"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

What Gulf Hurricanes May One Day Teach Southern Baptists About the Subtle But Significant Changes Occuring in SBC Polity

Southern Baptists historically have believed in and defended the autonomy of the local church, the independence of Southern Baptist agencies from one another, and the grassroots power held by Southern Baptists at large. Some conservative Southern Baptist leaders, joining other mainlain demoninations, act as if autonomy is madness. From our beginnings, Southern Baptists have differed from other denominations in polity and governance in that we have never had a system of top/down authority where an ecclesiastical head, synod, or other "authoritative" body could ever instruct, demand or otherwise control any Southern Baptist entity or church. But that seems to be changing.

Historically, boards of trustees govern Southern Baptist entitities and congregations are the highest authority in the church. Autonomous Southern Baptist churches choose to cooperate on missions and evangelism around the world, and elect trustees who govern our Convention's agencies. If a Southern Baptist agency becomes askew and needs correction, then individual trustees must do what they can to correct the problem. Then, if the problem is not corrected, the Southern Baptist Convention must replace trustees with those who will reflect the mind and heart of the highest authority in the Southern Baptist Convention - the local churches that compose our Convention. If and when there comes a time or occasion that the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole violates an inviolable (sacred) Baptist principle, then the only alternative for the Baptist who disagrees is to leave the Southern Baptist Convention. For this reason, our Convention, that is our local, autonomous churches who form the Southern Baptist Convention, should be very cautious about adopting any motion that takes "authority" away from autonomous churches and places it in the hands of a a few.

Concerns over "Liberalism" Brings the Loss of Autonomy

Concerns over "liberal" moves among Southern Baptist agencies have led our Convention to adopt a centralized form of control that seems to be destroying the fabric of Southern Baptist polity as we once knew it. Demands that Southern Baptist churches, pastors, trustees "conform" to doctrinal decrees issued from the top down has more in common to Roman Catholic papal bulls than the historic practice of autonomous Baptist churches issuing individual church confessions and cooperating in missions with other autonomuos Baptist churches around a basic confession of faith that left off tertiary doctrines. That's not to say tertiary doctrines are not important to local churches. Rather, to preserve the polity of individual autonomous churches and the spirit of cooperation in mission tasks, Southern Baptists have historically resisted the move toward a centralized hierachial authority on matters of doctrine. This centralized demand for "doctrinal conformity" began with the President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 appointing a Baptist Faith and Message that reflected a "conservative" viewpoint on doctrinal matters historically absent from Baptist Confessions. At the time I was bothered by this demand for doctrinal conformity, but said little because of my personal agreement with the doctrine. What bothered me was the forced separation from those who disagreed by using the document as a club of accountability against autonomous churches. That seemed to me, again, to be more Roman Catholic in polity than Baptist.

But in recent months, I have seen how the "centralized authority" of Southern Baptists has become far more dangerous. Recent doctrinal "bulls" on issues such as closed communion, the cessation of spiritual gifts, the authority of the baptizer, the prohibition of women teaching men, and other such "doctrines" which go even beyond the 2000 BFM are being forced on cooperating Southern Baptist churches by Southern Baptist trustee boards at the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and some of our Southern Baptist seminaries. The rationale of these trustees is that they are the "authority" on such matters, and the decisions of individual, autonomous Southern Baptist churches have no merit.

Southern Baptists in the pew don't seem to really care about historic Baptist polity when it comes to doctrinal matters. But, one of these days, a hurricane in Gulf may wake us all up.

Sole Membership

In 2005 the Southern Baptist Convention approved a recommendation called "sole membership." Sole membership grants legal ownership of every Southern Baptist agency to the Southern Baptist Convention. As explained by the Convention's attorneys at the time, sole membership, gives to the Southern Baptist Convention "the right to approve charter amendment, and to approve the dissolution, merger, or sale of the institution. This sounds really good - if the Convention as a whole makes those decisions. But in reality, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist acts "as the Convention between Conventions," and decisions can be made by the Executive Committee without full Convention approval. This works fine and dandy when the Executive Committee takes actions respectful of, and consistent with, Baptist principles and Convention wishes, and when the Executive Committee is composed of men and women who understand the importance of local church and agency autonomy (as it does now). But we have seen at the International Mission Board what happens when an individual board of trustees acts without Convention approval and inverts historic Baptist polity by declaring they have "authority" over local Southern Baptist churches.

God forbid that the spirit of the SBC Executive Committee ever becomes like the spirit of some of the leaders on the 2005 International Mission Board regarding "authority" in the SBC. Church autonomy meant nothing to them. Local church authority was insignificant. "We" have the truth, and you better follow "us" or you are not a real Southern Baptist and cannot cooperate in Southern Baptist missions. In a similar manner, there were a few SBC agency heads and trustees who complained during the "sole membership" debate that the Executive Committee was taking over "their" authority as independent, autonomous Southern Baptist boards and agencies. In my opinion, they were right. BUT, the EC may have learned it from agency boards who have been doing the same thing to local churches.

Prior to 2005, for any Southern Baptist entitity to be dissolved, merged, or sold, it required agency trustee approval. The only "control" the Southern Baptist Convention had over individual agencies prior to the 2005 "sole membership" vote was the appointment of agency trustees. This, however, did not seem enough to some conservative Southern Baptist leaders. Afraid of the actions of rogue Baptist trustee boards, the Southern Baptist Convention pressed for "sole membership." The cause for concern included Baptist agencies in Texas, including Baylor trustees who voted to cut ties with the Convention. Likewise, in Missouri, five Baptist agencies separated from the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Concerns over "liberal" moves among Southern Baptist agencies have led our Convention to adopt a centralized form of control that may one day, in practice, destroy the fabric of Southern Baptist polity as we once knew it. Dr. Chuck Kelley, pictured here signing the documents handing over the assets of NOBTS to the SBC Executive Committee (Update: please see Augie Boto's comments after this post where he states my conclusions in this paragraph and the next three are erroneous), vigorously opposed "sole membership" because he knew the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention could one day close New Orleans Seminary, sell the assets, and the trustees of New Orleans Theological Seminary would have no say in the matter. Dr. Kelley said during the debate over "sole membership."

