Dr. Hershael York, a man that I respect and mentioned in my post yesterday as having a sympathy for Landmark tenets emailed me and graciously requested that his views not be labeled ‘Landmark.’ I really appreciated Dr. York’s dialogue today and do desire to represent his views accurately, so the following is a sample of the brief email exchange between Dr. York and myself to insure his views are portrayed by me accurately.
Dr. York wrote:
I don't question either your intent or your understanding of my position, but I really do hate that Landmark label because it allows people to fill in the blank and assume things about me that are untrue. I find the whole thing ironic because I was so ostracized by the Landmarkers when I pastored in Lexington. They even voted to not recognize my church's baptism, so you can see why I cringe a little bit when the same label that they wear is applied to me. So I don't mind being identified as completely supportive of the IMB policy, nor a restrictive view of the ordinances (which I defend exegetically more than historically), but I just don't think the label is fair.
I responded to Dr. York:
Thank you very much for your humble email allowing me to see into your heart. Now I realize you understand the depths of my feelings to have my own convention agency, no less than the very mission arm of the SBC -- the IMB -- reject my member’s baptism and his service on the mission field. I will be more careful with the label Landmark in the future and thank you for calling me out on it.
Is there a word that would describe your position? You would be hard pressed to say "Baptist" because Gill represents the traditional Baptist view. Maybe 'American Baptist' view? I'm just asking. Obviously, I would reject calling your position the "Biblical view" of baptism label as well.
Dr. York then emailed back:
I don't mind my view being called a restrictive view of baptism or the authoritative baptism view. I do believe that the authority of the administrator is as important as the intent of the subject. I would not object to anything along those lines.
I will close the review of the email exchange with my edited response to Dr. York:
I do appreciate the dialogue -- I find your spirit refreshing.
When Baptist Elias Keach baptized people in colonial America, and then was later converted while preaching a message he had taken from his father's notes (Benjamin Keach), were the earlier baptisms performed by Elias 'unacceptable' because the administrator was a 'lost man?' If you say, 'no' - the authority for the baptism was found in the commission of Christ to the 'church' not the 'person' doing the baptism -- then I think you will find we are saying the exact same thing.
The 'church' has the privilege and, yes, authority of baptizing converts to faith in Christ. But the definition of the church is the key when it comes to baptism. I would define the church as the universal body of the elect -- those whom the Father has redeemed -- therefore, any professing disciple of Christ has the privilege of baptizing his convert -- this was Dr. Gill's view. We Southern Baptists use pastors to baptize often out of convenience, but it is not necessary. The authority is given to all Christians by Christ. It is an ordinance (command) of Christ, not 'the church.' It is possible that some 'professors' of faith in Christ who baptize others are not actually converted, but that does not negate the validity of the baptism of the person who was baptized at the hands of a lost man, because baptism identifies a person with Christ, not a 'doctrine' or a 'local' church, and the 'authority' of the administrator does not make or break a 'Christian' baptism. The authority for baptism comes from Christ -- it is His ordinance.
The 'local' church is important for discipline reasons, accountability, etc . . . But admittance into my 'local' church is through examination of one's faith and baptism --- faith must be faith in Christ alone and the baptism must be by immersion, after having come to faith in Christ, identifying the believer with 'the universal body' of the Lord Jesus.
These are our differences. I would hold to the old English Baptist (and dare I say 'biblical' view) of baptism. You would hold to a modern, Americanized view that the 'authority' of the baptizer is important, but you believe that authority is NOT given to the baptizer by Christ, but by the ‘local’ church. Therefore, it is hard for you to see how Gill says 'baptism takes place outside the church (i.e. 'local' church) but is a prerequisite to membership. I believe, though, we both would agree baptism is not a prerequisite to becoming part of the 'universal body of Christ.' I would just simply say baptism identifies a person with Christ and His universal body --- you would say it should identify him with the ‘local’ church.
Where have I misrepresented your views?
Dr. York graciously responded that ‘I think you represent my view correctly.’
