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IMB trustees affirm Rankin BF&M letter, see rising baptism, new church numbers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board — meeting March 14-15 in Kansas City, Mo. — roundly endorsed President Jerry Rankin’s request that missionaries affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

Rankin told the trustees he was alarmed and appalled that critics of his request appear to value irresponsible freedom and cultural compromise over the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. Baptist distinctives like the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church are sound doctrine only when church and believer recognize the authority of God’s Word, he said.

Rankin praised IMB missionaries for their “wonderful … understanding” and “cooperative response” to his request. He said their willingness to affirm the faith statement of the churches that support them was further evidence that they are “doctrinally sound and denominationally loyal.”

Reports from overseas that show God is moving in ever-more dramatic ways through Southern Baptist missionaries — 395,773 baptisms and 5,775 new churches in 2001 – reflecting missionaries’ passion for fulfilling their call to share Jesus Christ with a lost world, he added.

During the two-day meeting, trustees also elected a regional leader for work in the Caribbean Basin, heard a report about the needs for volunteers to take gospel literature to 98 million homes in Mexico and Central America and learned that Southern Baptists interested in overseas service now can submit their application online through a new IMB web site, and approved 58 new missionaries for appointment in a March 17 service.

2000 BF&M
All Southern Baptist missionaries have been required for decades to affirm agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message as part of the appointment process, Rankin reminded trustees. The revision of that confession of faith in 2000 makes it appropriate for missionaries to update that affirmation.

But activists unhappy with the conservative direction the Southern Baptist Convention have criticized his request as forcing missionaries to change their beliefs to conform to “man-made” document. They have asserted Baptists “have no creed but the Bible.”

While that slogan sounds like an affirmation of biblical doctrine over human creed, it actually leaves the door open for all sorts of doctrinal error, he said.

“We all would readily affirm that we have no creed but the Bible and the Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice,” Rankin said. He pointed out, however, that both as a pastor in Texas and as a missionary in Indonesia, he had friends of other denominations with widely differing beliefs who said the same thing.

Rankin said he was alarmed 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.”

“I find it appalling in light of disintegrating homes in America, the diminishing influences of churches on our society, that there would be those who advocate compromise with culture and reject the biblical model of family life and church structure.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Trustees adopted a motion to affirm Rankin’s letter to the missionaries on a standing vote with one opposed.

Trustees heard an encouraging report about the ways God is honoring the passion Southern Baptist missionaries and their Baptist co-workers have for sharing the good news of salvation with a lost world.

More than 5,000 missionaries working among 1,923 people groups and population segments in 185 countries reported 395,773 baptisms and 5,775 new churches in 2001, said Avery Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations, and Scott Holste, director of global research.

Other categories in the report included:

Total churches: 61,569.

Total outreach groups: 36,172.

Church Bible teaching: 3,167,437.

Discipleship training: 646,655.

Non-residential theological training: 47,520.

Residential theological training: 23,648.

An estimated 2,700 people filled the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo., the evening of March 17 to participate in the appointment of 58 new workers headed for overseas assignments.

Speaking to the new workers, IMB President Jerry Rankin said, “It’s always thrilling to hear testimonies such as yours, how God has called you out of a diversity of backgrounds…. He has called you out of the business world, computer technician, Hollywood media, fireman, schoolteacher, homemaker making macaroni and cheese — because God has a place for you to light a dark world.

“God in His mercy is giving you the privilege of carrying the light of the gospel to people who have never heard. I assure you, there is no greater thrill in the world than introducing someone to Jesus Christ who has never heard before.”

“A lost world waits,” Rankin said to the audience. “In Africa, every day 6,000 people die of AIDS and the opportunity is gone. Will you go and tell them about Jesus before it’s too late?”

About 90 million people in Mexico and Central America will die in this next generation without ever hearing the gospel, said Phil Templin, regional leader for Southern Baptist work in that area.

“That’s unacceptable,” Templin said. “So we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do? What is our greatest resource?’ The greatest resource we have to work with in Middle America are volunteers. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we get those volunteers to do something about the gospel in every home?'”

The answer they came up with, Templin said, is “Operation GO” (Gospel Outreach), which plans to reach every one of the 98 million homes home in Central America and Mexico by sending out as many as 10,000 volunteers a year to deliver the Gospel of John booklets and audio cassettes.

Baptists nationals already working on the project are finding that when Bible portions are distributed in a community, people are ready to open Bible studies in their homes the next time the volunteers return, Templin said.

“One church in southern Puebla (Mexico) handed out Bible portions in 7,000 homes and within a month had baptized 35 new converts,” he reported. “The Word of God will not return to Him void.”

The vision of reaching 98 million homes “is way beyond any possible thing we can do,” Templin acknowledged, “but God can do it.”

Trustees also elected Dickie Nelson to serve as regional leader for Southern Baptist missions work in the Caribbean Basin.

Nelson and his wife, the former Diana (Dee) Jennings of Chickamauga, Ga., were appointed as missionaries to Venezuela in 1986. They served in Barinas, Rubio and Caracas before being assigned in 1997 to serve as the stateside associate for Caribbean Basin missionaries in the board’s Richmond, Va., headquarters.

Born in Mississippi, Nelson served churches in Ponchatoula and Hammond, La., prior to missionary appointment. He is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Nelson succeeds Ron Wilson, who recently joined the board’s Richmond staff as associate vice president for leadership and ministries development.

Trustees also learned of the impending retirement of Peggy Jones, stateside associate for missionaries in the board’s Middle America region.

A native of South Carolina, Jones and her late husband, Bobby Compton, were appointed as missionaries to Colombia in 1966. They also served in Costa Rica and at the Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso, Texas, until 1987, when he became director of missionary furlough conferences and study at the board’s Cauthen Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va. After his death in 1993, she took the stateside associate position.

When Southern Baptists step out in faith to obey God’s call, even when they feel inadequate, the Lord has an opportunity to touch hearts with His love, Avery Willis told the trustees.

He recalled how two young women serving in the board’s Journeyman Program were asked to teach English at a nearby college. Though they had no training as English teachers, the women saw God was opening a door of opportunity for them and they agreed to take the class.

As students asked the pair questions about their faith in Christ, one student was especially interested and began keeping company with the journeymen. Whenever they walked through the community, he would stop and kneel every time he passed a shrine of the dominant religion.

After a couple of days of learning more about God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ, the women noticed he wasn’t kneeling at the shrines anymore.

When they asked him why, he replied: “I only have room in my heart for one God.”
The next IMB trustee meeting and missionary appointment service will be held May 20-22 in the Kammerdiener Global Center at the board’s Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va.

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  • Mark Kelly