Sole membership is a step toward the centralization of control authority," Kelley said. "It is not the size of the step but the direction of the step which causes our concern."

He pointed to a story the seminary submitted to Baptist Press, in which Kelley said BP "refused to print a brief statement from the trustees ... explaining to Southern Baptists why they did not want to do sole membership."

"Whatever you think about this issue, denying a messenger-elected board of conservative trustees the opportunity to communicate with Southern Baptist Convention

I sympathize with Dr. Kelley. If hurricane Gustav had destroyed New Orleans, or if hurricane Hannah turns west and brings flooding to New Orleans, or if another future hurricane brings devastation to the city which hosts New Orleans Theological Seminary, the Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee, NOT the board of directors of NOTBS, could vote to sell, merge or otherwise close the New Orleans Theological Seminary - without the seminary's trustees approval, OR Southern Baptist Convention approval. Attorneys for the Executive Committee would argue that the Executive Committee IS the Convention between Conventions, and legally, they would be right. But it is really dangerous when just a few men control entire Conventions or autonomous churches by their personal whims or feelings. One day the Executive Committee just up and get tired of rebuilding New Orleans Seminary (as some IMB trustees seemed to tire of missionaries who prayed in tongues), and they very well might shut it down. The New Orleans President and NOBTS trustees may wake up one day and wondered what happened to their seminary. Where did "their authority" in answering the question of whether or not New Orleans Seminary should remain open go? They might just feel a little like what an autonomous Southern Baptist church feels when a Southern Baptist agency forbids to appoint a missionary candidate whose baptism by immersion, which the church accepted, has been rejected. The missionary candidate's baptism, which meets the qualifications of the concensus doctrinal statement of the Convention (the 2000 BFM) - but doesn't meet the personal doctrinal whims of IMB trustees. The Board of Trustees of the IMB just might justify their actions by saying, "We are a higher authority than the local church and we don't have to accept the missionary's baptism if we don't want to accept it."

When those kinds of twisted, distorted views of authority are allowed to stand, then we are all in trouble as a Convention.

As much as I dislike saying it, it might take a hurricane for Southern Baptists to finally realize that the historic principle of Baptist autonomy is in danger. If demands for doctrinal conformity on matters non-essential to the gospel don't wake up the Southern Baptist congregations, maybe a decision to close a Southern Baptist seminary, bypassing the authority of the seminary's own board of trustees will wake us up.

Then, again, maybe not. If people don't care about the authority of a local church, the HIGHEST authority in our Convention, why should they ever care about an agency who has lesser historic Baptist authority? Or, even worse, it could be that Southern Baptists have no concept of local church authority and autonomy and how authority flows up, not down.

I sometimes wonder if modern Southern Baptists even care about historic Baptist principles such as local church authority and congregational autonomy. I won't, however, stop trying to make my fellow Southern Baptists care.

In His Grace,



Ken Coffee said...

Thanks for sounding the alarm. I hope Southern Baptists are hearing it.

Bob Cleveland said...


Good analogy. And regardless of which direction the storm comes from, those in power in the SBC had best realize God controls the weather, both in the skies, and in the SBC.

God told Habakkuk that He ... God ... was raising up the Babylonians to handle some stuff He didn't like, among His own chosen people. No reason He can't, or wouldn't, do the same to the SBC.

Alan Cross said...


I am not following your argument here. Dr. Kelly opposed sole membership. Dr. Patterson was for it at Southeastern and then later said that he regretted it. Some believe that he was behind Dr. Kelly's opposition, having realized too late the implications. The Baptist Identity crowd has consistently declared that the trustees were the final authority when it came to our entities, therefore, they had the right to go beyond the BF&M if they so chose. Morris Chapman and the EC opposed that type of action and drafted a statement calling the entities to work in concert with the will of the convention as expressed in the BFM2000, hence the Garner Motion. Part of the enmity between Chapman and Patterson is over this issue. I would side with Chapman and the EC here, however. From the very beginning of the SBC, the entities were to be amenable to the will of the convention, not independent, autonomous units. Sole Membership, as you have stated, is an argument against total autonomy of the entities and their trustee boards which would keep them from becoming rogue agencies.

Wade, it appears that you have actually sided with Dr. Patterson and the BI crowd on this one. If the narrowing of parameters had come from Dr. Chapman and the EC, then you would have a case. As it happened, this action that we have all opposed came from the BI crowd that actually opposed Sole Membership, as I understand it. They also don't like Dr. Chapman much and look askance at the power of the EC. It seems that you are taking the action of Sole Membership and you are applying it to the group that you have opposed, where the facts as I understand them would have that group siding with you on the autonomy issue. That has been their argument - they can do what they want.

Now, a bigger argument is the question of, are they accountable to the churches? I would say "yes" and agree with you on the role of the BFM. But, that has little to do with the Sole Membership discussion. If anything, Sole Membership could possibly be used to enforce that accountability to the churches.

One other thing, I struggle to see where the dictums from on high that you oppose (as do I) have anything to do with Sole Membership and the EC. The "on high" is not an official papal position, but rather the statements of a group of people that have gained influence over the years through their work within the Convention. That can hardly be opposed by an appeal to the dangers of Sole Membership, unless the powers from on high were operating from the leadership of the EC, which they are not.

