INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–In January, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin sent a letter to each of the more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries asking them to sign an affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. Since Southern Baptist missionaries have been required to affirm our convention’s statement of belief for decades, one would think this bit of housekeeping would have gone relatively unnoticed.
One would think. Instead, the letter requesting missionaries affirm the stated beliefs of the Baptists sending them was met with resistance. But the resistance did not come from the vast majority of missionaries, most of whom appear to be signing it, content to affirm Southern Baptist doctrine. No, the resistance came primarily from the leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
On Feb. 26, the BGCT executive board voted to create a “special missionary transition fund” to assist missionaries who leave or are fired by the IMB for refusing to affirm the BF&M.
In a Feb. 27 Baptist Press report, Charles Wade, executive director of the BGCT, was quoted as saying, “We have no reason to feel comfortable that the missionaries are not now under serious attack from their own administrators and board. We have reason to believe that the IMB trustees will press to remove these missionaries if the president does not do so.”
According to the BP story, Keith Parks, former president of the then-Foreign Mission Board and chairman of the BGCT’s Missions Review and Initiatives Committee (MRIC), said the committee had received comments from more than 60 missionary couples who said they could not sign the 2000 BF&M. He read some of the e-mails he had received describing the IMB’s actions as “tyranny of control and manipulation by fear” and as having been “perceived as an ultimatum.”
The next day, Baptist Press reported the IMB response. “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,” said Larry Cox, IMB vice president for mobilization. “They are manufacturing a crisis where none exists. I know our missionaries. I served Southern Baptists overseas for 18 years, and I believe that the vast 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.”
I also know some of our missionaries. My mother and father have been serving with the IMB for 13 years. I asked them if they perceived the IMB’s actions as tyrannical.
“I saw it as the fulfillment of responsibility on the part of the IMB to insure that the missionaries being sent out are in agreement with Southern Baptist doctrine,” John Bayer said. “It’s not tyranny to be asked to agree with your employer.”
“I felt relieved when we were asked to sign this and sent it back without reservation,” Brenda Bayer said. “Before, we were divided and it was difficult to be about God’s work. I commend our leadership for taking this action and stand behind them 100 percent.”
The IMB has long maintained the policy of allowing missionaries to serve despite having disagreements with the BF&M as long as they promise to conduct their ministry “in accordance with and not contrary to” the statement. So, wild claims of “creedalism” really lack foundation.
It is really quite simple. What Baptists have in the Baptist Faith & Message is a confession. It is a statement of belief that we, as a body of believers, have affirmed. A creed is a doctrinal statement that you must hold to in order to belong to a particular group. Apparently there are those who think amending our confession magically transforms it into a creed. It is just a ridiculous notion.
It is also a ridiculous notion to think that we, as Southern Baptists, should not hold accountable the missionaries we support on the field. Through the Cooperative Program, we have created the IMB. Every Southern Baptist who contributes to CP Missions is, in effect, the boss of IMB missionaries on the field. Since we, as Southern Baptists, hold to certain beliefs, it is perfectly acceptable that we should expect our missionaries to represent those beliefs when they are about their work on the field.
Jerry Rankin said it very well in a March 18 Baptist Press report. He said it was alarming that some Southern Baptist activists “would advocate freedom to the point of supplanting the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of God’s infallible Word and that missionaries should not be doctrinally accountable to their sending and supporting churches.
“It is especially alarming that so many seem to think that the primary thing that distinguishes Baptists is the priesthood of the believer and autonomy of the local church, forgetting that our soul competency to come to God without any mediator other than Jesus Christ is based on the authority of God’s inerrant Word. The Holy Spirit never leads an individual contrary to the truth and teaching of God’s Word. The pride and arrogance to elevate freedom and independent thinking above the foundation of our belief must be an offense to our Father and his lordship.”
Bayer is editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal.