EULESS?Roy Fish, longtime evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and now interim president of the North American Mission Board, took those at the Empower Evangelism Conference on a narrative journey through the rooms of his heart, explaining that Christ desires to be at home in us.
“When Jesus came into my heart he took the loneliness and gave me great companionship with him,” Fish said.
Reading from Ephesians 3:14-19, Fish said verse 17, “and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith,” speaks to Jesus’ desire to be at home in the believer’s heart.
After 50 years of knowing Christ, Fish said he is still the greatest thrill in his life.
Crediting his friend Robert Munger, a Presbyterian preacher, for his sermon topic, Fish said he aimed to give it a fresh twist.
“When Jesus came into my heart,” Fish said, “I decided I wanted him to be in every single room in the home of my heart.”
Traveling into the first room, “the living room of my heart” which was the mind, Jesus found the space small and the walls thick, Fish joked. “I was embarrassed,” Fish said. There, the Lord found pictures on the wall “of the living room of my heart?jealously, envy or arrogant pride, resentment or bitterness” and impurity, Fish explained.
“Lord, I’ve tried at times to pull these pictures down off the wall of my living room, but I’ve just not had the power to do it. Can you help me?'” Fish said. “He said, ‘I believe I can, Roy.’ And I watched while with strong fingers he reached up and pulled every single one of the pictures down off the wall of the living room of my heart.”
Noting that the walls were now bare, Fish said he asked God for a picture and Jesus replied, “‘I have one. Why don’t you hang it where you can see it always.’ And he gave to me a picture of himself and he put it in a prominent place on the wall of the living room. And I’ve discovered when I keep my eyes on that picture it has a way of keeping other ugly pictures down off the wall of the living room of my heart.”
“The Scripture tells us, ‘Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.’ Keep your eyes on that picture of him.”
Speaking of the mind, Fish said, “What you think is tremendously important. What you think is of great import to God.”
Then, into the next room they went, Fish said, “the library of my heart.” There, Jesus found racy novels, pornographic trash, other ungodly things. After disposing of the ungodly books, Fish asked the Lord if he had any books to replace them.
“‘Yes I do, Roy,'” the Lord said. “‘I have 66 books. I want you to take them and put them on the shelves of your library.'”
“This Bible has tremendous import in impacting my life. And it makes great claims about itself. ‘Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against God. Your word is a light to my feet and a lamp unto my path.'”
Fish told the congregation: “You won’t get to the know the God of this book well unless you get to know the book of this God well.”
Next came the sitting room in the home of his heart, he said.
“We took a seat and I began to talk with him. You can do that, you know. You can talk to him anytime about anything and anywhere.”
“I discovered that Jesus was the most sympathetic, understanding, compassionate listener I had ever talked to,” Fish said, adding that there was “nothing that he wasn’t interested in.”
Fish then told of entering the den after days of being away and finding the Lord there.
“Lord, what are you doing here in the den?” Fish asked. “I’ve been waiting for you,” the Lord replied. Fish said he realized he hadn’t been there for a week, and the Lord said, “As much as you need this time with me, Roy, I want this time with you.”
“Friend if you are his tonight, he wants you and he wants time and fellowship with you,” Fish reminded the audience.
After that, the two of them entered the workroom, Fish recalled. After making their way down dusty stairs into a dimly lit room, Fish explained to the Lord his lack of ability at using the tools there.
“As he controlled my arms and my fingers, they touched those machines in the workroom of my heart. I want to tell you, I have never turned out anything like that before. Oh, I realized it wasn’t I doing it; it was Jesus doing it through me. And I realized he was trying to teach me the open secret of effective Christian service. It’s not a matter of my turning it out on the level of my human best. It’s a matter of my yielding myself to him, that he might live his life in me and through me and serve on the level of his divine best.”
“Friend, I want to tell you,” Fish said, “without Jesus ? you can do nothing.”
Finally, as they walked the house, a bad smell was detected, Fish said.
“I think I know where it’s coming from,” the Lord told Fish.
“We went to the closet at the top of the top of the stairs” and “I’d forgotten he had X-ray eyes. I thought I could hide those secret sins from him.”