Maybe I've missed something. Even if we disagree here, I do not assume that you haven't thought this through. I'm just not following your argument.

Anonymous said...


You have made some good points and asked some good questions.

I did not follow the Sole Membership issue when it was going on. As I understand it, there may be other legal issues that are in play here.

With the Convention as the sole member, it seems to me that the messengers to the SBC would actually have more of a chance to stop a rogue agency from breaking away than they would have if that were not the case.

The University of Richmond, Wake Forest, Furman, Mercer, Baylor, Samford, Stetson, Belmont etc., all broke from their respective State Conventions because they, in essence, came to have broader constituencies and broader goals than being the Baptist colleges they were at their founding. I suppose that many who founded those colleges would be distraught to see what the years have brought. Some have moved further away than others. It's a natural process that, once started, only goes in one direction.

I am not really sure whether sole membership will prevent this at a national level, but if it does, good. I wonder in retrospect if people like Dr. Honeycutt, Dr. Pollard, Dr. Dilday etc. had wished they had tried that. Who knows?

But, again, I am not certain that there are not other legal issues involved here that are not really discussed or the topic of this post.

I do know this. The autonomy of our local church has not been threatened in any way, or we would not be part of the SBC. I have friends in the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches, and they are all tied up into higher bodies that they must answer to. We are not, in any way.

So for now, this is not anything that I am worried about.


Wade Burleson said...


Has my church's local autonomy and authority been threatened through the rejection of the baptism of Southern Baptist missionary candidate Yacouba Seydou, a baptism accepted by our church as biblical (not to mention acceptable to the standards of the 2000 BFM), but REJECTED by the IMB because the "baptizer" was unacceptable? (Yacouba's baptism took place in a river in Africa at the hands of a Youth for Christ evangelist.- not in a Southern Baptist church).

A yes or no answer is sufficient.

Tue Sep 02, 01:58:00 PM 2008

Terry said...

By definition, if your church is autonomous then it cannot be threatened by anything the SBC or anyone else does.

Dave Miller said...

Technically, Wade, your local church's autonomy has not been violated by the IMB action.

I am completely opposed to the IMB board actions and hope they will be overturned.

But, the cooperation principle among Southern Baptists goes both ways. The entities are neither over the local church in authority nor are they under it.

Your church has the right to accept whatever baptisms it wishes to accept. And the IMB has the right to set its baptismal standards.

I strongly disagree with the standards they have set, but have come to see that the entity (under traditional Baptist polity) has the right to set those standards. I have the right oppose them. The IMB cannot dictate to me or my church. I, nor my church, can dictate to the IMB.

The solution is the same as the CR followed. Elect presidents who will appoint trustees who will change the policies.

I oppose the IMB policies on biblical grounds, but I do not think that they are a violation of autonomy.

G. Alford said...


Great article!

Here in the great Sunshine State the Florida Baptist Convention has gone even beyond issues of doctrine in their attack upon the autonomy to the Local Baptist Church…

In order to address the growing number of Baptist Churches in the state who (for any number of reasons) did not sending in their ACP report this past year, a new bylaw (or bull) was put in place that demands/requires each Local Baptist Church fill out and turn in their ACP report or else they will no longer be considered “in fellowship”… thereby loosing all rights and privileges, including the right to send messengers.

Just where does a Baptist State Convention get the authority to demand anything from an autonomous Baptist Church? And having gotten away with this, with not even a whimper of protest, what will they demand next?

Grace Always,

Benji Ramsaur said...


It is interesting to me how Southern Baptist history has [or some might wish would have] evolved from the beginning of the bottom/up Conservative Resurgence.

Bart Barber said "The problem with the Conservative Resurgence is that it faltered and stopped short. Many state conventions remain largely unchanged by it. The Baptist universities—the vast majority of them—represent everything that the Conservative Resurgence existed to combat. The CR accomplished a great transformation, but it transformed the least significant tier of Southern Baptist life. What remains to accomplish is a reformation of local churches. A theological, doctrinal, and ecclesiological reformation."

I don't think anybody could [justifiably] argue against the idea that the CR beginning came from the bottom to make changes at the top [bottom/up].

However, Bart is here talking about how the CR, unless I am mistaken, should have not only changed the top but ultimately changed the bottom as well.

But a resurgence cannot evolve into something that changes the bottom from the top since a resurgence is, by definition, something that "rises".

Also, if it is granted that the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice close/closed communion and if the BF&M 2000 is to be taken in full without any exceptions for denominational employment, then it seems to follow that the bottom rose to [unintentionally?] shut the majority of the bottom out.

And if the majority of the bottom are out and still giving money, then it follows that a minority [who is in] is taking the majority's [who are out] money.

The minority--let's just say for argument's sake--might justify this by saying they are about "truth".

However, one does not necessarily have to take another's money to stand up for truth.

One could stand up for truth elsewhere and thus not end up taking the money.

Even if one takes the view that the CR was right and has ended, but that a movement inspired by the CR should bring change to the bottom through BF&M 2000 confessionalism, then this would still be, I think, a bottom/top that evolves into a top/bottom perspective.



Wade Burleson said...


Very, very perceptive.


Wade Burleson said...

G. Alford,

Your two questions, "Just where does a Baptist State Convention get the authority to demand anything from an autonomous Baptist Church? And having gotten away with this, with not even a whimper of protest, what will they demand next? say it all.

Wade Burleson said...


The place the IMB board of trustees violated my church's autonomy is in the rejection of an otherwise qualified SBC missionary from our church that was DISQUALIFIED by the board because his baptism did not meet the new 2005 standard. This standard, which stated a SBC missionary must be baptized by a Southern Baptist pastor in a Southern Baptist Church (or in a church that believes in eternal security), went beyond the 2000 BFM, was never approved by the Convention, and told our church that the baptism we received was not in order.

