Saturday, May 17, 2008

Original Post About Hershael York

This past week I have twice put in phone calls to Dr. Hershael York, Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, and have not heard back from him. I hope to have the opportunity to converse with him sometime later this week. Hershael has served for the past year as a trustee at the International Mission Board, and I have called him to question him about his conversations with Dr. Floyd and other trustees that seem to be a coordinated attempt to make it look as if Dr. Floyd was intentionally slandered by me on this blog. In fact, I have done just the opposite, deleting the erroneous comments from another person regarding Dr. Floyd as soon as I found out about them. Though I understand the motivation for such accusations, and have grown accustomed to it, that which Southern Baptists need to comprehend is the methodology by which dissent is silenced.

When I began serving as a trustee on the International Mission Board in 2005, I noticed a pattern of behavior by trustees who thought themselves to be in 'power' or 'control' of the board that disturbed me. When a subordinate trustee dared disagree with the powers that be (the trustees in control), then things were said privately and behind closed doors, things that were distortions, and even outright lies, about the trustee who disagreed with them. This was the method through which leadership controlled the thinking of the collective board. "For heaven's sake, why would ever listen to that guy? Do you know what he did (or said, or wrote . . . )?" Rather than Christian respect, a genuine openness to differing views, and an ability to cooperate in spite of differences, those who disagreed were seen as 'threats,' and things were done to 'get control of the situation.' Verbal intimidation, over-the-top motions directed against the dissenter, and eventually a shunning of anyone and everyone who was seen in sympathy with the dissenter were some of the favorite tools. For example, nobody who was perceived as a 'friend' of mine, or in sympathy to the positions I held on the new policies, was ever called upon to pray, read Scripture, or hold any leadership positions during my two and one half year tenure on the IMB. In addition, for such tight control to be maintained, there had to be either telephone, emails, or some other form of communication among "like-minded" trustees in order to coordinate efforts.

It is my feeling that the days for this kind of activity among Southern Baptists should have been over a long time ago. It is this kind of politicking that divides people into 'parties' (us versus them), causes an overemphasis on secondary things intstead of our primary purpose (cooperation in ministry), and leads to fewer and fewer people involved in the process (because people get fed up and leave). A growing, healthy Convention will be filled with people who are open to debate, who are Christ-like in attitude toward those who disagree, and who guard carefully the freedom for people to speak their mind (religious liberty).

There are two institutions that seem to exert great control over the direction of the SBC. First, there is Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and second, there is Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I have expressed my reservations with the leadership of Southwestern in the past. Today, I would like to point out the danger of a small group of Kentucky Southern Baptists transforming the Southern Baptist Convention into the ideological framework of their own liking. I will fight for the right for these Kentucky Baptists to express themselves freely, but I will also fight against any attempt they might make in silencing those who are pointing out that their ideology lends itself toward Landmarkism and legalism. Unless other Southern Baptists are able to freely express dissent, and unless even others fight for the rights of dissenters, our Convention will be unable to get out of our growing trend of trouble. If a Southern Baptist ever begins to believe it is normal and expected for a person who disagrees to be marginalized and ridiculed because he dissents, then one of these days all of us will wake up and regret that we didn't fight for the right to dissent.

A Kentucky Baptist Illustration

Dr. Hershael York, by his own admission, was the first "conservative" president of the KBC in a long time. In 2004 a small, select group of Kentucky pastors campaigned the state to get York elected. Less than 40 pastors in a state of 4,000 churches (less than 1% of the total number of Kentucky churches) called, emailed and encouraged other pastors to show up and vote for York. Dr. York won by a handful of votes, and served Kentucky Baptists until the next President, Paul Chitwood, was elected. Again, Dr. Chitwood was the handpicked selection of this select group of Kentucky pastors. Both Paul and Hershael now serve Kentucky Baptists on the International Mission Board, with Paul as the new Chairman.

Following Paul Chitwood, Darren Gaddis, a member of the Kentucky 'inner circle' of pastors was elected President of KBC in 2006. Then, this past year (fall of 07), Dr. Bill Henard was nominated by Dr. Hershael York for the office of President of KBC, and Bill was elected at a Kentucky Baptist Convention meeting where barely 700 messengers registered, down from the nearly 2,000 messengers who had registered just four years earlier. Dr. York explains on his blog that the 2007 Kentucky Baptist Convention was the emblem of unity - no ballots, no multiple candidates, etc . . . But the editor of the Kentucky's Baptist paperThe Western Recorder, Trennis Henderson, countered that the reason the 2007 Kentucky Baptist Convention was so 'unified,' was because all dissent had been effectively silenced. Shortly after Trennis editorialized his views on the declining numbers of messengers at Kentucky Baptist Convention's, he accepted a position at Ouchita Baptist University, leaving Kentucky Baptists - and none to soon for the select group of pastors directing the behind the scenes Baptist politics.

