KANSAS CITY, Mo. (ABP) — Controversial policies for missionaries on baptism and speaking in tongues were slightly softened — but not revoked — by trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board May 8.
The trustees, meeting in Kansas City, approved an ad hoc subcommittee report of the board's missionary personnel committee, which had spent more than a year studying the issues.
Many who opposed the rules had hoped the committee would recommend revoking them altogether. In the end, however, the panel suggested softening the language on the baptism guideline and changing the tongues ruling from a policy to a guideline, which carries slightly less authority.
The decision is not likely to silence the denomination-wide controversy over the guidelines, which detractors say improperly exceed doctrinal parameters set in the SBC's confession of faith, approved in 2000.
Trustee Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor who has been at the forefront of the opposition, said the softened guidelines aren't enough. “I would like to urge my fellow trustees to seriously consider the wisdom of adopting these guidelines,” he told the board. “I would much rather the [full] convention speak on this matter for the board.”
But Paul Chitwood, a Kentucky pastor who serves as chairman of the board's mission personnel committee, said the guidelines are necessary despite the lack of evidence of a “systemic problem” with charismatic practices among IMB missionaries.
A preamble to the recommendations said, in part, “the rapid spread of neo-Pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on the new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.”
It continued, “Furthermore, the diversity of denominational backgrounds among missionary candidates requires a clear baptism guideline to guide the work of our candidate consultants as they consider the qualifications of candidates.”
IMB trustees first adopted the regulations in 2005. They were designed to disqualify new missionary candidates who practice a “private prayer language,” a form of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. Many observers saw the move as a slap at IMB president Jerry Rankin, who has acknowledged using a “private prayer language.”
The other policy was designed to prevent the approval of candidates baptized by a church or denomination with a different understanding of the doctrine of baptism than the views held by most Southern Baptists.
Board policies already in place in 2005 required missionary candidates to refrain from public glossolalia and other practices common to the charismatic movement. The board has always required missionaries to have been baptized by immersion after professing faith in Christ.
But the IMB's 2005 action tightened those policies, stirring almost immediate controversy among younger pastors and others in the SBC blogosphere. Many of the disgruntled leaders said the mandate reflected restrictive theological beliefs held by some Southern Baptist leaders but not shared by the denomination at large.
The controversy led the board to appoint the study committee in March 2006. Chitwood said the panel solicited “vast amounts of material” from “across our convention” in its work.
In discussion on the recommendation, Burleson asked Chitwood and other board leaders to define the practical difference between an IMB “policy” and an IMB “guideline.”
IMB attorney Matt Bristol, addressing the question, said guidelines allowed for some wiggle room on the part of those screening missionary candidates.
“The only difference between the two terms is that the term 'guideline' carries with it an implication that in the implementation … that as the circumstances are presented with each individual candidate, it will be applied with a degree of flexibility, or if you would rather, pragmatism rather than dogmatism,” he said.
After a 45-minute discussion, the trustees approved the guidelines by a voice vote, with only a handful in audible opposition.