AND, we were told that if we wanted our God-called missionary on the field with Southern Baptists, just simply REBAPTIZE him. We refused.

So, where autonomy was violated is clear: Our church and the board both believed our member was qualified. Our church and the board both believed our member should be on the mission field. BUT, our church's decision that the candidate had been properly baptized was overturned by a board who said he was NOT properly baptized. Thus, our freedom to send our missionary through the IMB to serve the kingdom of God was infringed by a group of trustees with a narrow view of baptism and a belief that "their authority" about our church's understanding of baptism was GREATER than our church's authority.

You may not see it how our autonomy was affected.

I do quite clearly.

Joe White... said...


From what I gather, I agree with you on the "Sole Membership" issue and can see where this may in fact become a serious issue or problem. However, I cannot make the leap to infringement on church autonomy that you are making. Could not ever church make the same argument and complaint that you do when "their" missionary candidates are rejected. I mean, why have a board if the churches can send whomever they decide is qualified?

As I see it... this is not an infringement on local church autonomy. While it is true that the candidate will represent your church on the field, it is also true that they will represent every Southern Baptist too. Why not just "rebaptize"? That is exactly what Paul asked in Acts 19 of people who had already been immersed...

Tim G said...

Wade I understand where you are trying to go, but I do not think you have picked the right analogy to get the discussion there.

How can two entities (IMB and your Church) practice autonomy without violating the others autonomy? Then take the 45,000 church number from the SBC...how possibly could it do the same with so many different ideas and yet autonomy exists for all?

It aint as easy as you are trying to make it! :)

Jeff said...

The HIGHEST Authority is not the local church, but Christ.

Wade Burleson said...

Joe White,

To agree with my view on the "sole membership" and disagree with my view on "the IMB policies" is a contradiction. Both are wrong for the same reasons.

Likewise, to agree with me on the new IMB policies and disagree with me on the "sole membership" issue is a contradiction.

These two issues are not party issues. They go to the heart of the problem.


We are becoming a Convention where authority at the TOP of denominational hierarchy dictates down (in their view) to those at the bottom (local churches). Instead, it should be the local churches (the highest authority in SBC polity) dictating to denominational leaders how they should govern.

That being said, any committee (like the Executive Committee of the SBC) which dictates actions to SBC autonomous agencies, or any board (like the IMB) which dictates to autonomous churches "doctrinal parameters" WITHOUT CONVENTION APPROVAL has inverted the authority structure of the SBC.

Wade Burleson said...


Don't know how it can be any simpler than the above.


Wade Burleson said...

Alan Cross,

To me, the issue is not "siding" with one group over another. That is politics, and I am averse to it.

The issue to me is a principle.

Centralized control has historically been "anathema" to Southern Baptists.

Today, it is being pushed by all sides. The question is: "Who is in control?"

The Garner Motion states "The Convention is in control of the doctrinal document that sets the parameters of Southern Baptist missions cooperation - and the Convention alone has this authority, not any board."

Agencies are ignoring the Garner Motion. I commend the Executive Committee for pushing the Garner Motion to the floor of the Convention for a floor vote.

Yet, the Executive Committee could one day decide to issue a NEW set of doctrinal parameters - WITHOUT going to the Convention (since they act as the Convention between Conventions), and if those parameters passed by a majority of the Executive Committee those parameters would be Southern Baptist LAW! I would hope the Covnention as a whole would rise up in revolt against the Executive Committee, but it doesn't mean the Executive Committee could not attempt to narrow the doctrinal parameters whenever they wanted to. It just so happens this particular Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is wise. That doesn't mean tomorrows Executive Committee will be as wise.

So, too, if New Orleans Theological Seminary is CLOSED by CONVENTION vote, so be it. But to give such POWER into the hands of one committee is too much.

It is this power in the hands of ONE COMMITTEE, or ONE BOARD, or ONE AGENCY that concerns me. I, however, don't pick sides.

The UNIQUE difference between the Garner Motion which limits board authority and the "new doctrinal policies" of the IMB is HUGE.

The Garner Motion was voted on by the entire Convention. The new doctrinal policies were not.

The HIGHEST AUTHORITY is the local church. NOBODY ELSE. Local churches comprise the Southern Baptist Convention - not a committee - not a board - not an oligarchy of leaders - but 45,000 independent, autonomous churches that choose to cooperate together.

That is my argument.

debbiekaufman said...

Dave: Your comment seems to be saying that although we accepted Yacouba's baptism, God called him to go back to his own country and preach the gospel, that he either must reject that call due to the IMB not accepting his baptism, go someplace else, thereby throwing him out of the SB program that our church gives to through CP giving,or submit to being baptized to suit the IMB, thereby reducing baptism to a man pleasing event, instead of being baptized into Christ. I can't accept that.

The IMB does not have the right to do whatever it wants to do.

Lin said...

"That is exactly what Paul asked in Acts 19 of people who had already been immersed..."

Joe, I respectfully submit that was not the same thing Wade is discussing about his friend.

In Acts 19, those folks had NOT been baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 19

"1And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John’s baptism." 4And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus"

Dave Miller said...

Debbie (and Wade),

No, what I am saying is that the principle of autonomy works both ways. You do not have to accept the authority of the IMB or EC, or any other SBC entity.

Neither are they forced to accept your authority over them. The right to screen and approve candidates is granted to the IMB. They are not bound to use only the BF&M, but to set those standards they think are right.

They did not violate your autonomy, but your sense of authority.

