CHRIST FREE,
cb

8:58 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

C.B.,

Thank you for your kind words. I think your problems with your sight are due not so much to your late nights but to your age :) And never get between two seasoned graders arguing about grammar and Turabian. That's the unknown 4th law of physics.

Ben Stratton,
It's late and I'm tired. Please allow me to respond to your reply tomorrow.

Blessings,
Jason Sampler

10:09 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Alan Cross said...

Thanks for reminding us of the real issues, Jason. The IMB policies have been the motivating factor for me all along. They are tangible and have left me in the position of not being able to recommend people from my church to go through the appointment process for the IMB, since our church would differ on these two issues and I would not want to put someone in a position where they would have to violate their conscience or the Word of God.

I have been saying EXACTLY what you are saying. The BF&M2000 is the basis for our cooperation and our missions agencies and national and state convention are the arena for our cooperation. If the arena changes the rules for cooperation, it basically makes the original basis worthless. NAMB has similar policies on the books as well. EVERY SBC entity needs to follow the BF&M2000 on doctrinal issues and not go beyond it. If they want to change the rules, they should change the BF&M, which should be VERY hard to do (liken all of this to the U.S. Constitution, the courts, and congress). Philosophically, our position is a slam dunk. It seems that most people choose not to think through the implications of their actions, however. Anyway, thanks.

10:55 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Jason,

Since Ben has referred to me (I'm one of the SBC pastors who doesn't believe baptism is a local church ordinance), I'll chime in.

Please keep in mind that Brother Ben's LINE OF REASONING is unassailable. IF baptism were indeed a local church ordinance, then the whole Landmark position on church membership, "alien" baptism, etc., as well as the new IMB policy on baptism would all MAKE PERFECT SENSE.

Observe:

If baptism can only be performed by a local church, and if baptism is a prerequisite for church membership, and if only immersion is true baptism, then anyone who has not been immersed cannot be a church member, and a group of such people (Methodists, for instance) cannot constitute a church, since each one is unqualified to be a member.

If, then, a group of people who has not been immersed, and who do not constitute a church, ever decide to immerse someone (certain denominations will do whichever one the believer requests), then it is not baptism, even though it was by immersion.

Therefore, if you start with the belief that baptism is a local church ordinance, then the Landmark position on this issue and the new IMB polices make perfect sense.

BUT, the truth is that baptism is NOT a local church ordinance. It was given to each individual disciple of Jesus Christ, not to the church as an institution. I have read the biblical rationale for claiming that only the local church as an institution can perform baptism, and it is not convincing.

Think I'm making this up? Go back and read the 1925 BFM, the New Hampshire Confession upon which it was based, the Abstract of Principles, the John Gill treatise on baptism, and other historic Baptist teachings. Baptism is refered to as an ordinance of Christ, or of Heaven, or of the Gospel, but never of the local church.

So, if you want to argue that the acceptance of non-Baptist baptism for membership and service in SBC churches and agencies is permissible, you must go back and strike "being a church ordinance" out of the 2000 and 1963 BFMs.

Jason, and everybody, I implore you to search the BFM line by line before claiming to affirm all of it. Most of the statements are great, classical formulations, but some of the sections are full of holes.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

9:31 AM, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Jeff,

Thanks for participating and for speaking up for your view. My comment has nothing to do with your argument, but to point out that you are missing the argument. The point is that the BFM2000 is the confession we have established for our cooperation as a convention and her entities. Whether you agree or not that the ordinances belong to the church, you cannot deny that the BFM2000 teaches that the ordinances belong to the church.

I'll respond to your position later, but I want to bring the conversation back to the point that we are saying that the BFM2000 is the basis of our cooperation as a convention and that it is not a Landmark confession.

12:05 PM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous CJ Costello said...

Jason,

Your point that the BF&M is silent on the issue of a private prayer language is unassailable. I do not see how the IMB can legitimately enforce a doctrinal position in this area without having the SBC first amend the BF&M. Confessional development in times of controversy is normal, but I really wonder whether an attempt will be made to amend it. I think most are wary of the possible effect on the unity of the convention. (And if it is not worth the controversy, is it really an essential doctrine?)

I doubt that the BF&M can be talking about the universal church when it says "Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper." It would require switching from universal church with the first occurrence to local church the second time. There is no doubt that the second one is a local church. The only way the first one could be universal church is if the framers of the BF&M wanted to be purposely vague to create a confession that both parties could agree to. I cannot deny that as a possibility.

