The next question in Grudem’s list of questions we should ask when trying to determine For What Doctrinal and Ethical Matters Should Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries? is:
5. PERCEPTION OF IMPORTANCE AMONG GOD’S PEOPLE: Is there increasing consensus among the leaders and members that this matter is important enough that the false teaching should be explicitly denied in a doctrinal statement?
There is no doubt, as I pointed out on my recent post on The Latest Edition of the Florida Baptist Witness and PPL, that the issue of PPL seems to be becoming more and more important in the eyes of many Southern Baptists. However, as I was also trying to point out in the same article, I do not believe that this is because “rank and file” Southern Baptists, by in large, really care that much about what missionary candidates do or don’t do in their private prayer closet, just as long they love the Lord, are “in the Word,” and are men and women of prayer.
From everything I can tell, this is a classic example of a “media event,” that is, something that comes to gain importance in the minds of the general public, not so much because of the issue in and of itself, as much as because of the inordinant amount of attention given to it in the media.
To be sure, some might argue that the whole issue of PPL, as it relates to the IMB, would be a complete non-issue in Southern Baptist life today, if it were not for the blogging of Wade Burleson. And I will be the first to concede that there may indeed be an element of truth behind this assertion.
When I, for example, as an IMB missionary, first heard about the new policies, I was disheartened. In communication related to recent decisions by the Board of Trustees, as noted previously on this blog, I had previously sensed a trend towards narrowing of parameters, and a tendency towards what I considered to be defining and protecting “denominational turf” on the mission field. The new policies on PPL and baptism, were to me, when I first heard about them, just one more step in the same direction.
It was reading Wade’s blog, however, that helped me to “put a finger” on something about which I had sensed an uneasy feeling inside for some time. The amount of attention these issues have since garnered in the blogosphere is, for me, a definite confirmation that the feelings I was experiencing were not limited to just an isolated few.
The real issues, as I understand it, however, have never been PPL and the appropriate administrator of baptism, in and of themselves. If it had not been for the decisions at the IMB, I am quite convinced that discussion over these third-tier doctrinal issues would have never occupied even 10% of the space on the Baptist blogosphere and Baptist press that they have in this past year. The result of all this attention, nonetheless, has been that many, who had been relatively indifferent beforehand, have come to voice, and, in some cases, forcefully defend, an opinion one way or another on these issues.
All this brings me back to Grudem’s original question: Is there increasing consensus among the leaders and members that this matter is important enough that the false teaching should be explicitly denied in a doctrinal statement?
In the first place, I would say that no, there is not anything close to a “consensus” among Southern Baptists that PPL and so-called “alien immersion” are to be regarded as “false teaching.” These are matters on which there exists a divergence of ideas and opinions among Southern Baptists.
Admittedly, Southern Baptists have not, in general, been supportive of the “Charismatic movement,” and there are many who would seem to have something of an emotional aversion towards anything that even “smacks” of Pentecostalism. It is precisely for this reason, I believe, that some of those who have been the prime movers behind the new policy on PPL, for whatever motive they may have, have sought to publicly vilify PPL as essentially equivalent to “Charismatic extremes.” A perfect example of this can be seen in the recent articles of the Florida Baptist Witness.
The argument defending the new policy on baptism is a little harder sell. There may be certain congregations or regions of the country where Landmarkist or Neo-Landmarkist ideas may hold some emotional sway. But, if I understand anything about religious trends, the “consensus” among Southern Baptists, while a long way from anything remotely close to abandoning the biblical doctrine of believers’ baptism, does not, at the same time, support us becoming more and more denominationally narrow in our ecclesiology and general focus.
For some reason, however, there appears to be a smaller group within the power structures of the SBC that wants to speak for Southern Baptists on second and third-tier issues. At the same time, there is a big group of “rank and file” members of typical Southern Baptist churches who are not completely sure what they think on these issues. As a result, there is an attempt on the part of some to tell them what they should think. They would like for us to believe there is indeed a “consensus” among Southern Baptists supporting their ideas, and if you are smart, you will get on the bandwagon. But I, for one, am far from convinced that such is really the case.