In another shining example of the sad state of modern Christian news reporting, “Religion News Service” issued a report that would lead one to believe that the next President of the SBC might well Benny Hinn and that David Platt will be seeking missions advice from the Kansas City Prophets as he leads the IMB. Entitled “Southern Baptists open their ranks to missionaries who speak in tongues,” the article gives not only no evidence of understanding, but little of an attempt to understand the discussion among Southern Baptists.
The issue with the IMB policy was a narrow one – it did not have to do with the public practice of tongues or with the SBC becoming a charismatic denomination. It had to do with a specific practice among some people – that of praying in a “private prayer language.” I’ve never done it. But those who practice this in their private prayer time claim it is just an intense form of prayer in which they are caught up in the Spirit and their prayers come in a language they do not know or understand.
If you read 12 commentaries on 1 Corinthians 12-14, you are likely to get 18 different views on what that passage teaches. But if you simply read that passage there seems to be one overriding point to it all. Tongues is not worth fighting over. Paul intentionally lists it last (well, before interpretation of tongues) in his lists of manifestations of the Spirit. He spends a lot of time talking about how we aren’t all eyeballs or ears, how we each have our gifts and empowerings and how the Spirit grants them to each as HE desires. He continually emphasizes the principle of unity of the Spirit in diversity of spiritual practice. In chapter 14 he places limits on the practice of tongues but commands us not to forbid it. He thanks God that he speaks in tongues but also emphasizes that other things are more important. The key point point of the passage seems clear to me.
Tongues is not a central issue and is not worth fighting over.
Haven’t done too well on that one, have we? I would double down on that concerning the practice of a PRIVATE prayer language. If someone stands up at Southern Hills Baptist Church and begins to speak in tongues publicly, I know what I would do (after dialing 911 to help out all the folks who immediately stroked out). I’d ask if anyone had an interpretation and if no one did, I’d ask him or her to sit down. I’d go all literal! But I don’t ask the SBC to adopt my views. This is a matter for my church. The SBC is pretty clear on this. We are not a charismatic denomination. If you want to practice tongues in public worship or promote that, I’m not your enemy. If you want to be a Southern Baptist missionary and do that, I am not your friend in that endeavor!
And no one at the IMB, none of us who promoted changing the policies, NONE of us is looking to change the SBC into a charismatic denomination.
We simply believed that someone who goes into their private prayer closet and in their private prayer time prays in a private prayer language should not automatically be eliminated from service as a missionary. Why would we make a policy about how someone prays IN PRIVATE? We aren’t looking to partner with the Assemblies in church planting or to have joint prayer conferences with the IHOP folks (International House of Prayer, folks, not Pancakes!). It’s just about the fact that people who have a private prayer language should not be summarily dismissed from consideration as missionaries.
What is so wrong with that?
The Heart of the Problem
It’s our rhetoric, our tendency to reduce things to the absurd and to the extreme. There were four main areas that were changed. The baptism policy was altered. In 2005 a policy was altered that I thought was particularly awful – if you’d been baptized scripturally, but the person or church that did the baptism didn’t have the right set of beliefs (particularly about eternal security) your baptism was invalidated and you could not be a candidate unless you were baptized again. I consider that anti-biblical – to be baptized twice. So, we were demanding that someone do something anti-biblical to be a missionary. I was not in support of the PPL policy, but I found this one offensive.
But here’s where the problem came in. There is a reason I call that era the “Wild West” days of Baptist blogging. It was ugly. Those who were in support of the policies were labeled as legalists and fundamentalists and Landmarkers. They were none of the above. They were wrong (in my humble but correct opinion) but they weren’t men with horns who hated the gospel and wanted to destroy truth, justice and the American Way. I was often disgusted with the tactics, rhetoric, and invective of those ON MY SIDE.
The other side, well I don’t think they were much better. If I had a buck for every time I got called liberal or moderate I think I could pay off my daughter’s college loans (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s a good turn of phrase, right?). Dr. Thomas White wrote a white paper defining six parameters of biblical baptism. I agreed strongly with three or four of them (that it was by immersion, after salvation, symbolic in nature and in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit). I did not agree with his other points. And yet, I was accused of not believing in biblical baptism, of wanting to move us away from being truly Baptist because I didn’t subscribe to all 6 points.
There was plenty of blame to go around.