Having said that, I will reiterate that I disagree with their policies and have written a series of posts disagreeing with their position.

Simply, I do NOT think they violated Baptist polity, which grants them the same autonomy that your church has.

I DO think they have violated biblical principles, which does not support their policies.

Dave Miller said...

By the way, Debbie, the SBC bylaws do pretty much grant the IMB the right to do what it sees fit. The only authority we have over them is the moral authority of biblical concensus and the power to replace trustees. (Actually, we could vote to cut off their funding at an SBC, but that seems unlikely.)

Dave Miller said...

At the risk of getting rebuked for triple posting...

I said, "They did not violate your autonomy, but your sense of authority."

As I read that, I realized it was more snarky than I meant it to be.

Wade said, "If people don't care about the authority of a local church, the HIGHEST authority in our Convention, why should they ever care about an agency who has lesser historic Baptist authority?"

I do not think this is accurate. In a connectional fellowship, based on autonomy, the local church is the authority at the local church. At the IMB, the IMB trustees are the authority. At the SBC, the messengers are the ultimate authority. The local church is autonomous, but it does not exert authority over any other SBC related entity.

Just wanted to clarify.

I am punishing myself for triple posting by going home and not blogging again till tomorrow. (Like at NCAA schools, self-punishment is imposed to avoid harsher sanctions from above.)

Alan Paul said...

Moderates cared about autonomy... they were kicked out.

Wade said:

At the time I was bothered by this demand for doctrinal conformity, but said little because of my personal agreement with the doctrine.

I wonder Wade if you regret your silence. Further, did you not do the same thing as some SBC leaders today, agree or vote your personal whims by default by not speaking up at the time and standing against the BFM2000?

We are all susceptible to voting our whims and even defending them. So I am not taking shots at you unaware of my own fallibility in this area...

Joe White... said...


I respectfully disagree with your summation that "sole membership" and the "IMB policies" are the same. My point was that while your local church may deem a person a fit candidate with a valid baptism, another local church may not. Which local church has the authority? And again... your missionary candidate is not only representing your local church, but every Southern Baptist. That is why I believe the policies are not only legitimate, but needed.


I realize that the circumstances were different in Acts 19, however, my point was that a "rebaptism" of a person who was previously immersed is not unbiblical... nor should it be met with hostility. If the candidate is otherwise quailified, and if the IMB will accept them if rebaptized, then why not do it?

Tim G said...

If you use your analogy from the bottom up, with all SBC member churches, then the IMB would be an autonomous entity.

If A church wants it one way, and B church wants it another, then what is the IMB to do without (in your analogy) compromising autonomy of either?

Not simple still! :)

Anonymous said...


You mentioned the MBC agencies' boards choosing to re-write their charters and become self-perpetuating boards.

I served on the MBC executive board at the time that those decisions took place--and I believe the reason that was given for the decisions by those agencies' presidents and/or board chairs at the time. However, due to the intense Fundamentalism that was running rampant (and does--start here: www.mbcpathway.com) in Missouri at the time, if those agencies hadn't chosen to change their charters as they did, they might have been counseled by more sensible believers to do so--the mission of the convention was so lost and seems not to have improved since.

When I moved from Texas to Missouri, I disagreed considerably with good friends in vocational ministry who leaned toward the politically moderate stance among Southern Baptists; after watching with my own eyes what Fundamentalists can do and apparently want to do to the entire SBC, I returned to Texas leaning TOWARD the politically moderate stance--holding an understanding of the Holy Scriptures as conservative as the grandmommas of anyone reading here (theologically conservative), but not--while seeking to disciple others--being willing myself to try to make anyone else believe anything about the Bible (i.e., politically moderate). In my opinion, this blogsite has undergone some of the same transition during the time of its existence--and, if so, I'm glad for it.

Keep heading in the right direction, Wade, and take as many folk who will go with you to make the changes necessary to keep the good tool "SBC" a sharp and useful harvesting one in God's hand.

Justa Believer said...

Wade, interesting post. Two thoughts:

(1) Power in the SBC is being centralized more and more, to the point where autonomy is an important consideration only when it is in keeping with the agenda of those in power. For example, while the SBC Executive Committee could potentially invoke "sole membership" to make sweeping changes impacting all the churches, somehow it violates autonomy simply to establish a database to provide churches with information on sexually abusive Baptist ministers. Go figure.

(2) You wrote of how the IMB policies on PPL and baptism have "inverted the authority structure of the SBC", and that "Local churches comprise the Southern Baptist Convention - not a committee - not a board - not an oligarchy of leaders." Very true statements. Unfortunately, this backwards and upside-down view of authority has also infected many local Baptist churches in their doctrine and practice of church government. More and more Baptist churches are setting aside the biblical and historic Baptist practice of congregational governance (which is in keeping with the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer) in favor of a "elder rule" or "pastor led" system, in which one or a few are seen as the church "authorities", rather than the servants of the body that they are intended to be.

Lin said...

I realize that the circumstances were different in Acts 19, however, my point was that a "rebaptism" of a person who was previously immersed is not unbiblical... nor should it be met with hostility. If the candidate is otherwise quailified, and if the IMB will accept them if rebaptized, then why not do it?

Tue Sep 02, 09:29:00 PM 2008

Joe, is there another instance in the NT where someone was baptized in the Name of Jesus and then rebaptized for any reason? If there is, I have missed it.

Anonymous said...

Ephesians 4

Unity in the Body of Christ
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Steve said...

Bart Barber wishes that the CR had had more effect at the local church level? The CR started out with at least a carload of people who may have needed to be removed at seminaries, but it devolved into a worldly political exercise much like every other gross religious change carried out from the top down. As the bodies piled up and innocent people were seeing their lives ruined, the churches full of normal Baptist Christians took one look at the CR and said, "Thank God that's not happening here." If Dr. Barber can't see that, then he and everyday Baptists are in two entirely different religions, if not entirely different worlds.

