Monday, January 16, 2006

What the IMB controversy is not

It is helpful to keep clear just exactly what the controversy at the International Mission Board entails and, more specifically, what it does and does not involve. Some people seem to have a penchant for misconstruing these types of matters and wind up terribly confusing matters. I want to spell out several negative assertions that I hope will clarify my own perspective on the issue.

1. It is not controversy between conservatives and liberals. Everyone involved on the board, as far as I know, is an inerrantist. No one is accusing anyone of not believing the Bible or not regarding it as absolutely authoritative. In this regard the controversy is completely unlike those associated with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The battle then was over the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. The IMB controversy is over board policies and procedures.

2. It is not a controversy between continuationists and cessationists. Speaking in tongues was made an issue by the board while it is not an issue in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The rationale behind selecting this point of theology rather than others has not been explained. This lack of explanation raises great concern in the minds of many Southern Baptists. All IMB missionary appointees have been required to subscribe to the BF&M. Now they are being required to affirm a point of doctrine (or renounce a specific practice) that goes beyond the BF&M. Why? It is reasonable to expect an answer to this question from the trustees. I am one cessationist who wants an explanation.

3. It is not a controversy between those who have a high view of believers' baptism and those who have a low view of believers' baptism. Everyone involved is a credobaptist. The question is whether or not the board should accept a local church's recommendation of a candidate as one who has been properly baptized as a believer. Again, the BF&M spells out what constitutes believers' baptism. But the board has added to that statement the further requirement that such baptism "must take place in a church that practices believer's baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer." Furthermore, "A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches."

Why has the eternal security been singled out as a doctrine that the baptizing church must teach in order for the baptism to be counted as valid? What about the deity of Christ? Or the Trinity of God? Or justification by faith? Or cessationism?

Do you see the problem with the board's approach? They leave unanswered the question of why they have done what they have done. Thinking Southern Baptists will want an answer to that question.

4. It is not a controversy between loyal Southern Baptists and disaffected Southern Baptists. Those in positions of denominational leadership must get over the kind of hyper-defensiveness that judges any kind of criticism or questioning of actions as disloyalty. It is not lack of loyalty that motivates one to raise the questions I have raised above. Nor is it disloyal to argue plainly that a certain course of action is unwise. To question the actions or recommendations of SBC leaders does not mean that one is therefore "in bed with the CBF crowd." Good men can have honest disagreements. Handled rightly, those disagreements can actually strengthen the common cause rather than undermine it. The early indications are that some trustees of the IMB do not understand this.

So, if all these things identify what the controversy is not, then what is it? Here is my take: it is a controversy about the kind of practices and procedures that will characterize Southern Baptist denominational actions in the future. Will dissent be squelched with a heavy hand? Will selected doctrinal concerns that go beyond the BF&M be elevated to points of importance such that those who disagree with denominational powerbrokers are not allowed opportunities of service in the SBC?

These are some of the questions that need to be brought into sharp focus. What the controversy is not about should not be allowed to cloud the issue.


Brian Hamrick said...

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.

Sounds like this controversy is about upgrading "non-essentials" to "essentials."

centuri0n said...

Pastor Ascol:

I disagree with your point #3. The controversy being generated by the IMB is inherently about what Baptism is and what it means -- and the substance of "what it means" is being balanced on an arbitrary set of doctrines.

There is only one case of rebaptism listed in the NT in Acts -- where the errant disciples of John are rebaptized into Christ. And, ironically, when they were rebaptized, "the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying" (ESV). I'm not here advocating for the continuation of gifts: what I am saying is that the matter of baptism is serious, and in that the matter of re-baptism is equally serious. Even as baptists, who call the act an "ordinance", we must recognize the sigificance of demanding rebaptism from the perspective that it is an initiative act performed by the church to the believer for the sake of visibly recongizing his unity with Christ -- and not his visible unity with our corner of Christendom.

It seems to me that the rebaptism matter the IMB is churning up is to put some people on a political hook: either obey your conscience that you have been baptized into Christ, or get rebaptized in order to maintain your position in our organization.

