"The Baptist Faith and Message is neither a creed, nor a complete statement of our faith, nor final and infallible; nevertheless, we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention."
Adopted by the Messengers of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, Texas, June 13, 2007.
The above statement, adopted without opposition by the entire Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention this past year, and pulled out of the 2007 Annual Book of Reports for adoption by the entire Southern Baptist Convention, passed by a 58% vote of the voting messengers in San Antonio, Texas.
The trustees of our agencies are elected by the Southern Baptist Convention. The convention cannot 'instruct' autonomous agencies what they can, or cannot do, but I have repeatedly stated that as a trustee of the International Mission Board, I am accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention for my actions on the International Mission Board, for the Southern Baptist Convention elected me, not the board of trustees of the IMB (at least I think: wink). Allow me to review the events of the past year and a half and show how this very important decision by the SBC to adopt the Executive Committee's statement on the BFM 2000 has now brought us full circle.
The Beginnings of the Controversy
The controversy at the International Mission Board began in November of 2005, when I questioned the authority of my fellow trustees to implement new doctrinal 'policies' that (1). Rejected Southern Baptist missionaries who possessed a 'private' prayer language, based upon a doctrinal belief that 'tongues' were not a gift given by God to any Christian for private edification, and (2). Rejected Southern Baptist missionary candidates who were baptized in churches, or by individuals, that 'did not believe in eternal security' even though those missionary candidates already were members of a Southern Baptist church that had 'accepted' their baptism, and the candidates themselves were baptized by immersion, trusting Christ alone for salvation.
I asked privately, repeatedly, and eventually publicly the following question:
'Who has given us trustees at the IMB the authority to reject missionary candidates from our cooperating Southern Baptist churches based upon a refusal by those missionary candidates to conform to a specific interpretation of a tertiary doctrinal issue that the only consensus Southern Baptist confession of faith, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, is silent about?
The Tipping Point Is Reached
The post that upset so many people was written in December of 2005, one entitled Crusading Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives: The Battle for the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention. The quote that summarizes that post is this two sentence paragraph:
The Southern Baptist Convention, through the trustees of our boards and agencies, is narrowing the parameters of fellowship and cooperation to the point that real, genuine conservatives are being excluded as unfit for service in the SBC.
Our convention hated liberalism twenty years ago and we expelled it from our midst, but at this hour we better hate legalism and Fundamentalism as much as we did the former liberalism or we will find ourselves so fractured and fragmented that we no longer have the ability to cooperate about anything, including missions
Again, the above comment was written a over a year and a half ago, right here on this blog. My feelings have not changed.
A Conservative Foot Soldier Wakes Up From a Ten Year Nap
I was a foot soldier for the conservative resurgence in the early 1980's, driving Paul Pressler around Oklahoma, rallying people to go to Dallas to take back the Bible. I was elected as Chairman of the Denominational Calendar Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1994 and still have framed in my office an original copy of the program of the first Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, in Augusta, Georgia, right beside the 150th Anniversary Program of the 1995 Southern Baptist Convention with Dr. W.A. Criswell, Dr. Herschel Hobbs, and myself on the program. In 1995, I took a decade off from participating in the SBC. My four kids were ages 1 to 8, and I needed to invest time in my family, my church (which was involved in a building program), and my state. During those ten years I served two terms as Vice-President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and two terms as President. During June, my wife and I would either be on vacation or in Israel, and we only attended the Southern Baptist Convention three times from 1995 to 2005. In other words, I was out of touch with the SBC.
In 2005, when I was contacted to serve as trustee of the International Mission Board, I accepted. I hadn't sought it, but I was honored to serve. During the orientation and first few meetings, I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow trustees and especially the missionaries, but I quickly began to feel like Rip Van Winkle. I had awakened to a convention that in some ways I did not recognize.
The Grand Old Lady Was Being Crippled
For example, I knew that when Dr. Jerry Rankin had been hired as President of the International Mission Board, the fact that he spoke in tongues during his private prayer times, had been raised. However, the chairman of the search committee at the time, Dr. Joel Gregory, had said that Dr. Rankin's private prayer language was not an issue. Dr. Rankin became President of the International Mission Board and quickly became one of the most respected men in our convention.
