RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“Activists” who orchestrated a Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board vote Feb. 26 are “manufacturing a crisis where none exists,” an International Mission Board leader has charged.
The Texas board voted to create a “transition fund” to assist Southern Baptist missionaries who they think might resign in protest over IMB President Jerry Rankin’s request that they affirm the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message.
No one from the International Mission Board was invited to attend the meeting to speak to the proposal, which passed with only one opposing vote. The BGCT’s statewide publication, the Baptist Standard, declined to publish an article by Rankin explaining the IMB’s rationale for the request. They posted the article on their website after an inquiry from the board.
The Texas board’s action was based on false accusations of “creedalism” made by activists unhappy with the conservative direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Larry Cox, IMB vice president for mobilization.
“We regret that activists in the Baptist General Convention of Texas have chosen to misrepresent what is happening between Southern Baptist missionaries and their leadership,” Cox said. “They are manufacturing a crisis where none exists.
“These activists are falsely saying that missionaries are being forced to change their beliefs to conform to a document they do not agree with. They claim missionaries are ‘under attack’ by their own leadership. They claim Jerry Rankin has broken a promise to missionaries and that they are ‘for the first time’ being required to affirm a ‘manmade’ doctrinal statement rather than the Bible.
“None of those accusations is true,” Cox said. “It is compelling rhetoric used by people who already are willing to believe the worst about Southern Baptists today.”
Asking missionaries to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is not a reversal of IMB policy, like some critics have complained, Cox said.
“Requiring missionaries to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message has been the board’s practice for decades, even under the administration of Keith Parks,” Cox said. Parks, who served as president of Southern Baptists’ overseas missions board from 1980 to 1992, is chairman of the subcommittee that brought the recommendation to the executive board.
“Keith Parks all of a sudden claims to see creedalism in Jerry Rankin’s request, but he himself also required missionaries to affirm support for the Baptist Faith and Message when he led the board. The BGCT executive board claims to see creedalism in Jerry Rankin’s actions, even though that group itself voted to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message when it was revised in 1963.”
And Southern Baptist missionaries have always been free to disagree with the Baptist Faith and Message, Cox pointed out.
“Missionaries have complete freedom to note any disagreements they have with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, just like they had complete freedom to note any disagreements they had with the earlier version when they were appointed,” he said. “Differences in personal interpretation is not a barrier to service as long as the missionary promises to carry out his or her work ‘in accordance with and not contrary to’ the Baptist Faith and Message.”
Southern Baptists can be proud that God is using members of their churches to touch the world for Christ, Cox said.
“The BGCT executive board action expresses confidence in Southern Baptist missionaries ‘and their sound biblical beliefs,'” he said. “We agree. We know firsthand their passion for reaching a lost world and their willingness to sacrifice and devote their lives to God’s call. That passion springs out of a conviction based on the authority of God’s Word and obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Response to the BGCT action was delayed one day because senior IMB leadership was involved in a Feb. 27 commissioning service for 230 missionaries ready to leave the board’s Missionary Learning Center to work among 63 people groups around the world, Cox said. Later that same day, they welcomed 115 candidates for missionary service to an orientation conference at the MLC.
The International Mission Board has seen increasingly larger numbers of Southern Baptists coming forward for overseas service. The 1,155 new missionaries appointed during 2001 was the largest number in the board’s 157-year history.
“I know our missionaries. I served Southern Baptists overseas for 18 years,” Cox said. “And I believe that the majority of our missionaries are willing to testify to Southern Baptists as often as needed that they share the same core convictions that Southern Baptists hold.
“We want Southern Baptists to know that their International Mission Board believes the only crisis we face is the crisis of a world lost without Christ,” Cox said. “We hope all Southern Baptists will stand with their missionaries and keep working to tell a lost world about salvation in Jesus Christ.”
The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (www.imb.org/ime/LMCO).