Monday, March 06, 2006

Rationale for the IMB Guideline on Baptism

Today I received two documents related to the controversy involving recent actions of the International Mission Board (SBC) trustees. One of those documents is entitled, "Rationale for the IMB Guideline on Baptism" and the other is "Position Paper on IMB Policy of Glossolalia." Neither is signed though I am confident that these are both official papers.

Both of these documents have been anticipated by Southern Baptists who are concerned about the way the board has changed its policy and guidelines in recent actions and, more importantly, the way the trustees have tried to silence dissent that has been raised against them. I am particularly interested in the Baptism guideline and have commented on it at length during the month of February (check the archives).

First, let me express appreciation to the board for making this statement of rationale available. Southern Baptists expect our trustees to be accountable to the churches and we are encouraged when such accountability is recognized and honored. Secondly, let me commend the thoroughness of the statement. Over 1700 words are used to elaborate "four key parameters derived from Scripture and consistent with historic Baptist ecclesiology [that]inform and shape the IMB policy." However, having read the document carefully, I remained unconvinced of the wisdom of this change, regret that the key issue still has not been addressed and am left wondering about the necessary (but hopefully, unintentional) consequences of this rationale.

The "four key parameters" are identified as follows:

First, that the only biblical mode for baptism is immersion. Second, that the only proper candidate for immersion is a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ. Third, that the act is purely symbolic and distinct from salvation itself and has no saving merit. Fourth, that baptism is a church ordinance and therefore the only proper administrator of it is a local New Testament church that holds to a proper view of salvation.

The last two parameters receive the most treatment and they are the location of the greatest difficulties with this new guideline. The third parameter is described as guarding against baptismal regeneration. The rationale states:

Doctrinal parameters exist for a reason, after all, and to teach baptismal regeneration would simply redefine or negate what it means to be Baptist. All three versions of the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, and 2000) [BF&M] hold this point in common, expressing it as a symbolic act for a believer. As a characteristic of a Baptist church, the denominational mission organization requires its missionaries not only to hold that position, but to have been baptized in precisely that manner. It would be confusing, contradictory, and wrong to send missionaries to baptize with the symbolic understanding of baptism if they were themselves baptized in a church that understands baptism as a part of salvation.


It is in the explanation of the fourth parameter that the rationale breaks down and simply fails to answer the question of why the new guideline singles out belief in eternal security as a legitimizing requirement for valid baptism. Here is the closest the document comes to addressing this issue:

Baptists have carefully defined the church, the ordinances, and salvation according to the New Testament. We do not insist on the name "Baptist" on the sign in the front yard, but we insist that the church be marked by New Testament doctrine, especially with regard to salvation, which includes the eternal security of the blood-bought believer. The doctrine of security is explicitly addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message article on "God’s Purpose of Grace," where we read that "All true believers endure to the end . . . will never fall away from the state of grace . . . yet shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (Matthew 24:22,31, 25:34; Luke 2:29-32, John 3:16, 5:24, 6:44-45,65, 10:27-29, 15:16, 17:12; Romans 8:28-39, 11:5-7,26-36; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39-12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13, 2:4-10; 1 John 2:19, 3:2).

All of this is fine, but it does not answer the question of "why index baptism to eternal security and to no other soteriological position?" After, the article on "God's Purpose of Grace" affirms much more than merely eternal security. If the trustees judged the BF&M statement to be insufficient as it stands--so insufficient that they had to lift eternal security out and make it a separate qualifier of valid baptism--what should keep us from anticipating similar judgments about other doctrines in the future? I find it strange that they appeal to the BF&M while their actions actually attack its sufficiency.

Here is the way their logic flows:

1. We now insist that a church believe in eternal security for its baptism to be valid.

2. This is consistent with the BF&M because it teaches eternal security.

3. Therefore no one who affirms the BF&M should question our new guideline.

But whether or not the BF&M teaches eternal security is not the point! It never has been, and to speak as if it is simply confuses the real issue. Here is the question: Why eternal security and not the deity of Christ? Why eternal security and not justification by faith alone? Why eternal security and not repentance and faith?

The only answer I have been given to this line of questioning is this: "Because the Baptist Faith and Message clearly teaches those doctrines." To which I reply, "Doesn't it also clearly teach eternal security?" Thus far--including this newly released rationale--I have not received an answer to my question.

