Just in time for the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind. on June 10-11, the issue of missionaries speaking in tongues publicly or privately has come up again. Here are excerpts from two articles in the Christian Post this week about a statement issued by a number of Southern Baptists urging the International Mission Board’s reconsideration of their current “guidelines” for missionary qualifications.
Thirty-seven former Southern Baptist missionaries, former International Mission Board trustees and Southern Baptist pastors have signed a statement expressing their “strong” disagreement with a 2005 decision by the IMB trustees that ruled out the appointment of missionary candidates who practice speaking in tongues in public or a “prayer language” in private and who have not been baptized properly, according to the new guidelines.
“We are alarmed at the reports of the rejection of otherwise worthy candidates and reports of individuals who will now not even bother to apply to their own denomination’s missions organization, lest these guidelines disqualify them,” the statement, which was released Monday, says. “We are dismayed that one of the results of the implementation of these guidelines is the loss of valuable, faithful IMB personnel.”
“Let us as Southern Baptists not purposefully turn away any qualified worker who has heard and obeyed the call to ‘Go,'” the statement reads.
The signatories argue that the International Mission Board’s guidelines for candidacy stray “far beyond the parameters” set by the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith – the Baptist Faith and Message.
In 2005, the International Mission Board stirred debate when it adopted a policy that barred missionaries who practice private prayer language. The agency already had policies in place barring missionary candidates who practice public glossolalia (speaking in tongues) but went further to ban those who practice it in private. The adopted baptism guideline stated candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone and the administrator of the baptism must believe in eternal security.
Amid ongoing debates, IMB trustees revised the mission board’s policy in May 2007, terming it “guidelines” rather than “policies.” But the agency retained much of the original wording and reaffirmed the main provisions of the “guidelines.”
Paul Chitwood of Kentucky, chairman of the trustees’ mission personnel committee, said “the rapid spread of neo-Pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.” Read the entire article.
“Many faithful brothers and sisters who are members of Southern Baptist churches differ on this issue as they seek to live out their lives in obedience to Christ,” the statement continues. “The Bible at no point raises this issue to a matter of primary doctrinal importance, thus it should not disqualify any godly missionary candidate for service with the International Mission Board.”
Meanwhile, William L. (Bill) Wagner, a former Southern Baptist missionary who is also up for SBC president this year, doesn’t believe the trustees’ action was appropriate.
“We have lost some wonderful missionaries because of this decision. We already have the Baptist Faith and Message document. It has served us well. We do not need to add to it,” Wagner recently told Baptist Press. “I know much about this action at the IMB, and I feel that there was too much political reasoning involved in the decision. We as Baptists need to put politics aside and get back to our main task of winning people and making them disciples.”
Read the entire article here.
Read the actual statement here.
By coincidence, I suppose, another article this week in The Tennessean reported concerns by Southern Baptist Convention President, Frank Page of a decline in membership beginning in the denomination.
Since being elected president in 2006, Page has urged Baptists to give up their political infighting and focus on their main mission of spreading the faith. To the media, he’s tried to help the convention present a kinder, gentler face. He’s also tried to stress the democratic nature of Southern Baptist life.
Ed Stetzer, head of Southern Baptist affiliated LifeWay Research, says that growth rate has slowed in recent years.
Now, he says, the convention has started a downhill slide. “If you look at the demographics, the trends are not positive,” Stetzer said.
I’m afraid demographics may not be our only problem. I hate to think where we might be if we hadn’t had a president with Page’s goals the last two years. I understand Southern Baptists are a denomination with its own beliefs and doctrines. I understand the need to preserve those doctrines. But to what extent?
While those issuing the statement commended the thousands of missionaries serving under the IMB, I wonder what restrictions like this will do to funding and applications. After all, there are more and more great mission organizations rising up every day. Will we decide to give our mission offerings and time to them instead?