“He said, ‘Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.'”
Fish said he then realized “what was the most precious thing in life?conscience fellowship with Jesus the Lord.”
Fish said unless God has the keys to every room of the heart, people rob themselves of their joy in him.
Quoting a version of Ephesians 3:17, Fish said: “I pray that Jesus will settle down and be more and more at home in your hearts by faith.”
“I believe he was talking along the line of what I’ve been sharing with you tonight,” Fish said of the Ephesians 3 passage.
“Somewhere along the line I realized he was not just the guest of my heart, he was the landlord. I’d been treating him as a guest. But the truth is, he purchased it all. I signed the deed of my heart over to Jesus Christ early in my Christian life.”
The overriding theme of walking with Jesus is grace, Fish reminded.
EULESS?West Texas native Herb Reavis Jr. told those attending the Empower Evangelism Conference at First Baptist Church of Euless that God’s power, not man’s methods, brings spiritual results. Reavis, the pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., preached Feb. 6 from Luke 3:21 on “Power Priorities.”
The verse says, “When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. As he was praying, heaven opened.”
“God just wants you to be full of Jesus,” Reavis said before telling the story evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Moody never went further than grammar school, “butchered the English language” and was never formally ordained, yet he “took two continents and shook them for God.”
Pondering how that happened, Reavis explained, “It dawned on me; it’s the power of God.” Just as Jesus was powerful in his obedience to the Father, we have access to the same power, Reavis noted.
He also told of the Early American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who carefully read his sermons from a manuscript because of poor eyesight and had no apparent pulpit charisma, yet his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God ” shook the New England of his day into the Great Awakening. After Edwards preached, people came repenting.
“They did it lest they fall headlong into hell,” Reavis said, quoting from an account of that day.
How did a preacher with poor eyesight reading manuscripted sermons bring down heaven? Reavis asked rhetorically.
“It hit me again. The Power of God,” he said.
Speaking of other human instruments of God through the ages, “What on earth is the explanation?” Reavis said.? “And then it hit me again; it is the power of God.”
Today, “what we desperately need is the power of God to fall” on churches to bring about a “Holy Ghost camp-meeting revival,” he insisted.
Just like Jesus, who was baptized in the Jordan River by an “old-fashioned, hell-fire preacher named John the Baptist,” believers too must make obedience a priority, Reavis said. Speaking of the need for holiness, Reavis said legalism must be avoided, but “we’ve gone too far the other way.”
Obedience in the Christian life begins with believer’s baptism, said Reavis, who told of his baptism while he was preaching a revival in Memphis, Tenn. He had made a profession of faith early in life and was baptized, but never really got saved until later.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not leaving Memphis ? until I get baptized.”
“I knew we were going to have at least one convert that night,” he quipped.
Such obedience lifts a burden and allows the Holy Spirit to work powerfully, he said.
“Maybe you are not tithing, maybe you are not having a quiet time, maybe you are not witnessing,” Reavis stated.
He cited Acts 10:38, which tells of Peter going to the house of Cornelius “with the Holy Spirit and with power, for God was with him.”
If Jesus who was God did nothing of his own accord, “do we think as mere mortals saved by grace that we can walk without the anointing of the Holy Spirit?”
Reavis emphasized that upon conversion “you either get [the Holy Spirit] or you don’t.” There are no extra pieces of the Holy Spirit to be had. “When you get saved, you get the whole load.”
The anointing of the Holy Spirit is when a Christian allows the Holy Spirit to rest on him in obedience “to touch this lost world,” Reavis explained.
“It means that every nook and cranny of your heart is in control by the Holy Spirit” to “beautify you and purify you.”
“Every time sin takes hold,” Reavis said, “the Holy Spirit will aggravate you and agitate you until you say, ‘I gotta get right.'”
GREENVILLE?Kevin Herbert had a stereotypical view of the work church groups do when they travel to China: “You go. You see some sites. You do some prayer walking.”
