December 2, 2020


idea.jpgThe Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s new guidelines for missionary appointment set the standard for meddling innovation.

Best way to get up to speed on this story is to read this piece from the Oklahoma Baptist Paper: We’re At The Crossroads.

(This post is going to discuss the current controversy regarding the IMB’s new guidelines for missionary appointment. I am, at heart, a convinced credobaptist, and I’m going to discuss baptism as a credobaptist who comes to baptism with a covenant theology framework. Fred Malone has explained that position in detail, so I would ask paedobaptist and sacramentalist commenters to please pass on commenting on the baptism portion of this post. I would prefer to engage Baptists regarding these issues. Thanks.)

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission board has new guidelines for missionary appointment. You can read the old guidelines, and compare them to the new guidelines, at Wade Burleson’s blog.

In short, the previous guidelines stated that the private prayer life of a Christian was not the business of the IMB. The new guidelines say that if you have an ongoing practice of a prayer language, you can’t be an IMB missionary.

The Baptist Faith and Message is completely silent on this issue, and Southern Baptists have coexisted with charismatics in and outside of their churches with virtually no tensions or schisms for decades. A number of SBC leaders, pastors and laypeople have identified with various aspects of the charismatic renewal, and in the last ten years, many SBC churches have taken on a distinctive “charismatic flavor.” Though few advocated speaking in tongues, few made a private prayer language an issue of division in any context.

I know many SBCers who speak in tongues, including IMB missionaries.

On baptism, previous IMB guidelines stated that believer’s baptism by immersion upon profession of faith was Christian baptism. Sacramental baptism and paedobaptism were rejected. Anyone who was immersed in a church of “like faith” could join a Baptist church without rebaptism.

New IMB guidelines state that a missionary must be baptized in a church that agrees not only with non-sacramental believer’s baptism by immersion, but also by a church “that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.” (That’s once saved always saved for you folks in the real SBC.)

The Baptist Faith and Message statement on baptism says:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

The BFM does affirm a belief in eternal security, but does not tie that belief to the meaning of baptism. In other words, professing endorsement of the Southern Baptist understanding of eternal security was not required for baptism. Every SBC church I’ve ever been in would have found such a requirement bizarre.

The BFM statement on baptism is a healthy, Biblical expression of the credobaptist understanding of baptism. It sees immersion in the name of the Trinity as Christian baptism, and does not see baptism as covering a profession of faith in other doctrines where Christian legitimately disagree. For example, there is no implied belief about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, women in ministry or abortion implied in Christian baptism. Baptists baptize on profession of faith, not upon full affirmation of a confession.

The new IMB guidelines not only go beyond the SBC’s own confession, but go well beyond any common Southern Baptist interpretation of scripture. The IMB trustee’s position would reject the baptism of all Pentecostals and all immersed Methodists, CMAs, Campbellites and many independent Baptists. This approaches the Landmarkist position that Southern Baptists rejected in the early part of the twentieth century.

Several aspects of this new situation are particularly disturbing.

I. The IMB trustees who are pushing these changes are well aware that neither position is the position of the majority of Southern Baptists, or of any recent Southern Baptist confession. While the IMB does have an interest in some issues that are not spoken about in confessions, these issues clearly are not “neutral” to Baptist theology. The old guidelines endorsed what Baptists believed could be said- or not said- based on scripture.

Unlike the recent IMB actions that forced all missionaries to sign a revised BFM 2000, this move goes beyond what the convention or its churches have affirmed. In a denomination where the churches are the ultimate authority, this is truly distressing. It is a “top down” policy that will be controversial, and quite likely rejected, in the convention setting.

II. These policies replace an affirmation of Christian baptism with a kind of “Baptist” baptism. Baptism belongs to Jesus. What local church do the IMB trustees speak for in requiring this policy for missionaries? If a local SBC church accepts the baptism of the missionary candidates, by what authority do the IMB trustees send the candidate back as rejected for a “wrong baptism?” Christian baptism, believer’s baptism, or credobaptism: This is what Baptists have long believed and taught. These new requirements by the IMB trustees are innovations, and not welcome ones. They go beyond the Bible’s own teaching and reject the baptisms of persons who are legitimately baptized by our own confessional document’s definition.