Baptist believe in peaceful changes; there was nothing peaceful in how the CR was carried out.

If the CR had been carried out from the congregation level, it surely would have taken longer, but the connection of churches to the SBC entities would have come out stronger.

The history of great institutions can be seen to take fatal turns when small groups of leaders who have wrongly misunderstood the authority given them take steps to shore up or extend their power and end up losing all.

Bill said...

I think re-baptism makes a mockery of baptism. The way we re-baptize willy nilly in the SBC just shows we don't take baptism as seriously as we say we do.

Anonymous said...

The CR (I have other names for it but will simply call it The Change as a neutral term) was not a bottom up movement. I would call it sideways at best. Maybe a more military term would be a flank attack - my military term might be ambush.

If it had been totally grass roots, it wouldn't have happened. (Now you might call the opposition to it grass-roots. Certainly it was more so than the Change itself.) It was the action of people who wanted power and pushed buttons to get it. We see these buttons pushed all the time in the (more)secular political arena. From one side, just call someone liberal or unpatriotic or ultra-anything and you immediately get unquestioning followers for your view opposing those you have so labeled. If you wave an American flag, some people will follow you no matter what. In this case, they "waved" the Bible. Never mind whether what they did was Biblical, people just unthinkingly followed what they said. The results of that become more clear all the time.

I'm still sorting out my thoughts on the intricacies of the relation between SBC, boards, and churches. Autonomy and cooperation (both Baptist ideals)take a delicate balance to work as they should. Posts like this help clarify the issue. Thanks, Wade.


Anonymous said...

"The CR (I have other names for it but will simply call it The Change as a neutral term) was not a bottom up movement. I would call it sideways at best. Maybe a more military term would be a flank attack - my military term might be ambush."

I agree that it was a flank attack. It was a campaign and it was devised at a time of upheaval in our culture that fit perfectly.

Had the internet been around it probably would not have happened the way it did. It happened because information was disseminated and controlled. Many literally thought the seminaries were filled to the brim with nothing but godless heathens teaching heresy.

Thank goodness, information is not controlled that way anymore. Courageous people can speak out if they are willing to lose their jobs. (wink)


Wade Burleson said...


You are correct.

Information is power.

And information is growing.

Benji Ramsaur said...


You said "they 'waved' the Bible."

If the former establishment would have waved the Bible back, then I don't think a "change" would have happened.

Unless I'm mistaken, the CR advocates said "We believe the Bible" and the establishment said "we believe the Bible, BUT..."

And with that little three letter word, I believe they exposed themselves and thus gave away the farm.

I am very familiar with the "they had a bad motive" argument.

Even if granted, I believe there is a sense in which it does not have merit and a sense in which it does.

In the light of verses like Matt. 23:2-3, I would rather have teachers in the Seminaries who taught the inerrancy of Scripture who had bad hearts, than have teachers who taught that the Bible might/does contain error with good hearts.

If you believe that inerrancy does not matter that much, then we do not share the same premise. And if we do not share the same premise, then, of course, we can reason in different directions based off the different premises that we have.

If there was widespread belief in and teaching of the concept of inerrancy in the seminaries, then I think I would probably have to concede your point about the "change".

Now, I think the sense in which the "bad motivation" argument does, if granted, have merit is this:

Once they gain power, they might devour each other.



Ron said...

Benji Ramsaur said, “I don't think anybody could [justifiably] argue against the idea that the CR beginning came from the bottom to make changes at the top [bottom/up].” I think I can justifiably argue that the CR did not come from the bottom to make changes at the top. It came from a group of politically connected Southern Baptists and several super church pastors who had taken little part in convention life but felt they deserved to dictate who can take part in convention activities and serve on convention boards.
Benji correctly says, “But resurgence cannot evolve into something that changes the bottom from the top since a resurgence is, by definition, something that rises". That is why the conservative resurgence was neither conservative nor a resurgence. The majority of members in our churches do not know there was a conservative resurgence or what it did. The majority of churches give little thought to anything beyond their local church or association.
Wade you are right to worry that modern Southern Baptists care about or understand historic Southern Baptist principles. Keep on reminding them.
Ron West

Anonymous said...


We have faced the same issue at our church. We have had 2 candidates, one who became a Chrisitian as a teenager and was baptized in a Church of Christ, and another who became a Christian after or during college. She was baptized by immersion in a PCA church.

Both of these people served (one might be in process) with the IMB. The one baptized in the Church of Christ served maybe 10 years ago. He decided to be "rebaptized." There was no strict policy at that time, but it was an issue the personnel committee would have looked into.

The yound lady recently baptized in the PCA church (who later joined our church) also decided to be "rebaptized."

These situations seem to be similar to the one in your church.

While I believe both of these people's baptisms were legitimate and disagreed with their need to be "rebaptized," it was a decision that they made. Our church had accepted them for membership, and their was nothing that the SBC did or could do to our church related to that.

Also, neither the IMB nor the SBC made our church "rebaptize" them. These candidates chose to do that on their own.

Don't get me wrong. I disagree with the application of the baptism rule in these circumstances that I have cited, but they are not situations (in my opinion) involving the autonomy of the local church, which, if I understand correctly, is the power or right to self-government (at least that's what Webster's says).


Joe White... said...


I am not aware of another instance of "rebaptism" in the Bible either. However, having only one example is not the same as having no example. Acts 19 is an example of people having been baptized by immersion, before salvation. As such, they needed to be "rebaptized".