The final paragraph of the document says this:

Acts 19 describes Paul's arrival in Ephesus and discovery of certain disciples who were committed to what little truth they knew. However, Paul knew that their personal convictions were inadequate. He asked them a simple question that went right to the heart of the matter: "Unto what were you baptized?" The IMB is asking that question of its candidates. Were you baptized unto faith in Christ? Were you baptized with a view toward eternal life that cannot be lost once graciously given by God? Were you symbolically baptized unto the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Were you baptized unto a new way of life in Christ? After relevant questioning, Paul discovered that these Ephesian "disciples" were not even born again Christians. The Ephesians then trusted Christ and were baptized properly. Paul’s question was not, "Are you saved?" His question concerned their baptism. Their view of baptism revealed their true spiritual commitment, and so will ours.

I sincerely hope that this is not meant to suggest that anyone who has not been baptized according to the IMB trustee's new guidelines should have their salvation questioned for that reason alone! The questions that "the IMB is asking" of candidates are fine, as far as they go. We expect there to be doctrinal examination. But if this line of questioning related to their baptism is going to be asked ("Were you baptized with a view toward eternal life that cannot be lost once graciously given by God?"), then why stop with four? What if a candidate could say "yes" to those questions but could not say yes to "Were you baptized with a view toward salvation that depends on justification based on the finished work of Christ alone?"

This new guideline is unwise. It has the appearance of being biblical and faithful to our Baptist heritage but in reality is neither. It should be rescinded.

I have tried to get permission to post this rationale statement in its entirety but have not secured it, yet. I am under the assumption that this is not a private document and will, therefore, soon appear in public. If it does not, and I receive proper permission, I will post it.


cks said...

Thanks for your insights here. And thanks to the framers of the rationale. What's this? Public discourse in the context of clearly-articulated, opposing viewpoints? I think I can finally see the hint of dawn.

GeneMBridges said...

Were you baptized unto faith in Christ? Were you baptized with a view toward eternal life that cannot be lost once graciously given by God?

Actually, this is quite telling. This argument from Acts 19 is a classic Landmark argument.

Does the security of the believer underwrite a saving profession of faith? No.
The essential issue addressed by the Gospel is that man is a sinner, under the condemnation of God. The Gospel never calls upon the unregenerate to believe that they are unable to believe. Rather, it calls upon us to recognize our guilt before God, and to see Christ's sacrificial death as the sole remedy for our guilt and condemnation.

If these concepts underwrite a saving profession of faith, and baptism “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, “ and “a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead,”hen why is this inadequate for the validity of the administration of baptism by the baptizing church? If it is not essential to believe in eternal security to be saved, just as it is not necessary to believe in a particular doctrine of election or know anything about the origin of saving faith, then how can anyone argue from this greater order to the lesser order? A church is, “an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.” If Arminians are regenerate persons and baptized persons in a covenant relationship in this manner, then upon what basis can the Southern Baptist Convention deny the validity of baptisms from those churches?

The essence of the Gospel is not a precise doctrinal formulation of how the forgiveness purchased by Christ's blood comes to the believing sinner. Rather it is the convicted sinner's realization that Christ alone, because of His substitutionary death for sinners, can save Him from his sins and the condemnation he so richly deserves, joined with a plea to Christ for mercy.

Behind this idea seems to be the idea that the IMB is out to establish uniquely Southern Baptist churches on the mission field. If that is the case, they should just say so.

Notice also the implicit sacramentalism, which the policy elsewhere denies. We know that a person believes these things by his baptism in a church that agrees to eternal security. Think about that. Just as the Lutheran looks to his baptism or the Eucharist for his assurance or the New Perspectivist looks to his baptism, we’re being told that we should look to our baptism as testimony of what we believe…so our baptism, not Christ is implicitly the ground of assurance. This is New Perspectivism. Will anybody seriously argue that all the persons baptized in SBC churches that affirm eternal security are truly regenerate? Even if the argument about Arminianism was valid, it proves nothing about the faith of the person joining our church or serving on the mission field; no more than the baptism of a person in one of our churches proves what is in his heart…we merely assume that, and given the problems in most of our churches, this is just specious logic. One need not understand the nature of justification before he experiences it. One need not believe in eternal security in order to be eternally secure; one need not believe it is impossible to fall away and fail to persevere in the faith in order not to fall away and persevere in the faith.

JustByFaith said...

Thanks for posting on this, pastor. Do you think that there is a "Landmark" move afoot here? (A conscious one?)

martyduren said...

I don't know where you got this, but thanks for getting it up. Your critique is right on. Thanks for keeping the discussion in the front and on target.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

Thank you for this post!

I think you agreed to something in point #3 that you shouldn't have agreed to. They wrote:

As a characteristic of a Baptist church, the denominational mission organization requires its missionaries not only to hold that position, but to have been baptized in precisely that manner. It would be confusing, contradictory, and wrong to send missionaries to baptize with the symbolic understanding of baptism if they were themselves baptized in a church that understands baptism as a part of salvation.

