As I have stated from the beginning, the IMB trustees who served with me in 2005, many of whom are now no longer serving, are all godly men and women who desire what is best for the SBC, and they would never dream of doing anything to harm the SBC - nor would I. There is simply a difference of opinion over whether or not the new policies are healthy for the SBC, and with this final post, I will articulate why I believe the baptismal guideline is creedal, clerical and sacerdotal - and very unhealthy in the long run for SBC cooperative mission work.
The Issue Explained
In my December 10, 2007 post, I rejoiced over the missionary efforts of a team from Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee while in India. My post was written to point out that the baptisms of these women, according to the new 2005 IMB baptismal guideline, would be considered invalid. Read carefully the fourth part of the statement on baptism in the new IMB guideline:
"Baptism is a church ordinance and therefore the only proper administrator of it is a local New Testament church that holds to a proper view of salvation."
Further, the IMB Position Paper that interprets this new guideline states:
"Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer."
My point in the December 10, 2007 remains clear and unrefuted: "There was no 'local church' present at the baptism of these Hindu women." The baptisms did not take place, as the guideline requires, in a local church.
How is that hard to understand? The baptisms of these Hindu women would be deemed 'invalid' according to the guideline. If some wish to argue that the baptisms in India ARE valid - go for it! That is exactly what I am saying. These baptisms in India, conducted OUTSIDE (not 'in') a local church ARE valid, ARE biblical, and ARE the norm on how a convert should be baptized on the mission field. But, these baptisms are in violation of a poorly written IMB guideline. In visiting with Steve Marcum, the missions pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, it is clear that these women had 'connections' with local churches from where they came, and there were pastors of 'local churches' at the conference where these baptisms were performed, but they were NOT performed "IN A LOCAL CHURCH." They were all performed before many witnesses, in front an 'assembly' (not a local church) of Christians from many backgrounds, and at great personal sacrifice to the converts (threat of persecution, disownership by family, etc . . .), BUT THE BAPTISMS WERE NOT ADMINISTERED IN A LOCAL CHURCH. These baptisms were performed OUTSIDE a local church. This is exactly how Baptist theologian John Gill stated a biblical baptism should be peformed in his classic work 'A Body of Practical Divinity:'
Baptism is not an ordinance administered in the church, but out of it, and in order to admission into it, and communion with it; it is preparatory to it, and a qualification for it; it does not make a person a member of a church, or admit him into a visible church; persons must first be baptized, and then added to the church, as the three thousand converts were; a (local) church has nothing to do with the baptism of any, but to be satisfied they are baptized before they are admitted into communion with it.
I commend Bellevue Baptist Church and Missions Pastor Steve Marcum for their mission work and for their desire to see the lost in India saved. I also commend the India pastors who were present at the conference for their desire to involve the converts in discipleship through local congregations of worship in the ladies' home towns. I, and everyone else, should applaud Bellevue for holding the conference and providing a place of security for these women to be baptized. However, don't lose sight of the point of my post -- there was NO LOCAL CHURCH PRESENT - in assembly, in communion, in worship, or in function as a witness to the baptisms or granting 'authority' (whatever that means) - for these baptisms.
The Women LEFT the Conference to JOIN a LOCAL Baptist Church?
The following Sunday, all around the India - in the towns from whence these women came - 'local churches' received these newly baptized converts into their membership. As we would do at our church, the 'local church' Baptist pastors, some of whom may have even been at the conference, would introduce the new convert to the congregation and have the woman share her testimony of faith in Christ and that woman would petition to join that 'local assmbly' upon examination of her faith AND BAPTISM. The woman probably said something like this . . .
"The Spirit of God has led me to see my need of Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord. Last week I had the glorious experience of making public my faith in Christ at a conference sponsored by Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee. I, along with several other women from across our state made it known publicly that we were followers of Jesus Christ. I had the privilege - before many witnesses - to declare my solemn faith in Jesus Christ through baptism. I WISH YOU HAD BEEN THERE!"