Interestingly, the current Kentucky Convention President, Dr. Bill Henard, was soundly defeated as a candidate the year before Dr. York was elected, a time when the Kentucky Baptist Convention was averaging almost 2000 messengers per meeting. Many of those attending the 2003 KBC were moderately supportive of the Conservative Resurgence, thankful for the focus on the inerrancy and sufficiency of God's Word, but disatisfied with the politics involved. The growing connectionalism between Kentucky State leadership positions and the Southern Baptist Convention is telling. President Dr. Henard is also the currently the chair of the Lifeway Board of Trustees. His young protege, Dr. Adam Greenway, has also been appointed to Lifeway's Board of Directors. Southern Seminary has recently hired Greenway, Henard, and Chitwood as faculty for the SBTS Billy Graham School of Missions. Many of the larger Southern Baptist Churches in Kentucky are being filled with recommendations from the select group of Kentucky pastors with the endorsements of Southern Seminary faculty and administration, including Carlisle Avenue, who recently called Jason Allen, Dr. Mohler's personal assistant. Churches are autonomous and can call whomever they please; the question is simply, "If you dissent in Kentucky with the powers that be, shall you be blackballed by those same powers?"

On the other hand, if you are connected with the select group of Southern Baptists who are in 'control' of Kentucky, then you are given the choice positions of 'power.' In fact, Michael York, son of Hershael, was recently married and already his new wife, and Dr. Chitwood's wife, have been appointed to boards and committees in the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Nothing wrong with this were it not for the fact that there are thousands of others have served within the Kentucky Baptist Convention for many years, whose spouses are not serving in KBC leadership positions, and who would make excellent representatives of Kentucky Baptists. One would think that real cooperation involves the diversification of leadership, and not the nepotism that usually typifies tight control.

The Landmark Influence of Kentucky Baptists

Before becoming Southern Baptist in the mid-1990's when he was hired to teach Preaching at Southern Theological Seminary, Dr. York led the largest independent fundamentalist church in Kentucky, the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington. This church had been the fountain-head of "trail-of blood" landmarkers in KY since the 1950's, even being the printer, for many years, of the "Trail of Blood" pamphlet. If you have a copy of "The Trail of Blood" check to see if it is not stamped "Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington. Many in Kentucky who were saved and discipled in one of the Independent, KJV-only, Fundamentalist, Calvinistic Kentucky churches would testify that they looked at Ashland Avenue as their "mecca." Dr. York was like an icon to them.

Dr. York's move to Southern Baptist life was as significant (in Kentucky) as Jerry Falwell's move to the SBC in the 1990's was to the nation as a whole. The SBC was now conservative enough for Dr. York and many disciples in Kentucky followed suit. Dr. York, as far as I know, has never renounced his Landmark views, and in fact, will argue, along with friend Paul Chitwood, for the continuation and tightening of Landmark ecclesiology and the peculiar tenets of acceptable administrators of baptism as long as they serve together on the board. When Dr. York left AABC to go to SBTS, it was a scandal among the state's independents (similar to the scandal when Falwell jumped to the SBC), with some wroting him off as "liberal" for the move. What most don't realize is that the SBC is being changed to more reflect York's views, than York changed to reflect historic SBC views. Ashville Avenue went through great turmoil after York's leaving, but currently, they are pastored by a young PhD student at Southern, who happens to be doing his doctorate under a very sympathetic Dr. Russ Moore, who is himself part of the inner circle of Kentucky Baptists. Interestingly, Dr. York did his Ph.D. at Mid America, and has also served as an adjunct professor before his full professorship at Southern. Dr. York knows Dr. Floyd well, and it is no accident that Dr. York's friend Paul Chitwood, is now the new Chairman of the International Mission Board. By the way, Dr. Chitwood was the Chairman of the IMB Ad Hoc Committee that 'reviewed' the new policies at the IMB and decided to change nothing.

When I asked questions at the IMB as a 'new' trustees (Tom Hatley used the adjective 'rookie' trustee), I was told to be quiet - both publicly and privately. Yet, Dr. York in the first six months of his tenure at the IMB was frequently at the microphone questioning Dr. Rankin or administrative policy - and not one word was ever said. Interestingly, Dr. York and his father were very integral for many decades in an organization called Baptist Faith Missions , based in Kentucky. BFM is the agency facilitating missions for (only) like-minded independent, fundamentalist, KJV-only Baptists. It is still in operation and can be referenced on the web, but they are solid "Baptist Briders" who only accept baptism from identical-conviction churches and would disown any missionary who accepted "alien immersion" or PPLs. Dr. York's dad was even a missionary for many years in Brazil through BFM. Dr York is still very involved in missions-work to Brazil and speaks fluent Portugese because of his time growing up on the field. The question we must all ask is simple:

Are Dr. York and others like him seeking to turn the SBC into a convention that resembles the independent, Landmark, fundamental, cessationist Baptist identity conventions of which they are familiar, or do they truly understand the purpose of the cooperative nature of the SBC?


I desire to help the people of our Southern Baptist Convention to understand the issues we face. My church understands. My people comprehend. One of our members is a student at Southern Seminary, the very seminary I recommended he attend. He stopped Dr. York one day and asked him about the controversy at the IMB. Dr. York responded, "I don't think I should talk about it, because if I did, you would either be angry with me for what I said, or you would wind up hating your pastor." My student church member was shocked. He thought maybe there could have been a different response; something like this:

Sure, I'll be happy to answer your questions. Please know that I and your pastor may disagree on issues facing our convention, but I have high regard for him, and he for me. We both realize that our convention is based on cooperation around the essentials of the faith, and those areas in which we disagree are not essential for our cooperation as brothers in the SBC.

