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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why I Don't Like the Board's New Policies

I've had plenty of time now to think though the Board's new hiring policies regarding baptism and tongues. I've decided that I don't like them, but it's probably not for the reasons you might think.

The trustees have made it clear that the new restrictions are not retroactive; that is to say, they don't apply to those of us that are already on the field. But the new policies nonetheless affect me directly. How? I'm glad you asked.

I have a job request on the books. The new policies shrink the pool of candidates from which this job will be filled. "But that," you might say, "is the point." I understand that the trustees were trying to keep people certain people from being hired by the IMB; namely, those who speak in tongues and anyone who was baptized by someone with bad theology. Though I'm not aware of any place where we've got charismatics in the field, I understand that the trustees want to be sure their missionaries share the Board's interpretation of certain scriptures. My problem is that these decisions essentially guarantee that I won't get the type of church planters I'm looking for.

I'm not looking for people who speak in tongues or who might have been baptized by someone outside the SBC. I am looking for people who would defend the service of such individuals. I'm looking for people with a real understanding of what the Bible actually says about things like baptism and tongues. You see, our church planters often fall into the trap of teaching interpretations of scripture rather than the scripture itself. Our concentration on church forms and models has led to us planting churches that are hardly indigenous, and our focus on teaching our interpretations is like replacing the scriptures with an SBC-approved commentary.

So the new guidelines don't just rule out the Charismatics. They rule out anyone open to a different understanding of passages like Acts 8:36, when the Ethiopian asks Philip a pertinent question:

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"

How would I answer the Eunuch's question? I probably wouldn't be able to say, "Well, we can't baptize you here and now because, well, the two of us don't count as a church, and because I'm still not sure you fully understand the ramifications of eternal security."

A byproduct of the change is that the type of person we're looking for is so tired of the politics, infighting, and bullying, that they're not applying to be sent by the IMB.


steve w said...

And what breaks my heart is that the majority of the trustees don't get it. They don't see how incompatible their policies are with the Bible, yet they say they believe the Bible.

Be assured there are many of us working stateside to try to change things.

Wes Kenney said...

I should begin by saying that I thank God for faithful servants like yourself. I pray for you daily, and encourage my church to do the same.

I do have a question about something you wrote, and if I sound critical, please forgive me; that is not my intent.

You see, our church planters often fall into the trap of teaching interpretations of scripture rather than the scripture itself.

My question is this: If you are not teaching interpretations, what are you teaching? I have observed Sunday school classes where the teacher reads a passage, invites opinion, and then moves on. There is no authority, just a mass of emotional reaction to the text. We require our missionaries to be educated so that they can teach. Would you have us hand someone who is lost a Bible and say, "Figure this out for yourself?"

When Philip asked the eunuch, "Do you understand what you're reading?" his response was, "How can I unless someone guides me?"

As I reread this, I realize that I must sound as naive as I look in that vintage photo of me. I have no idea of the realities you face daily. I have the greatest respect for you; please indulge my questioning.

While you may disagree with the interpretations the IMB would have you teach, isn't some interpretation necessary?

stepchild said...

Thanks for pointing out the inconsistancy in what I wrote. While I do think that the Word of God is objectively true, I know that we always bring something to the text as we read and teach it. Our perspective involves interpretation. Communication of the gospel requires it.

I guess what I was trying to say in this post is that we ought to recognize our interpretations as such, and be careful about asserting our understanding without aknowleging our subjectivity. (Here's what I read it to say/here's how I understand and apply it.)

Maybe "interpretation" isn't the right word. Maybe "application" would more accurately describe what I'm talking about. As we're planting churches, many of our personnel end up presenting a democratic form of church government as the Biblical one. But the Bible doesn't say that we should make decisions based on majority rule, does it? (The first church actually was ruled by unity, but that's for another post.)

This is the type of thing I'm talking about when I say we teach "interpretations." It inevidably leads to churches that are not indigenous. If we would teach what the Bible says (ok, what we understand the Bible to say) and let the national believers figure out how that might look in their culture, I think we'd be on the right track.

A lot of times we are so worried that our churches are going to have bad theology that we kill the thing by focusing on all the potential dangers. I say, let's teach believer's preisthood, and trust that He is planting the church. I say, let's allow these new believers to experience the adventures of working out what it means to be the church in their culture. Accountablity and mutual submission can address problems as they arise.

Thanks again, Wes. This is what I'm looking for. Whether we agree or not, I need to be challenged to articulate these things!

Wes Kenney said...

