Yesterday, May 5, Rodney Hammer resigned as Regional Leader, effective immediately.
He resigned his position as Regional Leader because he was not free to further share his convictions about the new IMB missionary candidate policies. It seems Rodney and the missionaries in his region were visited by a group of trustees from the International Mission Board, and Rodney dared expess, again, his contrary views to the new policies. It would be interesting for you to know the trustees who serve that region, particularly the regional trustee chairman, but in essence, Rodney was given an order - be silent, accept trustee decrees or resign.
Rodney sent a letter to the missionaries in CEE explaining that the Lord had clearly led him for two and half years to speak further about the policies to both Trustees and Southern Baptists. Some IMB trustees have sought his termination due to his conscientious dissent on these issues, and senior leadership at IMB instructed Rodney that he cannot appeal further from his position as a Regional Leader. He is expected to accept, own, and support the policies of the IMB trustees. He reached the conclusion that he would rather obey the Lord than man.
I was informed by an IMB trustee this afternoon that Dr. Rankin sent all trustees a letter explaining that Rodney had sent a letter requesting that it be forwarded to each of the trustees. But in the good wisdom of those who make the decisions of what information is (or is not) acceptable at the IMB, Rodney's letter is not being forwarded to the trustees, as he requested. This type of heavy handed, hardball religion is one of the reasons every Southern Baptist ought to show up in Indianapolis. I do not know what Rodney's letter to the trustees contained, but here's hoping that the information I present below might shed a little light on why the Southern Baptist Convention is losing her luminaries.
Several IMB missionaries on the field forwarded to me a personal letter Rodney wrote to them expressing the reasons for his departure and his love and appreciation for them as missionaries. I have chosen to publish just the last portion of the letter to show you the kind of Southern Baptists we are losing from the mission field. Read carefully the following, unedited explanation that Rodney gives for why he had to resign. Pay close attention to the last section of Rodney's letter which describes those who are being disqualified from Southern Baptist missionary service. For those who think these issues are not important, a reality check is needed. Rodney writes:
"I am in fundamental disagreement with the current IMB missionary candidate policies concerning baptism and private prayer language, and the unnecessary, extra-biblical narrowing of parameters for Southern Baptist cooperation in the Great Commission they represent. While I have other serious concerns, I believe the missionary candidate policies are most in need of redress and illustrate most significantly why change is needed.
The IMB is its people. The missionaries and Board personnel ARE THE IMB and what makes it great in so many ways. Southern Baptists and IMB personnel deserve not only continued prayer and financial support, but also a Kingdom-oriented, transparent, accountable, BF&M-aligned trustee board and missionary candidate policies and guidelines that do not exceed the only consensus doctrinal parameters of the SBC nor move us from sounder biblical foundations. Even more importantly, the unreached people groups, the unevangelized of the world's cities, and the lost without Christ everywhere compel us to biblically maximize our efforts and missionary force, not restrict it unnecessarily.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE POLICIES?
The current "guideline" (a de facto policy) for IMB missionary candidates regarding baptism puts the emphasis on the faith/beliefs of the baptizer, rather than the one being baptized. This seems to be a shift away from biblical teaching and Baptist tradition.
The BF&M 2000 Article on Baptism states: "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 Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in 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."
Romans 6:3-5 states "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Holy Scriptures put the emphasis on the work of Christ, and the faith and testimony of the believer being baptized into Christ, not the particularities of the beliefs of the Christian administrator of the baptism.
The new missionary candidate policy regarding baptism goes beyond the above consensus doctrinal parameters of the SBC, and Scripture, adding extra-biblical stipulations concerning the church and administrator of the baptism. It also puts the IMB in the place of the autonomous, local Southern Baptist church in determining the validity of a candidate's baptism…and worse than that insists to some that they re-baptize the missionary candidate. Organizational compliance is not a biblical reason for baptism or re-baptism. A Southern Baptist church member whose baptism was by immersion, after regeneration, in obedience to Christ and as a testimony to their faith in Christ, should be accepted for service in a Southern Baptist entity or agency.
PRIVATE PRAYER LANGUAGE
In regards to the "guideline" (another de facto policy) about private prayer language, three things should be noted.
1.Much of the discussion and rationale given for needing such a policy forbidding missionary candidates from having a private prayer language was that there were widespread problems regarding this among our missionaries on the field. Regional leaders demonstrated that was not and is not the case.
2.Many biblically conservative Baptist scholars disagree on the hermeneutic that was used to support disqualifying candidates who pray privately in a prayer language.
3.Trustees were assured that the vast overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists could not and did not support the concept of private prayer language. This contention was proven false in a survey by LifeWay research last year.
I will forgo revisiting the ample cessationist and continualist viewpoints on spiritual gifts. I will simply say this…in our IMB Manual for Field Personnel we have a robust, sufficient policy against the advocating of any particular spiritual gift as normative for all believers, or the public use and causing of division by such advocacy or practice. This policy is enforced whenever necessary, although that is rare. It has been an adequate protection against inappropriate behavior or teaching.
What we are talking about now is the forbidding of a private prayer language. Private. Prayer. We have no business going into anyone's private prayer closet who calls Jesus their Lord and Savior, nor forbidding otherwise qualified Southern Baptists from service through the IMB because they may pray differently in private than you or I may, nor judging any current or potential IMB policy-abiding missionary to privately utilize under the Lordship of Christ a gift they believe is bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit. There was and are no field realities requiring or necessitating such a move.