Beyond that, little could be accomplished in a Communist country, Herbert figured. His opinion changed in 2003, however, after he traveled there on a trip sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Four years later and with a handful of trips under his belt leading Texas church groups to mainland China, Herbert has become an advocate for church-based work among the Chinese, who number 1.3 billion people or four times the United States population.
Between 2-5 percent of Chinese are professing believers, Herbert said, which means nearly 1 billion are not.
Because the state is deemed supreme and man is viewed in evolutionary terms, “when you are speaking to the Chinese, you start with ‘There is a God who created you and loves you ? I’m not a monkey and there is a God,” Herbert said.
Twenty years ago, Southern Baptist church groups rarely traveled to China on short-term mission trips. Today, however, “The IMB is saying, ‘Please, send those five to 10 people and help us make significant progress among the Chinese people,” Herbert said.
To that end, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is planning a “Heart for China” workshop March 5-9 for pastors and church leaders interested in doing short-term, church-based ministry in China. The workshop will be at the church where Herbert is pastor?t1:PlaceName w:st=”on”>Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Greenville.
Through a partnership with the SBTC and the International Mission Board, SBTC church groups may travel there for short-term work in English language instruction, prayer walking, sports outreach, encouragement ministry, and street ministry.
Herbert said since 2003 he has taken around 100 Texans with him to China with fruitful results, mostly from English language instruction and sports outreach.
“Of those, a good percentage have gone back,” Herbert said. “Before we return to the U.S., they are saying, ‘OK, now next year we’ll do this or that.”
The Chinese people are eager to learn English from Americans, “which often leads to more relational dialogue,” Herbert said.
Also, the Chinese are very interested in athletics. “Basketball is huge,” he said. “Outside of soccer, basketball is it. Yao Ming [Houston Rockets] is well known. Michael Jordan is huge.”
With the 2008 Summer Olympic Games planned for Bejing, news coverage of China will escalate.
“That’s good for me because that promotes the work even more,” Herbert said. In a 10-day to two-week period, “you can have an impact.”
This year Herbert is overseeing three trips to China
AUSTIN?A bill approved Feb. 21 by the Texas House Committee on Public Health would rescind the controversial mandate by Gov. Rick Perry of a vaccine for pre-teen girls against the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
The committee voted 6-3 to forward the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen and about 90 co-sponsors among the 150 House members, reports in the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News said.
Legislators in Austin had been gathering support in an effort to pressure the second-term Republican governor to rescind his executive order of Feb. 2, which caused a firestorm of criticism, especially from conservative groups angered over the mandating of the newly approved vaccine.
House Bill 1098 would prevent Texas public schools from using the vaccine as an enrollment requirement.
“My concern is, we just don’t know enough about this vaccine,” Bonnen, R-Angleton, told the Dallas Morning News. “This is about policy, not politics. But certainly [Gov. Perry] has created a great deal of support for us to not mandate this for 11-year-old girls.”
Also, on Feb. 20 a Texas state court judge refused Perry’s executive order to hasten permits for coal-burning utilities, a move that may call into question the governor’s ability to enforce directives, the Morning News reported.
EULESS?If Jerry Falwell has an early favorite in the 2008 presidential race, he left no clues behind during a Feb. 5 sermon at the Empower Evangelism Conference. Instead, the veteran pastor and icon of cultural conservatism delivered a sermon aimed at weary pastors and ministry leaders that was nearly void of any mention of politics.
Falwell is perhaps best known for helping mobilize millions of voters to embrace conservative, right-to-life political candidates in the late 1970s and early 1980s after founding The Moral Majority.
But on this night the founding pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and chancellor of Liberty University was strictly pastoral.
He reminded those attending the conference at the First Baptist Church of Euless that despite the dried-up brook that the prophet Elijah experienced at Cherith, God’s purpose always is to take his children to a higher level of usefulness.
He began his sermon in Jeremiah 29:11, which says: “‘For I know the plans I have for you’?[this is] the Lord’s declaration?’plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”
Noting the active ministry of the man who preached before him at the conference, longtime Southwestern Seminary professor Roy Fish, who in retirement age is serving as interim president of the North American Mission Board, Falwell said: “There is nothing wrong with physically stepping aside from physical demands. Industry requires that.