In 2005, as a new trustee, I was told that it was now deemed best by IMB trustees that Southern Baptist missionaries NOT have a private prayer language. Beside the fact that the sitting President of the IMB would have been rejected as a SBC missionary were the new policies to have been in effect during his interview process years earlier, as an IMB trustee, I felt I needed to know why this new policy prohibiting a private prayer language was needed. I asked for anecdotal evidence that there was a 'charismatic' problem on the field not being properly handled by administration or staff. I asked for the evidence time, after time, after time. I never received it.
Finally, I was told that no anecdotal evidence was needed. This was a DOCTRINAL matter and the board was implementing the policies based upon a doctrinal interpretation that a 'private prayer language' was not Biblical. Of course, I was told that 95% of Southern Baptist churches believed the way the trustees believed, and it was 'our right' to implement whatever doctrinal standard we trustees desired. Of course, now we know, according to an independent survey conducted by Lifeway, over 50% of Southern Baptist pastors believe that a private prayer langauge is a legitimate gift from God.
I affirm every Southern Baptist's right to believe that a private prayer language is not a legitimate gift -- as I do every Southern Baptist's right to believe that a private prayer language is a legitimate gift of the Spirit. What I don't affirm is a board of trustees meeting behind closed doors and adopting a 'doctrinal' policy that exceeds the Baptist Faith and Message, excluding otherwise qualified Southern Baptist missionary candidates from service.
I don't have the time to deal with my problems with the baptism policy except to say it bothered me more than the private prayer language policy. The BFM 2000 is silent on the authority of the baptizer, or the need that the baptism should take place at the hands of one who believes in 'eternal security.' The controversy at the IMB was never about baptism by any method other than immersion, but rather, the demand that the IMB tell churches what was 'an appropriate' baptism in terms of 'who' baptized the church's member. I personally believed the new policy reflected a very strong Landmark tendency - a doctrine that often threatened to divide our Southern Baptist Convention in years past, and wrenched the very important ordinance of Christ from the local church into the hands of a board of trustees of a SBC agency.
Where Were These Demands For Doctrinal Conformity Coming From?
Through various events that I have documented over the last year and a half, including my own election as a trustee of the IMB, I was under the opinion that many of the demands for doctrinal conformity were emanating from our Southern Baptist seminaries, particularly one seminary President who believed that orthodoxy could only be defined by his own personal views on Landmarkism, cessationism, anti-Charismaticism, anti-Calvinism, hyper-dispensationalism, etc . . .
Nothing wrong with these doctrines - unless you begin to demand that every Southern Baptist believes the way you do. My motion to investigate the controversies at the IMB, which was referred back to the IMB by the convention, included requests to investigate the following:
(1). The manipulation of the nominating process of the Southern Baptist Convention during the appointment of trustees for the International Mission Board.
(2). Attempts to influence and/or coerce the IMB trustees, staff, and administration to take a particular course of action by one or more Southern Baptist agency heads other than the President of the International Mission Board.
(3). The appropriate and/or inappropriate use of Forums and Executive Sessions of the International Mission Board as compared to conducting business in full view of the Southern Baptist Convention and the corresponding propriety and/or impropriety of the Chairman of the International Mission Board excluding any individual trustee, without Southern Baptist Convention approval, from participating in meetings where the full International Mission Board is convened.
(4). The legislation of new doctrinal requisites for eligibility to serve as employees or missionaries of the IMB beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. (emphasis mine)
(5). The suppression of dissent by trustees in the minority through various means by those in the majority, and the propriety of any agency forbidding a trustee, by policy, from publicly criticizing a Board approved action
I only point out to you these 2006 recommendations to show that the vote this past Tuesday night at the 2007 SBC was not taken in a vacuum.
What the Adoption of the Executive Committee's Statement on the BFM Means
(1). Any policy or guideline at an agency, that is based upon a doctrinal interpretation that EXCEEDS the Baptist Faith and Message, is not in line with the convention's vote to adopt the Executive Committee's statement on the BFM.
Some might argue that the BFM, by the statement itself, is not a COMPLETE statement of faith. As Dr. Mohler said today, it is not sufficient for the hiring of seminary professors.