First problem with what they wrote:

Okay, so I agree that it is IDEAL to have a missionary who was baptized in a church that believes just as we do. But IF HE WAS NOT so baptized, to have him be dunked in order to identify with Southern Baptist distinctives makes the situation WORSE, not better. He now was baptized incorrectly TWICE!

Second problem with what they wrote:

They state that it would be wrong to send someone who has learned and now practices the correct type of baptism if in the past he learned and practiced the wrong type. On the contrary, it is a wonderful testimony of the fact that you don't have to know everything about theology in order to believe and be baptized! You can believe and be baptized according to what you understand, then grow in knowledge through discipleship.

I love you, Dr. A, but I think you boo-booed in agreeing to these two items.

Love in Christ,


J.D. Rector said...

What? Did I read that correctly? "Anyone who agrees with the BF&M statement would not disagree with our guidelines?"

Well... as Gomer Pyle said many times before, "SHAZAM!"

I disagree with the new quidelines. Conversely, I wholeheartedly agree with the BF&M statement. Thanks for your candid discussion of these important matters for Southern Baptists these days.

Brian Hamrick said...

Think about how impractical this new guideline is.

How many missionary candidates would give them the same answer to this question that I would from my baptism almost 20 years ago as a child?

"Were you baptized with a view toward eternal life that cannot be lost once graciously given by God?"

Response: "I have no idea."

I wonder how many churches do not have solid discipling plans prior to baptism, or do not cover eternal security in their pre-baptism classes.

Are we going to rebaptize people in this boat? Is this how we're going to help reach our goal of 1,000,000 baptisms? Are we going to deny them mission service?

I foresee frustrations ahead at the IMB in actually implementing this policy.

Tim Batchelor said...


Am I reading this policy right? Are they picking on folks who have been baptized in a church with a wrong view of eternal security but leaving a loophole for those baptized in a church which might believe in universalism? It seems like if they were really concerned about meaning then they would tie it up a little tighter.

Herschael York tried really hard to steer the rationale for this policy away from the issue of authority yet their rationale reintroduces it. Is that landmark leanings working itself out or just poor argumentation?

Jerry Corbaley said...

Hello There,

Why must it be rescinded? Why not amended?

Why not draw up a better statement and submit it?

My short experience with Christian bloggers does not keep me from recognizing very sharp minds.

We all admit that Jesus is building his church. Some don't like what he has built. Some don't like what he is building.

If you want in the process, then workable solutions are going to be neccesary, not just valid criticism.

When valid criticism comes from an unexpected source it takes the "valid" part a while to register.

Tony said...

Tom: Thanks for the updated info.

In response to Jeff: At issue is whether baptism apart from being symbolic is actually baptism. So if this is the case then to ask one baptized previously in an incorrect manner to be baptized correctly would seem to be consistent with the what the IMB is seeking and consistent with the BF&M. To have a missionary on the field that was, say, only baptized as an infant ask a new convert in the field to be baptized correctly as a believer after they may have been baptized as an infant would be contradictory. I think the true testimony to new understanding is being obedient to the new understanding not simply having the new understanding. So as with Tom’s response I would agree that point three would not be an issue.

As for point four it brings up a whole slew of issues as to what is absolutely necessary to believe to be baptized. As Pastor Brian said this would be a good way to get the 1,000,000 baptism sought since I would guess that many in the SBC have incorrect understandings when baptized and many still do. Why pull out eternal security as the only issue to focus on and if this is the issue where does that leave other jus as important issues such as imputation versus infusion or you can name other important doctrines? I think we can all agree that at baptism we do not know or for that matter understand everything. Even those that may be able to say they believe in eternal security may do so only in words and their actually theology may negate that.

Will this thinking then lead to being re-baptized every time we come to a better understanding of theology. If one was baptized with a synergistic understanding of theology do they now need to be re-baptized once they truly come to understand monergism. Or what if the person being baptized knows little of what the church believes, for a multitude of reasons, and later finds that the church did not believe in say eternal security but the person baptized had not formulated their understanding does that negate their baptism. All of this seems to open a can of worms that does not need to be opened.

While I do believe that the IMB does have the right to set policy that does not make it correct to do so in the manner they seem to be doing. When they asked missionaries to affirm the 2000 BF&M I saw no issue. But these latest changes may be going in a wrong direction and while refining what the missionaries being sent believe is not necessarily wrong it does need to be more well thought out.

centuri0n said...

