The SBC, Confessions, and the IMB Trustees
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