Friday, February 24, 2006

The Deadening Effects of Landmarkism on the Mission Field (Part 2)

I am going to keep this post as simple as possible. For theological discussions of Landmarkism read Part 1 of this series and the excellent comments and posts by Gene Bridges and Bob Ross. This post will pertain solely to the problems of adherence to Landmarkism poses on the mission field. I believe that the clear majority of our missionaries on the field, trained under the Missionary Learning Center program and our President Dr. Jerry Rankin, are NOT Landmark in theology. However, there is a growing resurgance of Landmarkism within the SBC, including the partnership with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Texas and Jacksonville College, as well the voiced approval of Landmarkism by key trustees of the IMB and a few (just a few) key leaders of the SBC. Some attempt to deny adherence to Landmarkism by simply saying, "We are desiring good ecclesiology," which simply means "We want Baptist churches on the mission field and nothing less."

I too want Baptistic churches established on the mission field. However, what determines whether or not a church is a Baptist church is NOT its institutional structure, as Landmarks would have you believe, but its adherance to Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Are our missionaries establishing "Baptistic" churches on the mission field? ABSOLUTELY! But if we teach that they must practice church the way Landmarks would have you believe "church," as an institution, should be practiced, then we are in BIG trouble within the IMB. Let me illustrate.

(1). Some assemblies on the mission field are composed solely of women.

Yes, that is right, just women. I realize that the Landmark would say, "That IS NOT A REAL CHURCH" because only "men" can hold the ordained offices of the church. I would remind my Landmark friends that the church is a living, breathing organism composed of PEOPLE CHRIST HAS SAVED, not an institution man has established. In one particular country where one of my church members is an IMB missionary, the people he and his wife have led to Christ are all women. They meet on a regular basis in a home. They worship, pray, break bread together and talk about how they can lead their husbands to Christ. They meet regularly, even when "the Americans" cannot participate. Now I ask this very simple question? Is that group of women a church or not? The Landmark would say, "NO! And to say it is a church is heresy." I say, however, that these women are the ekklesia, or called out ones of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches it is the privilege of every Christian, including THOSE WOMEN WHO ARE DISCIPLES OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, to function fully as an assembly of believers. This was C.H. Spurgeon's view as well (see Part 1) and is consistent with the Scripture. However, if a person is Landmark in ecclesiology, he will consider this ekklesia of women to be heretical in nature because there are now "women in ministry." My friends, this is not about a Western view of "women in ministry," but rather, as Lydia, Phoebe, Dorcas and others in the New Testament, this is about God using women to help bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to a pioneer, unreached area of the world. The mission field cannot look like First Baptist Church, Mainstream USA.

(2). Communion and baptism are the privilege of every Christian, not just "ministers."

The idea that only "ordained" ministers can participate in the administering of the Lord's Supper and Baptism is a view that cannot be supported by Scripture. It is the privilege of every Christian to remember the Lord through celebrating the bread and the wine with his fellow believers and it is the privilege of every Christian to baptize his converts. Again, this is the SCRIPTURAL way! To say that only "the ordained" have the authority to baptize means only "the ordained" have the authority to evangelize, because the command to evangelize and baptize are given at the same time to the followers of Christ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28). C. H. Spurgeon's believed that if you gave the authority to baptize only to "ordained ministers," you were but a step away from popery and the belief that the priests of the "official church" alone have access to God. However, the Bible teaches that every Christian is a priest unto God.

In the west we have structured our church "institutions" around paid pastors (including this one), who act as "the authority" for the dispensing of the elements and the officiating of baptism. Though this is the way we do it in the west, and though it is not a breach of any commandment of Scripture to do it this way, it is NOT unscriptural or a breach of a commandment to do it another way, and in fact, on the mission field, it must by necessity be done other ways. In pioneer areas the only people in the community who name Christ as Lord may be the very people recently won to faith through the work of the missionary, and that missionary may be a male or a female. Some great work is being done by single females, as it was done years ago by Miss Bertha Smith.

In Level III security areas of our world (those areas where we have missionaries but we can't discuss their locations, work, or other matters due to security concerns for their lives), there are believers who huddle together in basements to conduct baptisms in washtubs and share the Lord's Supper under cover of darkness. Do you really believe that our plastic cups filled with grape juice, distributed by "ordained" men is the way they should "practice the Lord's Supper?" Of course not. Do you really believe that if a man or woman leads their son to faith in Jesus Christ that they should "wait" until someone with "authority" can come to the mountains to baptize their son? I hope not. The church is composed of people "called out" by the grace of Jesus Christ, and the celebration of Christ's work through baptism and the Lord's Supper is not dependent upon the passing down of this authority by a "mother" church through "ordained" men.

(3). Fellowship with a brothers and sisters in Christ on the mission field, regardless of their denominational background, is essential for the common good of the Kingdom and the advancing growth of Christianity.

The Landmark church is known for its isolationism and separatism. The idea is put forth is this: "Only the true church baptizes correctly. Only the true church administers the ordinances correctly. If you are not part of the true church (a Baptist church), then we can't fellowship with you."

Heaven forbid.

On the mission field it is a privilege to partake of the Lord's Supper with a Free Will Baptist, Assembly of God, Presbyterian and Non-denominational mission worker. Compare it to sitting in a prison cell with a Muslim guard who threatens you with death because of your faith in Jesus Christ?

I would propose that denominational walls, by necessity, come down on the misson field. I would further propose that if we ever wanted our silly controversies between denominations in the U.S. to end, all we would need to do is be overtaken by a radical Muslim nation. It is amazing how persecution gives perspective. If you are wondering every day whether you will live or die, then I promise you won't ask the person sharing communion with you if he believes in eternal security. You will enjoy his fellowship and friendship around the person of Jesus Christ.

(4). Our mission work within the IMB is the greatest ever because we are pushing the boundaries of evangelism and launching out in new directions to people groups never before reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the vision and direction of Dr. Rankin and the IMB staff. I believe they should be supported in this task. Are there problems on the field? Of course, but when you look at what is happening, any problems are outweighed by the wonderful good of reaching a lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hope people understand that my resistance to resurging Landmarkism is not a theological game for me; it comes from a deep rooted belief that a great good is being done on the field, and we must not let doctrinal disagreements which are not addressed within the BF&M get in the way of cooperation in fulfilling the mission of reaching our world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

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