Pastor Ascol:

Do you need permission to link to their document at the IMB web site? I'm not giving up the link until you are eternally secure that linking to them is above-board.

centuri0n said...

And I think that if the IMB wants to give the angry eyebrows to certain kinds of soteriology, perhaps they should ask [name omitted to protect this blog] if his extremely-large church with a high rate of baptism is quizzing those candidates about the finer points of their understanding of what they confess about Christ.

you know: just in case they want to be missionaries some day.

{stop laughing, Gene}

GeneMBridges said...

While I do believe that the IMB does have the right to set policy that does not make it correct to do so in the manner they seem to be doing.

They do have the right to set policy...but they do not have the right to tell the churches they serve what those churches must then do.

Remember, these are missionary candidates who have been credo-baptized already and who must have been serving faithfully in those recommending churches for something like 3 years or more.

Y'see, the IMB is contradicting itself. Read their rationale in the post above this one on the main blog and their definition of church here:

The definition of the church in the IMB rationale defines churches as autonomous. Keep in mind also that this must be done even if the candidate under review has affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message and even if the recommending church has already accepted his/her baptism.

However, since when did the IMB Board get the authority to dictate baptismal practices to the local churches which they serve? How can they served that to which they feel quite free now to dictate policy?

The explanation of the BFM 2000 published by SBTS' faculty states:

Churches can better fulfill this mission by cooperating together and establishing
such efficient channels as boards and conventions. But each congregation
bears the responsibility to advance the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Boards and conventions are not the church; they are merely means to accomplish
the church’s mission. There is no Southern Baptist Church or Kentucky
Baptist Church. Conventions are the creation of the churches and subject to them.
They are large committees appointed by the churches (see Article 14

No Board of Missions has the right to dictate to a local church with respect to the validity of the baptism of members whose baptism they themselves have recognized. That is where the Landmarkist idea runs afoul of its own ecclesiology. One the one hand, local church authority over the members does not extend beyond its own discipline, yet in using a missions board to tell a church it must rebaptize a member implicitly exceeds that belief. Since when did Missions Boards come to have such authority?

Tom said...


I don't *think* you need permission, but I am not eternally secure about it.

Tim Batchelor said...


I have been thinking about just what dog the Landmarkists have in this hunt to keep pressing the issue. Maybe their issue is that they cannot cooperate in appointing missionaries who are not duly authorized. This may be an all or nothing sort of thing for them. I cannot figure out any other rational motivation. Can you think of something else?


I cannot offer an ammendment to the baptism policy. My recommendation would be to rescind the baptism policy. My credentials as a card carrying fundamentalist are impeccable yet I do not acccept the rationale that the baptism in question constitutes a violation of the BF&M. If it does then there are a multitude of otherwise conservative churches here in Georgia who think they subscribe to the BF&M apparently do not when they accept baptism from various other denominations under question. I believe the policy is divisive and serves no real purpose in our calling to carry out the Great Commission.

(You might want to read back on this blog to the discussion with Herschael York on this question. There is an extended amount of both church and baptist history along with exegesis on the subject.)


Joel Rainey said...


Glad to see you are finding your way around in this new world!

You ask Tom why the Baptism guideline should be rescinded. YOu ask "why not ammended?"

Honestly, as one who opposes the guideline, I have no interest in ammending anything that I feel re-directs the Biblical focus and meaning of Baptism from faith in Jesus Christ to affirmation of a "the system of belief of Southern Baptists." Any policy that does this, quite frankly, is not worthy of ammendment.

Although I do not believe any of you intended to do so, you have disregarded the Biblical purpose of Baptism. According to this guideline, a person's Scripturally sound immersion in a church that may question eternal security is not valid, regardless of the fact that it meets every Scriptural requirement as delineated by our BFM statement on baptism. Thererfore, their baptism, which was a testimony to salvation through Jesus Christ, must now be supplanted by a "non-Baptism" that symbolizes affirmation of "the system of belief held by Southern Baptist Churches."

And since Baptism is a metaphor for conversion, you have given both our churches and the culture they are attempting to reach a distorted understanding of the Gospel. The "white paper" publicly released only further substantiates this.

As far as the other three points, you have my agreement. But we need to trust our SBC churches to judge the Biblical validity of a persons baptism. But the indexing of "eternal security" to the validity of a person's baptism has absolutely no exegetical basis. Therefore, there can be no ammendment to this, only a recinding.

I don't presume to speak for Tom (he can more than handle that on his own), but this would be the way I would answer your question. I want to do more than give "valid criticism," but it has to start with rescinding extra-Biblical requirements that run the risk of requiring people to do anti-Biblical things to be appointed.

