I am beginning to wonder if a really big part of this whole controversy related to the IMB and private prayer language roots back to different understandings of the concepts “neo-pentecostal practices” and “clear Baptist identity.”
In a comment string on a May 28 post on Robin Foster’s blog, entitled Who is Going to Draw the Line?, I engaged IMB trustee Jerry Corbaley in a dialogue regarding a statement made there. In order to avoid making this post longer than it already is, I will reproduce here only what I consider to be the most relevant portions of our dialogue (please read the entire dialogue in its original context here, if you so desire).
Jerry Corbaley: The following is from the Report of the Mission Personnel Ad Hoc Committee, May 2007 regarding the new guideline on glossolalia.
“The Ad Hoc Committee has concluded that even though field related data and consultation with regional leaders has not indicated a systemic problem with charismatic practices among field personnel, the rapid spread of neo-pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.”
The impetus for the guideline is not the scope of public practice of current IMB personnel. The impetus for the guideline is the importance of having missionaries who can make disciples in a context that often includes neo-pentecostal pressures. This type of confrontation can be difficult to confront and difficult to endure. It is similar to what Brother Robin is enduring from many of you. It is unlikely that missionaries who practice assertions of glossolalia (even in “private”) will be highly motivated to oppose such practices publicly.
As direct evidence that this is so; how many people who are publicly speaking in favor of the IMB guideline decision also assert they practice glossolalia? How can one confront another’s public expression of one’s own private practice?
The Great Commission is a call to make disciples, not just converts. In the context of church planting movements, whole future national denominations are forming extremely rapidly, and this includes their doctrine. Our missionaries who are able to be involved in this unprecedented movement of God’s Spirit must be motivated towards doctrine and reproof and correction and training in righteousness. A potential conflict of interest is unappealing to the IMBoT.
David Rogers: I hope I am not interpreting you correctly on this, but in your comment…you seem to indicate that there is an expectation on the part of IMB trustees that missionaries publicly oppose and confront “neo-pentecostal” practices on the mission field.
Perhaps, in your use of the term “neo-pentecostal” practices, you are referring to blatant heresy. It would be helpful for me to know just what you mean by this.
If not, you, as I understand it, are asking for IMB missionaries to be agents of division and strife around the world. It is not enough to believe what cessationist Southern Baptists believe, and quietly go on with our business of making disciples. We must also be ready and willing to publicly oppose and confront those who believe and practice differently on third-tier doctrinal issues.
Please tell me I am not understanding you correctly on this.
Jerry Corbaley: It is the expectation of the IMBoT that IMB missionaries attempt to make disciples of the nations who represent the clear Baptist identity of the SBC. You will find that it is the expectation of the SBC that their missionaries make disciples who represent the clear Baptist identity of the SBC. The IMB and SBC are not embarrassed with who they are…
The IMBoT and the SBC want to send the best personnel possible. The IMB and the SBC believe that missionaries with a commitment to a clear Baptist identity should be sent and that candidates with an unclear Baptist identity should seek to serve Christ in an organization that more closely represents their own faith.
David Rogers: In order for me to respond with any accuracy to the questions you pose in your last comment to me, I will need you first to define what you understand by the terms “neo-pentecostal practices” and “clear Baptist identity.” Otherwise, I am afraid we may be “talking at each other” without any clear and real communication.
Jerry Corbaley: I ask the readers of this comment stream to demonstrate their understanding of “neo-pentecostal practice” and “clear Baptist identity” in the context of the Report of the IMB Ad Hoc Committee.
My opinion is only one opinion. The terms communicate well. I am not interested in undermining the glossolalia guideline by cooperating with efforts that “cast doubt on the whole by focusing doubt on a perceived weak link”…
You do not need my definitions to explain your thinking.
If you insist on an official IMB definition of what is meant by the terms; find a trustee who is interested in launching a multi-year effort to bring the usage of the terms to a vote at an IMB meeting.
David Rogers: I am very sorry, but I must voice my disagreement on “the terms communicate well.” I have a sincere doubt as to exactly what you mean by these terms. You were the one who used them. I am merely asking you to clarify what you meant when you used them.
As to “asking our missionaries to be agents of division and strife around the world,” I clearly stated on the comment in which I used that phrase that I only considered that to be the case if, by “neo-pentecostal practices” you meant something other than blatant heresy. I am now asking you to confirm if that is the case or not…
Once again, I am not trying to be nit-picky here. These are honest questions I have that really do influence how I might respond to the questions & observations you make here.
Jerry Corbaley: We may also have a different opinion regarding your use of the phrase “nit-picky”.
I should make clear that it is not my intent here nor has it ever been to defend “neo-pentecostalism.” I do not consider myself to be “neo-pentecostal,” nor do I consider many teachings and practices often linked with the term “neo-pentecostal” to be biblically correct. The problem for me with the argumentation of Dr. Corbaley is the lack of precision in defining our terms. Although some may make a technical distinction between the terms “neo-pentecostal” and “charismatic,” many consider them to be synonyms. The problem is, neither one of these terms has a precise definition that is accepted across the board by everyone. I am afraid that, due to this, we may well find ourselves in situations in which we may be tempted and/or led to “throw out the baby with the bath-water.” In order to illustrate, I refer to a comment I made on another post on Bart Barber’s blog (read here to catch the entire context)…
Also, I imagine there are many different understandings out there of what constitutes "charismatic missions." Some might say that PPL, in and of itself, is already "charismatic." Some might say prayer-walking is "charismatic." Some might say raising hands in public worship is "charismatic." Some might say believing God could speak to you in a dream is "charismatic." Some might say bringing sick people to the front during a worship service to pray that they may get healed is "charismatic." Some might say Neil Anderson's approach to spiritual warfare is "charismatic." Etc., etc. On each one of these items, if we were to make it a litmus test, we would no doubt eliminate a few more workers.
