Herschael York has weighed in on the IMB controversy, decidedly defending the trustees' decision to require baptism in a Southern Baptist church or at least a church that practices only believers' baptism and also believes in eternal security.
York, teaches preaching at Southern Seminary and serves as pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church. He is the former pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, a church that for years published and distributed JM Carroll's The Trail of Blood, the historically dubious case for Landmarkism.
His are the first arguments that I have read in defense of the new guidelines, although he deals exclusively with the change in the baptism requirement. I appreciate reading something of substance in support of the trustees' actions.
York makes some wonderful comments about baptist beliefs on baptism--beliefs that, to my knowledge, are not in dispute in the IMB controversy. He defends baptism as a church ordinance and warns against some of the prevailing, abysmal views of what constitutes a local church. None of this, however, lends much support to his conclusion that the IMB policy represents both "the historic Baptist understanding" and "Scriptural teaching" regarding baptism. In the language of British jurisprudence, I find his claim "not proved."
What I find particularly strange are his assertions and implications that the reason this is even a controversy is because most pastors today are biblically and historically ignorant when it comes to baptism. For example, here are some of his comments (emphasis added):
"Since the policy clarified by the Board is neither innovative nor more restrictive than the Bible itself, Southern Baptists should find it completely unremarkable."
"In all candor, the controversy that has erupted over this policy is nothing less than stunning and probably reflects decades of neglect of Baptist ecclesiology. Few pastors today have a historical or a biblical understanding of this ordinance, perhaps because Southern Baptist seminaries have not required ecclesiology and failed to teach it. This policy is one that would not have raised a question fifty years ago, and certainly not when the Southern Baptist Convention was founded."
"The greater worry is what underlies the strong objections to this policy. Are they raised because we now deny what Southern Baptists have always held? Do we now understand our founders to be provincial and not as enlightened as we? Or are the objections because we have fallen prey to the age and find it uncomfortable to set doctrinal parameters in general?"
The question still remains, why was the doctrine of eternal security elevated above all other doctrines and singled out as the one doctrine to which a church must hold in order to offer a valid baptism? Is the IMB suggesting that eternal security is more important than the Deity of Christ or the Trinity of God? If not, then why was it alone chosen as the doctrinal litmus test?
The new IMB guidelines says that if a man was baptized in a Freewill Baptist church then his baptism is invalid, or at least not valid enough to serve as a missionary with the IMB.
Here is something to think about and it comes straight out of our Baptist "historical understanding of this ordinance." Those who accept this newly invented benchmark must judge several of our Baptist forefathers as "unbaptized." Among these are the notable leaders Abraham Booth (1736-1806) and Benjamin Keach (c1640-1704).
Do Southern Baptists really want to be on record saying that the baptism of these great Baptist leaders was unbiblical? Are we willing to say that they would not be acceptable candidates for our mission board? And will anyone doubt the ecclesiological or biblical understanding of these two Baptist giants when it comes to the subject of baptism?