A decade ago, over my objections as a trustee of the IMB, my fellow trustees went beyond the Baptist Faith and Message and restricted the appointment of Southern Baptist missionaries to only those who had been baptized in a Southern Baptist Church and to only those who had never "prayed in tongues" in their prayer closet.
The belief that proper authority and doctrinal orthodoxy of the baptizer is necessary for a valid baptism is historically a Landmark position. The Baptist Faith and Message is not a Landmark document, and the Southern Baptist Convention is not a Landmark denomination. In addition, the Baptist Faith and Message is absolutely silent on the subject of a believer praying in tongues.
I discovered that a few of the IMB trustees who were pushing the "new doctrinal policies" were actually attempting to press IMB President Jerry Rankin to resign because it was known he had a "private prayer language." The politics of trustees (and others) forcing Dr. Rankin's removal, using "doctrinal purity" as a cover, disgusted me.
I also learned that a few other IMB trustees were avowed Landmark Baptists (they told me) and they wished to make Southern Baptists into a Landmark convention of churches. It was a matter of 'doctrinal purity" they said. I was of the belief that no agency which represented the entire Southern Baptist Convention (as the IMB does) has the authority or right to change the doctrinal standards by which the agency will operate without the approval of the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
I decided that Southern Baptists needed to hear about the International Mission Board doctrinal policy changes. I started a blog, and used it to make Southern Baptists aware of the impact of the doctrinal changes. Dr. Morris Chapman proofed a couple of the more important blog posts, offering both suggestions and encouragement before his retirement. Both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Rankin understood the "behind-the-scenes" politics taking place, but were unable--because of their denominational positions--to say anything publicly. My writing infuriated IMB trustee leadership. Other trustees, unfamiliar with SBC politics, were told by trustee leadership that I (Wade Burleson) was the problem and I had to be removed from the board.
I'll not rehearse all that happened from 2005 to 2008, but anyone interested can read the book Hard Ball Religion. The IMB trustees failed in their attempt to remove me as a trustee, not realizing at the time that the entire Southern Baptist Convention had to approve my removal. IMB trustee leadership rescinded their recommendation for my removal prior to the vote at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention. However, IMB trustee leadership later censured me for violating their newly revised trustee "standard of conduct" which stated, "an IMB trustee must publicly affirm board approved policy even if he cannot privately support it." Of course, I voted against the new trustee standard of conduct and continued to speak out against the new doctrinal policies.
Punishing the person who opposes authoritative rules--rather than allowing respectful and principled dissent--is an axiom of dysfunctional leadership. I was censured for continuing to speak out against the policies. I was often flabbergasted at the tactics used against me, as was my wife (who later told me "Wade, I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes"), but I persisted in seeking to express my principled dissent. In January 2008, after less than three years of service on the International Mission Board, a position I neither sought nor desired, I resigned as a trustee.
Southern Baptists Are Smarter than Most Think
Before my resignation, two things occurred that seemed to set the stage for what happened last week in the reversal of the IMB polices.
First, in 2006 Frank Page was surprisingly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I promoted him and predicted his election, which shocked the leadership of both the IMB and many in the Southern Baptist Convention. The President of the Southern Baptist Convention holds all the power. He appoints the Committee on Committees that recommends the trustees. The process of replacing trustees who wished to exceed the convention-approved Baptist Faith and Message began.
Second, in the summer of 2007 the Southern Baptist Convention passed the Garner Motion. To say my fellow trustees were upset with the passage of this motion would be an understatement. However, of all the experiences I enjoyed during my tenure at the IMB, the passing of the Garner Motion was by far the most significant.
I will let David Rogers explain the practical effect of the Garner Motion. David's words come from a recent comment at SBC Voices, but they succinctly and accurately portray the meaning behind the Garner Motion, and they are a perfect explanation for understanding why the IMB trustees reversed the 2005 doctrinal policies last week.
"If you are familiar with the regulative and normative principles of worship, perhaps this explanation will make sense. Some take the“regulative” approach to the Baptist Faith and Message. Most Southern Baptists take the “normative” approach. In other words, a person who takes the regulative approach to the BFM believes what is not specifically permitted is inherently forbidden. Most Southern Baptists' take the "normative" perspective of the BFM and believe what is not specifically forbidden is generally permitted. The Baptist Faith and Message, by it's very design, is meant to be applied in a normative, not regulative, way."Bingo.
The 2005 IMB trustee leadership sought to regulate the doctrinal practices of all Southern Baptist churches who wished to place missionaries on the field by forbidding certain practices (private prayer language, baptism by immersion in churches other than Southern Baptist, etc...), practices that the BFM does not specifically forbid. The IMB trustees last week abided by the will of the Southern Baptist Convention in its passage of the 2007 Garner Motion) and reversed the ill-advised policies of 2005 that exceeded the BFM in forbidding private prayer language and baptisms by immersion in churches other than Southern Baptist.
President David Platt and the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention
By August of 2014, there were enough like-minded normative trustees in place at the International Mission Board to elect David Platt as President. There would have been a greater chance of a snow ball remaining frozen in hell than David Platt being elected President of the IMB in 2005. Leadership has changed during the past ten years.
The Southern Baptist Convention is returning to her normative roots.
I'm as uninterested in the politics of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2015 as I was in 2005. I have recently read that some Southern Baptists are wishing to "pull out" of the Southern Baptist Convention because the recent change of policies at the IMB. I hope they don't. I've stayed a Southern Baptist. We've continued to support missions. I hope those who don't like the changes from last week take the same approach and support SBC missions. In addition, those of you who oppose the action of the IMB trustees last week should voice your dissent. Write and publicize your disapproval. Make known your opinion! That's the Southern Baptist way.
Only the weak stifle dissent.