And the Baptist world is shaken to its core with this stunning revelation…
Before I go into my reasons why not, let me first say how much I appreciate the statement. After the subterfuge of last year's Garner Motion ploy, it appears that Wade Burleson's movement is finally ready to bring to our convention a straightforward presentation of the key disputed issues. Good for them. We can hold different opinions and still conduct an honest debate. Here are some of the reasons why I hope that they do not succeed.
Reasons Why I Do Not Support the "Time to Change" Statement
"Time to Change" really stands for "Time Not to Change a Doggoned Thing." The authors of the statement invite us to take a tour of the Potemkin village that they've erected within the IMB. There we see that the IMB, with thousands of faithful missionaries, has no doctrinal problems whatsoever, even within such a large entity. Every missionary is thoroughly orthodox and is Baptist to the core. The administration of the IMB is forthright and honest. The finances of the IMB are transparent and well-managed. The only problem plaguing the IMB, it seems from reading the statement, is a group of hyperactive troublemakers who have advanced these two problem policies.
Unfortunately for the authors of the statement, the pasteboard façades on the banks of the Dnieper have long ago fallen down to reveal what is behind:
- A book produced by IMB personnel and championed by the administration at the highest levels has had to be revised multiple times to restore basic Christian orthodoxy to the book (by removing the Modalism inherent to earlier versions) and to keep IMB evangelistic practice in line with basic Christian ethics (by not lying to Muslims in an effort to convert them). None of these problems were pointed out within the IMB structure, but changes only took place when people outside the IMB pointed them out loudly and persistently enough.
- Although these former IMB trustees want to tell us what champions of the BF&M they are ("BFM 2000 - a statement that we affirm as conservative Southern Baptists as the standard for IMB missionaries"), anyone who has even casually followed Southern Baptist blogging for the past two years knows that some of these trustees gladly consented to at least one trustee and at least one missionary stating explicit disagreement with the BF&M yet continuing in their positions of service. One of the advocates of this statement was precisely the person in charge of new trustee orientation when the caveat was granted. Where was the fabled and storied commitment of these trustees to the BF&M when those decisions were being made? Where was their commitment to the idea that the convention messengers and the local churches ought to make doctrinal decisions on behalf of the convention? Their real philosophy is revealed in their actions: Nobody but the convention ought to be able to enforce policies beyond the BF&M, but small groups or individuals ought to be able to set aside portions of the BF&M without seeking the consent of the convention or even notifying the convention of what is going on. That's what we mean by the "maximal" view of the BF&M: Nobody can go beyond it, but behind-closed-door winks and nods can waive articles by fiat and murder our statement of faith by the death of a thousand cuts.
- Just last week the blogosphere was alive with an IMB missionary's controversial statement that Mormon baptism can constitute valid Christian baptism.
- Louis Moore's book (just out this week) is a troubling revelation of IMB administration efforts to manipulate and circumvent trustee oversight.
In the light of these items that have taken place in the plain view of every interested observer, it is impossible for me to agree with a group whose goal is an emasculated trustee board of sycophants. In contrast to my friend Alan Cross's beliefs ("IMB trustees should return to their role as the chief supporters of the missionaries on the field, instead of their perceived current role as suspicious managers"), I do not think that a board of trustees ought to be a pom-pom festooned band of cheerleaders. If that's all they are, then they are a complete waste of money. Trustees exist to hold the IMB accountable, and while dysfunction is not necessary or helpful, firm resolve and fiduciary seriousness is a necessary part of the job.
I am not convinced by the "Time to Change" statement's assertion that the new guidelines undermine the autonomy of the local church. The authors inform us that the new baptism policy "has placed the board in the position of dictating to local churches what constitutes a legitimate Christian baptism." In their estimation, this constitutes a violation of the cherished Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy, because the IMB is daring to tell a local church that it considers invalid a baptism that the local church has ruled valid. By this definition, local church autonomy includes something like the federal government's "Full Faith and Credit" clause—a local church is not autonomous unless every other local church in the SBC is obligated to accept as valid everything that local church does.