The pastor of the local church might then stand and say something like this:
If you rejoice in our sister's testimony of conversion and wish to receive this sister in our fellowship, say, 'Hallelujah!' The congregation would then 'affirm' or 'vote' for this new convert to be a member of the 'local church.' But the baptism this convert and the vote for membership into the 'local church' WERE TWO SEPARATE THINGS.
Why Is This Such An Important Issue?
Allow me to relate a personal story that by now is a familiar story to many of you. A young man from Africa came to Enid, Oklahoma. He grew up Muslim. But years ago he was led to faith in Christ by a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) evangelist in his native Niger. This young man was radically saved. He asked the YWAM evangelist if he would baptize him as a testimony of his faith in Christ before his entire family. Several Christians from the area gathered together, along with the new convert's family (who were all Muslim), to witness the baptism. When the young man gave his testimony of faith in Christ and then went down into the waters in believer's baptism, the Christians witnessing the baptism (much like those witnessing the baptisms in India), applauded and wept. The young man's family witnessed the baptism and promptly disowned him.
Eventually the young man made his way from Africa to Enid where he shared with Emmanuel Baptist Church, the 'local church,' his very moving testimony of faith in Christ and the account of his baptism - which cost him everything of material value (his home, his family, his job, etc . . .). Our local church (much like the local churches in India), was NOT present at the convert's baptism. Yet, we heard his testimony of faith and the story of his baptism and we promptly shouted 'Hallelujah' when asked if we desired to receive him into our 'local church' membership.
This Muslim convert, a member of our 'local church' for the next several years, eventually desired to be appointed for missionary service (late 2005)through the IMB. His pastor (me) would be told that he would not be appointed for missionary service through the IMB because his baptism did not qualify. According to the new 2005 baptism policy the Muslim convert was not baptized 'in a local church.' When I pointed out that 'our local church' had received his baptism as valid, I was told by trustees pushing the new policy that the administrator of this young man's baptism was not a valid administrator of the ordinance, and thus, the missionary candidate's baptism was not valid. When I asked to be shown biblically how, and why, this young man's baptism was not valid it could not be done. I was simpy told for the young man to qualify as a missionary for the IMB - according to the new guidelines - he would have to be 'baptized' again "in his local church - Emmanuel Baptist Church." We refused on the basis that we would not denigrate Christ's ordinance of baptism by ruling invalid that which God himself calls valid. I was then told that for the young man to become an IMB missionary he would have to join another Southern Baptist church that would be willing to baptize him. Soon after I began this blog to register my dissent to such an absurd, unbiblical policy.
What Is At Stake for the Southern Baptist Convention
When we come to the place in our convention that we are more concerned with the tightening and narrowing of the qualifications of the person who can legitimately baptize than we are that a sinner is actually being baptized upon his profession of faith in Jesus Christ, we are in danger of becoming more sacerdotal than our Roman Catholic friends.
When we are more concerned about the 'authority' of the local church than we are the authority of Jesus Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming more clerical than the Vatican.
When an agency or a board of the Southern Baptist Convention can tell a 'local church,' that the baptism of a missionary candidate from their church, which they (the members of the church) have received as biblical and valid (by immersion, after coming to faith in Christ, etc . . . ) is NOT a biblical and valid baptism according to the trustees of the IBM because the administrator of that baptism was not part of a 'local church that believed in eternal security,' then the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming more hierchial than Roman Catholicism herself.
Last time I checked, I was a Southern Baptist. And, until Jesus comes or calls me home, I will do everything in my power to keep our beloved Southern Baptist Convention from giving in to what I perceive to be a creeping creedalism, clericalism, and sacerdotalism that could eat away at the soul of our Convention if left unchecked.
In His Grace,
For those who may be interested, the seventh performance of this year's Emmanuel Baptist Church Christmas Pageant will be broadcast over the internet LIVE tonight, December 12, 2007, at 7:30 p.m. Central Time. The Christmas Pageant will also be archived for later viewing. My son Logan and I are the narrators for the last half. It's been a hoot working with Logan. He's a natural!