Upon the outcry in opposition to these policies from many Southern Baptists, IMB Trustees made minor, cosmetic semantic changes and made both "guidelines." They are de facto policies and applied comprehensively.
We've been led down a Landmarkist ecclesiological path by some influential IMB Trustees. They used unfounded rationales to justify missionary candidate de facto policies that overly restrict and disqualify many good, conservative, God-called and otherwise qualified Southern Baptists from missionary service through the IMB.
WHO IS BEING DISQUALIFIED?
Dozens and even hundreds of Southern Baptists for short and long-term service through the IMB, INCLUDING SOME CURRENT STUDENTS OF OUR SBC SEMINARIES, who…
... are God-called to cross-cultural missionary service.
... are members of an SBC church for at least 3 years.
... are conservative Christians baptized by immersion after conversion as a testimony to their faith in Jesus Christ.
... affirm the BF&M.
... meet the qualifications for service OTHER than the new, overly narrow restrictions.
... are willing to abide by IMB policy and parameters.
... are willing to sacrificially go to the ends of the earth.
HOW DO I KNOW THESE THINGS TO BE TRUE?
I have attended multiple IMB Board of Trustee (BOT) meetings per year now for the last 8 years. I am personally well acquainted with the methods, policies, and practices of our collective Board of Trustees, its leadership, and their impact on our work on the field, our support within the Convention, and upon candidates for missionary service. It brings me no joy, and no personal gain, to express these concerns and appeal for change. I have no illusions of any real or perceived personal influence within the SBC. However, I firmly believe that God would have me express these concerns further, and to advocate for those who can no longer serve through the IMB due to these policies. I will trust God to do with it what He desires.
Regarding the policies, I sought to dialogue and express my concerns along the way. I waited, prayed, sought counsel, and asked for wisdom and peace from the Lord to move on when they were enacted two and a half years ago. While I sought to address the overseas committee and entire trustee board unsuccessfully, I did internally discuss with staff, my regional committee and some trustees for almost one year. After those efforts I made one public appeal for reconsideration of the rationale given and the policies that were enacted. I was formally reprimanded. I accepted that and submitted myself again to Senior Leadership and to the policies and direction of the Board.
The IMB BOT received much concerned feedback and decided to review the policies on baptism and private prayer language. Again I waited, prayed, sought counsel from Scripture and others, dialogued with some Trustees and asked for wisdom and peace from the Lord to move on. I repeatedly requested the opportunity for myself and other regional leaders to give our perspective and field input into the review process. It was finally granted after many months. But then our field leadership input that the policies hurt our legitimate candidate pool, the work and morale of many missionaries on the field, and the lack of any field realities requiring such policies was summarily dismissed.
I have sought to pray, understand, yield, reconsider, search the Scriptures, and dialogue with Senior IMB leadership and Trustees about these concerns and policies over the last two and a half years now. I have submitted to them. I have watched as the supposedly softened "guidelines" are implemented as de facto, hard policy and many a good missionary candidate is turned away. I know of some personally, I hear of many others. I am expected as a regional leader to accept, own, and support the policies of the IMB Trustees. I can do so no longer.
I am now forced to resign my position as regional leader because of my biblical convictions and leadership from the Lord to dissent further and to advocate for those Southern Baptists who cannot serve through the IMB now, and have no voice. I would like to think that Southern Baptist agencies can tolerate conscientious dissent based on biblical convictions. However, Senior IMB leadership have instructed me that further dissent and appeal of said policies voted by our Trustees would result in my removal as regional leader.
I believe part of the reason for the decline in the SBC (as reported by LifeWay's Annual Church Profile and LifeWay Research/Ed Stetzer's blog) is unnecessary narrowing of parameters for Great Commission cooperation. I know for sure it is keeping us from getting many additional Southern Baptist missionaries, turning off a younger generation of future missionaries and leaders, and harming the confidence of some IMB missionaries in their stateside supporters and Trustees.
I simply want to appeal to our IMB Trustees and Southern Baptists to return to a sufficiently conservative, yet broader consensus and parameters reflected in the BF&M 2000 for missionary service through the IMB. I am asking that all born again, bible-believing, BF&M affirming, otherwise qualified Southern Baptists who are called to overseas missions and desire to serve through the IMB be allowed to do so…for the glory of God, the betterment of the SBC, and the sake of making disciples among all nations.
Rodney L. Hammer, Regional Leader
P.S. Let me state unequivocally that I love our IMB Trustees in the Lord. I appreciate their voluntary service. I recognize that they love the Lord Jesus Christ and wish to see Him glorified among the nations as well. I appreciate that they have put up with my own faults as well. There are many who serve with no agenda other than faithfully supporting Southern Baptists' obedience to the Great Commission, and to send and support God-called Southern Baptist missionaries. Some have worked behind the scenes to resist the implementation of these policies and opposed these practices. A few have dared to publicly dissent until such was also voted out of order. I appreciate them greatly. I also love and appreciate those with whom I disagree."
It is because of people like Rodney that I remain a Southern Baptist. It is because of people like Rodney that I will be in Indianapolis. It is because of people like Rodney that I will continue to resist the narrowing of the doctrinal parameters of gospel cooperation and the Baptist Identity initiative within the Southern Baptist Convention. When God called, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, Southern Baptists are being forced out, then it's time for the silent majority to make their voices heard.
In His Grace,