It was in the fall of 2005, exactly three years ago, that the trustees of the International Mission Board established a doctrinal policy that exceeded the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and excluded otherwise qualified Southern Baptists from serving on the mission field. I had a decision to make in November of 2005 that was not easy for me personally. I could either resign in protest over what I called at the time "the narrowing of the doctrinal parameters of Southern Baptist missions cooperation" or I could remain a trustee of the International Mission Board and begin a blog to make Southern Baptists aware of what was taking place in their missions organization. I chose the latter.
Ironically, the two new doctrinal policies at the IMB did not affect me personally. I have never had a "private prayer language," nor have I ever seen the need for one. Also, I was baptized "in a Southern Baptist church." I would qualify as a missionary under the two new doctrinal policies. However, I felt strongly that to exclude other Southern Baptists from the mission field over how they pray in private, especially when the 2000 BFM is silent on the matter, was an act that went beyond the appropriate authority of IMB trustees. In addition, for trustees to adopt a definition of baptism that places qualifications on the baptizer and the "church" doing the baptizing was historically a Landmark doctrine and practice, not Southern Baptist. Something had to be done to correct the error of the IMB trustee board. That error was not so much trustee leadership personally holding to cessationism or Landmark ecclesiology, for many Southern Baptists hold to these doctrines; rather, the error was those trustee leaders demanding ALL Southern Baptists believe like them by passing doctrinal policies that exclude those who disagree.
We trustees were never called to be the doctrinal watchdogs of the Southern Baptist Convention. Nor do we have the authority to establish a doctrinal basis for our coooperation as Southern Baptist churches, especially by implementing doctrinal demands that go beyond the 2000 BFM. The Garner Motion proves that the Southern Baptist Convention agrees with me on this issue. The IMB trustee leadership stepped eggregiously beyond their Convention given authority.
I have often been asked why I drew a line in the sand over the "private prayer language" and "baptism" policies. Most Southern Baptists have very little patience with what they believe to be a charismatic practice (praying in tongues in private), and even more Southern Baptists have little understanding of the dangers of Landmarkism. "Why", I was asked, "do you draw a line in the sand over these particular issues?" As most Southern Baptists know, trustee leadership was furious over my public opposition, particularly since hundreds of Southern Baptists were reading my blog and writing trustees and asking "What are you doing?" In order to avert attention from the real issue, trustee leaders sought to make me the issue, which led to very poorly thought through actions against me, including a motion for my removal (later rescinded), the adoption of a new policy that demanded all trustees "publicly support board approved policies that they cannot privately support" (in my opinion the worst policy ever be adopted by a Southern Baptist agency in the history of our Convention), and two eventual "censures" against me for violating this terrible "no dissent" policy. Why would I be willing to go through such an attack against me personally? Why would I put my family, my church, and my ministry in the line of fire, risking others accusing us of being "liberal" (which is ridiculous), or "troublemakers," or the like?
Because of what I saw coming.
I told a few people privately, and I told them three years ago, that if people didn't start drawing a line in the sand over attempts to narrow and constrict the doctrinal parameters of Southern Baptist cooperation, then we would eventually get to the place that Calvinists would be told they are no longer welcome in the SBC. Then, we would come to the place that those Southern Baptists who are not dispensational in their eschatology would be told they are not welcome. The only Southern Baptists that would eventually be left are those who would believe just exactly like those small, independent, separatist Landmark Southern Baptist churches and those who lead them. I remember what Jerry Falwell said when he joined the SBC, an act that drew heavy criticism from his fellow separatist, Landmark Baptist brothers - "I haven't changed, the SBC has changed."
Don't misunderstand. I welcome all Landmark, separatist churches and pastors to the SBC. I do not welcome, however, any attempt to make us all like you. I do not welcome any attempt to act as if Southern Baptist "orthodoxy" is "closed communion," or "ecclesiastical authority to baptize," or "cessationism," or a denial of the doctrines of grace, or a demand that everyone be dispensational. If I risk being called the troublemaker by exposing those who are seeking to EXCLUDE, so be it. It is the excluders who will destroy the Southern Baptist Convention, not those who expose them.
Bottom line, I knew that if a line in the sand was not drawn at some point, those who hold to Calvinism would be targeted next. Three years later, that which I feared has come upon us.
In 1995 the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention asked Dr. Herschel Hobbs and me to write articles that would be published in the Baptist Messenger that would show how Southern Baptists could disagree over what is commonly called "Calvinism," but still maintain fellowship, cooperation and a spirit of unity and love. Herschel and I were friends, and the Oklahoma state Baptist paper printed both articles, unedited, to show how Southern Baptists can take two differing positions on these doctrines, but not separate or point accusatory fingers.
This week I will publish both articles on this blog. On Wednesday, I will publish Dr. Herschel Hobbs article which advocates classical Arminianism with the exception that Herschel, like most Southern Baptists, affirms eternal security in contradistinction to Arminianism. On Friday, I will publish my view, which is different from Dr. Hobbs written interpretations of the Biblical doctrine of soteriology (salvation). Oklahoma is a place where Southern Baptists who disagree on the doctrines of grace can agree to cooperate and love one another in spite of our differences.
Dr. Hobbs died several years ago. It is my prayer that the ability to cooperate with Southern Baptists who disagree on doctrinal issues didn't die with him. We cannot let the spirit and temperament that demands doctrinal conformity prevail in the SBC. I would much rather build bridges of understanding with those who disagree with me than allow those who disagree with me declare that people on the other side of them are not "orthodox" Southern Baptists and should be removed.
I cannot, I will not, be silent about the need for cooperation among Southern Baptists. Cooperation in the midst of doctrinal diversity is the fabric of who we are as Southern Baptists. It is, if you will, true Southern Baptist identity.
In His Grace,