Now, today, the IMB has done away with several policies that have been in place for years.
- The private prayer language policy is gone.
- The baptism policy is gone – now the BF&M is the only baptism policy.
- The policy against sending teenage children is gone.
Frankly, as a kid who was sent to the mission field in 7th grade, I think this was a good policy and I’m not sure it should have been changed. You want a rebellious kid? Move him around the world in his teenage years!
- The policy against divorced people serving as career missionaries is gone.
So, what was the first response? Some variation of “Wow, we are lowering the bar to send charismatic divorcees who may or may not have been baptized properly.” Why do we feel the need to go straight for the lowest common denominator? Why do we have to reduce things to the absurd?
Jenni and I were in the appointment process as missionaries back in the Medieval Era until our third son was born with a medical condition that had the potential of being dangerous. We ended up going to the foreign country of Iowa instead. But anyone who has been through the process knows that it is no easy thing. When you’ve been vetted by the IMB, you’ve been vetted! I think Trey Gowdy works for them!
They are not looking to “lower the bar.” What they are looking to do is remove hard and fast rules that block otherwise good candidates.
- A qualified candidate with a PPL won’t be eliminated.
- Depending on the circumstances of the divorce and the place he or she will serve, a divorcee might be able to serve.
- If you’ve been baptized by immersion after salvation and are a member of an SBC church, you can engage the process.
- If your children are good with the process, a teenage child doesn’t eliminate you from the process.
IMB Policies for Candidates
I received an email from a missionary friend. It came from David Platt after the board meeting. It contained the policies for missionary qualification. I am going to cut and paste it here. The email is written with a lot of shorthand, which I assume is done for security reasons.
A [company] m-nary is a disc of J set apart by the Spirit, sent out from the ch, and affirmed by the [company] to cross geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers as part of a m-nary team focused on making discs and multiplying chs among unreached peoples and places. [The company] exists to empower limitless teams of m-naries made up of different men, women, and families with distinct roles and responsibilities. [The company] provides multiple pathways in which m-naries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications. However, any [company] m-nary serving through any pathway created by [company] leadership is required to meet the following qualifications:
· Vibrant personal disc-ship: As they abide in the Word and walk in step with the Spirit, [company] m-naries bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with J.
· Evident personal disc making: [Company] m-naries are meaningfully involved in a local ch in which they participate in leading people to J, seeing new believers immersed in the ch, and showing believers how to obey J, all with a view toward reaching the nations with the good news.
· Call: The call to serve as a [company] m-nary has been discerned within a local ch and affirmed by that local ch alongside [company] leadership.
· Commitment: [Company] m-naries are devoted to the vision, m, values, and beliefs of the [company].
· Currently an immersed member of a SB ch
· Commitment to and identification with SBs
· Conviction of truth as expressed in the current BF&M statement of the SBC
Good physical, emotional, and mental health.
[Company] m-naries model a Father-honoring family life and/or personal relationships.
Service is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents of the United States.
There are some clarifying comments at the end.
A few comments and clarifications regarding what this policy does and does not mean are extremely important.
First, this policy means that when it comes to specific [company] pathways for service like career, apprentice, Journeyman, ISC, or Masters, [the company] no longer has official trustee policies detailing qualifications for each of these pathways. Nevertheless, this policy does not mean that just anyone can now serve through any of these pathways created by [the company]. We will still have clear expectations and qualifications which accompany every pathway created by [the company] (whether the ones mentioned above or new pathways we create in the days ahead). The purpose of this policy is simply to provide [company] leadership the opportunity to continually evaluate and even revise the expectations and qualifications for those pathways as needed in the days ahead.
Second, this policy does not mean that current principles governing the selection of m-naries may not apply to particular pathways in the future. For example, we have had a policy prohibiting m-naries with teenage children from being selected for certain pathways. This policy was established for good reason in light of challenges for children (and their families) moving overseas at certain ages. As a result, there may be some pathways through which [the company] continues to not appoint m-naries with teenage children. At the same time, this new policy does leave open the possibility for [company] pathways to exist in which m-naries with teenage children might serve through [the company].