“But there is not a word in the Bible about retiring from the Lord’s work ? Roy Fish, he’s busier now than he’s ever been.”
Falwell continued: “I want to chat with you about moving to a higher level. Some of you have become weary in well doing. I know you haven’t quit ? but there is not the fire in your belly like there used to be.”
Falwell shared how for years he has risen each morning at 5:45 a.m. and tackled the day, beginning in his early ministry when he planted Thomas Road in 1956 by spending an hour each morning meeting with God. He knocked on doors all over Lynchburg, offering the gospel and prayer for anyone who would listen, he recalled.
“I had the whole city laid out in a radius of 10 blocks, Jerusalem, 20 blocks, Judea, 30 blocks, Samaria, and out into the counties?the uttermost part of the Earth.”
Knocking on 600 doors a week, “You know what happened? We went from 35 to 864 in one year,” he said.
The church now averages more than 11,000 people in weekly worship, where Falwell serves alongside his son Jonathan, who is his executive pastor and who filled the pulpit for Falwell during an extended illness two years ago, he said.
During the first three months after moving into a new, 6,000-seat auditorium, the church saw more than 1,000 people come to Christ, Falwell said.
“And this ol’ boy’s first-love fires start burning again,” he said.
“Where are you? Really, has there ever been a time in your ministry when your zeal was higher than it is right now? Has there ever been a time when your zeal level is higher than right now? Has there eve
EULESS?Over a 33-year pastorate at First Baptist Church of Forney, Jerry Griffin saw more than 1,700 people come to saving faith. Now in his golden years, he’s returned to the church as senior adult pastor, serving alongside current pastor Jimmy Pritchard.
“One of the most faithful servants I have ever known in my life,” said SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass of Griffin as he introduced him as the recipient of the 2007 W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award for Pastoral Evangelism.
The Criswell Award, along with the Roy Fish Lifetime Achievement Award for Vocational Evangelism, which went to evangelist Rick Ingle, was presented Feb. 6 during the Empower Evangelism Conference at the First Baptist Church of Euless.
Cass told how Griffin, a Corsicana native, began as a pastor in college and has preached for 53 years. A Southwestern Seminary graduate, Griffin served as director of missions in Kauf-Van Association before returning to FBC Forney.
Ingle, the Fish Award recipient and a Denton resident, has preached more than 1,400 revival meetings in his ministry, including many engagements behind the Iron Curtain and in closed countries in Asia, Cass noted.
A Philadelphia native who was a youth gang leader before a five-year hitch in the Navy that included five court martial cases, Ingle was saved at the First Baptist Church of Victoria.
He is a Southwestern Seminary graduate and has two honorary doctorates.
Ingle devotes much of his time preaching at his own expense in small churches in the upper Midwest and Northeast. He refuses to accept honoraria from these churches, Cass explained.
Also on Feb. 6, the SBTC recognized churches with exceptional baptisms in 2006. By average Sunday attendance, they are:
?Churches over 2,500: Fellowship Church of Grapevine, 2,313 baptisms.
?Churches 1,500-2,000: First Baptist Colleyville, 264 baptisms.
?Churches 1,000-1,500: First Baptist Odessa, 164 baptisms.
?Churches 750-1,000: Seoul Baptist of Houston, 208 baptisms.
?Churches 500-750: First Baptist Little Elm, 69 baptisms.
?Churches 250-500: Exciting Emmanuel, El Paso, 104 baptisms.
?Churches 100-250: Willow Creek Fellowship, Plano, 130 baptisms.
?Churches 100 or fewer: Mount Zion Baptist, Athens, 97 baptisms.
GRAPEVINE–In January, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the news with an earlier decision to deny tenure to a Hebrew language instructor, Sheri Klouda. Discussion in the Klouda case centered on Southwestern’s practice of appointing only “pastor-qualified” professors to teach biblical studies and theology students.
