IMB disagreement not all bad news for SBC

Wade Burleson and the International Mission Board trustees have made the headlines recently in Baptist life. It is amazing how Baptists can raise a ruckus. Disagreements turn off some folks. I have found it somewhat refreshing, though. Let me explain.

For too long I have been deafened by the silence of doctrinal debate in Southern Baptist life. We struggled for 20 years to establish the basis of our belief concerning the nature of Scripture. Southern Baptists settled the discussion by saying the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We had little time to discuss other doctrinal issues.

Now some who advocated biblical inerrancy seemingly fail to see the reality of biblical sufficiency. If we have an inerrant Bible then there are specific doctrines the Bible teaches. I am not going to argue the details of the IMB rhubarb, but I would like to use the two doctrinal issues as a case in point for doctrinal debate.

Regardless of the position you take on speaking in tongues, the practice has never been widespread in Baptist churches. Pentecostalism at the turn of the 20th century and the charismatic movement in the 1970s popularized tongue speaking, but neither made it biblical. Whether you are a closed dispensationalist or require tongue speaking to conform to rules found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14, the modern practice in American churches does not qualify as scripturally authentic. There is more I could say but I find the baptism controversy even more intriguing.

Liberalism, neo-orthodoxy and existentialism had an impact on how many people approach the practice of Christianity. This approach would place the highest value on the individual’s experience and personal opinion. You see baptism is not a personal issue. It is not about “how I feel about my baptism.” It is not just the sincerity of the candidate. It is about scriptural authority. The question is whether baptismal authority is individual or congregational.

Jesus gave the commission to baptize to the local church. If the commission were given to every believer then any 9-year-old girl who was a Christian could baptize her convert in the backyard swimming pool. Jesus vested the authority to baptize in the church. The Baptist Faith and Message says baptism is a church ordinance. The local church is the custodian of the ordinances. Only a New Testament church can administer scriptural baptism. There are a few identifying marks of a New Testament church. Are all Baptist churches, New Testament churches? Probably not! Are there New Testament churches that are not Baptist churches? Sure, because what makes a New Testament church is what it teaches, not the name over the door. By the way, one of the identifying marks is that a New Testament church will teach security of the believer.

Of course those who want individual autonomy on the practice of baptism have started name-calling. They will say if you believe in local church authority for baptism you are a “Landmarker.” Those of us who stood for inerrancy were called “Norrisites.” When someone cannot defend his position he usually attacks the other person.

Southern Baptists had better be careful about walking down the path of Neo-Ecumenism. Cooperating with Catholics, Assemblies of God and other denominations in the areas of social and moral concerns is biblical and mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message, Article 15. However, Neo-Ecumenism in ecclesiology and missiology will produce dysfunctional, confusing and contradictory results. If some churches wish to be “non-denominational,” God bless them, but they should not masquerade under the guise of being Baptists.

Doctrine does matter. It is not too late to raise the banner of doctrinal sufficiency of the Scriptures and reclaim our heritage as people of the Book.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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