Third, this policy does not signal a change in practice regarding how [the company] works in relation to certain SB distinctives. Part of the purpose of this policy is to re-ensure that every potential [company] m-nary is a meaningful member of a SB ch and believes and works according to the current BF&M. Moreover, simply because we replace other policies addressing more specific distinctives does not mean such distinctives are now unimportant to [the company]. For example, replacing the policy that addresses tongues and private pr language as a qualification for m-nary candidates does not mean that the issue of tongues is unimportant to IMB work around the world. We will continue to train m-naries and work as m-naries in ways that faithfully represent SB chs and conviction, and we will continue to have as part of General Policy 200-11 and our “Manual for Field Personnel” allowance for termination of employment for any m-nary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive” to SB m work. In a similar way, replacing the policy that addresses immersion does not in any way mean that [the company] will in any sense dilute the way we select, train, and work as m-naries when it comes to the significance of immersion.
Fourth, this policy does not mean we are lowering the standards for m-naries. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Some may see the replacement of policies dealing with divorce or tongues, for example, as efforts to “lower the bar” regarding expectations of m-naries. One might imagine a man or woman with multiple divorces who is also engaged in harmful charismatic practices and wonder if this policy revision now opens the possibility for that person to serve as a [company] m-nary. But this is most definitely not what this policy means. As you see in the new policy, the baseline qualification for m-naries includes men and women who “bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with J” and are “meaningfully involved in a SB ch in which they participate in leading people to J, seeing new believers immersed in the ch, and showing believers how to obey J, all with a view toward reaching nations with the good news.” Further, prospective m-naries must evidence a m-nary call that is both “discerned within their local ch and affirmed by that local ch alongside [company] leadership.” Finally, they must be “devoted to the vision, m, values, and beliefs of [the company].” We hope that if all of these characteristics are evident in a member of a SB ch, and that ch affirms with us the Father’s call for that member to work as a m-nary, then pathways for service as a [company] m-nary will be a possibility (whether as a ch planter or support worker who receives full financial support from [the company], as a business professional who receives no financial support from [the company], or anywhere in between).
In conclusion, what this policy means is that [the company] wants to open wide the door for SB chs to send thousands upon thousands of Word-qualified members to serve as [company] m-nary team members who are making discs and multiplying chs among the unreached. These members will serve in many different positions with many different responsibilities, ranging from lead ch planters to vital support roles, from business professionals to college students to active retirees. From a variety of different backgrounds with a variety of different skills and a variety of different qualifications, they will join together to spread the good news to people who have never heard it. The ultimate aim of this revised policy is to enable limitless Father-exalting, J-following, Spirit-led, Word-faithful, people-loving, high-quality SB m-naries to serve with [the company] through a multiplicity of pathways we provide in the days ahead.
(Highlights are mine)
Anyone who thinks (or publicly advocates) that the IMB is going to send “charismatics” to the mission field or that somehow Platt is “soft” on immersion and might be trying to bring is a softening of policy on immersion, I would especially suggest that he or she read the third point. That makes his intent clear and unequivocal.
If you saw the stats for SBC Voices, you’d realize how big this thing is. It’s like going back to GCR days. Yesterday was our biggest day in a while. This is big news and will likely continue to be so. But we need to step back and get some perspective.
I hated the policies since 2005 when they were adopted. But guess what? The mission work of the SBC continued during the last decade? Were good, qualified people denied candidacy because of these policies? I know in fact that they were. But we couldn’t send all the qualified candidates anyway! Our mission work survived these policies that I thought were awful for 10 years. Those who spoke as if the IMB policies were the destruction of all things good in the SBC – they erred. That kind of overheated rhetoric was not helpful.
Guess what? Those of you who are nervous can take comfort in the fact that we have good people in Richmond and on the field. The work will go on. This is not a cataclysm. Overwrought rhetoric will not help now any more than it did in 2005 and 2006. We don’t need to go back to those days.
Here’s the thing. There are good people at the IMB.
Do you really think they want to send UNQUALIFIED, UN-BAPTIST people to the mission field? Their concern is getting rid of strict rules so that they can work more on a case by case basis. This is not a huge deal. If Platt is lying and he starts sneaking in Benny Hinn clones and Methodists, I will join you in raising the hue and cry. But until that happens, read what Platt wrote. This is no big deal. The sky is not falling. He’s not trying to make the SBC either the Baptist Assembly of God or SB Presbytery.
Final Challenge: read what he wrote. Where’s the problem?