A Feb. 5 story in the TEXAN quoted David Allen, Southwestern’s academic dean, and Van McClain, chairman of the seminary trustee board. Chairman McClain spoke of Southwestern’s desire “to have only men teaching who are qualified to be pastors or who have been pastors in the disciplines of theology, biblical studies, homiletics, and pastoral ministries.”
McClain described the desire to be in keeping with the SBC’s confession of faith, which limits the role of pastor to men.
In early February the TEXAN asked the leadership of the five other SBC seminaries about their procedures and policies regarding the appointment of biblical studies professors.
Midwestern Seminary, Southern Seminary, New Orleans Seminary, and Southeastern Seminary granted interviews with the seminary presidents. Golden Gate Seminary responded to questions by e-mail.
The seminaries, each with its own trustee governing board, differ slightly in policy and practice. None, however, has women teaching theology or pastoral ministries courses.
The following are the questions the TEXAN asked and the responses by the seminaries’ presidents or spokesmen.
*TEXAN: Describe your seminary’s practice regarding female professors and biblical studies classes.
DANNY AKIN (Southeastern president): This is a point that is raised in a lot of venues, not just seminaries, but in the mission field. For example, I recently had the question proposed before me?Is it appropriate for a woman to share the gospel and evangelize a man? My response was, it would be inappropriate if she didn’t. Then the question comes, “we don’t believe women should ever under any circumstances teach a man theology.” My response was how do you share the gospel and not convey and teach theology? The answer is you do.
The gospel is by its very nature a theological proposition and issue; therefore, the very sharing of the gospel, you are teaching theology. You are teaching the Bible. That’s just unavoidable. Moving to us–though we do not have an “official” policy, and we don’t. But as the president and with my dean, David Nelson and I think with the consensus for the most part if not unanimously with our faculty, we have identified certain positions that closely parallel the office of the pastor, the elder, the overseer, that we would only look to call and hire men for those particular areas.
Those areas include preaching, pastoral ministries, theology, and biblical studies. I could not imagine that we would hire a woman to sit in one of those professorial positions as an instructor over men.
CHUCK KELLEY (New Orleans president): We do not have guidelines, but we would follow the Baptist Faith and Message statement and I think in my conversations with other seminary presidents and I think I read my board properly in saying there are definitely areas in which we would not have a woman teach. Biblical studies and theology are two of those areas. Preaching would be a third area. However, I do want to have a women’s study position that would have a female theologian and biblical scholar teaching as part of our women’s studies program. That’s one of my dreams one day.
ALBERT MOHLER (Southern president): During the transition of Southern Seminary, when we were seeking to bring our hiring policies completely in line with what we believed were the rightful expectations of Southern Baptists, we did this before there was a 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
It was clear where Southern Baptists stood on this. Furthermore, we believed it was right in accordance with biblical teaching that the faculty members who would model the pastorate in the teaching of disciplines specifically for pastors would be qualified by Scripture to be pastors.
This was not just an abstract theory. This also was what was advised to us in terms of the necessity of specifying which teaching positions must in all cases be qualified in this manner. So we defined all teaching positions in the school of theology as of necessity to be pastor-qualified.
PHIL ROBERTS (Midwestern president): We don’t have a written policy but we do have the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which specifies that pastors should be men. We’d be very hesitant about women teaching theological subjects for that reason.
JEFF JONES (Golden Gate communications director): The seminary does not have a restriction of gender in its faculty hiring policy. The seminary currently has four female faculty members teaching in the areas of education and intercultural communication. *TEXAN: Would this practice include disciplines like church history and biblical languages?
AKIN: I wouldn’t [draw the line there]. I don’t see a problem with a woman teaching French, German, Latin, Cantonese, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.
MOHLER: I don’t believe there is any such thing as a mere language study when it comes to the biblical languages and the biblical text. I would argue that the teaching of biblical languages, when it comes to interpreting and translating the biblical text, inevitably comes down to matters of exegesis and theology as well as mere language.
ROBERTS: We’d have to take that on a case-by-case basis in some areas.
*TEXAN: Are there cases where otherwise qualified men might be rejected because they are not qualified to pastor for some reason?
