Thursday, March 09, 2006

Under What Banner?

From my point of view, a good bit of the disparity of views brought out by recent developments related to the IMB Board of Trustees hinges upon the approach one takes to the following paragraph in BoT Chairman Tom Hatley’s recent letter to SBC pastors:

After all, these special leaders will be representing Southern Baptists while they are starting churches in the field that are also distinctively Baptist. They will be financially supported by Southern Baptists. Therefore, we are right to expect their ministries to be more in line with our heritage and doctrinal core than those of other denominations or belief systems. We are not an ecumenical movement, determined to send anyone who wants to go to the field. We are Baptists, and therefore we are only sending Baptists.

Upon reading this paragraph, on the surface it seems reasonable. By human standards, it almost certainly is reasonable. However, by biblical standards, I am not sure that it passes the test of obedience to God and conformity to his will.

As a missionary, I consider that I am sent out first and foremost in obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission. Nowhere in the Great Commission (nor in other parts of the Bible) do I read "Go ye therefore and start Baptist churches". Nor is the Great Commission, as I understand it, given exclusively to Baptist churches (unless, of course, you are Landmarkist, and regard only Baptist churches to be true churches). The Great Commission is given to the Church, the Body of Christ, made up of born-again believers down through the centuries from every nation, culture, ecclesiological background, and denomination.

Yes, we are Baptists, because we agree on a certain set of biblical doctrines based upon our common interpretation and acceptance of the Word of God. And yes, we cooperate together with other like-minded churches in our missionary efforts, because we believe that is a wise stewardship of the resources God has commended to us. Also, as good stewards, we try to ensure the missionaries we send out are doctrinally sound, and faithful to the teaching of the Word of God.

Although it doesn’t say it directly, Hatley’s paragraph seems to imply that we are sending out missionaries, as it were, "under the banner" of Southern Baptists. Biblically, I think it would be more correct to say we, as Southern Baptists, are doing our part to cooperate with the Church around the world to fulfill the Great Commission, "under the banner" of Jesus alone.

I would agree with Hatley that we are not an "ecumenical movement", if what he means by that is an attempt to work towards an organizational union of all the different local churches and denominations. However, if the implication is that, as Baptists, we do not worry much about the unity of the Body of Christ at large, and how we can better join hands with other believers around the world to work together at fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave to all of us, I am not sure if I can in good conscience "sign on" to that vision.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

David,

Thank you for this post. As a missionary in the 10-40 window, working with born again believers from other sending agencies, also working with born again ex. pat. church members to try to reach a closed people group, what I am reading leads me to only one conclusion, I must stop working with anyone except Southern Baptists. Or, I must assert myself and "take over" the partnership we have worked for so many years to build in case the BoT of the IMB think that the New Testament churches we are jointly trying to plant are not "Baptist" enough for their Western influenced, culturally inappropriate (to our field) perception of a New Testament Church.

How soon will we revert to how Southern Baptist missionaries were viewed by so many for so long, uncooperative, stand-offish, lone rangers! The new cooperation being seen on the field is having good results, but our BoT seem determined to undermine that progress.

steve w said...

Anonymous,
Thank you for your comment. You and others like you that have been willing to speak up are informing many So Baptists that there is "trouble in paradise" (Richmond) that has been hidden from the SBC at large. The trouble, as I am hearing it, is not problem M's on the field, but a culture of fear, threats, and cross-cultural ignorance propagated by the IMB BoT. I'm sure there are many good and faithful men and women sitting on that Board. But there are also some sitting on that Board that grieve me, and many others. There are also men in our convention that can only be called busybodies meddling in the affairs of the IMB in a way that undermines the direction and leadership of Dr. Rankin, and his staff, and in a way that is an affront to SBC polity.

All I can say to you, and any other M's willing to do so, keep speaking up. We are hearing you, and want to work towards helping you fulfill your God-given calling with the support and encouragement you deserve.

Ben Stratton said...

Bro. David,

This is off topic a little, but what do you think your father would think of these new IMB guidelines? As local Baptist pastor in my area, who was on staff at Bellevue Baptist Church told me that Bellevue did not receive alien baptism, but required non-Baptist believers to be baptized to join. Is this true?

David Rogers said...

Ben,

You've got a valid question there. In one sense, this blog is not about my father's views. But, in another, especially since I have in some sense tried to "ride my father's coattails" in my letter to the Trustees, I feel I owe you an honest answer to this question.

I never really talked much that I can remember with my Dad about the issue of "alien baptism". Since I have been in Spain for the last 16 years, I am not totally up on what the policy at Bellevue has been either. It is quite possible that, as your pastor friend says, at least some non-Baptist, and previously baptized believers, were asked to be rebaptized in order to join Bellevue. I can look into the specifics.

What I do feel quite confident about, however, is that my father would not have been in favor of the IMB over-riding the local churches who do accept "alien baptism" (I can't help thinking of little green men when I hear that term). Once again, I never had the opportunity to talk to him about this specific question, but based on everything else I know about him, I am convinced that would be his view.

I do know that my mother was saved and baptized as a child in a Christian (Disciples of Christ) church, and upon later joining a Baptist church, was required to be re-baptized. She, at that time submitted to that requirement, but to this day she tells me that she considers her true baptism to be the first one in the Christian church.

David Rogers said...

Ben,

Also, I forgot to add that, in the spirit of my "Coming Clean" post, I perhaps ought to add that I have not always agreed with my father on every detail of doctrine and practice. He is my hero, and I do agree with 99% of what he believed and taught. But it is entirely possible that I differ with what he would have thought on some of the nuances of the "alien baptism" question.

Wade Burleson said...

David,

I really admire your courage, insight and wisdom.

Some great things are happening through the work of our missionaries within the International Mission Board.

In fact, our work is the greatest it has been in our 161 year history.

Thank you for reminding us that ultimately our job back home is to support our missionaries in different cultures around the world.

I am praying and working toward the time in the United States when we can stop emphasizing the trivial and trivializing the essentals.

With your help, and others, we will get there.

In His Grace,


Wade

GuyMuse said...

Biblically, I think it would be more correct to say we, as Southern Baptists, are doing our part to cooperate with the Church around the world to fulfill the Great Commission, "under the banner" of Jesus alone...if the implication is that, as Baptists, we do not worry much about the unity of the Body of Christ at large, and how we can better join hands with other believers around the world to work together at fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave to all of us, I am not sure if I can in good conscience "sign on" to that vision.

Well stated. We are truly in this great mission together and need all of the Body of Christ working as One to fulfill the GC. None of us by ourselves can get the job done without joining arms with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the fields of harvest.

The perceived differences between us are simply not great enough to merit distancing ourselves from our "hermanos." We have more in common with most GCCs than we have differences. The differences I have found are so minimal as to not merit more than friendly teasing between us.