We must never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy as Southern Baptists to express our differing viewpoints. If we ever succomb to the belief that it is unhealthy to dissent in the SBC we are in trouble. I appreciate my Landmark brothers, and I will fight for them to be able to express their views. I will not quietly sit back and allow them to seek to stifle my dissenting views.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It Is Time for Me to Step Aside from Blogging

This is my 670th post at Grace and Truth to You, and unless circumstances warrant an occasional post in the near future, I will be taking a blog sabbatical for at least the next few months. I believe that blogging is here to stay in the Southern Baptist Convention, and unlike some, I think it can be a very beneficial medium. There are three primary reasons for my decision to step aside:

(1). I believe the impetus for change in the SBC has begun, and there are others who will be able to carry on the needed dialogue, the exchange of information, and the much needed effort to facilitate increased cooperation among those in the Southern Baptist Convention with diverse backgrounds and theological views. The fact that there are six, maybe seven Presidential candidates for the SBC, all of whom are now focusing on the issues, is enough evidence to me that the stranglehold of a few is over. The more Southern Baptists who are in the mix of leadership, the better.

(2). I am working under deadlines for an additional two books and a contribution to a third. One book, an exposition of Jonah, is almost complete and awaits final edits before it can be published. The second book's manuscript is to be to the publisher by October 15th, 2008, and I must devote my time and energy to complete it. Blogging takes away from the time I need to write that manuscript.

(3). I have lost my enthusiasm for blogging. Either the absence will cause me to enjoy it again, or I will lay it down for good. A decision will be made in October. Again, I believe blogging is beneficial for the SBC when done in the spirit of Christian charity and for the good our cooperative efforts to reach people for Christ.

A couple of final words:

My friend and fellow pastor, Forrest Pollock, along with his 13 year old son Preston, died this past Monday in a plane crash outside Asheville, North Carolina. Both bodies were discovered in the wreckage yesterday. Forrest was born in Oklahoma City and graduated from the University of Oklahoma and became a successful businessman before entering the ministry. His death reminds me of the brevity of one's life and the need to be wise regarding one's time investments. This decision to step aside from blogging is best for me.

I have enjoyed becoming acquainted with many of you over the last two and one half years, and if you happen to be in Indianapolis, Indiana for the Southern Baptist Convention, I would love to have the opportunity to visit with you in person. Update: I would direct your attention to the rewritten Never Take for Granted the Freedom to Dissent

May God bless you, and may God bless the Southern Baptist Convention.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Monday, May 12, 2008

Never Take for Granted the Freedom to Dissent

I have had a very cordial phone conversation with Dr. Hershael York, and I wish to sincerely apologize to him for unintentionally misrepresenting Hershael on two fronts.

First, my original post about Hershael was written from the perspective that he was involved with Dr. John Floyd, Jerry Corbaley, and other IMB trustees to bully and threaten me - once again. Though Hershael is new to the board, I assumed he had becoming involved with men who have made it a pattern to counteract dissent by attacking the dissenter. From over-the-top recommendations for my removal, and motions to censure, etc . . . the pattern of behavior of a handful of trustee leaders is to intimidate into silence those who dare speak against their policies or decisions. When Hershael York asked me "When are you going to publish Dr. Rankin's letter?" in the comment section of my blog, I had not yet received the letter. The next day, I did receive Rankin's letter, and then the following day a threatening letter from Dr. Floyd's attorney. Of course, Dr. Rankin wrote his letter because he was asked to by Dr. Floyd. The day after I received the attorney's letter, the attorney called and apologized for sending it, admitting that he did what he did based on the information he had been told; information that was false. I was not responsible for the comments regarding Dr. Floyd, and I immediately removed them when they were brought to my attention weeks earlier.

I apologized over the phone to Dr. York for assuming that he was a part of the group who initiated involvement of an attorney, and even worse, being part of the group of trustees who have continually attributed to me things that I have not done. He assured me he had nothing to do with the attorney, had no previous knowledge of Dr. Rankin's letter, and only knew about it because Dr. Floyd emailed him a copy. He did not know how many other trustees received a copy, and he expressed to me he thought Dr. Floyd was wrong in requesting that a letter from his attorney be sent to me. I accept Dr. York's explanation.

Second, Dr. York feels that my post misrepresents his love for Southern Baptist missions and IMB missionaries. I'm not sure how my original post creates that perception, but I sincerely apologize for anything I wrote that might have caused someone to doubt Dr. York's love for Southerrn Baptist missions. His love for missions and IMB missionaries has never been, nor ever will be questioned by me.

Finally, the reason I have chosen to take down the original post and all comments is because of the following statement Dr. York made to me on his blog:

I hope you can see that even while I have felt so very wronged I have tried to be Christlike. I value you as a brother and I do not want to have any personal animus between us. We certainly disagree on ecclesiology, but I would point out to you that one of my dearest friends is a Free Will Baptist pastor and neither of my two closest pastor friends calls himself a Calvinist nor has my ecclesiology. I can easily get along with and work with those who disagree theologically. I have pledged that to you before and I do so again now.