AKIN: Yes. We, for example, as of this moment have no divorcees on our faculty. I realize there are differences of opinion on this and I respect those differences of opinion. Would I think it exceptional that I would have a divorced person on our faculty? Yes. It is conceivable someone who was divorced prior to their conversion and who has demonstrated over many, many years the expectations of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that they are indeed a mature, godly man who would meet all those expectations. Could I see myself considering such a person for a teaching position? Yes, I could.
KELLEY: Probably so. We are looking for churchmen. Many of our faculty members are interim pastors in addition to their ministry here. This is one of the things I’ve had to learn. I really learned one of the significant roles a seminary plays in a region of its location is the provision of leadership for local churches such as interim pastorates. And so I like to have people who are able to help churches because I know the needs are so great.
ROBERTS: We do expect our faculty members to have a kind of pastoral role in the lives of our students. I couldn’t see us hiring someone to teach biblical studies classes who is not qualified for the pastorate.
*TEXAN: What do you say to those who object that passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-14 apply to churches rather than to parachurch ministries such as seminaries?
AKIN: I understand their argument and though I appreciate it, I would simply think for us, we’ve determined that the parallel between the office of the pastor and those particular positions of instruction is close enough that it is a guideline worth following.
KELLEY: Well, I think its primary application is obviously local church. I do think it’s harder to be ironclad over its application outside of the local church. I think you have to allow a little more freedom of interpretation. But I think Southern Baptists have historically looked at that very strongly and very consistently in relationship to the church. I think they have been very consistent in the matter of preparation of ministers in theological education. There is no tradition of women teaching theology or biblical studies to men in our seminaries. Any exceptions would stand out in being exceptions and not a rule to the succession of people coming in.
MOHLER: Well, I would say specifically that interpretation [of applying to local churches] is more or less correct. But we are an institution that serves the local church, and in particular through the training of pastors. And it would be illogical for us to believe that the order in an institution that would serve the church in training of pastors should reverse that biblical logic.
ROBERTS: I can understand their concern. We’d rather err on the side of caution.
*TEXAN: Does your seminary grant tenure?
AKIN: We do not have tenure, but we do have election to faculty. It’s almost like tenure but it’s not. That was changed during Dr. Patterson’s administration when he was here.
ROBERTS: We do not. Midwestern uses teaching contracts. Our last tenured professor retired this past year.
JONES (Golden Gate): Yes.
*TEXAN: Briefly describe the process for electing a tenured professor (election to faculty in the case of Southeastern).
AKIN: It is a shared governance function where the administration, faculty, and trustees together make that determination and ultimately the election is a trustee determination. In essence it follows a process identical to a process that would be followed where a school was granting tenure to someone. If the dean and the president do not wish to carry a person to the trustees for the purpose of being considered, it never gets to the trustees.
KELLEY: It is very simple. It’s spelled in our faculty manual. Basically, after a person has taught a certain length of time they become eligible for tenure consideration. We are obligated to consider them for tenure at the time they become eligible. If we choose not to grant tenure to the professor—and it has happened—we explain to them why we are not going to be recommending them for tenure, and they have an opportunity in a year’s time to correct whatever the problems might be.
You do this whole general evaluation at several different levels. If there is a consensus that a person is granted tenure, he is presented to the trustees and the trustees make the ultimate decision. If the staff does not feel like the person is ready for tenure, that recommendation is not made.
In our process, a person would have a year to correct whatever deficiencies were pointed out to them. And at the end of that year, they would be evaluated again and if they had not had a suitable change or improvement or whatever, then they would be granted up to a year of employment but expected to leave sometime within that next year and seek other employment. All of this is automatic. Every professor knows this coming in that if they get to the point of their life they are eligible for tenure, they are not granted tenure, then they are going to have to leave the institution.
MOHLER: It begins with the president declaring a tenurial position. Then it moves to the faculty through its search committee process making a recommendation; receiving approval from the dean and then the president has the opportunity to interview the candidate and make the decision whether or not to present the candidate for election of tenure to the board of trustees.
ROBERTS: The president and VP for academic affairs conduct the search. Our faculty gives input regarding a candidate’s qualifications to teach in an area. Based on the recommendation of seminary administration, the trustees have final approval.