I think most Southern Baptists will acknowledge that not every "baptism" is a "valid baptism". There are many baptisms that our church would reject (infant, cult, sprinkled, etc). The reasons for the rejections range from an improper candidate, to an improper administrator, to an improper mode. The interesting thing, is that while our SBC church may reject a person's baptism and require a "rebaptism", another SBC church will receive that person and their baptism. Herein lies the issue being discussed and my point. If the local church is the highest form of authority... WHICH local church gets to decide? This is why the IMB has established this policy; and I think they were well within their rights to do so. If a missionary candidate from our church were to be rejected, it would not infringe on our autonomy as we are still free to receive them into our fellowship.

The point Wade is missing (or at least ignoring) is that an IMB missionary represents more than "A" local church, they represent "ALL" local churches in the SBC.

Lin said...

"Herein lies the issue being discussed and my point. If the local church is the highest form of authority... WHICH local church gets to decide?"

Scripture is not our highest authority? And in this case, scripture is quite clear: One Baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ.

"The point Wade is missing (or at least ignoring) is that an IMB missionary represents more than "A" local church, they represent "ALL" local churches in the SBC."

Joe, if the IMB/SBC does not trust some individual churches that make up the SBC then they should refuse their money as well as their mission candidates.

Joe White... said...


Perhaps you missed this post by Wade on Tue Sep 02, at 06:03:00 PM 2008...

Wade wrote... "We are becoming a Convention where authority at the TOP of denominational hierarchy dictates down (in their view) to those at the bottom (local churches). Instead, it should be the local churches (the highest authority in SBC polity) dictating to denominational leaders how they should govern."

This is what I was referencing in my post concerning "Authority".

As far as, "refusing their money as well as their mission candidates" goes... I think you have it backwards.

Anonymous said...

The matter of "re-Baptism" is confusing to me. Do the individuals who want this practice to occur actually believe that the original baptism was not valid? In the latter case, do the "reformers" wish to discredit those who performed the original baptisms? Or is this more a matter of controlling people's actions in order to shore up the "authority" of the "reformers"???
Very difficult to understand their motives: really appears to be more inspired by politics than by faith.
As a matter of fact, how much of the the original fundamentalist take-over was political? If a political agenda dominated their behavior, this would begin to explain the hostility and the secrecy used. Goodness knows, their tactics were certain not those of a "higher Authority".

Augie said...

Brother Wade –

I very rarely (extremely rarely) write to comment on blog sites. I do so on this occasion only because of the importance of distinctions I believe your readers should know about as they think about what you have written. I am not writing about the IMB policies, but rather the extrapolation you have made regarding sole membership.

I appreciate your inclusion of a link to the attempt I made over 4 years ago to explain just what sole membership is. I stand by it and recommend a review of it to assuage the fears you and your readers may still have about the EC selling New Orleans Seminary out from under Dr. Kelley after some future hurricane. But rereading it now for myself, along with your article today, I can see how I might have even better explained certain things and better picked certain words. So let me make this attempt to supplement what I said 4 years ago.

The first distinction is the one between entity autonomy and the division of governance our Convention has always employed (long before sole membership). The Trienniel Convention believed in entity autonomy. The SBC sprang out of that convention, offended at how such a concept of entity relationship (known as “Societal”) had worked itself out. The SBC (under William B. Johnson’s leadership) adopted a different model which could be described as “limited review and approval”.

Autonomy is like pregnancy in that it is an all or nothing proposition. An entity is either autonomous or it isn’t. If our entities were autonomous they would not need to obtain permission from the Convention to do the few things they are required to have approved. But they are not autonomous. I do not believe that the Executive Committee or most Southern Baptists in general ever thought they were. I believe a better word would be “responsible.”

The second distinction is that between board and Convention approval. The fact that the entities are not autonomous does not mean they have no authority. Quite the contrary. The Executive Committee has always understood that neither the Convention nor its Executive Committee should act as if it were the board of any entity. Those boards are vested with the primary duty and responsibility of oversight. The Convention’s role is secondary in a limited set of circumstances, as a portion of what you have written implies. That secondary role is the role of approval (or disapproval) of certain things. There could be a beginning point in the form of a request, but to effect an action, as the last two steps, the primary act comes first (board action) and the secondary act, if one is necessary, comes second (Convention approval or disapproval). Of course, this does not apply in trustee selection. (I note that in my 4-year-old article I inadvertently referred to the Convention as “approving” entity trustees. It does not “approve” them. It nominates and elects them. But I digress.)

Therefore, the picture of Dr. Kelley you posted from Baptist Press is not a picture of him (as you say) “signing the documents handing over the assets of NOBTS to the SBC Executive Committee.” Had that been the case, then later, when Katrina hit, you would not have heard Dr. Kelley boldly proclaiming that his board had determined to make a ministry stand in New Orleans rather than to relocate. Instead, you would have heard him pronounce a deep hope that the Executive Committee would let NOBTS stay there. But, you see, he did not have to do that. He did not need the Executive Committee’s permission to stay there. His board was in charge of making that determination. The picture is of him following his board’s direction, which direction was made in response to a Convention request, and which same direction was then approved by the Convention (a foregone conclusion, but undertaken just the same to follow the required protocol). The Convention asked – the board responded – the Convention approved the board’s response.

Alternatively, had the NOBTS board first made the determination to sell all the assets (whether to move or to close) then an appeal could have been made to the Convention to approve that request. Additionally, had the NOBTS board determined to stay, but leaders anywhere (including the EC) had then brought a motion at the Convention to request relocation, the Convention could have responded positively to the idea or not, but even if it thought moving to be a good idea, it could only ask the NOBTS board to do it, after which (if the NOBTS board acquiesced) the Convention could approve the sale predicating the move.

