Jan. 24, 2006
Dear IMB Trustee:
After much prayer and thought, I have decided to write and express my concerns to each of you regarding the developments at the IMB which have been in the news recently. I am writing, first of all, as a missionary of the IMB, who having dedicated 16 years of his life to ministry in Spain, has a lot of investment at stake in the future direction of the IMB. I am also writing as the son of Adrian Rogers, with a sense of stewardship of the heritage I have received, as well as concern for a God-honoring and accurate representation and application of my father’s spiritual legacy. I can only wish my Dad were here today to share his wisdom and leadership skills in relation to the situations we are presently facing. It is impossible for me to know exactly how he would have responded regarding each detail concerned. I do, however, believe I knew my Dad well enough to give a general approximation of what he may have thought regarding these issues. At the same time, I acknowledge that each of us is ultimately accountable to God, and our understanding of His will in the light of His inspired Word, and not to the opinions or memory of any fallible human being.
Having said that, I must say now that I am concerned with what seems to me to be a general direction on the part of the Board of Trustees, much of which I have only recently been made aware. It would seem to me that much of the ground gained for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom through the "conservative resurgence" in the SBC, in which my father played such an integral role, is in danger of being commandeered in a new, more extreme direction.
Specifically in regards to the direction of the IMB, I believe some very helpful adjustments in focus and parameters have been made in the wake of the "conservative resurgence". We, as Southern Baptists, have been able to clarify that a steadfast commitment to the authority of God’s Word, and a proper understanding of "all things whatsoever I have commanded you" preclude any a la carte self-styled commitment to "missions" as our bottom line. We, at the same time, have made what I understand to be a greater push towards the evangelization and discipling of all the ethne of the world than ever before. Though we as Southern Baptists are definitely not perfect, and have undoubtedly committed many errors, it is my opinion that God’s blessing has been upon the Southern Baptist mission enterprise in a mighty way during this time.
I also believe that God has used the spiritual and strategic leadership of Jerry Rankin to help us make bold steps of faith, and to open our eyes to what God is doing around us, and to how we, as Henry Blackaby would put it, can "join Him in what He is already doing". After having recently read the book, To the Ends of the Earth, I am not hesitant to say, in the light of 16 years of international missionary service, as well as whatever spiritual insight God may have given me, that I believe that God has given us as Southern Baptists a great gift in Jerry Rankin, and that His blessing and anointing is upon Dr. Rankin’s leadership.
I am especially encouraged by Dr. Rankin’s emphasis that the kingdom of God is broader than the Southern Baptist Convention, and that God’s way of working entails using the entire Body of Christ around the world, with each group and member making their own unique contribution working together in a beautiful kaleidoscope of service to Christ towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I am in agreement that we need to be careful to discern who are our true partners in the glorious task that Jesus has given us, and to not compromise biblical convictions, especially regarding essential doctrine, on the altar of "false unity". I am concerned, however, that there appears to be a drive on the part of some to "rein in" the progress we have made in these areas, giving an undue emphasis on certain points of doctrine, which, in my opinion, are not clearly spelled out in Scripture, and seeking to narrow the parameters of biblical cooperation a few steps beyond the healthy adjustments we had already made.
Specifically, I do not think the recent policy change approved in the November Trustee meeting disqualifying missionary candidates who acknowledge having a "private prayer language" or those who were baptized by immersion as believers outside of a church deemed to be doctrinally compatible with Southern Baptists is a move in the right direction.
I myself do not practice a "private prayer language". However, in the course of my Christian ministry, I have known many fellow servants of Christ who have professed to have had this experience and for whom I have the utmost respect, due to their evident love for Christ, His Word, and His work, as well as sterling Christian character. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this, as there are as well with otherwise perfectly orthodox believers, who do not practice a "private prayer language". At the same time, while I recognize that sincere, godly interpreters of the Word of God take the view that certain supernatural gifts ceased at some time in the past, it seems to me that other equally sincere, godly, and objective interpreters of the Word of God have come to different conclusions.
I personally do not see how putting this new limitation upon Southern Baptist missionary service is going to make a positive difference in our faithfulness to Christ or in our effectiveness in carrying out His Great Commission. It does concern me, though, that some otherwise perfectly qualified candidates for missionary service might be disqualified because of this, especially in light of the previously existing policies limiting public expression of glossalalia and the "persistent emphasis of any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive to the Baptist fellowship".
I also feel that the new policy stating that "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" and that "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" does not have scriptural justification and goes beyond what Southern Baptists have traditionally accepted. Others have already written eloquently, exposing the flaws in Landmarkist ecclesiology. I imagine most, if not all of you, are well familiar with the arguments on both sides of this issue.
I would like, however, to point out the biblical example of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, which leaves the question of any local church "sponsorship" or "supervision" of the baptism very much up in the air. We also have the testimony of the roots of the Anabaptist movement, in which the initial "baptizers" had not yet been scripturally baptized themselves.
I am not saying that those who approved the new policy change on baptism are necessarily sympathetic on the whole towards Landmarkism. However, I do recognize the policy as reflective of at least one "plank" of Landmarkist argumentation, and a "plank" for which I believe there is no biblical basis. And, it concerns me that we, as a denomination, may be making steps in that direction.
Another related issue that is on the minds of all involved has to do with the proposed dismissal of Wade Burleson from the Board of Trustees. Since I was not present during Trustee meetings in order to personally observe Mr. Burleson’s behavior in that setting, I must reserve judgment regarding that. At the same time, I have carefully read through Mr. Burleson’s "blog", and reflected deeply both upon the ideas expressed therein, as well as the tone in which they are expressed. My opinion is that, while Mr. Burleson, just like any of the rest of us is not perfect, and may here or there say things which might be able to be expressed in a more circumspect manner, what I have read there written by Mr. Burleson is a long way from amounting to, in and of itself, "slander", "gossip", "broken trust" or "resistance to accountability".
It would seem to me that if the Trustees are indeed accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, and to the churches which comprise it, then Mr. Burleson acted in good faith making known to those who have the bottom line responsibility for decisions made something of the issues involved behind those decisions. Before the "conservative resurgence", it was frequently argued that many of the various boards and committees of the SBC were out of step with what the majority of Southern Baptists believed, and thus, it was necessary to make Southern Baptists aware of what was going on. In my concise but humble opinion: "what’s good for the goose is good for the gander".
At this point, I would like to reiterate it is impossible for me to know exactly how my father would have addressed each of these points. Each of us is our own person. However, having grown up under the wings of this great man of God who has been so influential in Southern Baptist life, I can honestly say I think that he would be in general agreement with the gist of what I am saying here.
How each of you respond to this is between you and God, taking into consideration your accountability to the SBC as well. I pray God will give you the grace and wisdom to act in a way glorifying to His name and advantageous to the advance of His kingdom.
Your co-laborer in the Harvest,