Of course, even the authors of the "Time to Change" statement don't really believe anything that preposterous—it is just a rhetorical argument that sounds good. In the selfsame paragraph these very authors feel quite comfortable in dictating to local churches that baptism must be by immersion and must take place in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Presumably, even if an autonomous local Southern Baptist congregation were to accept Oneness Pentecostal immersion or, as some local Southern Baptist churches have contemplated openly or have done quietly, were to accept sprinkling of infants as valid baptism, our trustees would nonetheless gladly presume in such a circumstance to override that church's determination and dictate to a local Southern Baptist congregation what is or is not Christian Baptism (Or would they? Two weeks ago I would have made bold statements that we were all agreed on the invalidity of Mormon baptism).
If the issue at play here is one of local church autonomy, then what is the difference between rejecting local congregational judgment regarding the rightful administrator of baptism versus rejecting local congregational judgment regarding the rightful mode of baptism or the rightful spoken formula of baptism? No valid answer comes to mind. And that's because this question has absolutely not one thing to do with local church autonomy.
Rather, we must acknowledge that local church autonomy consists of something akin to "freedom of speech" plus something akin to "freedom of association." My local church can affirm, denounce, practice, abstain from, support, or defund whatever we wish, and there's nothing that the SBC or the IMB can do about it. But one function of my church's autonomy is the fact that we get to choose with which churches and how we will partner for various tasks. In the SBC we make those decisions collectively through our annual meeting and the governing structures that we select and authorize through that meeting. Unless and until the SBC gains the authority to hire and fire our personnel or to buy or sell our property, no decision that the SBC or its entities make can ever imperil the autonomy of our local church. And the local churches that constitute the SBC are free to determine both the bounds of their fellowship and their criteria for employment of missionaries or any other thing.
I am not convinced by the the "Time to Change" statement's theory of restricting IMB policies to strictly the primary doctrines identified in the Bible. The statement urges us to consider carefully that "the Bible at no point raises [the] issue [of so-called private prayer language] to a matter of primary doctrinal importance." Well, of course it doesn't. That's a tautology.
The Bible doesn't mention "private prayer language" at all, nor does the Bible categorize doctrines into matters of "primary doctrinal importance" versus other doctrines, unless our sagacious trustees are directing us to 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. And if they are, then they must concede that the list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 of doctrines "of first importance" is pretty sparsely populated. The doctrine of the Trinity isn't in there. The doctrine of immersion is not in there—baptism isn't in there at all. So, if our former trustees are only interested in enforcing the doctrines listed in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, then we're going to have a pretty minimalist set of guidelines for missionary appointment, but if they have some other list of primary doctrines in mind, then they must concede that "the Bible at no point raises [any of the other issues that our trustees enforce as policies] to a matter of primary doctrinal importance."
See, I just thought that we were supposed to teach new converts to obey all that Jesus commanded us, not to make lists of Bible doctrines that aren't important enough for us to try to impart them.
What the Southern Baptist people have to do, I guess, is to decide whether we believe that "Sheelrbaoehatoanta" is a grand utterance of divine origin. And if we cannot, then we'll have to determine whether our inability to achieve obedience to Christ at that point does or does not rise to such a level of importance as to prevent us from working together on those points at which we have reached agreement. The answer to that second question will probably depend upon how aggressive the Pentecostals among us will be in advancing their doctrines and practices. But this will be a practical question, and the adherents to this statement ought to stop pretending that there's some list of primary doctrines in the Bible from which our trustees must not stray.
I expect the East Coast political activists advancing this statement to bring measures to Indianapolis for the Southern Baptist Convention to consider. This is a critical year for them, for they will not have a committee structure and platform stacked so friendly toward them again anytime soon. Action has taken place this year "accidentally" to exclude duly elected conservatives from the governmental processes of the SBC by "inadvertently" failing to send them information forwarded to all other members of committees and boards and other groups until after the insiders had already finalized action. There's a deliberate effort underway at this moment to skew the SBC political process in favor of these measures. Those kinds of actions can only succeed for so long, and next week is the last, best moment of opportunity.
It is important for conservative Southern Baptists to go to Indianapolis. It is important to pay attention. Beware of vaguely worded motions or resolutions. If you aren't 100% sure what the wording of a motion or resolution means, if you aren't 100% sure that you recognize who is bringing forward a motion or resolution and what they are trying to accomplish by it, and especially if you see that any item of business before the convention is being disputed or debated, then you have a responsibility to the church that sent you and the Lord who saved you to inform yourself before you vote. I recommend that you bookmark SBC Today in your Internet browser and check it frequently next week, because this premier SBC informational blog will be providing comprehensive analysis of the convention as it unfolds.