With an attitude like that, I have absolutely, positively no issue with Dr. York. Again, I do apologize for misunderstanding his intentions. In regards to the other trustees involved in this little matter, I will continue to expose their tactics. My desire is to always deal with the issues, but I will resist tooth and toenail the bullying and intimidation tactics of Southern Baptists who wish to silence dissenter - not only when it involves silencing me, but particularly when other Southern Baptists happen to be the recepients of such intimidation.

In His Grace,


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Somebody Else Has To Tell Us We're Naked?

Many of you have read the article from Baptist Press, written by Paige Patterson, that explains away any discouraging conclusions over LifeWay's data on the decreasing membership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Patterson acts as if it is no big deal, and that people viewing the statistics as a negative reflection on the SBC are like those who see ghosts and goblins.

Not many of you may have read, however, an interesting article by Dr. Lovett Weems, who also comments on LifeWay's statistics for the SBC. Dr. Weem's is sort of the United Methodist equivalent of John Maxwell. Alan Riley, who sent me the article, informs me Dr. Weem's heads up UMC’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership and has written some great articles on leadership and influence. In this week’s edition of their weekly newsletter, Leading Ideas, he addresses what other churches can learn from the SBC membership decline. It’s a somewhat long article, but is really interesting to see how the SBC – and the numbers decline that has been much in the news lately - is viewed by UMC leaders compared to Dr. Paige Patterson and other Southern Baptist leaders.

Several notable pull-outs from the Weem's article include:

*** “When membership declines, the natural tendency is to explain it away… when the Southern Baptists showed their first membership decline in seventy years, some blamed the loss on a new computer system, while others said it was a temporary downturn as churches “clean” their rolls. (Methodists have used the “cleaning the rolls” mantra to explain slow growth or no growth for over a century.) Even allowing for the imprecise nature of church rolls, membership decline should be seen for what it is: a lagging indicator that some other important things need attention.”

*** “Although the Southern Baptist Convention has always been conservative, in recent decades internal wars have led to a much more ideologically conservative, some would say fundamentalist, church. And this may be taking a toll on membership. The denomination’s first membership loss came in 1998, after the Convention passed a resolution about "wives submitting graciously to their husbands."”

*** “Some anticipated that evangelistic fruitfulness would be renewed in the wake of the more conservative emphasis, but this has not been the case. Becoming more conservative does not correlate with more new believers any more than just becoming more liberal does. There are many other variables.”

*** "With maturity comes a level of organizational complexity that can be a barrier to growth. And as churches and their members prosper, there is a temptation to become removed from the practices that led to success in the first place.”

**** “Some demographic indicators suggest that Southern Baptists may be joining that cohort of mainline denominations that has been losing members since the 1960s, suggesting perhaps that well-established denominations, regardless of their theology, are increasingly unable to reach new Christians.”

The full article can be read here.

God forbid that a Methodist leader says what no current Southern Baptist is willing to say about our own convention. It is almost like the vast majority of Southern Baptists are silent while our leaders pass by proclaiming "health" and "all is well," dressed in magical clothes' sold by the con artist named power and self-deception, only to have a little boy (Weems) from another town, who knows no better, shout out, "Hey, you're all naked!"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Free Flow of Information in Christian Ministry

In the comment section to yesterday's post regarding the resignation of IMB Regional Leader Rodney Hammer, IMB trustee Hershael York wrote the following comment:

Hershael York said,
"When are you going to publish Dr. Rankin's letter to you?"
Tue May 06, 11:58:00 PM 2008

I was completely oblivious to the letter to which Dr. York was referring, but assured him that I would be happy for any correspondence between Dr. Rankin and myself to be made public. When I arrived at my office on Wednesday morning, May 07, 2008 after a three day staff retreat, behold, there was a letter from Dr. Rankin on my desk. I read it and immediately called IMB trustee Hershael York at Southern Seminary and asked a question:

"Hershael, how did you know about Dr. Rankin's letter to me when Dr. John Floyd was the only person listed as cc'd on the letter?"

It does not upset me that Hershael York is privy to private correspondence to me, particularly since I believe all ministry of the SBC, including correspondence of trustees should always be available to the SBC public. However, it is ironic to me that some complain there are 'breaches' of confidentiality on SBC blogs, when in reality, blogs simply make available the information that has been held tight and secure by a select few who have been privy to it for decades. I am of the firm conviction that unless safety of missionaries is in question, all information regarding debates, motions, business, and other matters involving SBC ministry should be made public. The free flow of information, transparency and Christian openness should be the norm for Southern Baptists.