I agree. There are some agencies, like seminaries, that need tighter, narrower, and more defined confessions - like the Abstract of Principles. The Convention has already approved the Abstract for Southern and Southeastern (not to mention it predates every BFM), but if Southwestern Seminary were to desire to 'tighten' her institutional confession, the proposed doctrinal confession would need to be voted upon by the convention as a whole.
(2). If trustees of any agency, particularly convention wide agencies like the International Mission Board or the North American Mission Board, were to refuse to abide by the convention's wishes of not demanding conformity on doctrinal interpretations not found in the BFM, then those trustees should be answerable to the convention -- since the convention elected them.
This does not mean there cannot be guidelines or policies that are implemented for moral, ethical or pragmatic reasons (weight, homosexuality, adultery, etc . . .), but new 'doctrinal' guidelines that exceed the BFM 2000 cannot be implemented unless there is a convention-wide consensus.
(3). I am in agreement that any trustee or employee who signs the BFM, but makes known any variance or disagreement with the BFM, should make that known publicly and in writing. The convention, then, has the right to remove that trustee, just as they have the right to remove trustees who do not follow their wishes in NOT establishing new doctrinal guidelines or policies that exceed the BFM.
I have made it known, from the very beginning of my service with the IMB, that I have two very minor disageements with the BFM. Since the 2007 SBC convention voted last night that the BFM was not infallible (thank the Lord for that one), I feel quite comfortable with my wholehearted affirmation of the BFM with only these two very minor disagreements over 'closed communion' (I believe in modified open communion as do many other Southern Baptist pastors and churches) and the innocency of infants until they personally sin (I believe the Bible teaches infants are guilty before they actually sin). Actually, there may be only ONE minor disagreement because I keep having professors tell me the BFM doesn't teach infants are innocent before they sin, but I have a hard time seeing their logic.
But, since all Southern Baptists believe the BFM is a consensus CONFESSION and not a mandatory CREED, then minor disagreements should be appropriate. That, in fact, is the nature of the difference between a confession and a creed.
I have also pointed out three other minor wording problems (the 'Spirit baptizing rather than 'Christ,' making every effort to end war, etc . . . ), but those minor disagreements were not my own personally, but written by Sam Storms and used to illustrate a point over 'minor' doctrines vs. 'major' doctrines of the faith.
Nevertheless, if someone believes that someone, similar to me, can't wholeheartedly affirm the BFM 2000, while at the same time expressing disagreement over closed communion and the innocency of infants, well then, that person ought to make a recommendation for my removal from the International Mission Board.
That's consistent. If you wish to ADD to the BFM -- the convention should make the decision. AND, if someone thinks closed communion is a 'major' and 'primary' doctrine, necessary for Southern Baptist missions and ministry service, then by all means, bring that person before the convention and let the convention decide if they should serve.
I think you will find that the convention will make the decision that this is a minor doctrine, one over which Southern Baptists should not divide. I'm very willing to be the guinea pig in order to show, by living example, the difference between a creed and a confession.
In fact, I was hoping that motion would come from the floor at THIS convention. It would serve well as an illustration between essentials and non-essentials, local church autonomy vs. denominational hierarchy, etc . . . I do not believe closed communion defines who is, or who isn't, a true Baptist.
(4). I do believe everyone in the SBC, on both sides of this issue has a good heart. But, I can't understand why anyone in a position of authority within the SBC would take such a flippant, even careless attitude toward the wishes of the entire convention.
My post yesterday was the strongest post I've ever written. I think I was simply taken back by the attitude and the words I heard by a handful of the seminary Presidents in reaction to the convention's vote to adopt the BFM statement. I am hopeful that in time, a more humble and soft attitude will prevail toward the ultimate authority of our convention -- the majority vote of messengers. Authority does not ultimately reside in the President's office, nor even ultimately even in the boards of trustees, but in the people who put the trustees in place.
(5). Finally, prior to 1979 our convention cooperated for the purpose of missions. Since 1979 the focus has become an attempt at bringing doctrinal purity to our convention. It is now time to refocus on the very reason we became a cooperating convention -- missions!
I am hopeful that the next year will help us refocus.
This post shall be my last one until the weekend.
In His Grace,