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IMB trustee chairman Hatley explains board’s actions

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–International Mission Board Trustee Chairman Tom Hatley issued an “open letter” March 7 to all Southern Baptists –- and a much longer letter to all Southern Baptist pastors –- addressing recent decisions by IMB trustees.

The letters accompany detailed background material outlining the trustees’ votes on glossolalia (the practice of tongues), the use of private prayer language by missionary candidates and the candidates’ mode of baptism. Southern Baptists can access both letters, the new policy on use of tongues, the guideline on baptism and additional background materials at www.imb.org, the International Mission Board’s Web site, here.

“I have addressed (the detailed explanation) to pastors because they are the teachers and guardians of the Word for their congregations,” Hatley said in his letter to Southern Baptists. “But feel free to look over their shoulders and read this material.

“There has been no small controversy concerning some of our recent decisions,” Hatley acknowledged. “However, as I have shared this information with pastors and others, most have expressed joy because information they had previously received was incomplete. Seeing the greater context has helped many to appreciate the decisions recently made. I pray you will have the same experience.”

IMB President Jerry Rankin expressed appreciation for the statement released by the board chairman.

“Much of the confusion and misperceptions regarding these actions came from the lack of clearly defined explanations for the policies,” Rankin said. “While some will not be in agreement with the rationale, these documents will help others understand the deep convictions of those on our board for moving in this direction.

“There is no question that those on each side of these issues are committed to the effectiveness of the International Mission Board and are conscientious in their desire to be accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention. God is at work around the world in unprecedented ways. We want Southern Baptists to be assured of the doctrinal integrity and practices of our missionaries and move forward to win a lost world to Jesus Christ.”

During their Nov. 14-17 meeting in Huntsville, Ala., the trustees approved a policy stating that a missionary candidate eliminates himself or herself from potential IMB service if he or she has the practice of tongues or a “private prayer language” as an ongoing part of his or her conviction or practice. They also adopted a baptism guideline stating that future missionary candidates must have been baptized in a church that: practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone; does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative; and that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer. Exception clauses were included in both the guideline and the policy for special situations. Neither the guideline nor the policy is retroactive and neither will be applied to anyone already in the missionary appointment process.

The documents available online include:

— The official policy on tongues and private prayer language and the official guideline on baptism — both in their entirety — as approved by IMB trustees in November.

— The full text of Hatley’s letters to Southern Baptists and to pastors.

— Unofficial position papers on the glossolalia and baptism issues. “They (the position papers) have not been voted on by our board and may not reflect the views even of some who voted for the (tongues) policy and (baptism) guideline,” Hatley said. “(B)ut they are the theological points that many reflected upon when working through these issues and I thought them worthy of presentation for your consideration.”

— The definition of a church, as approved by trustees — another subject of much recent discussion as it applies to the starting of churches on overseas mission fields.

The letter to pastors, Hatley stressed, “is written from my perspective as your chairman of this board. Further clarification may come from appropriate (trustee) committees. Because such contextualization might not be formed and delivered to you until April or even June (because of the timing of our next meetings), I thought it best to write and at least give you my perspective.”

The need to address the baptism and tongues issues has been discussed “from time to time for more than a decade,” he added. “The decisions that were recently made have been matters of review and study for more than two and a half years. Similar precedents adopted by staff in dealing with these issues have been used for years. They were not as strong as the current guideline and policy but they were the base upon which the current statements were constructed.”

Hatley also responded to another charge: that the policy on tongues and private prayer language was initiated by trustees to “embarrass” IMB President Jerry Rankin, who acknowledges he has had a private prayer language for many years.

“Trustees have been blamed for having the motive of trying to hurt our president,” Hatley wrote. “The force that pushed the issue to this higher level, however, included the president and a few others on staff and on the board.”

Hatley asked Southern Baptists to pray — and to put these issues in the larger perspective of the global missions challenge:

“We are on a great adventure together,” he wrote. “It stands to reason that our adversary would love to put us against one another. Let’s put all blame on our real enemy and work harder than ever to reach every person with the Gospel in our lifetime.

“Thank you so much for your prayers. We are your servants and we appreciate every word you share, even the constructive criticism. I pray our hearts will be obvious as you read these pages.”

Hatley said he is asking the IMB trustee personnel committee to take “a fresh look at these documents with the intention of providing further clarification.” He invited pastors and any interested Southern Baptists to e-mail their suggestions and feedback to [email protected].

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