Dr. Rankin's letter to me, dated April 25, 2008, was written to call my attention to two comments on my blog, made by someone I do not know, that misrepresented the truth about Dr. Floyd's tenure at the IMB. I had not even read the comments until John Floyd himself called me on April 14th, 2008 and informed me that they were inaccurate representations of the facts. Again, I was unaware of the comments in question until Dr. Floyd called me to ask me about the author who made them. You can read the details of how I handled the matter with Dr. Floyd in my response to Dr. Rankin's letter to me below. What is odd to me is how and why Dr. Rankin would write to me about those comments nearly two weeks after they were deleted? Obviously, someone had to print them, keep them, and show them to Dr. Rankin, and others - well after they were gone. It seems that the motivation for showing them is not the restoration of a reputation, but the denigration of a medium through which the comments were made.

When I called Hershael York yesterday and asked him how he knew about Dr. Rankin's letter to me, I informed him that I would happily comply with his request that I publish Rankin's letter, and I also told him I would also publish my response. I then called Dr. Rankin's office and left a message informing him of Dr. York's request that his letter be made public. To that end, below is Dr. Rankin's letter to me, made known to me by Dr. York before I even received it, and my response.


April 25, 2008

Dr. Wade Burleson
2505 W. Owen K Garriott Road
Enid, OK 73703-5224

Dear Wade:

I haven't been following your blog closely since your resignation from the board in January, but it was called to my attention recently when you released the position paper I had written on the personnel policies that was subsequently distributed to the board. I am not writing to comment on that subject and your commentary, as I choose not to engage in this channel of public communication.

Although you are not responsible for the comments others post on your blog, I feel that you should be responsible for correcting inaccurate and slanderous comments that enter the public domain through your site. Therefore, I am writing to correct two erroneous facts.

(1). Dr. John Floyd was not fired as regional leader for Central and Eastern Europe nor was he asked to retire or resign. This was a personal choice of Dr. Floyd when he became eligible for retirement and chose to return to teaching. In fact, I personally tried to persuade Dr. Floyd to continue in his leaderhsip role on the field with the IMB at the time.

(2). It was also mentioned that Dr. Floyd was known to abuse or harass a woman during his tenure on the field. One may not agree with Dr. Floyd's personal position on various issues, but no one could accuse him of anything other than being a person of impeccable character and integrity. There is absolutely no record or awarenes of anyone who knew Dr. Floyd during his tenure on the field of inappropriate actions toward women on the field.

I don't know if you will choose to correct these inaccurate perceptions generated on your blog, but I did feel obligated to write and express my disappointment at these mischaracterizations of someone who served our board faithfully over the years.

Sincerely yours,

Jerry Rankin

cc: Dr. John Floyd


Dr. Jerry Rankin
The International Mission Board
3806 Monument Avenue
P.O. Box 6767
Richmond, Virginia 23230-0767

May 7, 2008

Dear Jerry,

As you affirm in your letter to me of April 25, 2008, I keep an open, un-moderated blog where people can comment without my knowledge or my approval. I, too, grieve over any comment that misrepresents the truth. The only thing worse would be official statements to Baptist Press or other news agencies that intentional distort the truth. I was unaware of the two comments you reference in your April 25, 2008 letter that misrepresented the truth about former Trustee Chairman John Floyd's career at the International Mission Board. I was unaware of them until John called me on April 14, 2008. I have hundreds of people who comment on my blog and I have neither the time nor the will to read or respond to every comment. John called desiring information about the author of the two comments. I informed him that not only did not I know the author, I was unaware of the comments. He directed me to where they were located on my blog, and I told him that I would immediately remove them.

He stopped me. He told me not to remove them because his attorney was looking into the comments and when they found out who wrote them they would then address how to correct the matter appropriately. I asked him to clarify what he just said by asking, “Dr. Floyd, are you telling me that the two comments that offend you, that misrepresent the truth, and that are located deep within an un-moderated comment section of this blog should remain so that you can sue the person who wrote them?” I assured him that I was not unfamiliar with public statements about me that were distortions of the truth or outright lies, and because of my own experience, I was sympathetic to his dilemma and would be happy to correct the matter for him immediately. But, I said, I would do as he suggested. After a momentary pause, John said I should delete the comments.

I tell you this because your letter is dated nearly two weeks after my conversation with John and the deletion of those comments. Further, the author of the comments, a Southern Baptist layman, had phone conversations with Dr. Floyd the very day I deleted those comments, and called me to apologize for making them. I told him my concern is that he resolve the matter appropriately with Dr. Floyd. He assured me the matter had been resolved satisfactorily. Again, I am unsure of the reason why you chose to write your letter to me dated April 25, 2008, or why trustee Hershael York requested me on May 6, 2008 that I publish your letter to me, a letter that I did not even know existed until my arrival back in Enid on May 7, 2008 after a three day staff retreat. I can assure you that I believe the desire to protect the reputation of John Floyd is admirable. I am pleased to publish both your letter and my response at Dr. York’s request.