I find it disreputable and disturbing, but I may be misinformed. I welcome your comments and corrections on this matter.

Sojourner said...

Pastor Ascol,

I realize that the controversy itself is not the same as that which happened over inerrancy. I am an inerrantist, and I believe that the inerrantist position is one worth standing for or breaking fellowship over.

However, I do believe that there are right and wrong ways to do things. It is a good thing to stand for inerrancy, but it is a bad thing to bully someone and be beligerent over an issue. I heard this complaint over and over again from the guys on the other side. Some of the folks were actually inerrantists who did not like how things were handled.

I used to believe that this crying foul was simply a resistance to correction or not the inability to handle criticism. But with this, I can't help but think that while the issue has changed, the tactics which the inerrantist leadership was accussed of using is manifesting itself again. This is my fear. I do not come into this discussion with my own wounds and baggage. I was only 11 in 1985 and had no connection to 'convention politics' whatsoever.

Forgetting the tactics end of the discussion, I can now turn to the actual issue. I have to agree with the Centuri0n that "high" and "low" views of baptism have much to do with the issue itself. I am troubled by the recent tendency to not insist on a believer's baptism by immersion for Church membership. But to pick out the issue of eternal security to invalidate a baptism? I can't help but shake my head. What in the world is going on with our leadership?

Tom said...


Thanks for your insights. I don't think we disagree that significantly. My comment was designed to debunk the notion that the IMB policy reflects a high view of baptism and that those who oppose it have a less high view. "Rebaptism" is in one sense an oxymoron since there is only "one baptism." We sometimes use the term to describe the proper baptism of one who has previously gotten wet in the name of baptism but was not by that act properly baptized. One who is converted out of baptismal regenerationist beliefs would provide a case in point. He may have gotten wet when he submitted to being dunked under water, thinking that thereby he was saved, but he did not get properly baptized. In such a case, I, and I think most other Baptist ministers, would require a "rebaptism."

I am not suggesting that you disagree (though you might, and if you do, I hope you would be willing to express your views further), but simply giving an example that shows that in some cases, "rebaptism" (as used above) is valid. This, however, and as you rightly point out, is a far cry from the IMB policy that in the name of honoring baptism actually devalues it by making its legitimacy depend on certain conditions that neither the Bible nor the BF&M (for what that is worth) recognize.

My understanding is that the implementation of the policy will not jeopardize those who are already serving as missionaries, but will be used to screen future candidates. Those seeking appointment, and the churches that are sending them, will be forced to make the decision that you describe, if their understanding of baptism is not encumbered with the unbiblical narrowness of the new IMB policy.

Tom said...


"What is going on with our leadership?" That is a good question. It is one that ought to be put to those who are responsible for these kinds of decisions. Sometimes--no, oftentimes--SBC leaders forget that they work for the churches. They can only continue doing what they are doing as long as the churches allow. Who knows? Maybe Greensboro will be the occasion when churches start reasserting their authority by calling their trustees and others to account.

Alex F said...

Where are the voices of other leaders on this issue? Yours is much appreciated.

A Christian Prophet said...

All answers, of course, come not from intellectualizing but from letting go of preconceived ideas and listening inside to the Voice for God, the voice of the Holy Spirit. The messages on The Holy Inheritance blog have been so helpful in this respect.

Disciple said...

What about the issue of someone who was baptized in a Church of Christ that officially teaches that baptism is necessary to salvation? If that is the official stance of the church and yet the person says that he submitted to that baptism with the understanding that baptism does not contribute to his salvation, what should we do? If he believed at the time of his baptism what he says he believed, then why did he submit to baptism in a church that teaches that baptism is necessary to salvation? Is he reading back into his baptism what he may now believe but perhaps didn't believe at that time? Are we not perhaps being a bit naive and gullible to accept into our church without baptizing him ourselves one who was previously baptized in a church that officially teaches salvation is by baptism, no matter what his explanation might be? Are we not thereby implying that believer's baptism is not as important as we have taught and preached that it is? I guess I'm asking whether we are to make a decision on this matter on the basis of what the individual claims his experience and attitude were at the time of his baptism or on the basis of what the church that baptized him officially believed and taught. I think I lean toward the latter.

hashbrown said...
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JBuchanan said...

