Straight talk

Baptist news is a target-rich environment these days. We have a lot to talk about. New appointment guidelines for missionary candidates, the SBC will be asked to remove a trustee this summer, the SBTC has removed a church, and so on. Let me offer some thoughts on a variety of timely issues this week.

The IMB & baptism
This issue is old news unless you read the “new media,” Internet blogs, specifically. Since the November International Mission Board meeting, private web logs have been abuzz with criticisms of the board’s guideline regarding the baptisms of missionary candidates. More recently these criticisms have centered on the supposed connection between Landmark theology and the IMB’s focus on a missionary candidate’s baptizing church.

The IMB is requiring that candidates be baptized in a church that immerses people after their profession of faith and that believes baptism to be symbolic rather than sacramental or regenerative. They further require that the baptizing church believes in eternal security. This means a candidate baptized in an Assemblies of God church or a Free Will or General Baptist church would need to be re-baptized before being accepted for missionary appointment.

A couple of points about this seem important. First, this is not Landmark theology. Nobody in this discussion has suggested that Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists, are the only legitimate expression of New Testament Christianity. In fact, the guideline does not stipulate that the baptizing church must be a Baptist church at all.

Second, the guideline defines “like faith and order” in the same way that most SBC churches do when they receive members. Right or wrong, this is the environment the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board must work within.

One reason for this policy is that some churches no longer examine prospective members. Another possible reason is that “big tent” evangelicalism appeals to some pastors so that members from other denominations are received by statement with little thought to their understanding of Southern Baptist doctrine. The churches need to do their work more thoroughly. Regardless, the mission boards can’t take anything for granted.

The IMB & Wade Burleson

In a kind of aftershock to their November action, IMB trustees voted to ask the SBC to remove Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson. Some of the trustees I talked to are pretty gentle souls. While they were careful to guard the confidentiality of board executive sessions, there was a general sense that Burleson is an intractable person. His voluminous blog entries would lead to that same conclusion.
Regardless, the IMB is going to have to make its case for the action they’ve asked the convention to take next June. Our messengers are going to have to know why they should take serious and unusual action against a trustee they elected only last June.

Trust does not enter into this. I think we do trust our elected board members. I have great confidence in the commitment and heart of the trustees I know. We’ll be asked to take action for ourselves, though. We will need enough information to make us believe what the board has come to believe?that Wade Burleson is unqualified in some way to complete his four-year term. I’m not saying they can’t but I’m saying they haven’t made that case in public yet.

Creationism & Intelligent Design

While not a specifically Southern Baptist story, a Pennsylvania town’s smackdown of the teaching of any alternative to Darwinism has emboldened that religion’s partisans. Southern Baptists do find themselves embroiled in this debate at all educational levels, and on both sides. The most common error is to equate Creationism, the belief that the God revealed in the Bible made everything, and Intelligent Design, the belief that observable creation is too elaborate to be the product of random chance. The more clever of ID’s critics call it “Creationism lite.”

Here’s an important distinction: all Creationists believe that intelligence and purpose may be inferred from what we can observe and measure. All those who believe in Intelligent Design are not necessarily Creationists, though. Those who follow ID have at least rightly seen that Darwinism is not compatible with theism. They would not consider themselves the leading edge of a fundamentalist deconstruction of modern science.

The error is one part politics and two parts ignorance, I think. Many reporters are heartened by events that seem to discourage the religious right. That’s the political aspect that makes the story front-page news. This distaste for some religious views makes them impatient with explanations offered by religious people. This is largely their ignorance in covering the story. The other part is the looming deadlines that keep them from even knowing what diversity exists within the non-religious scientific community.
A scientific theory, Darwinism, whose adherents are unable to bear the suggestion in a textbook or classroom that some educated and thoughtful people see it differently, is too easily threatened to maintain its monopoly.

The fact is that some smart and highly educated people find faith in Darwinism more difficult to maintain than the belief that someone designed this on purpose. It is also quite possible to substantiate this view with scientific data. Our schools are teaching bad science when they refer to Darwinism as the proven and established scheme for explaining the diversity of life on earth. It is doubly bad when they are free to ridicule any contrary theory simply because it is contrary.

Roe v. Wade & compassion

It should be hard for this anniversary in January to pass without some comment. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to various crisis pregnancy centers around the state to present financial gifts from SBTC churches to help with their ministries. Most of these centers are funded by groups of diverse churches; others are attached to a very large church that can provide people and financial resources on its own. Here’s what they all have in common: they love women.

They want to help them more than time or money or access allows. They want to know what happens to them after they deliver their babies. They want tell them about Jesus.
Crisis pregnancy centers depend on volunteers. What staff members they do pay work for peanuts and give more time than they’re asked for. Doctors and nurses often volunteer to provide prenatal care. I’ve yet to be in a CPC that didn’t convict me with their commitment and heartfelt compassion for women and babies.

Is this true of abortion clinics? I don’t know from experience and what we see of them in the news is often not their best side.

Doubtless many of the directors and workers in the abortion industry have sincere convictions about freedom of choice and equality for women. It seems it would become an academic exercise at best, though. It’s about winning the political battles and spinning the awful details of their work. The bald truth about CPCs is a much easier story to tell than the plain facts of an abortion clinic. Do you suppose that’s a problem for the workers? Are they thrilled to tell the stories of lives they’ve touched through their work the way CPC workers are thrilled?

It’s not an absolute gauge but that difference in attitude and experience implies something about the nature
of a ministry. I can’t imagine too many people envying the joy of an abortionist’s work. Perhaps the employees of abortion mills are also victims of our American Holocaust. Join me in continuing to pray for freedom and life for all these victims of pro-death culture.

Weblogs & dialogue

The immediacy of electronic communication has ramped up our expectations. I can now get

Correspondent
Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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