I want to know from those who support these changes: Is Pentecostal baptism- immersion, in the name of the Trinity, upon profession of faith in Jesus- is it Christian baptism or not? And if it is, why are the IMB trustees rejecting it?

III. The restriction on speaking in a prayer language (tongues or glossolalia) is a restriction aimed squarely at Pentecostals and Charismatics. Nothing in SBC life has ever indicated an interest in making cessationism the official position of the SBC. (Which is significant, since the SBC is overwhelmingly dispensational.) This position would mean, again, that the IMB would be sending back persons accepted and serving in SBC churches as rejected from missionary service for reasons that the SBC has completely ignored.

Hundreds of thousands of SBCers accept tongues as legitimate, have spoken in tongues in the past, or may do so today. On what grounds- biblically or confessionally- have the IMB trustees interpreted the SBC to say, “this is unacceptable?” And if they aren’t following the lead of the SBC….then what the heck are they doing?

The IMB trustees are ignoring their convention, its churches and its confessions in implementing these guidelines.

This is a disturbing development. Analysis of why this is occurring is not my interest. I believe the IMB trustees are wrong, the trustees implementing these changes are wrong, and Southern Baptists need to reject these changes as unbiblical, extrabiblical, beyond our confessions and un-endorsed by our churches.

The IMB trustees are wrong. Dead wrong. Real wrong. They need to be told so at the next convention, if not before.

Southern Baptists have promoted “Kingdom” thinking this past year. This isn’t Kingdom thinking. It is “fiefdom” thinking. It is small, turf-protecting, agenda-promoting thinking. It has no place in the missions program of a great, cooperative, evangelistic denomination like the SBC.


  1. Michael,
    I know you know this, but we have to be careful about who’s saying what. You say, “On what grounds- biblically or confessionally- has the SBC said, “this is unacceptable?”” The SBC hasn’t said this. A majority of the IMB trustees have said this. And you and I both know there are plenty of important people at the IMB that aren’t happy about the new policies. The blogsphere provides ample evidence that many SBCers are opposed to these new policies. My guess is that most SBCers would be opposed to them if they ever hear about them.

    I appreciate your blog. Having never met you, I nevertheless respect you. But please lay this at the feet of the small group of people that did this, rather than IMB staff and leadership, SBCers in general, and especially those few IMB trustees that voted against these policies.

    – Steve Walker

  2. Steve,

    I have altered the sentence you pointed out. Thanks very much.

    I just reread the post carefully and noted where I said IMB and where I said SBC. I think I made it really really clear that the SBC hasn’t done this, and the IMB has acted way out of step with the SBCs confessions and practice.

    If I’ve failed to make that clear, please let me know and I will remove the post.

  3. This is a good article. We must not forget that the IMB board is accountable not only to the SBC convention but also to God himself. There are too many of us grassroots believers who are praying for God to ignore us. He is the ultimate judge and will call to task all whose motivations are not pure.

    I think it is vital for those who are on the “outside” of this controversy to take our grievances to the One who will discipline and forgive. I’m so thankful that I and my church haven’t received what we deserve for we have made many mistakes. AS the body of Christ, Christ has disciplined us and humbled us. As an important governing body, God will discipline and deal with the IMB board but we must be faithful to pray and ask the Lord to handle it.

    Many saints are praying about this issue. The Lord is too mighty and too in charge to turn His head. It is vital that we acknowledge we are helpless and that we humble ourselves and pray for Him to handle it.

    Nothing comes from fussing. We must be Christians in word and in deed.

    That is what I fear — Christians on both sides will become so enflamed that they will forget how Christ has told us to act.

    I speak because I have made more than my share of mistakes in God’s church.