Thanks for this insight Tom. I think that before the convention comes around this year we must put some pressure on the trustees to explain the rationale behind these changes. I agree with you that they seem secondary in nature and maybe unnecessary. However, I am not an IMB trustee and perhaps they know something that I don't. If they can show just reason for these policies fine, but if they can't then I think that the convention needs to step in. I also agree with the brother that brought up the fact that we need to concentrate on more important areas of doctrine.

G. Alford said...

I’m sorry, but according to this new IMB position, and some of the comments I am reading on this topic, it sound as if some of our SBC Leadership are promoting the idea that if someone’s personal theology was incorrect or incomplete at the time of their baptism that they need to be “Re-Baptized”?

If this is the case then I think about 98% of all Southern Baptist need to be “Re-Baptized”… including most Pastors. Personally I had absolutely no understanding of the true meaning of Baptism when Baptized, and I surely was in no position (having been saved only two weeks) to debate the issue with my home church to find out their position on the issue… does this mean that I need to be “Re-Baptized”?

Before you dismiss this line of thought I ask you to make the comparison between Salvation and Baptism… I think we would all say that Salvation is the more important issue… Under this new IMB policy I can be saved under the ministry of a Church or Denomination who’s theology differs from that of the SBC and serve as a missionary as long as I sign the BFM2000, but I cannot be baptized in this same Church or Denomination?

If this is going to be the SBC’s position on Baptism, then how long will it be before we go down the road of the Church of Christ, who believe that you cannot be saved in any other church but theirs? Like Tom has said this is “Landmark-ism”…

Stephen A Morse said...

Tom I have been teaching my church through the 2000 BF&M this past year. We will be studying 'God's Purpose of Grace' this month. I have been posting about the 2000 BF&M on my blog and this situation gives me more reason to educate my church about the use and the unity that a confession brings to a congregation and convention. Can you speak a little more on the implications of the IMB's decision to apparently appendix this baptismal/prayer language requirement onto the end of the BF&M.
How does this reflect on the autonomy of the local church (and how do I explain it to mine)?
I agree with centuri0n, baptism is an extremely important issue to be playing around with.
I also echo alford, I need to be rebaptized too then!

One Salient Oversight said...

Can someone please help?

I vaguely remember during my church history studies that a debate about baptism by heretics occurred sometime in the first 500 years of the church.

Essentially, there was some belief that because some strange teaching had infiltrated the church, that the members of the affected churches needed to be baptised again since the baptism they received was obviously at the hand of heretics.

From what I remember, there was a big debate about this, and eventually it was decided that rebaptism was not necessary since the underlying assumption - that baptism was not "effecacious" when performed by a heretic - was wrong. What mattered was not the person performing the sacrament, but the mode (water + saying "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit").

Surely this historical event could inform the current debate?

Scripture Searcher said...

Informatve! Stimulating!
All contributors have done superbly!

The knowledge, logic and love displayed by the brethren are highly commendable!


wandering pilgrim said...

Interesting conversation especially when thinking how this looks politically. The last go round was so political that there were a good many solid evangelical Baptists who were chased away as "liberals" who were, as someone else said earlier, just sick of the way that the denominational politics were being done.

Now the power mad are going after it again! This time it is the continuationists, who next? Calvinists? What then? Is there any further evidence needed as to why many younger pastors are turning away from the denomination due to the infighting that does nothing but make evangelism harder, and makes teaching the Scriptures that much harder as it appears that we are truly nothing more than hypocrites as we act more like the world than we act like followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

hashbrown said...

For those who are interested, below is a audio of a report given by the trustee who may be removed to his congregation. It is pretty powerful and persuasive.

I'm still waiting to hear a good rebuttal from the other side.

GeneMBridges said...