While I find it admirable to protect the reputation of the former trustee chairman, so too, I find it just as admirable when all of us seek to protect the reputation of our missionaries. So, too, it is praiseworthy to come to the defense of people like Regional Leader Rodney Hammer. So, too, it is admirable to fight for those God called young men and women in the Southern Baptist Convention who are disqualified for missionary service because of two doctrinal IMB policies that exceed the BFM 2000 and even, in some minds, the Word of God. So, too, it is worthy to correct any trustee who publicly makes the absurd claim that using the Arabic word for God (Allah) is a sin, and Jehovah or Yahweh should be the Arabic substitute word for God used by our missionaries in Arab lands. So, too, it is praiseworthy to refuse to allow trustees who have never set foot on a foreign land to correct our professional missiologists and their methodologies in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel of Jesus Christ through books they write. So, too, it is an honorable action to ensure that the International Mission Board abide by the wishes of the Southern Baptist Convention and implement the Garner Motion. So, too, it is wise to stand up to trustees who are turning the International Mission Board into an agency that silences dissent, demands conformity, and threatens the termination of anyone who dares question trustee or Richmond directives.

I respect you, Dr. Rankin, and appreciate your service to the Southern Baptist Convention. I, like you, desire to do everything I can to protect the reputation of the former Chairman of Trustees, Dr. John Floyd. I am ashamed that someone would misrepresent the truth about this man. Likewise, I am ashamed that our missionaries are subjected to the heavy handed, obstructive policies of a small, but powerful Landmark, cessationist, and very political group of trustee leaders who are harming the work of the International Mission Board. We need a Gospel Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to restore the freedom of God’s people to dissent over tertiary matters, but to love each other enough in order to cooperate to reach the world for Christ. Since 1992 I have been uninvolved in any political processes of the Southern Baptist Convention. My appoint in 2005 as a trustee to the International Mission Board opened my eyes to the some incredible, negative changes that have occurred at the IMB. As you know, I sought to correct the problem for six months behind closed doors. After being treated in a manner that defies Christian logic, I am sympathetic toward anyone who receives similar treatment, particularly those whose employment and careers are on the line.

I do hope that our communication by letter has given Dr. Floyd and other trustee leaders satisfaction that any misrepresentation of the truth concerning Dr. Floyd's tenure at the IMB has been corrected. I enjoy my fellowship with Dr. Floyd and his lovely wife, and I consider them friends. I do not enjoy, however, his and others’ desire to exclude those from the SBC who do not think, act, talk, believe or practice faith the way they do. His admission to me that the new policies were ‘doctrinal’ in nature, and there was no anecdotal evidence from the field that they were needed, nor was any evidence necessary, is enough for me know that a narrow, ideological group is attempting to direct our convention. I cannot be silent about the efforts of those who are changing our convention before our very eyes, and I commend Dr. York’s desire that this communication be made public. I hope the matter with Dr. Floyd is considered resolved satisfactorily, and I trust the other matters mentioned will also be dealt with in as satisfactory of a manner as that which precipitated your letter.

In His Grace,


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Hammer Has Fallen

Rodney Hammer is one of the finest missiologists ever employed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has served for the last ten years in various leadership positions, including Regional Leader for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) the last eight years.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Respectfully submitted,

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,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Where Are All the Young Leaders in the SBC?

The following email was received from one of our missionaries on the field. I do not know this person, nor have I ever correseponded with him before. The email is unsolicited, unedited, and offered without commentary:.

Mr. Burleson,

I am not a big blogger, partly because I am scared to see what the next new law is that others may be trying be pass and partly because it is overwhelming. The reason I am writing you is to encourage you, I hope.

I am a young missionary on the the field with the IMB and I am staying here because I feel that there is hope for the SBC and missions. Unfortunately, many of my young colleagues are resigning by the droves and it is not because of what is usually toted in the States "the mission field is tough and some can't cut it". Rather they are "choked out". They can't take take the politics, laws on top of laws, hypocrisy, and the "BIG COMPANY" mentality anymore. The room for diversity in the IMB and SBC is very narrow and is becoming even narrower. That is so sad to me.

The fact that some Southern Baptists are not "Southern Baptist" enough... where will it end? The funny/sad thing is we keep hearing from the leadership "where are all the young leaders? Where are the supporting churches?" The answer is the leaders are on the field being supported by the churches that don't want to deal with it anymore.

When we here that trustees are coming to "visit" our ministry it brings a constant anxiety,shouldn't that be joy and not anxiety? Anyway, I digress. I say all that to say THANK YOU, for having the guts to stand up for the Bible, and for freedom of speech (which by the way is almost non-existent in our organization).

It is people like you that keep people like us on the field. You give us hope. I am here for the long haul, I am here to spread the Gospel, obey my Lord and do it with SBC churches along side of me. We are here, we exist (we just can't speak up or we will be fired)!

So on behalf of all of us who are praying for change and leadership that is not scared of open discussion and diversity, thank you.

*If you share this with anyone please remove my name and email address.

Grace and Peace,

An Unidentified Southern Baptist Missionary

Saturday, May 03, 2008

If You Blog It's Best To Have a Response Plan

A few months ago Business Week published an article entitled "How Do Companies Respond to Blog Attacks?" Writer Stephen Baker predicted:

The question of how to respond to blogs is going to be so vital, I believe, that it will give birth to an entire new branch of corporate consulting. These blog consultants, increasingly, will be battling with the entrenched public relations departments for control over the corporate message.