No, I don't think majority rule is the best way to say it. Each believer/member commits to seeking the mind of Christ in each decision the congregation makes. Obviously, that's the ideal, and not the case in many business meetings. But I think the phrase "majority rule" tends to cheapen the process, even if it is the practical reality a lot of the time. It's an undershepherd's responsibility to remind the sheep of the ideal.

And can you really start with the priesthood of all believers? Doesn't the average western European have a preconceived idea of priesthood that isn't necessarily a biblical one? And doesn't accountability to the Word need to be firmly in place before problems arise?

Sorry I'm not being very articulate here, just sort of letting the questions spill out of my head. It's been a long day. Probably, I could do better.

God bless you and your work.

stepchild said...

I agree that "majority rule." Isn't Biblical, but it's taught all the time as the "right" way to make decisions as a church. (I used the term "unity rule," which I'll certainly write about another day).

Do we start with "priesthood of the believer?" Sometimes. It depends on the situation. For lots of people who come out of an empty, oppressive, priest-centered Catholic background, the idea that we do not need an intermediary is very good news. Lots of my friends are had never heard that God is accessible.

You say: "And doesn't accountability to the Word need to be firmly in place before problems arise?"

I agree with what you've said here, but we'd probably differ on how that accountability should be established. Lots of our people start discipling a church by building a set of "what we don't believe" and "what we're to look out for." This, in my opinion, is detrimental to the health of the new church. It's actually a parenting question, isn't it?

I think the best thing we can do is address problems as they arise, and send the people to the Bible to have the Holy Spirit guide them through.

Though I might be wrong, am I making any sense?

Wes Kenney said...

On the majority rule question, I didn't say I think it to be unbiblical (extra-biblical, maybe), just that I think that phrase is the wrong message. I've been in countless business meetings where people have come in with their own agenda, not caring at all about, and certainly not having sought in prayer, God's will for the situation. In that case, majority rule is unbiblical on many levels. But if (and I've rarely seen this) the members come to an issue having sought the mind of Christ and submitted to His will as they understand it, the ideal has been achieved. This is probably the "unity rule" you refer to.

As to priesthood, I see your point about a distorted view making the truth more attractive. That makes a lot of sense.

I don't have any experience with new church starts, but I am the father of a three-year-old, and since you framed it as a parenting question, I would just say that I have found boundaries to be very important. My daughter doesn't understand why she can't play by the oven, but she would not think me a very good parent if I allowed her to get burned. I wonder if that has any application to this discussion. If we wait for a problem to arise when a well-defined boundary might have prevented it, are we not inviting resentment by those who might be hurt in the process.

You said "Lots of our people start discipling a church by building a set of 'what we don't believe' and 'what we're to look out for.'" Is it possible this is being done out of the pure motive of avoiding problems in the future?

drawnbylove said...

And unfortunately you are likely right that the new policies are limiting not only the pool of candidates who would qualify as being a proper "representative of the IMB," but also limiting the missionaries who would otherwise apply but are turned off by the continued narrowing of who has the "right" theology. My husband and I just recently started the application process and already all of the politics and policy issues have caused us to question whether or not the IMB is a place where we can do what we feel like God is leading us to do--to serve under the power and leadership of His Spirit. We are taking the process step by step and constantly seeking His will--whether that is for us to bow out or to continue.
Although the new policies don't cause my husband or myself to be excluded from service, we nevertheless question if we want to be "employees" of an organization that forms such policies that in my (albeit limited) understanding of Scripture is not biblical! As of now, we feel like we are still going the direction He would have for us but alas...
The dilemma in our hearts continues...

ps...your blogging gives us hope that maybe there is still room for us under the canopy

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comments. It sounds like we're in the same boat- questioning to find out if there's still room for us.

I'm sure you know that so much of a missionary's experience with the Board depends on his/her local and regional leadership. I really appreciate the freedom we've been given to pursue this relational approach to ministry, and I credit our leadership for recognizing it as culturally appropriate. I just hope this isn't threatened as changes happen "upstream," and things become more centralized. My prayer is that the trustees avoid dictating strategy to the field.

drawnbylove said...

Thanks for your response.
In our ISC term we were thankfully in a situation in which we were given the independence to engage in our community in the ways we felt led. Our leadership was wonderful in trying to "shield" us from the goings-on up above and take the heat on difference of issues for themselves. How blessed we were!

Anonymous said...

I am saddened and heart-broken at what I see happening to this stagnating denomination; and I grew up in it. I am thankful for people like you guys who see the bigger picture, and I'm praying for you that your role there will persevere.