There is a certain logic to the policy on baptism.

The policy says that if John Smith was baptized in a church not affirming eternal security, he should be rebaptized. Why?

Implicit in this is the idea that such churches (Arminian churches) are not true churches.

What composes a true local church in Baptist ecclesiology? A regenerate group of baptized believers.

The church in question baptizes its people, so we have, in effect the implicit assertion Arminians are unregenerate.

Logic: To deny eternal security means you repudiate Sola Fide.

Hence, you affirm salvation by works.

This is a false gospel, hence those who affirm it are unsaved.

Therefore one or more must be true.

(a) when John Smith was first baptized, he affirmed this same doctrine and must therefore be re-baptized now if he affirms it (since he now affirms Sola Fide and is thus to be considered regenerate)


(b) baptism, to be valid, must be performed by a regenerate Christian, an elder in a local church to be specific, so his baptism was invalid, even if John Smith himself, at that time, affirmed Sola Fide and perseverance of the saints


(c) Even if the baptizing elder in the Arminian church had changed his doctrine and believed in eternal security when he baptized John Smith, his baptism is not valid for the same reason as (b) if he was baptized in an Arminian church, and thus, his eldership is invalid, since he was not validly baptized.

It is my understanding that this is a position articulated by some of the trustees. I have looked into this, and this is a doctrine held by some TX Landmark Baptists.

If you index baptism to the doctrine of eternal security using this logic, then you are uniting hyper-Calvinism and Landmarkism.

This must be thoroughly investigated, and the trustees must be pressed to justify their rationale for these policies to the Convention, for if this is what is underlying them, we have a bigger problem on our hands than a political agenda.

Is the SBC ready to say Free Will Baptists and other credo-baptizing Arminians unregenerate? I don't think so.

Bill Moore said...

I don't mean to overreach, but this issue could lead to a further splintering of the SBC. While I hold to a cessationist understanding of gifts and have, what I consider, a high view of baptism, the IMB trustees are simply wrong with their new policy.

I claim a high view of baptism, but not in the way of Landmarkism. Baptism is for those who have repented and believed on Christ, trusting that he took the wrath due their sins on Calvary and imputed to them his righteousness. A person coming out of a Free Will Baptist church, giving evidence of regeneration, would not be "rebaptized" to enter our church.

Having said that, I contend that far too many Southern Baptist churches have a low view of baptism, their protests otherwise notwithstanding. The only "evidence" of regeneration required is a declaration that a person has asked Jesus into his heart or that someone prayed to receive Christ. For the IMB, such a baptism is perfectly acceptable.

I would not designate the trustees' position a "power grab," but I do think it betrays a "control freak" mentality, perhaps having "a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."


DWooten said...
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DWooten said...

The baptism issue is an intersting one because by requiring baptism in a church that "embraces the doctrine of eternal security of the believer," we would be holding our missionaries to a standard that many of the Baptist churches they work with overseas do not hold. For example, the Baptist Unions in many of the Eastern Europe countries do not accept the eternal security of the believer.

We'd be saying that legitimate baptism for the missionary in a church that embraces eternal security is required, only to then send them to a ministry where they are performing what the IMB would consider illegitimate baptisms. It's confusing.

Stephen A Morse said...

It is confusing. What is next? Will we be required to use Lifeway material in our church in order for our messengers to have a vote? What if our church supports an independant missionary? Does that totally preclude our cooperation?
I have taken an interest in reading Wade Burleson's blog. His argument for cooperation among conservatives rings true for me.
Aren't the ministries of the SBC supposed to be derived from the cooperation of the local churches and not visa-versa? If that is that case then what is going on in the IMB? Aren't they supposed to be the result of our cooperation and not demand that we cooperate with them and their standards?
Just wondering what cooperation looks like!

Bill Moore said...

Many of us have wondered how much longer we can remain in the Convention. Perhaps that decision will be more quickly forced upon us.

On another note, we must be careful not to endorse a radical local church autonomy as many liberals and moderates have done, essentially claiming that trustees of SBC entities must simply accept candidates approved by the local churches.