The document Dr. Kelley signed is reproduced on pages 58 and 59 of the 2005 SBC Annual. It is not a deed. Footnotes following that document explain the effect of the newly adopted language. Nothing therein bespeaks a shift in polity. None was intended. None was effected. None should ever take place in the future because of it.

I cannot guarantee that the Convention will always believe that one of its seminaries ought to be located in New Orleans. But the possibility of change has always been a fact regardless of sole membership. If the Convention decides on its own, or even under a recommendation of the Executive Committee, that NOBTS should be closed or relocated, that Convention decision should be couched in the form of a request, just as was the proposition of adopting sole membership amendatory language. The Convention did not act (and I would argue in any court of law that it could not have acted) on behalf of the seminary’s board to effect amendments to the seminary’s governing article of incorporation. It can pick the board. It cannot act as the board.

Therefore, neither half of your sentence is accurate when you say that if there were another hurricane, (1) the EC could sell the New Orleans assets and (2) the “NOBTS trustees would have no say in the matter.” The only way all the Seminary’s property can be sold is if the board of trustees of the Seminary first votes to sell it, and then that sale is approved by the Convention. If the board does not vote to sell the property, the property cannot be sold. Of course, if the Convention deems the board’s decision to be unacceptable, the Convention (not the EC) has the extreme and rarely used remedy available it has always had - trustee removal.

(Incidentally, I should close with a disclaimer. My use of the example of a relocation for NOBTS is purely responsive to your having stated such a scenario. I know of no present interest at all in such a thing, nor do I propose such. While I am trained to “never say never,” presently I see a move for NOBTS as being improbable and off the table (never having been on it), and Dr. Kelley’s stated commitment to the region as laudable.)

- Augie

D. August Boto
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention

Dave Miller said...

The anonymous writer would do well to realize that Augie Boto is one of the greatest experts on historic Baptist polity that is around today.

He is also a wonderful man. I am a pastor of a small, pioneer state church. I wrote a question to Augie about some policy issues my church was working through, hoping he might have the time for a quick email or letter.

He called me and spent an hour and fifteen minutes working through things with me and discussing convention polity. I kept expecting him to say he needed to move on to other issues. He acted like my problem was really important!

He is the one who explained to me the relationship between the SBC and its entities, and I understood it for the first time.

And he is a polity-ician, not a politician. He writes to explain convention relationships not to advocate one way or the other about IMB policies.

In short, your snide ridicule of him is unfair. Of course, you write anonymously, so what can we expect?

I hope Wade will respond to what Augie has written.

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for your comment.

As usual, your comments are very articulate. I appreciate the time you took to write your comment, and it is not my desire to burden you with responding to internet quieries and pull you away from your important responsibilities with the Executive Committee. I do, however, have a comment and then a short, simple question.

First the comment. I am deeply appreciative of the Executive Committee's leadership this past few year. In some turbulent times in the SBC since 2005, the Executive Committee has displayed prudence, wisdom and statesmanship. I believe the Executive Committee has modeled how Convention work should be conducted - with openness and transparency. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Executive Committee - IN TERMS OF PRESENT MEMBERS - respects Southern Baptist church autonomy, entity authority (board supervision), and historic Baptist polity.

My simple question, however, is this: Does not "sole membership" LEGALLY (I didn't say ethically or morally since those speak to the heart and desires of the Executive Committee's members) give to the Executive Committee the AUTHORITY and RIGHT "to approve charter amendment, and to approve the dissolution, merger, or sale of the New Orleans Theological Seminary" without NOBTS trustee approval?

I'm not asking if the Executive Committee WILL ever do that, I am asking if the "sole membership" provision GIVES THE RIGHT TO THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE TO DO IT LEGALLY?

If your answer is "yes," I stand by my post. If your answer is "no," then please tell me where I am misunderstanding the LEGAL documents, not the intent or motive of the Executive Committee.



Wade Burleson said...


Please sign your name. Your comments should, and will be ignored without the courage of your signature behind it.

Wade Burleson said...

The anonymous comment to which I referred above has been deleted. Other anonymous comments that pertain to issues have remained.

Augie said...

Wade –

Thank you and Dave Miller for your kind words. I should say that my post was not intended at all to be disrespectful to you or your blog, as I believe you know. I wrote to correct an error – nothing more.

As to your question – I can answer it unequivocally. The answer is “No, the Executive Committee cannot.” or "No, sole membership does not." To be very, very clear, I am not answering that it would not because it is moral or thoughtful or careful or full of good, right-thinking, God-fearing folk. It legally cannot.

To answer your second question, the place you misunderstand is at the point of the meaning of “approval”. This meaning cannot be understood completely by merely looking at the documents. One must examine all the applicable law in all the states where our entities are located, and case holdings from corporate lawsuits in those states, and of course fundamental legal principles under the legal concepts of agency, liability, governance also impart their effects etc. etc. You get the picture.

I am not trying to shroud the issue in a veil of complication. I am merely trying to illustrate that this IS brain surgery in a sense – something not really very intuitive for the average layman or minister. But in the sense used, “approval” necessarily (legally) presumes the prerequisite of action by the corporate board (NOBTS’s trustees) BEFORE the approval of the Convention would ensue.

Allow me to assure you and your readers that in my review of things it is my usual practice NOT to depend on present sentiments, but to think way down the road to a time when EC composition may not live up to the praises you so kindly bestow today.

I need to check out of this discussion and let you all talk about it now, but I hope I have answered your question.

Blessings to you all

- Augie

Dave Miller said...

I am sorry this interesting debate is ending. I must be a sick man, but issues of convention polity actually interest me, and the back and forth between Augie and Wade has been interesting.