One of the most referenced (and misinterpreted) quotes of my father, Adrian Rogers, by those who opposed the "Conservative Resurgence" is that SBC seminary professors much teach "whatever they are told to teach. And if we tell them to teach that pickles have souls, then they must teach that pickles have souls!" Of course, the point he was making, and with which I agree, did not have anything to do with whether or not pickles have souls, nor whether or not a small group of people in the SBC ought to be able to dictate what others believe – but rather the need for those who receive their salary from the Cooperative Program to be accountable for their doctrinal views to those who pay their salary: the churches of the SBC.
Not only seminary professors, but also IMB missionaries, NAMB missionaries, and other denominational "employees", in the interest of ethical integrity, should be expected to espouse doctrinal views compatible with the expectations of those who in good faith are giving their money to support their ministries. In the case of cross-cultural missions, however, there is a concurrent need for those responsible for determining whether or not the missionaries are faithfully carrying out the expectations of the Convention to have a good understanding of the contextual nuances that come into play on the mission field.
I would say it is a fairly safe assumption that, among the values Southern Baptists hold near and dear, one is the authority of the Bible, and another is a commitment towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. These two points are non-negotiables for Southern Baptists, and rightly so. However, there is a good bit of church tradition and cultural framework surrounding the way Baptists have traditionally "done church" in the States that does not necessarily translate so easily in other cultural contexts.
A lot has been said lately about supposed expectations on the part of Southern Baptists that IMB missionaries plant "Baptist churches" on the mission field. Without a doubt, Southern Baptists as a whole expect their missionaries to be doctrinally sound. They are not interested in giving their money in order to export heresy around the world. However, whenever the values of biblical authority and commitment to the Great Commission come into conflict with Southern Baptist cultural tradition, I, for one, have enough confidence in the hearts and minds of the bulk of Southern Baptists to believe that they place greater importance on the first two.
In addition to the recent policies passed to limit appointment of new missionaries to those who do not have a "private prayer language" and who have been baptized in a church which embraces "Baptist distinctives", a new story has recently come out regarding the imminent dismissal of an IMB couple in West Africa, supposedly for joining together in a church planting effort with missionaries from the Christian & Missionary Alliance. (Read more from Marty Duren, on The Natural Outworking of Landmark Influence: The D's; and Micah Fries, on A Doctrine that could Lead to Hell).
Perhaps, as has been suggested to me by some, there may be more to this story than meets the eye. I do not want to judge before all the information is out. However, if, as has been alleged, the real reason behind the request for this couple’s resignation is the expectation that they plant specifically "Baptist" churches instead of "baptistic" churches, I don’t think it is right to just remain quiet.
Bear with me now in a little bit of "foolishness" in order to drive home a point…
If, next week, one of the agencies of the SBC passed a policy saying that each of its employees had to believe that pickles have souls, I, for one, would not just sit quietly by and accept that. To begin with, I would find it hard to believe that the majority of Southern Baptists really did go along with this belief. If, however, it became evident that a good proportion of Southern Baptists were really being led to believe that pickles have souls, I would not just quietly accept that either. I would actively try to persuade Southern Baptists the best I knew how that pickles do not have souls. If, however, it were ever to come to the point where I were convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists, after having carefully weighed the information, came to the conclusion that pickles really do have souls, and thus, required that SBC employees should also believe and teach that pickles have souls, my only honest option would be to resign from the IMB, and look for another group with which to serve that more closely aligned with my personal views.
Back to the couple in West Africa. If they are indeed being told that they can no longer be IMB missionaries, just because they feel the best way to fulfill the Great Commission in their part of the world is through partnering with some CMA missionaries to plant "baptistic" churches, I find it hard to believe that the majority of Southern Baptists, if they understood the context of the situation, would go along with this. If, however, it were to appear that the majority of Southern Baptists really were more interested in propagating the Baptist denomination than seeing the Great Commission fulfilled, I would take it upon myself to join with others in reasoning from Scripture that this is not what the Lord would want, with the hope of changing their minds. If, however, the day were ever to come in which Southern Baptists, as a denomination, were to reach the conclusion that they ought to put a higher priority on culturally-based traditions than obedience to the Word of God and commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission, I personally will be left with no other choice than to look for another group with which to serve.