JONES: All faculty candidates are approved by our SBC-appointed trustees after being recommended by the president and vice president for academic affairs.
ONTARIO, Calif.–International Mission Board trustees meeting Jan. 29-31 remained convinced that they have responsibly governed the Southern Baptist Convention entity, rejecting charges of impropriety leveled by one trustee last summer.
None of the 75 trustees present for the meeting voiced objections to the point-by-point response of the board’s executive committee to a call by IMB trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma for an investigation.
Board chairman John Floyd of Tennessee noted that the statement carried with it the counsel and concurrence of IMB executive staff.
The response answered Burleson’s complaint about exclusion of an individual trustee from forum and executive sessions without SBC approval as well as the purpose of such closed-door sessions. It also answered charges of narrowed doctrinal parameters for missionary appointees and suppression of dissent.
Another charge–that the trustee nomination process had been manipulated–was deemed beyond the board’s authority to evaluate.
A final allegation that one or more outside SBC agency heads had coerced IMB staff prompted only limited response.
“The Board of Trustees of the IMB, which consists of 89 trustees elected by the Southern Baptist Convention, is convinced that it has and will continue to discharge its responsibilities and fiduciary accountability to the SBC in cooperation to accomplish the board’s ministry assignments of evangelism and missions,” the Jan. 31 response from trustees asserted.
The statement acknowledged: “[T]he diversity of personalities, backgrounds and churches represented invariably is reflected in different opinions in giving oversight to the work of the IMB.”
And yet, the trustees said they viewed such diversity as a strength, stating, “This diversity is necessary in arriving at consensus and determining the leadership of God in making decisions within the board’s assigned responsibilities. We contend that any controversies have been dealt with according to appropriate Biblical guidelines and in line with democratic processes and approved board polity.”
Burleson’s call for an investigation of alleged impropriety among IMB trustees was offered last June at the annual meeting of SBC messengers in Greensboro, N.C. The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., initially asked for the SBC Executive Committee to handle the matter, claiming the IMB had reached an impasse in addressing “sources of controversy.”
When the matter was discussed at the SBC June 13, Burleson yielded to SBC President Bobby Welch’s suggestion that the EC not take up the matter until IMB trustees addressed it.
Near the close of their meeting Jan. 31, after IMB trustee chairman John Floyd of Tennessee repeatedly offered an opportunity for questions or discussion, trustees moved forward to approve the response without debate or opposition. Most of their time was devoted to prayer, reporting of missionary advances around the world and approval of new missionary candidates. Burleson did not attend the trustee meeting.
Regarding Burleson’s charge that the nominating process for appointment of trustees had been manipulated, IMB trustees stated they lack the authority to speak to or investigate the work of a committee elected by the SBC.
As for Burleson’s claim that one or more SBC agency heads other than the IMB president had attempted to influence or coerce IMB trustees, staff and administration to take a particular course of action, trustees reiterated that the board is not in a position to question or investigate actions and motives of heads of other SBC entities.
“It is assumed that any and all heads of SBC entities are concerned about the effectiveness of all entities in order for the SBC to fulfill its kingdom task in the world,” the statement read.
The board next responded to the point in Burleson’s motion related to closed-door forum sessions in which all trustees meet informally with the president. Prior to the board voting on the entire response, Floyd interjected, “I might say that our counsel suggested to us that it would be good to have these things stated as they are, in order that they might be referenced–especially in our situation here–the forum that some of the other trustee boards do not have. This speaks to that–the purpose of it.” Floyd then added, “It is good to have this as a foundation.”
The section of the response related to the forum reads: “The IMB does not allow formal business to be transacted in its closed Trustee Forums, but uses this time for prayer, personal testimonies and preliminary questions, and discussions regarding issues of mutual concern between senior staff and trustees,” the trustees stated in their Jan. 31 response.
“Official executive sessions are limited to matters dealing with sensitive personnel actions related to staff, missionaries and/or trustees, or those in which public exposure would result in detrimental consequences for personnel serving in sensitive and restricted locations around the world,” they wrote.