Jerry Corbaley said...

Tim and Joel,

Tom Hatley told me today he is excited about the level of interest in doctrine and our Biblical basis. So am I.

Both of you are willing to engage in open discussion. I wish I had the time. Truly. I have every confidence that I would learn as much, or more, than I could teach.

There is a desperate need for many trustees to be involved in these discussions.

Please forgive me for begging out of the discussion for now. I wish there was time. Just thought I would stick my nose in to see if it would get lopped off.

I am surprised, but very pleased, with the vast majority of people I am meeting in the blogosphere.

Wes Kenney said...

At the risk of triggering an avalanche of text from gene (for whom I have great respect), I have to say for what feels like the hundredth time that I just don't see how this violates local church autonomy. No church is being dictated to here. Candidates are told that if they weren't baptized in accordance with the guideline that they should seek to be. But the IMB's policy, firmly in place since November, did not prevent Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma from affirming the baptism of a woman about whom their pastor blogged within the last few weeks.

Should God call her to the mission field, she would have to seek to be baptized according to the policy, but none of that prevents her from seeking another avenue for service or from enjoying all the priveliges and responsibilities of full membership in the cooperating SBC church that has, by its autonomous decision, accepted her as a member.

I must admit that reading over the words "baptized according to the policy" above do have the effect of making me slightly uneasy, but I still don't see autonomy being violated here.

Wes Kenney said...

That should be "Emmanuel" in my post above. I HATE it when I do that. I've been in that church, for crying out loud!

GeneMBridges said...

No church is being dictated to here. Candidates are told that if they weren't baptized in accordance with the guideline that they should seek to be.

Yes, these are candidates whose baptism has been accepted by a local church already and who have been serving said church for 3 years. This presupposes that the IMB's judgment supercedes that of the local churches.

Who is first entity to which the candidate will apply for rebaptism? Answer: The local church who recommended them. If that church refuses, the candidate is being told to look elsewhere for a different church, one that will go along with the IMB. Ergo, the IMB is setting itself over the judgment of the local churches.

I'd add that they are being told to rebaptize for an allegedly unbiblical baptism. However, they are being rebaptized for an unbiblical reason. So we have a case where they are being rebaptized for not one but possibly two unbiblical reasons.

The IMB Board has no right to tell a local church that its baptisms are unacceptable or that baptisms it accepts are unacceptable in any manner that exceeds the common confessions of the denomination or the local church confessions.

The onus is not simply on the candidate. Once again, Dagg addressed this. His words are quite prophetic.

"If baptism is a prerequisite to membership, the church is not at liberty to throw the entire responsibility of the question on the candidate or the administrator."

The same must be said of the board. The Board is imposing its will on the churches. The Board has no right to do that for the same reason no local church has that right.

The Board cannot baptize or rebaptize, precisely because it is not a local church. The churches authorize the board, not vice versa. This policy insinuates that a baptism accepted by one of the churches is not acceptable.

The ecclesiology that lies behind this also says that missions activity is the duty of the local they have to abandon that principle in order to craft the policy and use a missions board to establish it.

The local church, not the denomination, has the authority to baptize and to determine the validity of a member's baptism.

Wes Kenney said...

As avalanches go, that wasn't too bad. ;-)

I really do appreciate your thoughts, Gene, I just don't agree in this case. The IMB must have some standards by which to judge a candidate's baptism. You would say that the BF&M takes care of that, and I may or may not agree. But that is immaterial to this question, as there are churches who cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention who probably can't even spell BF&M (figuratively speaking). Their guidelines for membership make you wonder why they even want to be a Southern Baptist church, but they are. The BF&M (any version) has no relation to their membership policies. I personally know of a church whose members' baptisms run the gamut from Church of Christ to paedobaptist churches to no baptism at all because their conscience tells them it isn't necessary. All members, mind you, of a Southern Baptist church. Surely you wouldn't argue that the IMB has no right to question someone from that church about their baptism before supporting them with the funds of all Southern Baptists.

Tim Batchelor said...

This is an interesting discussion because in virtually every other case the board judges the candidate's beliefs. With regard to baptism they judge baptizing agency's beliefs. Interestingly, I wonder what they would do with my hypothetical teenager who baptized his friend and whose baptism Wade Burleson said he would accept?

The policy also seems to create a curious situation in that if the candidate's own local church refuses to rebaptize him He or she e is forced to join another church through baptism before he/she can be appointed since baptism is in their view only a local church ordinance that is coincident with membership. (It would seem that one church could not baptize someone into membership of another church.)