Brad McCain, Pastor of FaithPointe Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma recently contacted me about a member of his church that he calls "Ed" who has served as a Great Commisson missionary, cooperating with IMB missionaries, on the missionary field. He has been Southern Baptist for several years and has recently applied to be career missionary for the International Mission Board. However, he has been rejected for service because of the 'new' policy on baptism at the IMB. Pastor Brad's story about Ed is compelling. (Update: I have been told by IMB staff that the missionary candidate "Ed" could have continued the process if he would have submitted to 'rebaptism' and thus, was not 'rejected.' However, Pastor Brad and 'Ed' both believe that to be rebaptized in order to identify with a particular doctrine or'system of denominational beliefs' is contrary to the New Testament teaching that baptism identifies you with Christ and would make a mockery of 'Ed's' Christian baptism. Thus, Pastor Brad and 'Ed' see a 'rejection' by the IMB while others would say 'Ed' pulled out because he refused to be 'rebaptized.')
The following is an open letter Pastor Brad sent to me and every other trustee of the International Board. He asked that I post his letter on my blog that those who read it can help him make sense of why the couple, whose Christian baptism has already been accepted by the local Southern Baptist Church he pastors, is now being told they are disqualified from serving as missionaries for the International Mission Board because their baptism violates the 'new' policy.
An Open letter to the Trustees of the International Mission Board and all Southern Baptists,
It is through the encouragement of a number of pastors and convention leaders that I have come in contact with, that I write these words. The intent of them is to cause us to reflect on the path we are taking and make the corrections that are necessary.
Oftentimes, it is much easier to deal with policies than it is to deal with the people those policies end up affecting. If we are not careful we end up getting so disconnected from reality that the process resembles edicts being passed down from a governing entity that simply does not care. I fear we are getting perilously close to that as a convention and especially as a mission board. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine.
For purposes of anonymity and the safety of current IMB missionaries who are in country, I will call my friend “Ed”. Ed grew up in a Christian home in Norman, Oklahoma – with a brief time in St. Louis and New Jersey - where his parents were sure to raise him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As a child Ed came to an understanding of his need for a Savior and surrendered his life to Christ. Afterwards, he obediently followed Christ in being baptized as a testimony of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as well as his commitment to strive to faithfully walk in his “new life.”
Upon graduation of high school, Ed attended Oklahoma Baptist University, from where he graduated with a degree in history. Following college, he began to explore God’s call on his life concerning missions. After raising his own support, he went as a Great Commission Christian (GCC) to a level 3 country.
Ed worked closely with IMB personnel while he was on the field and came to appreciate their spirit and the way Southern Baptists support missionaries around the world. After his time on the field was up, he returned to Norman, desiring to join a Southern Baptist church. He knew that one day he would want to return to this country and preferred to go through the IMB.
He found our church. At the time, FaithPointe was not even a year old. He joined us because of our intense focus on being missionaries to the culture in which God has placed us.
Before joining he came to me and we talked for quite some time concerning the details of his salvation experience. Ed’s parents had raised him in a church that did not teach the security of the believer. This church believed that a person, of their own free will, could choose to turn away from Christ, never to return. While I do not agree with this church theologically, I do understand their interpretation of scripture and believe they are allowed the freedom to see it that way. I do not believe one’s leaning toward Arminianism or Calvinism invalidates their salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith. Intricate understanding of the finer points of Soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, is not a requisite of salvation, according to scripture.
After, our conversation, I assured Ed that he would be allowed to join our church on a statement of his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord and he did. Since that time, Ed has returned to the same country, at his own expense, to get reacquainted with contacts he made, both with the IMB and with indigenous people of the region. After much prayer, he realized it was time to pursue being in country on a more permanent basis, and so he sought appointment through the IMB. He began that process this fall.
Now Ed is being told that he cannot be appointed through IMB because of policy that was implemented in November of 2005. I am deeply concerned with this. On November 15, 2005, the Trustees of the International Mission Board approved a baptism guideline for candidates desiring appointment. This guideline is self-contradictory and also non-Biblical. Your policy states…
That each candidate’s baptismal experience be examined, during the application process, in light of the Baptist Faith and Message statement and the points listed below:
BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE: ARTICLE VII – BAPTISM
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior; the believer’s death to sin; the burial of the old life; and the resurrection to walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
I have no problem with any of these statements, as I find them to be scripturally based. The problem I am having is concerning added statements you have placed on candidates in item 2B of the same policy.
A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.
On one page of this document, you have called baptism “a testimony to…faith” and “an act of obedience.” While on the second page you have downgraded baptism to “a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.” Which one is it? Is baptism to be done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in testimony of Christ’s redemption for me through his shed blood on the cross? Or is baptism to be done in the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, in testimony to their “system of beliefs”? Can both coexist? One highlights the “traditional” view most Southern Baptist churches have held for decades concerning admission to membership, while one adheres to scripture alone. With which would you prefer Southern Baptists to side?
You are asking Ed to be baptized again because the church in which he was baptized does not perfectly align with what is “acceptable salvation theology.” In so doing, you have made two mistakes that I wish to address.
First, asking Ed to be baptized again “as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches” is shameful. Any candidate that would treat baptism so lightly should not be a candidate at all. Any Trustee that would treat the ordinance of baptism so lightly should not be a Trustee at all. Baptism is in the name of Christ alone! Not in the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. To ask a candidate to “go through the motions” because their first baptism was not “good enough” is, in my mind, making a mockery of the ordinance itself. I hold Christ’s sacrifice too high in my life to ask someone to do such a thing. I believe most of you do as well, but overlooked the implications of the words being used for this guideline. It is not at all that Ed is ashamed of his commitment to Christ. It isn’t even that he is opposed to being baptized again as a testimony of Christ’s saving grace in his life. He is, however, opposed to being baptized in the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. Additionally, I, as his pastor, refuse to baptize him in that manner. While the intent of this wording may have been honest, the implications are dangerous.
Second, if the Trustees of the International Mission Board can reject a person who is already a member of a Southern Baptist church, based upon there credentials for membership, then the Trustees of the IMB are holding authority over that church. Each church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention is a local, autonomous body, responsible for governing itself according to the word of God. The International Mission Board is an extension of the local, autonomous church, and not an agency with the authority to govern over the church. The action the Trustees have taken in this matter has placed the IMB in authority - an authority that is not granted apart from convention approval. Was this your intent? The action itself denotes a lack of trust on your part for each church to do its due diligence in regards to each person desiring to join the local, autonomous church. The ultimate end to this path will lead our convention to some form of presbytery in which churches have no authority to govern themselves, but rather, must adhere to mandates passed down to them through governing boards, or face expulsion from the convention. This should be alarming to any Southern Baptist pastor and congregation.
I respectfully wish to request that you reconsider your action concerning this matter. I would like to invite all Southern Baptists to join me in dialogue on this topic. My goal is not further division within our ranks. We have had enough of that. My desire is for us to examine ourselves and see if these are the paths we are intentionally taking. If not, we need to learn from these mistakes and seek to head in the right direction. Our enemy is delighted by the way he has side-tracked us with political, social, and doctrinal debates which are important, yet non-essential to the exaltation of Christ. Please, let’s move into this century with the overwhelming desire to “make disciples” as we are going. If you wish to dialogue with me and other concerned Southern Baptists, I invite you to visit www.faithpointe.org/IMB to discuss the issue further. May God shine His light before us to illuminate the path we must follow.
In His Service,
Brad McCain, Pastor
FaithPointe Baptist Church
Norman, OK 73069