Scripture Searcher said...

Please leave this exchange or dialogue up until others
have had time to contribute.

ALL are excellent statements!

As stated previously, this is VERY stimulating, far beynd the usual.

Now let's get that beard on your face and a few additional pounds on your skinny frame, Thomas Spurgeon of 2006.

Cheers! (oops) AMEN!!!

centuri0n said...

Pastor Ascol:

I think it is ironic that, as you have said, those promoting this use of baptism are labelling themselves as the ones with a "high" view of baptism. What they have, in fact, is a "high" view of their own ability to discern between the saved and the unsaved.

It is certainly the Baptist view (as Mean Gene Bridges pointed out) that baptism is for the believer. But that's the real rub: how "good" a believer do you have to be for your baptism to "take"? If we are willing to stand up and say, "Geez: we have to assume that someone baptized CoC was baptized for regeneration," then we have to ask ourselves (as Gene did), "what about the wobbly evangelical who was baptized only for his simple confession, 'Jesus is Lord,' with no qualification about whether Jesus is Lord of all inanimate stuff, but not necessarily Lord of Salvation in the elective sense?"

Please: I am NOT a crazy person from the Auburn Ave conference trying to play myself off as a baptist for the sake of an argument. I'm a Baptist who honors our confessional history, but not blindly. There is such a thing as immature faith, and such a thing as imperfect ministers, and such a thing as the bride of Christ who is perfect becuase of Him and not because of herself.

All of those biblical realities have to come into our view of what baptism means exactly because the Bible points us to "one baptism", and only offers us the example of one baptism per believer. Because there is also the problem of abusing baptism for the sake of our own stringent theological claims.

Thanks again for your time and courtesy. Your blog is top-notch, your work for God's church is top-notch, and your heart is top-notch. May we all be blessed by it.

Tom said...


I certainly would not confuse you with the guys from Auburn Avenue and I do not think that your legitimate questions and concerns should be construed by anyone that you are a closet Federal Visionist! There is a legitimate rub here and you have put your finger on it. What constitutes acceptable baptism for conscientious credobaptists? It is not simply a question of what we practice, but of what we accept as practiced by others.

I have operated off of the premise that proper baptism requires a proper candidate, proper meaning and proper mode. Mode does not create much confusion because it is obviously objective and easily evaluated.

If the candidate being immersed is not a believer, then the baptism is not proper. If a person was immersed in a stated baptism prior to coming to faith in Christ then such an event was not a proper baptism. This is a situation that I deal with regularly as adults who were immersed as young children try to ascertain their spiritual pilgrimage. Often the issues are confused because they were not given careful pastoral counsel as children but were simply ushered into the baptistry as a matter of course after making some kind of response to a religious appeal.

My own approach to helping people in this situation is to encourage their careful assessment of their lives at the time of this baptism and since. If they conclude that they did not genuinely know Christ before being immersed, I encourage them to be baptized as believers. If they conclude that there were believers--no matter how poorly taught or how confused--then they were properly baptized. If, as often happens, they are not sure, I encourage them to be patient and humble, open to the Lord's granting of further insight, and to live on the assumption that what they experienced was proper baptism. I do not encourage them to "clear up the confusion" or "seal the deal" by getting "rebaptized."

The question of meaning can be equally delicate to address. If a person was immersed because he believed that thereby he was converted, then he was trusting in something other than Christ and therefore was not a proper candidate and should be baptized as a believer in Christ alone.

If the immersion took place in a church that clearly affirms baptismal regeneration, then I do not see it as a proper baptism. This one can be even more difficult because the candidate may not agree with the formal, erroneous teaching of the church at the point of immersion. These cases require the most care in helping the candidate sort out his previous experience. Sometimes a church that formally adheres to baptismal regeneration does not actually teach or practice it. In other words, the church is comprised of what we might call "carnal baptismal regenerationists" (which are the best kind!).

In all of these cases what is not safe is simply to assume. Careful consideration of the person's spiritual background and experience are required to help sort out his standing in relation to baptism.

