RICHMOND, Va. (ABP)—A group of current and former missionaries, former mission-board trustees and pastors is calling for the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board to reverse controversial guidelines for missionaries enacted in 2005.
The guidelines prohibit the appointment of any candidate who acknowledges using a “private prayer language,” a practice IMB President Jerry Rankin has espoused. They also require candidates to be baptized in a Southern Baptist church, discounting even believer’s baptism by immersion in another evangelical church.
“We express our concern over the restrictions that have been put in place in the form of additional ‘guidelines’ concerning a missionary candidate’s private prayer life and baptism,” said a statement from the group released June 2. There were initially 37 signatories to the statement.
“Our conviction is that these guidelines stray far beyond the parameters set forth by our denominational confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message.”
The statement said those restrictions amount to “intrusive scrutiny into the sanctity of the personal prayer closet” and “dictating to local churches what constitutes a legitimate Christian baptism.”
The result of adopting the guidelines—with no evidence they were needed—was that “otherwise worthy candidates” for missionary service are unnecessarily rejected and “valuable, faithful IMB personnel” are leaving the field at a time when the overseas missions harvest is greater than ever, the statement said.
Allan Blume, the president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention’s board and pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C., and his wife, Pam, are listed as contacts for the group. Pam Blume is a former IMB trustee.
Steve Hardy, associate pastor for missions at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a member of the BSC Executive Committee, is also listed as a contact person. He is also a former IMB trustee.
Allan Blume said the guidelines go beyond the Baptist Faith & Message and are extra-biblical. They are keeping “dozens” of potential missionaries from applying for service and killing morale on the field, he said.
Blume said the restrictions initiated by IMB trustees in 2005 are distinct signs of “Landmarkism”—a theological strain in Baptist life that firmly rejects ecumenism—the in IMB trustee leadership. He also said the policies reverse the appropriate relationship between Southern Baptist churches and the agencies they support with their giving.
While IMB trustees say the candidate simply has to be baptized again, Blume said such a requirement “trivializes” baptism.
“We know of dozens” of candidates who would be required to undergo such a re-baptism, said Blume, who helped draft and distribute a news release and letter asking the IMB to reconsider the policies. “We know as many are not considering applying because of these guidelines.
Mount Vernon Baptist Church is among the top 50 churches nationally in giving to the SBC’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions and one year led the nation in per-capita gifts. Current IMB trustee Donna Nealy is a member of Mount Vernon but has not participated in the discussion, adhering to a gag order that trustees imposed on themselves regarding disagreement with board policies.
“We are appealing as gently as we know how” for the IMB to reverse these guidelines, said Blume, whose church has sent a dozen missionaries through the agency, and who personally knows 100 other IMB personnel. The church frequently sends missions teams to work with international missionaries.
“Not one (missionary) has said these guidelines are inconsequential to a sinking morale on the field,” Blume said.
While former IMB regional representative Rodney Hammer’s recent resignation was one trigger for the petition by several dozen pastors and former IMB trustees, he is not the focus of the action and is not mentioned by name.
Blume emphasized, as do the documents, his support for the IMB and for the missionaries it supports.
Private prayer language
Although Blume said he does not personally practice a private prayer language, he is concerned that by adopting and dictating policies that are extra-biblical and beyond the scope of the denomination’s doctrinal statement, the IMB has reversed its appropriate relationship to the churches. The IMB should adhere to the standards of the churches that send missionaries and not refuse candidates based on guidelines the churches did not adopt, he said.
The group said their opposition to the guidelines should not be read as a lack of support for IMB missionaries, staff or administration. They “commend the obedience and commitment to God’s call of the more than 5,000 dedicated brothers and sisters who have been appointed, sent, and supported by Southern Baptists to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth” and declare that they “enthusiastically support our IMB missionaries through their praying, giving, and going.”
The group calls on Southern Baptists to “hold the entities of the SBC accountable to the direction of the convention’s churches, not the churches to the sentiments of their entities” and strongly urges Southern Baptists to “seek the removal of these controversial and superfluous guidelines from use in the candidate approval process.”
The group has created a website, imbchange.info, to “encourage appropriate principles and guidelines for missionary service through the International Mission Board of the SBC.” The statement is posted there.
IMB spokespeople, contacted for a response to the statement, were not immediately available.