    Thank you for the informational article.

  4. Thank you Michael.

  5. Let me try this again. (This login thing is a real pain. Somehow when I went to post my comment I was logged off and my comment got lost.)

    Great post. The article is the Baptist Messenger is the only really good writing on this issue that I have seen in any of our Baptist papers.

    Like Wade Burleson, I believe these policies are symptomatic of a deeper issue within the SBC—the drawing of more narrow lines of cooperation on the basis of specific interpretations of Scripture passages on which conservatives/inerrantists have long disagreed. There is no passage of Scripture that definitively teaches cessation of tongues. Some conservatives/inerrantists believe that some passages indirectly teach cessationism, but others believe that the Bible says nothing about tongues ceasing as a valid gift. Now only one of these views can be right, but because we don’t have any clear biblical statement one way or the other, we cannot be absolutely certain which view is right. So we agree to disagree without breaking fellowship, and we still work together despite our differing views. But now the IMB trustees have decreed that one must hold to the view of total cessationism in order to serve as an IMB missionary, even though the Bible does not clearly teach this view and the SBC itself has never officially addressed the issue (at least through the BF&M).

    Regarding the baptism issue, it seems that Landmarkism has been lurking beneath the surface within SBC circles for several decades, waiting for the right moment to emerge. If I recall correctly, Wade said that one of his fellow IMB trustees told him, “I’m proud to be a Landmarkist.” There is definitely a current of Landmarkism within the SBC, but I’m not sure how widespread it is. I have been engaged in a discussion about baptism with another Kentucky pastor on my blog. He holds to the view that the validity of a baptism is dependent on the theology of the minister or church administering the baptism, which seems to be the position of the IMB Board of Trustees. I reject this view because there is no passage of Scripture that supports it, and I believe that such a view reflects an inaccurate understanding of what baptism is. I am greatly concerned that we as Southern Baptists claim to believe that the Bible is sufficient to guide our faith and practice, but we enact doctrinal policies that have no clear basis in Scripture.

  6. No offense, but I wonder if this problem is symptomatic of subtle thinking that the SBC is the only denomination doing the Lord’s work nowadays…?

  7. Eric,

    From what I’ve read, there is some of that sort of thinking within the SBC. I believe it is a minority view within the convention, but it appears that some of our convention leaders believe this way.

  8. Eric,

    I don’t think that SBC’ers think that we’re the only ones doing the Lord’s work. However we’re in the SBC and it is our job to do the Lord’s work for that is the denomination where God put us. Some leaders may have such tunnel vision that they don’t see.

    I find it interesting that the whale in London died of dehydration as he was immersed in water. This is what leaders are in danger of doing if they do not take the time to read God’s word for themselves. They are surrounded by the water of God’s word but do not have the time to set aside their responsibilities, sermons, blogs, speeches, funerals, and just read God’s word for what it has to say to them.

    I fear in our ever busying world that is what is happening to many of our great leaders. Perhaps that is why many of the greatest Christian works happened when folks were in prison and had time to pray and read God’s word.

  9. You mention that “Fred Malone has explained that position in detail”, anything you could point to about this?

  10. The Baptism of Disciples Alone by Fred Malone is the definitive book on credobaptism from a covenant theology perspective.

    A short version is on the web as “A String of Pearls Unstrung”

  11. Jason_Louisville says

    I’m curious if the IMB considers the Ethiopian eunich’s baptism as valid? After all, I’m not sure that you can prove it met all of the qualifications they set up.

    Yet, isn’t it ironic that the only question the Catholic Church asks is, “Were you baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” You have to provide documentation, of course, but there’s nothing about “what did they believe about predestination, regeneration, and did the pastor’s socks match? Seriously, there comes a point where peoples’ theology starts to insult the work of God.

    Of course, it is only like 30 people who voted for this, but still, isn’t the IMB one of the largest missionary agencies in the world? I’m asking… I’m not really sure since I didn’t grow up involved in a Baptist church.