Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's About Time

It took nearly four months, but today IMB Trustee Chairman Tom Hatley finally released several statements intended to justify the IMB policies/guidelines regarding private prayer language and baptism that were adopted in November. (For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to both of them as policies, even though there is a technical difference between a policy and a guideline.) Not all of these statements have been officially adopted by the IMB Board of Trustees, but they do explain some of the reasoning behind the adoption of these policies. After reading the statements released by Hatley, I can see why the trustees were in no hurry to make any public statements justifying the new policies. An examination of these various statements reveals that, while there may be some historical basis for the new policies, they lack a strong biblical foundation to support them. Also, these policies will ultimately do more to harm our missions efforts than help them.

As a preface to his statements, Hatley issued a two-part open letter, the first part to all Southern Baptists and the second part specifically to Southern Baptist pastors. In this letter he briefly describes the appointment process for missionaries and then goes on to explain why the trustees felt there was a need to address the issues of tongues/prayer language and baptism. Basically, there were two main reasons why the trustees addressed these issues:

  1. There was a lack of uniformity among the subcommittees of the board when they evaluated missionary candidates, particularly in the areas of tongues and baptism. This inconsistency made the work of candidate consultants more difficult.
  2. "At the same time we were receiving concerns from the field, from pastors and others returning from mission trips, and from trustees visiting the field. The concerns were varied, but the three greatest doctrinal concerns were the need for a consistent definition of a local church, a poor understanding of the importance of scriptural baptism and charismatic problems that would intrude into some of our mission work."
There is no doubt that such concerns needed to be dealt with. However, the first concern could have been dealt with fairly easily by developing a uniform means of applying the policies in existence at the time. Instead of imposing overly restrictive new policies, just train the trustees and candidate consultants so they could apply the existing policies in a more uniform manner. The second concern should have been addressed by discussing these issues directly with the missionaries. (This may have been done in some cases, but I am not aware of any trustee or missionary who has said that this was done.) Based on several comments by former and current missionaries, many of these concerns probably stemmed from the fact that churches in other cultures are going to differ from the typical Southern Baptist church here in America in a number of ways, especially related to organization and methodology. But even if these concerns are valid, they cannot be addressed by adopting policies that go beyond the clear teaching of Scripture.

In his open letter Hatley also addresses the speculation that one of the reasons that these policies, especially the one on prayer language, were adopted was somehow to embarrass or injure IMB President Jerry Rankin, who has openly acknowledged practicing a private prayer language. Hatley indicates that it was Rankin himself who requested the board as a whole to address these issues. Hatley is technically correct about this, but his letter does not make it clear that Rankin actively opposed these policies. From what I can tell, Rankin requested that the full board consider these issues so that there could be no mistaking what the official policies were. And as a matter of pure speculation on my part, I believe Rankin thought that the entire board would never vote to adopt such bad policies.

For the sake of brevity, I will reserve my examination of the policies and the position papers that were issued in support of them for a subsequent post. In the meantime, let your voice be heard. Hatley has invited all Southern Baptists to give our feedback on these issues by emailing the trustees at imbtrustees@imb.org. Be sure to express your views there, but also keep contacting individual trustees.


GuyMuse said...

Tim writes...

An examination of these various statements reveals that, while there may be some historical basis for the new policies, they lack a strong biblical foundation to support them. Also, these policies will ultimately do more to harm our missions efforts than help them.

When the IMB "New Directions" went into effect on the field, we went through a long process of rediscovering afresh just what it is the Bible has to say about many eccelesiological issues--baptism in particular.

As we studied what the WORD says, it really sounded pretty simple and straight forward. Where the waters begin to get muddy is when you add in 2000 years of what theologians have said, what books say, what bloggers say, what the official position of the organization says--you get my point...

It seems that what the BoT is going through now is what we on the field got started on back in 1997-present. It is struggling and truly coming to an understanding about what the Bible really has to say about these things. Remove all the externals and what is it that is left?

Anyone caring to read one IMB missionary team's perspective on the whole baptism-authority issue click HERE.

Believe me, as a M team we have spent hours and days examining closely the very issues in the light of what is revealed in the Word of God. I feel strongly about our conclusions, but am certainly open to working with those who differ, we do so everyday!

Hashman said...

I think the IMB must have employed the same "Rapid-Response" Team that the Bush Administration uses.

Tim Sweatman said...


I think one of the biggest concerns people have about these policies is that it appears the trustees did not solicit any feedback from our missionaries. While the trustees have the right to determine policy for the IMB, it would seem to be wise for them to consider the views of those who are on the front lines.


What I can't figure out is if these policies have been under consideration for nearly two years then why were the trustees unable to provide any supporting material until nearly four months after the policies were adopted. And they had to do a rush job to put out any information this soon. I do see one similarity between some trustees and the Bush administration: they do not welcome outside scrutiny.