You are very kind in your personal comments. I am humbled and encouraged by them.

Gordon Cloud said...

Tom, I appreciate your post as well as some comments you have made in your replies.

While I do not wish to downplay the importance of the doctrine of baptism, (that is after all how we got our name), I fear that the entire controversy may be being blown out of proportion.

Much is being made on the blogosphere about the new policy, the politics involved, Wade Burleson, and other factors.

I can't help but wonder if we all just sit back and take a deep breath if our understanding of both sides ofthis matter may not become clearer. I think your post has done a remarkable job of doing just that.

I am convinced that if Satan cannot destroy us with persecution from without, he will do so by division from within.

pray4renewal said...

Thank you for your discussion of this issue. I have been attempting to learn more about the issue in order to make an informed decision.
I appreciate what has been said and the discussions of the issues involved.

However deep this may go, can we truly ask, When do we leave the convention? If we leave who will lead the ones left? Through my seminary years many of my professors discussed their experiences at liberal SBC seminaries. They stayed in order to win back those lead astray.

I am always driven by Paul's questions in Romans, "For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher?"

If this is truly a case of false doctrine, who will set things straight.

I have known Paige Patterson. He grieves over those who were leading the SBC in false teaching. But who would have straightened the convention if he did not start it. Who would have straightened the seminaries if he did not start it. Someone has to stand for the truth.

Are you willing to stand for truth? Or are we going to cut and leave the people to false teaching?

How will they hear, the truth, unless they have someone to proclaim the truth?

May we stand for truth in love.

What are the false teachings we face in this issue. Are they essential to salvation that they MUST be corrected. Or are the teachings of the category of freedom?

Correct what must be corrected. Watch what can wait.

May God be praised above all else.

ColinM said...

This is an oustanding discussion, to echo the masses. I am always hesitant to post after the heavyweights above, but humbly:

I think it is clear by the debate that we are not in consensus as to what this controversy is. One may adhere to the four points listed above, and rightly call into question the new IMB policies, yet unknowingly be standing beside a brother who is fighting a different fight- one against authority, or one against Paige Patterson, or one to assuage long-standing bitterness, etc.

I submit that the controversy is all of the four you mentioned as evidenced by the myriad of comment's on Wade's site and others (including this one). There are several groups coming from different angles, and with a different idea of what resolution will look like. This is the problem, and I think Mr. Cloud makes a great point above about everyone taking a breather before the siege- which this discussion clearly has become- for the sake of our brethren if nothing else.

There is obviously a problem with the policy, and possibly with the leadership. But it is my contention that the controversy didn’t have to be as great of a controversy in the first place. The byproduct of this unfortunate affair is that we are now careful to be more informed about policies and politics in the SBC/IMB. But we could have achieved this from the outset without impugning character, assuming motivations, and creating mass dissension and a revolution-like atmosphere. To use Dr. Russell Moore’s words, we have seen the elevation of a “martyr-complex” in order to advance an agenda that may not need to be advanced, and will work out with sound biblical discussion and acute accountability. If we began by addressing stated motivations and policy apologetics in the first place, would this controversial decision have turned out to be a Baptist “controversy” in the first place?

the lowly cowslug said...

While I generally agree with your comments, there is one area where we must disagree. You state that "In this regard the controversy is completely unlike those associated with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The battle then was over the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture." I will never be convinced that the conservative resurgence, as it has become known, was over anything other than power and control, all done under the guise of theology.

Cliff4JC said...

I am originally from NC but move a few years ago to the midwest. I was shocked to find that Landmarkism is alive and well here in our Baptist churches. This entire issue IS about Landmarkism. I worked to change our policies at my church to reflect the Bible and not J.R. Graves. What I found was that Landmarkist are the type that will not be pursaded by logic, the bible or facts. Remember, much of our SBC leadership comes from strong midwestern roots where this system is ingrained in the fabric of Baptist life. If you want to understand the current controversy more fully, be sure to educate yourself on Landmarkism.