The International Mission Board is the one agency that causes all of us as Southern Baptists to get excited about cooperation. Though I have discovered that there is a wide variety of beliefs regarding ecclesiology, eschatology, missiology, soteriology and other interpretations of Scripture among the IMB trustees, I can guarantee you every trustee I have met is interested in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
Some of us just disagree on how to get it done.
I have tried to remind everyone in this blog that the major issue for me is NOT so much the new policy forbidding the appoint of missionaries who have a private prayer language, or even the policy that rejects prospective missionary candidates who are not baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church that teaches eternal security. Sure, I believe both new policies go beyond Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message, but they are only symptoms of a deeper problem.
The real problem?
We are continuing to narrow the parameters of fellowship and cooperation in the area of missions and evangelism by demanding conformity and agreement on non-essential doctrines. Now you must be a cessationist and very close to a Landmark in order to be a Southern Baptist missionary.
We have lost sight of the gospel.
The gospel is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The gospel is the good news that God saves sinners through the work of His Son. We are called to preach Christ. We are commissioned by Christ Himself to be ambassadors of this good news. We are to go far and wide, or at least support those who do go far away, in the sharing of this good news that God saves sinners through Jesus Christ His Son.
I am still trying to understand why we are now EXCLUDING Southern Baptist missionary candidates who have a clear grasp of the gospel, who are members in good standing of Southern Baptist churches, and who in every way would have been qualified to serve as an SBC missionary for the past 161 years, but are now persona non grata (an unwelcome person).
I have received several emails with heart wrenching stories of missionaries who are now not able to serve with the IMB because of these new policies. Allow me to tell you one without going into the specific details of names and locations.
There is a very dark region in Central Asia, a place where missionaries and trustees have been praying for a gospel presence for the past three years. This very, very dark place is dangerous for anyone who names the name of Christ.
Recently, a young Southern Baptist couple felt God's call to this very region. They would never be recognized for their service because of security reasons. Their lives would be in constant danger, and frankly, there would be no guarantee they would ever make it back to the States alive. They passed all of the candidate interviews with flying colors, impressed all the IMB staff and trustees, and brought a surge of excitement and anticipation to the CA region as an answer to many prayers.
When the new policies were past by the trustees November 15, 2005 the Candidate Consultant went back to the young couple and asked, "Do either one of you have a private prayer language?"
The wife, unbeknownst to her husband, had prayed privately in ecstatic utterances for years. With full integrity she answered, "Yes."
The couple was rejected. Many tears were shed. The Candidate Consultant was heartbroken. The Central Asia region was shocked.
Why were they declined? The trustees, not the staff, declined them.
I propose a dark region in Central Asia is still dark because we trustees lost sight of the gospel, and our mission, and went way beyond Scripture, the Baptist Faith and Message, and our duties to keep our eye on world missions and evangelism.
That's the issue.
I have been criticized because I have stated the reason why private prayer languages became an issue among the trustees two years ago. It is not conjecture for me. What I have been told makes me very sad.
The baptism policy makes me just as sad. There are trustees who have said to me, "I am a Landmark and proud of it." Listen, I can cooperate with a Landmark any day of the year in the area of missions, but the essence of Landmarkism is to separate from everyone who does not view the administrator of baptism as important as Landmarks do. Our convention split over Landmarkism back in 1850 and if we are not careful we will soon face a simlar problem in 2006.
We must stop narrowing the parameters of cooperation in missions and evangelism.
So, I don't want to get bogged down in a debate about "private prayer languages" or the proper administrator of baptism. I don't even want to get into a debate on whether or not I should stay as a trustee of the IMB.
I want us as Southern Baptists to realize we have no higher motivation for cooperation than the mission field. We must WORK to keep the doors of cooperation open.
We must not forget that it is all about missions.
In His Grace,