Southern Baptist bloggers do not have a public relations department, nor do we have paid consultants to help us respond to blog attacks, but after over two and a half years, 700 posts, thousands of comments, and a proliferation of Southern Baptist blogs which use me as their subject matter, I've learned a little about what it feels like to come under 'attack' by blog writers. I am fully aware that some feel they also come under 'attack' by me. I seek to write about issues and not people (the Baptist Identity movement, Southern Baptist Fundamentalism, etc . . . ), but I realize it is sometimes hard to separate issues from people, and my writings can give the impression I am attacking people. In my heart, I'm not, but I understand how others can feel that way about what I write. Nevertheless, I do have a little experience in receiving what seems to be , or at least feels like, personal attacks. For example, a blogger friend of mine sent to me the following comments which were written about me yesterday by five different people.

"I felt as if I was going to be sick (reading what Wade Burleson writes)! Garbage is spewing and the guilty one is once again denying any and all truth concerning the post that produces the garbage . . Wade Burleson is indeed sickening and wrong - garbage!"

I wish Wade would fade into the background . . . it seems like every issue we deal with comes down to Wade, Wade, Wade. I am really sick of that."

"Wade is an SBC Moderate. He appears to come across as a bitter man who at times feigns an irenic and pious spirit, yet repeatedly, betrays himself by his bombastic posts and comments that has pummeled the character of so many. His current demeanor will only make himself irrelevant to the SBC."

(Referring to my blog post) "It is wrong…it is sinful…it is godless."

"Mr. Burleson no longer kicks sand; instead he poisons soup. His current post posing as an "unmasking" of those he dubs the "Baptist Identity movement" is a complete fabrication within his own mind."

"A wise person has said that it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. The owner of Grace and Truth to You has opened his mouth . . ."

The statements above do not offend me. A couple of years ago they would have. I'm not always successful in thinking through an appropriate response to what I perceive to be personal attacks, but the following, in outline form, is my response plan.

An Answer Worth Remembering

When Shemei began cursing King David, lying about him, and throwing rocks (literally) as the King and his men walked through a valley on the way home, Abishai, David's loyal servant asked the king, 'Will you allow me to go cut off that dead dog's head?' David's answer is very revealing. "Leave him alone. God hath bidden him to speak."

A few times in years past I have sought to stop people from writing untrue things about me. I have made a handful of phone calls to seek to correct the errors that I perceived in what some bloggers have written. Over time I've learned that the attitude of King David is far better - and when I read things like the above, it is worth remembering the words of the ancient king of Israel. Sometimes it is best to relax and let a fire burn out rather than to fight to put it out.

An Attitude Worth Imitating

The Bible says "love covers a multititude of sins." It would seem that when a Southern Baptist blogger really loves others, he lets them 'offend' on many occasions without making an issue of it. I have read recently that some postulate the problems in our convention are people who either complain or are critical of the work of the SBC. I propose that the problems are not the critical words that are written, but the lack of humility in refusing to receive the words as being from God - even those words we don't like - and loving the person who wrote them.

An Action Worth Initiating

Jesus said, "Bless them that persecute you." You examine this word 'bless' in the Sermon on the Mount and you will see it is in the imperative. It is not an option; it is a command. It is also in the continuous, present tense. It is not a one time act, but a repeated series of 'blessings.' It would seem to me that the person who is really obedient to His master is the one who blesses the person who persecutes him.

I was once told that a leader of one of our SBC agencies has a practice of sending a new tie, with a kind note of encouragement, to the person he believes is persecuting him. One has to commend such a spirit. You or I may not send a tie, but we sure can pray for those who persecute us, or we can write an encouraging note, or we can say something positive and public about that person.


Those of us who have entered the blog world need to think through how we respond to personal blog attacks. Attacks will occur. If you blog for any amount of time, you will experience it firsthand. I suggest that the battle is won, not when the attacks stop, but when God's people respond in a Christ-like manner. I don't always respond in a Christ-like manner, but it sure is my goal.

In His Grace,


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Unmasking Baptist Identity

The new Baptist Identity initiative in the Southern Baptist Convention is an attempt by some to redefine what it means to be a Southern Baptist. Whereas I believe with all my heart there is room in the SBC for those who wed themselves to the new bedrock convictions of Baptist Identity, there is real danger for the end of broad cooperation within the Convention if Baptist Identity is allowed to be presented as 'mainstream' to what it means to be a Southern Baptist church.

Though the non-negotiable principles of Baptist Identity are apt to multiply over time like dandelions in a spring lawn, there are certain 'bedrock convictions' of the new Baptist Identity movement that reveal the movement is neither historically Baptist nor mainstream Southern Baptist in identity. The three main problems associated with the new Baptist Identity iniative include:

(1). A Top-Down Ecclesiology

Baptist Identity people within the Southern Baptist Convention act as if the highest authority in the convention is a document the convention produces (the Baptist Faith and Message), an agency the Convention creates (the IMB, the NAMB, Seminaries, etc . . .) or a person the Convention anoints. The first is creedalism, the second is hierarchialism, and the latter is authoritianism. These three isms typify Roman Catholic ecclesiology, and though there are many Christians within the Roman Catholic church, Baptists have historically resisted the tendencies of Roman Catholic ecclesiology - but not the new Baptist Identity movement. This top down ecclesiology of Baptist Identity people manifests itself in various ways in our convention.