It follows that if a local church can consist only of those who have been baptized by immersion, then most non-Baptist churches are not true churches. Further, if baptism is a local church ordinance, then their baptism does not "count" even if by immersion. I disagree with this view, but I have to agree with Jeff that it is the clearest interpretation of the current BF&M.

This does not explain the link between eternal security and the church doing the baptizing. It is not mentioned in the definition of the church or in the article on baptism. (This is not even considering that I view it as unbiblical.)

1:19 PM, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Jason,

Okay, sorry about straying from the topic.

You just said a mouthful. "The BFM 2000 is the basis of our cooperation as a convention." Wow, I sure hope that is not true. We sure were cooperating for a long time before the BFM 2000 was ever created. And how many churches have never adopted the 2000 BFM at all? Thousands just in Texas, I am sure. If the basis for my cooperation with you is that we both agree to the BFM 2000, then forget it.

The basis for our cooperation as a convention is a desire to do missions work together with other people who agree in general on most points of theology and practice.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

1:22 PM, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Jeff,
I don't mind if you go off point, only that I wanted to make sure my argument wasn't lost: the BFM2000 teaches the ordinances belong to the church, but not explicitely to the LOCAL church.

Regarding my statement about cooperation, let me clarify. What I do not mean is that the BFM2000 is our guide for cooperation as individual churches (i.e., your church and my church must both affirm the BFM2000 before we will work together). What I do mean is that, on a denominational level, the BFM2000 is THE CONFESSION of the convention. Individual SBC churches can accept or reject the BFM2000, but the denominational entities must abide by it. Seminary professors, missionaries, and denominational workers receive their funding from the SBC and must be in line with the theology of their employer. Therefore, it is proper for all SBC entities to enforce the BFM2000, but not to make policies that go beyond this confession.

I hope that clarifies my thoughts on the matter. You may choose to disagree, but I wanted you to see the differences I draw between local churches partnering together and the responsibilities of national entities.

Blessings,
Jason Sampler

2:08 PM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The basis for our cooperation as a convention is a desire to do missions work together with other people who agree in general on most points of theology and practice."

Which is sort of the point of the BFM2000, [i]n'est-ce pas[/i]?

Good stuff, Jason.

(Though I don't think you're really smart...)

Touchy.

CKS

2:08 PM, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

CJ,

Thanks for commenting. I don't know if you are new or not but I don't recognize your name. I'm grateful for your participation in this dialogue.

Let me be clear that I am not necessarily arguing for the fact that the ordinances belong to the universal church. I am arguing that the possibility to interpret Article 7 of the BFM2000 as I have done is available. Regarding vagueness, I guarentee it is intentionally vague at points, otherwise there is no way Chuck Kelley and Albert Mohler could both affirm the doctrine of salvation if it were intended to be precise (and that's ok with me).

This is good discussion. Thanks to all for participating.

2:27 PM, May 06, 2006  
Blogger LivingDust said...

Jason,

I read several blogs, yours included, and offer an observation.

Many years ago, in the effort to be obedient to the Great Commission, autonomous Baptist congregations agreed to cooperate.

Now, what has developed is a 100+ year non-church organization (SBC, IMB, NAMB) led by, for the most part, seminary-trained men, many former Pastors.

What is profoundly sad is that this non-church organization has hijacked a responsibility of the local church and now represents itself as the qualified, international deliverer of the Gospel, in obedience to the Great Commission.

The "machine" of the SBC, IMB and NAMB is filled with the stench of the flesh and not the Spirit. Ravenous wolves infest every corner of these organizations and they will all join the flock in Greensboro.

Most Southern Baptists have been seriously greived by the leadership of the Pharisees that have hurt the cause of Christ for the last 25 years. The testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ has been HARMED by the public, acrimonious, worldly fight within the SBC. When Jesus prayed for unity among us believers, he wasn't invisioning anything like the last 25 years in the SBC. Quite the opposite.

The seminary-trained cadre who leads this non-church entity needs to understand this - The SBC, IMB and NAMB are not the church and their actions reflect this truth. ALL those who are currently in leadership positions at the SBC, IMB and NAMB have been contaminated by an ugly quagmire of distrust, disunity and worldliness. God hates the ways of this world.

It will continue to be the prayer of this Southern Baptist that God will rid the SBC, IMB and NAMB of all those who currently hold leadership positions - every single person.

The only motion and resolution that need be offered at Greensboro is the the SBC will retire for a one year sabbatical solely dedicated to repentance.

Mark Jumper
"Living Dust"
Kingwood, Texas

2:08 PM, May 09, 2006  

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