Rachelle and I had the privilege today of visiting with some absolutely wonderful missionary candidates for the International Mission Board. We were standing outside the Hilton, Memphis and ran into Jon and Reagan G______ from Oklahoma. They reside about thirty miles from where Rachelle and I live, and though I had met Jon before, it was the first time for me to meet Reagan and for Rachelle to meet them both. I cannot begin to share with you how much knowing missionaries like Jon and Reagan inspires me to lead our church and others to strengthen Cooperative Program giving. This good looking husband and wife are bright, articulate, and passionate about their call to missions. We enjoyed our brief but delightful fellowship with this wonderful couple.
We also were able to visit with Ryan and Laura W____ another young, very bright Southern Baptist couple who represent the future of Southern Baptist missions. Laura was raised Methodist and was baptized as an infant, but at the age of eighteen came to the conviction that believer’s baptism by immersion was biblical baptism and she was baptized in her church accordingly. However, in order to be appointed a missionary with the IMB, she was told she needed to be ‘rebaptized’ in a ‘Southern Baptist Church’ though her Southern Baptist Church had years earlier received her baptism as ‘biblical’ and she was a leader, mentor and teacher in her local Southern Baptist Church. Frankly, it was embarrassing to do what she was forced to do (be rebaptized) and she really struggled with the demand it be done, but her love for the mission field is too great, and so she consented. We had an interesting discussion over her acquiescing to the demand that she be ‘rebaptized’ in order to be appointed on the mission field, and without going into details, let me just say I am very, very proud of Laura and her husband and their ability to search the Scriptures for themselves and hold to their own convictions in a gracious, but firm manner. I will be praying for them in their IMB assignment which will begin in mid-July 2007.
We met several other missionaries during the day, and had a great time of fellowship with many of them, including Brian and Becky H_____ and Sarah and Bill M_______. It’s best not to use their last names or places of assignment even though not all are in security three zones.
Every time I come to one of these IMB meetings, I am reminded about the purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention – cooperation in missions around the world.
Tonight our trustee, staff and missionary dinner was hosted by Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Mid-America was founded by Dr. Gray Allison in the early 70’s as an alternative to the traditional six SBC seminaries. It is located across the street from Bellevue Baptist Church and sits on 35 acres donated by Bellevue. The $15.5 million dollar complex is stunning. Dr. Mike Spradlin is the current President and the current trustee chairman of the IMB, Dr. John Floyd, is Vice-President of Mid-America.
Dr. Floyd gave Rachelle and me and Dr. Allen McWhite of North Greenville University a personal tour of the facilities. Dr. Floyd was project manager on the construction of the facility and I must say, he did a superb job. The classrooms, preaching labs, auditorium are not only fitted with the most modern technology, they are all spacious, efficient and pleasing to the eye without being too luxurious. Frankly, Mid-America will draw even more than their current 542 students because of the superb facilities. Rachelle and I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Floyd’s hospitality and tour. A week before Dr. Adrian Rogers died he drove around the facility with Dr. Spradlin and was asked, “Does it meet your expectations” to which Dr. Rogers responded, “Oh, it far exceeds them.” Mid-America will produce some top quality Southern Baptist scholars and preachers in the years to come.
Rachelle and I ate dinner with Dr. Matt Acres, Professor of New Testament Greek at Mid-America. He is trained in Hebrew and Old Testament, but is teaching Greek, telling me he enjoys Greek as much as he does Hebrew. I was very impressed with Dr. Acres. We discussed the history of Baptists and views regarding ‘The Trail of Blood,’ the Baptist Missionary Association (whose members make up the second largest group of students behind Southern Baptists at Mid-America) and various and sundry other issues. Dr. Acres is dead on theologically and because of faculty like him, I have absolutely no hesitation at all recommending Mid-America to any Southern Baptist interested in serious theological study.
Tonight all trustees met behind closed doors for what is called the forum. Again, the meeting was filled with prayer, praise, and encouragement to all.
The very kind of thing that should always happen behind closed doors in the SBC.
In His Grace,