First, the sending out of missionaries. The Southern Baptist Convention historically recognizes that the local church sends out missionaries, NOT THE INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD. The IMB was created to facilitate churches sending THEIR missionaries. Recently, that dynamic has changed. Now we have the absurd practice of a local Southern Baptist church approving the baptism and sending of a missionary, only to then have the IMB ordering that autonomous church to 'rebaptize' the prospective missionary because the IMB says the administrator of the missionary's baptism was not a qualified administrator. I say this reverently; For God's sake, and in honor of His Word, will someone please show how it is historically Baptist for an agency to supercede the authority of a local church and order a church to 'rebaptize' someone that the church has already accepted into membership, determining their baptism to be biblical (by immersion, after coming to faith in Christ)?

Second, Baptist Identity people wish to use the BFM as a 'tool of accountability.' They have forgotten that confessions of faith are confessions, not creeds. The historic Baptist practice is for the local church to establish her beliefs and lay them out in local church confessions. Periodically, Baptists would gather together to write a common consensus of faith, called in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Faith and Message. Historically, these broad convention confessions were not intended to lay out anything that went beyond "the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament." Let me say that again. The Baptist Faith and Message was initially, and I quote, "not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament." The local church was the place doctrine was narrowed as the church saw fit. The convention was built on cooperation among diverse churches, not conformity among identical churches. Yet, over time, the BFM has been used to narrow the doctrinal parameters of cooperation beyond the simple conditions of salvation. Every time the BFM is narrowed to include more doctrines of a tertiary nature, cooperation among diverse churches within the SBC ends. And, Baptist Identity people applaud this end to cooperation by setting forth tertiary doctrines that go way beyond the fundamentals of the gospel, and then demanding conformity to these tertiary issues by calling them 'bedrock convictions.' Then, the Baptist Identity advocates make extreme statements like:

Cooperation must end where our bedrock convictions are compromised.

The Baptist Identity movement has now pushed to to narrow the parameters of cooperation by using backdoor policies at SBC agencies. They claim that the Convention had no idea what it was doing when the Garner Motion was passed in 2007, and the BFM is only a minimal standard of doctrine to which churches must conform. Other policies that exceed the BFM are needed to keep everyone in doctrinal shape. It ought to be a requirement for everyone with an affinity to the Baptist Identity movement to memorize the preamble of the Baptist Faith and Message (emphasis mine) and what Southern Baptists have historically believed about the doctrines contained within our convention confessions:

1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

This top-down ecclesiology is the first huge problem with the Baptist Identity initiative.

(2). A Loss of Church Autonomy

A natural result of a hierchial, authoritarian, creedal ecclesiology within the Southern Baptist Convention is the loss of local church autonomy. The Baptist Identity movement wishes to exclude from cooperation any church that dares to do it differently than they do. The Baptist Identity advocates use labels in order to attempt to marginalize or neutralize those who disagree with them.

Yet, any study of history would lead people to recognize that true Baptist identity is found in churches that practiced autonomy, that dared to go against religious establishments, and sought to follow Scripture alone as their guide. Of course, humility has been the key component of Baptists over the centuries. A soul that recognizes no authority but Christ is humble enough to acknowledge that he is neither Christ nor His vicar. Therefore, a true Baptist will judge no man until it is time for Christ to judge the heart.

Most Baptist Identity advocates pastor small churches or preside over declining ministries. The attitude that leads to demands for absolute conformity, authoritian control over one's belief system, and separation from those who disagree leads to isolationalism and a declining membership. Avowals that 'I have the truth, and you don't' turn people away. When it comes to the fundamentals of the gospel, we don't mind that people turn away. But it is the demands for conformity on tertiary issues that is harming our convention. It is time for Southern Baptists to realize that Baptist Identity is a fringe movement of the SBC, and displays neither the mainstream spirit or theology of the majority of the people within our convention.

Let me repeat something that all Southern Baptist need to remember: The Southern Baptist Convention was built on cooperation among diverse churches, not conformity among identical churches. We need a restoration of understanding of what local church autonomy means.

(3). An Extra-Biblical Theology

The Apostle Paul put it succinctly in I Corinthians 4:6:

Let us not go beyond what is written.

Extra-biblical convictions, extra-biblical doctines, and extra-biblical traditions are fine when they remain personal. But when you include us, you violate Scripture.

One of our member's family has been raising prized herefords since the Land Run of 1893. He took me on a tour of his large operation recently and explained the process of keeping a growing, healthy herd of cattle.

He said that over time, inbreeding causes mutations and deformities that lead to a sick herd of cattle. He has to travel to North Dakota, Michigan, and other far reaches of the United States to find bulls that are different to breed with his cows. It is the introduction of differences within the herd that keep the herd healthy.

I'm convinced that the Baptist Identity movement is going the opposite direction of my rancher. The proponents of Baptist Identity are taking out any bulls and any cows within the Southern Baptist herd that look different, and are erecting fences to keep different cattle out. If we don't identify the problem and learn to 'cherish' differences then we are going to mutate into a convention that our forefathers would have not been able to recognize.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson