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Friday, January 20, 2006

IMB Policy Clarification?

I haven't posted anything about the newly adopted IMB policies concerning tongues and baptism of missionary candidates. If you want some background on this issue, check out SBC Outpost, Wade Burleson's blog, or the Associated Baptist Press.

For the record, I am against them. What's more, I have yet to find any IMB missionary on the field who agrees with them. But you won't be hearing any dissent from within the ranks. The current attitude out here is "If you want to keep you job, keep you mouth shut."

No, there haven't been any threats (that I know of). And no, the new policies do not apply to personnel already on the field. But with the Board of Trustees voting to remove trustee Wade Burleson for voicing his opinions on the new policies and the politics among trustees, everyone is being extra careful.

Last week, the R. Gordon Fort, IMB Vice President for Overseas Operations sent a memo to all personnel "clarifying" the new policies. It was this "clarification" that has prompted me to write about the issue. Because the memo is presented as "the specific wording" of the policies, I'm assuming that this was not intended to stay "in house." I post the main text of the memo here:

The specific wording of the policy on Tongues and Prayer Language and the Baptism Guideline are as follows:

Tongues and Prayer Language

That the following policy regarding tongues and prayer language of missionary candidates be adopted:


1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.

2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.

3. In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.


1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.

2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.

3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures.

4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as "private prayer language." Therefore, if "private prayer language" is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.

1. This policy is not retroactive.
2. Any exceptions to the above policy must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee.

Baptism Guideline

That each candidate’s baptismal experience be examined, during the application process, in light of the Baptist Faith and Message statement and the points listed below:


Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior; the believer’s death to sin; the burial of the old life; and the resurrection to walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.


1. The Individual

a. Believer’s baptism by immersion

Baptism by immersion follows salvation

b. Baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ.

Baptism does not regenerate.

2. The Church

a. Baptism is a church ordinance.

Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.

b. A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.

3. The Candidate
The candidate is responsible for meeting this doctrinal commitment to the above points.

4. The Consultant
While the candidate consultant should have a working knowledge of many denominational groups, he is not expected to investigate every church.

1. This guideline is not retroactive.
2. Any exception to the above guideline must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee.

So here's my initial concern: No scripture to support the new guidelines. What do you think? I'll post my thoughts soon.


towhead said...

don't teach me about politics and government...just tell me who to vote for. don't teach me how to live like a free man...just give me a new law. i don't want to know if the answers aren't easy. just bring it down from the mountain to me...i want a new law.

i particularly like the bit about baptism. i believe that scripture was not specifically used (i know that the b.f.m. lists scripture after each article) because the book of acts is quirky (for lack of a better word) on the subject. re-read acts and come up with at formula for salvation/baptism/receiving of the h.s.

i pledge allegiance to a king and a kingdom

stepchild said...

Good point about Acts being "quirky." It's a shame that the trustees are focusing on scripture interpretation. It used to be that there was room for the preisthood of the believer.

p.s.-I really like Derek Webb's Mockingbird album because it speaks to this exactly.

Wes Kenney said...

If a person, when baptized, does not understand their salvation to be a sovreign act of God's grace which they had no merit to earn and therefore cannot lose, can their baptism be scriptural?

If they later come to a proper understanding of their salvation, would it not be appropriate to be baptized again?

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stepchild said...

That's an interesting thought. I guess the question is: how much must a person know/understand about God in order for their baptism to be "count?"

I'd probably say that no, in that case re-baptism isn't necessary. I'm pretty sure that few of us really grasp the doctrines of God's sovereignty at the time of our salvation. Many Christians believe (wrongly) that their salvation is due to their own choice, that it depended on them. Is their baptism scriptural?

Baptism symbolizes new life in Christ, not right theology. I think there's room for that part to come later as we mature in our faith.

Wes Kenney said...

When I counsel with children who sense that they are being drawn to repentance and salvation by the Spirit (and that's always just the way they say it, too), I don't expect that they should have a full-orbed understanding of soteriology. I do, however, make sure they understand their need, how God has provided for that need, their responsibility in repentance and surrender, and the security that accompanies these things. The first time they stumble, they need to remember that it is God who holds on to them, not the other way around.

And while I agree that baptism symbolizes new life in Christ, I believe there is also a sense in which it symbolizes identification with the church. When the first church (which I like to refer to as the First Baptist of Jerusalem) added 3000 members in one day, they were people who had, according to Acts 2:41, "accepted his [Peter's] teaching".

stepchild said...

It sounds like you do a good job of explaining the significance of baptism to the, um, baptizee(?). Would that everyone did it that way, but I'm sure you know that many of the circus-tent evangelistic crusades (or circusy bus crusades) don't go so far in explaining things. Would the folks baptized through these silly sideshows need to be re-baptized when they mature?

I'm thinking about the Ethiopian Eunuch and his baptism by Philip. Would he need to be re-baptized? His had no ties to a church that we know of, and he really didn't get a whole lot of discipleship before Philip was wisked away.

Wes Kenney said...

As for the big-top revivals, they usually aren't baptizing (to my knowledge), so those converts become the responsibility of the church that does the baptizing as far as confirming their understanding of what has taken place. Again, I believe that understanding is crucial to a valid baptism.

I certainly won't be drawn into saying that anyone baptized under any circumstances by an apostle of Christ needs to have anything examined by me, but there aren't any apostles running around baptizing these days, so I don't concern myself too much with that.

I still believe that there is an element of identification with the church involved with baptism. Admittedly, this is not an explicit teaching of scripture, but I think the acceptance of the message preceding the baptism in Acts 2:41 is significant.

I am a defender of local church autonomy, but not as an argument that says that any baptism validated by a cooperating church should be accepted unquestioningly by the IMB, or another church, for that matter. I have seen cooperating (CP contributing) churches that did many decidedly un-biblical things.

steve w said...

David Phillips has a great post about the baptism issue

You have to wonder, in the early stages of the church, how much did the believers really grasp doctrinally? Before they had the epistles, how much did they know? And yet wouldn't we agree that if they didn't have all the doctrine well formulated then, their baptism was still valid?

stepchild said...

I'm with Steve on this one. Where do we even get the idea of "valid" and "invalid" baptisms? I prefer the question: "What did your baptism symbolize?"

I know we're Baptists (some more than others), but we've really introduced an extra-biblical concept with the idea that a person's baptism has anything to do with the theology of the local church.