I suppose we could eventually whittle the mission force down to a "squeaky-clean" group with no charismatically suspect issues at all. Would we than have a better corps of IMB missionaries? Perhaps some might think so. But, I would be willing to bet that the majority of Southern Baptists would not be pleased with the end result. And, I believe personally we would also sacrifice a whole lot of effectiveness on the field in working to see the task of fulfilling the Great Commission accomplished. Is it really worth it?
“Clear Baptist indentity”
I believe the lack of precision in the use of the term “clear Baptist identity” may lead to consequences just as serious as those related to the term “neo-pentecostal practices.” I wish to make clear here also that I am in total agreement with the idea that the Southern Baptist Convention has every prerogative to expect that those who receive funds from the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering be compatible in their beliefs and practices with those who are giving their money in good faith that such is indeed the case.
The term “Baptist,” in and of itself, however, has different connotations for different people. The doctrines and practices of those answering to the name “Baptist” run the gamut from the most extreme liberal to the most extreme fundamentalist understandings of Christianity.
Some have suggested as a guideline specifically for Southern Baptists the Baptist Faith & Message. In general, I believe there is a lot of merit to this suggestion. The BF & M is indeed the closest approximation of what we have in codified, officially sanctioned form of the expectations of Southern Baptists regarding the beliefs and practices of those it supports. The problem is, when we try to put this into practice in an inflexible, comprehensive manner, the consequences may end up being contrary to the composite will of the believers and churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention.
Case in point: I have made it no secret that I am personally in disagreement with a phrase in the Baptist Faith and Message that seems to mandate the belief and practice of “closed communion.” Because of this, I signed my affirmation of the BF & M, with a caveat expressing my discrepancy with this one phrase. In doing so, I have placed my doctrinal compatibility with continued service through the International Mission Board up for scrutiny of those who pay my salary. If the majority of Southern Baptists really believe my belief on this particular issue ought to disqualify me from service with the International Mission Board, I will see it as my ethical obligation to seek out service with another missionary agency more compatible with my personal beliefs. However, I am not convinced that such is the case.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary doctoral candidate, church historian, and blogger Nathan Finn, despite being one of the most eloquent defenders of “closed” or “close communion” in Baptist life today (see here), states here, in relation to what he calls “modified open communion” (the view advocated by myself and Wade Burleson): “I think it is probably the majority practice (or at least a VERY common practice) among contemporary Southern Baptists.”
Of course, some kind of official statistical survey would be necessary to determine if Finn’s supposition is really accurate or not. It has recently been shown, for example, that suppositions regarding the majority view of Southern Baptists are not always accurate. On May 29, Jerry Corbaley made the following statement:
The IMBoT has defined glossolalia. I am confident that about 95% of Southern Baptists would agree with that definition. That would be 19 out of every 20 people.
Perhaps this is a good place to start. Someone needs to research what Southern Baptists believe about glossolalia. I do not think the advocates of glossolalia are aware of the magnitude of effort they will have to make. This will take years, and require some purposeful planning.
If the vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with the definition of glossolalia that the IMB has adopted (for internal application only), then the tiny minority who advocates glossolalia have a monumental task. You will have to convince the vast majority. I doubt that rhetoric alone will succeed.
Three days later, on June 1, Lifeway Research released the results of its study on the use of private prayer language that demonstrates Corbaley’s estimates to be way off target. We see here the problems involved with a small group of people, such as the IMB Board of Trustees, making arbitrary assumptions on what they consider to be “clear Baptist identity.” What they, or some of them, consider to be “clear” may not in the end turn out to be so clear after all.
What concerns me most of all, as I have pointed out before here, is a concerted effort to define and codify “clear Baptist identity” in a way that goes beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, and pass it off as the “kosher” version of the composite expectations of Southern Baptists regarding beliefs and practices of those they support with their financial contributions. While it may well be true that there are a significant number of Southern Baptists who see the championing of Baptist distinctives and denominationalism as a cause worth defending, it is my contention that there are a significant number of Southern Baptists (whether a majority or minority I will leave it up to Lifeway Research to determine) who, though in general agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message, do not at the same time consider it the duty of Cooperative Program-funded employees to defend the Baptist Renaissance movement and publicly oppose the beliefs and practices of other evangelical Christians who happen to differ from us as Southern Baptists on secondary and tertiary issues.
Since most Christians in China today have discarded the former denominational structures and are now united on the local level, the reintroduction of denominations would only be divisive and a hindrance to evangelization. Nothing should be done to disturb the peace of our brethren.
(See also Statement of Faith of Chinese House Churches)
Neither do I believe the majority of Southern Baptists expect me as a missionary to “publicly oppose” the beliefs and practices of other Great Commission Christians around the world who don’t happen to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ just like we do as Southern Baptists.
Actually, I believe most Southern Baptists are in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message when it says:
Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.
I personally think it is important for me to be in line with the expectations of Southern Baptists who send me out and pay my salary as a missionary. I, at the same time, however, believe that most Southern Baptists, while not relegating crucial evangelical doctrine to an irrelevant status, are more interested in the fulfilment of the Great Commission than they are the advance and eventual hegemony of the Baptist Renaissance. If I can be shown I am wrong about this, I will, in good conscience, need to find another missionary agency with which to serve.