Furthermore, the board response stated, “Any actions that may be taken to exclude any trustee from participation in closed board sessions by the chairman will have been made with support of the board as a last resort and in order to avoid disruption and distractions to the board fulfilling its assigned tasks with unity and appropriate decorum.”
Regarding Burleson’s contention that trustees had legislated “new doctrinal requisites for eligibility to serve as employees or missionaries of the IMB beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” trustees dismissed any notion of the BF&M as a maximal parameter.
“While the Baptist Faith and Message represents a general confession of Southern Baptist beliefs related to Biblical teachings on primary doctrinal and social issues, the IMB retains the prerogative and responsibility of further defining the parameters of doctrinal beliefs and practices of its missionaries who serve Southern Baptists with accountability to this board,” the statement read.
Lastly, in response to Burleson’s charge of “the suppression of dissent by trustees in the minority through various means by those in the majority and the propriety of any agency forbidding a trustee, by policy, from publicly criticizing a board-approved action,” trustees reiterated their established process for discussion, debate and approval of actions in order to fulfill the missions task.
“All board-approved actions result from a process of committee, and sometimes multiple committees, consideration before they are brought to a plenary session for adoption,” trustees stated. “All trustees have opportunity in the committee process and plenary session to express and advocate minority opinions. As in any democratic body, once the majority has determined the action to be taken, the board feels that the action should receive the unified public support of all trustees for the sake of effectively moving forward to fulfill our mission task.”
In his Internet weblog and other public gatherings, Burleson had challenged IMB trustee actions during his first year on the board, opposing a guideline to exclude missionary candidates not baptized in a church that teaches eternal security and a policy barring candidates who practice a private prayer language.
While agreeing to follow a policy the board enacted last March that prohibits trustees from publicly criticizing IMB policies once enacted, Burleson’s blog provides interested observers opportunities for discussion and debate of such issues.
Former board chairman Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., recommended in May 2006 that incoming chairman Floyd continue to restrict Burleson from holding committee assignments and additionally restrict him from trustee-only sessions. Hatley told the TEXAN that Floyd concurred with his proposal as recommended by board counsel at that time.
According to a July 27, 2006 report by Florida Baptist Witness reporter Joni B. Hannigan, Hatley said Burleson showed up at the pre-meeting forum in Rockville, Md., despite being asked not to, but was not asked to leave. She quoted Hatley as saying, “He came seeing if we would throw him out. We didn’t. As it turned out there was nothing of that high security nature and I’m sure our chairman didn’t feel like it was worth the controversy.”
The Witness quoted Burleson as confirming his attendance at the forum, along with a pledge to attend all such meetings at which the entire board gathers “unless the SBC determines I am not to do that.”
Burleson has since contended that he was never barred from a trustee forum, though of the 12 Texas IMB trustees the TEXAN contacted, 10 responded that they thought the chairman had restricted Burleson from forum attendance, one was unsure, and one could not be reached. The transcript of his July 2006 interview with the Florida Baptist Witness confirmed that Floyd had followed Hatley’s recommendations. In a Jan. 31 interview with the TEXAN, Floyd clarified Burleson’s current status. “He’s not restricted from the forum, but I have not put him on any committees.”
Floyd told the Florida paper he did not have a problem with Burleson showing up at the forum, having instructed the Oklahoma trustee on how to have a good relationship with the board and expressing “a lot of confidence” in him. Burleson has praised the manner in which Floyd has conducted business as chairman, noting an improved spirit and camaraderie over the previous year.
Several Texas trustees agreed with Floyd’s expressed desire to bring closure to the dispute. IMB President Jerry Rankin also told Baptist Press the Burleson motion “has caused us to examine several facets of our meetings and process. But we’re working hard to see that this would not be a distraction from our primary focus on international missions.”
Once the SBC Executive Committee addresses the referred motion, their response and the statement of IMB trustees will be presented to SBC messengers at the June 12-13 annual meeting in San Antonio.
–Earlier reports in the Florida Baptist Witness and Baptist Press provided background for this article.
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