RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board has written a letter to missionaries worldwide, asking them to sign an affirmation of the current “Baptist Faith and Message.”
In a letter dated Jan. 28, Jerry Rankin said that affirming the current BF&M would help the agency “move beyond a continuing and potentially damaging issue that could distract us from our mission task, unnecessarily create suspicion on the part of some and erode support of you and the IMB.”
All IMB missionaries are thoroughly screened on their beliefs and for many years have been asked to sign a statement affirming the Baptist Faith and Message before they are appointed, Rankin says. The board has a longstanding policy that deals with missionaries whose teachings or practices contradict the confession of faith.
In January 2001, IMB trustees affirmed the current Baptist Faith and Message statement as “the standard for carrying out the program and ministries” of the IMB. They also strongly affirmed the agency’s missionaries and stateside staff members, saying their beliefs already have been adequately screened and that nothing more should be required of them. Elected administration and regional leaders have since signed a statement affirming the BF&M.
“Our board felt these policies and actions provided adequate accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention and expressed confidence and trust in our missionaries,” Rankin’s letter said.
However, the issue has continued to “generate controversy throughout the convention” and “is creating suspicion that there are IMB personnel whose beliefs and practices are inconsistent with those represented by Southern Baptists,” he wrote.
“While we believe this is unfounded, we do not need an issue such as this to generate needless controversy, erode support and distract us from the focus of our task at such a critical time of opportunity around the world.”
The Baptist Faith and Message has served as Southern Baptists’ confession of faith since 1925. It was revised in 1963 and in 1998 a section on the family was added. A revision was adopted in 2000.
The Baptist Faith and Message is not being imposed on anyone, but Southern Baptists rightly believe employees of convention entities have an added responsibility for their beliefs, Rankin said.
“There are many who feel strongly that those being supported by the denomination should be willing to pledge affirmation and support for the current BF&M, especially those serving with the mission boards,” he wrote.
“Just as we are expected to be financially accountable for the use of resources and morally circumspect in our life and witness, we who have chosen to serve with a denominational mission agency are expected to be doctrinally accountable to those who provide our support and send us out.”
IMB trustees have not required missionaries to affirm the current version of the Baptist Faith and Message in writing but other SBC entities have, and that fact continues to cause suspicion in some minds that there are missionaries who hold divergent views, Rankin wrote.
“To assist our board in assuring Southern Baptists that all those who serve with the International Mission Board and are supported by the convention affirm and support the current Baptist Faith and Message, I am asking that you sign the attached form indicating that and return it to your regional leader,” he said. “You are welcome to note any area of disagreement.”
Regional leaders will counsel missionaries if they note any concerns, either with the confession of faith itself or with the idea of signing a document affirming it.
Signing the affirmation and laying the issue to rest once and for all will eliminate an issue that could keep IMB missionaries, staff and trustees from focusing all their energies on proclaiming Christ in a world where God is at work in unprecedented ways, Rankin said.
Signing the affirmation will “disarm those who may be trying to use the BF&M to divide Southern Baptists and isolate the IMB from other agencies and state conventions that have endorsed the current revision,” he said.
“Even in the midst of global tensions and uncertainties, the gospel is multiplying and bearing fruit,” Rankin told the missionaries. “We rejoice that God continues to call out Southern Baptists in unprecedented numbers and that we are seeing accelerated evangelistic response, church growth and opportunities to impact unreached people groups.
“We do not want anything to deter us from moving steadfastly toward completing the unfinished task of fulfilling the Great Commission.”
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).