IMB chair: Lack of consistency led to new baptism guideline

As a new trustee to the International Mission Board, Oklahoma pastor Winston Curtis listened attentively to the candidate consultant’s assessment of a prospective missionary couple. The staff member told how the woman had professed faith in Christ while a teenager attending a camp. She maintained her membership in a Methodist church where she had been sprinkled.

Later, while in college, she met the Southern Baptist boy who would become her husband. When the couple graduated and moved they joined a Southern Baptist church?he, by transfer of his letter from a sister Southern Baptist church, and she, by statement of her faith in Christ.

“So they go to the mission field and she’s never been baptized,” recalled Curtis, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Duncan, Okla. “I thought that’s the purpose of the process,” he said, adding he wished he’d questioned the recommendation for their appointment even though he was a new trustee learning the ropes. “This is not hypothetical. They were members of a Southern Baptist church and both had signed off on the Baptist Faith and Message. So why should we require her to be biblically baptized?”

Curtis said, “My answer was that if she got saved, why did she not want to be baptized the way Jesus was baptized? I reluctantly voted for her because [at the time] I didn’t have the experience or resolve to challenge the decision.”

IMB trustee Wade Burleson pastors Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., 180 miles due north of Curtis’ church. In his first year as a trustee, Burleson rose to the floor of the November 2005 board meeting in Huntsville, Ala., to oppose passage of a guideline intended to help candidate consultants consistently evaluate baptism testimonies of prospective missionaries.

[This issue] “violates convictions I have as a third-generation Southern Baptist pastor,” said Burleson, concerned that what was approved as a guideline might become a policy. Like Curtis, he too made a decision based on his experience with a prospective missionary yet to be appointed.

“A Muslim man, converted in Israel, baptized in the Jordan, came to my church. We examined his faith. We examined his baptism. He affirmed our doctrinal statement?the Baptist Faith and Message, and is now a member of our church making application to be a missionary for the IMB. It is unconscionable to me that, as a member of my church with his baptism examined?and he has been scripturally baptized?that this board may take the position that he is not and he must come back to me and be baptized in my church. To me that violates every principle of the autonomy of the local church and what we believe to be biblical, scriptural baptism.”

Whether it’s the couple already serving on a mission field or the converted Muslim anticipating mission service, at some point a local Southern Baptist church decided if each missionary candidate’s profession of faith and subsequent baptism aligned with Scripture as interpreted in the Baptist Faith and Message.

The IMB guideline specifies:

?immersion as the proper method of baptism, thus rejecting sprinkling;

?a repenting individual professing faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as the proper candidate for baptism, thus rejecting infant baptism;

?the purely emblematic nature of baptism as a testimony to one’s profession of faith as commanded and modeled by Jesus as the purpose of baptism, thus rejecting the view that baptism saves or is regenerative; and

?the proper administrator of the ordinance of baptism is a local church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view it as sacramental or regenerative, and embraces the doctrine of eternal security.

“This is a thorough process that we take very seriously because these potential missionaries will be guiding our work around the world,” stated IMB trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., regarding the process by which trustees review the lives, ministries, callings, testimonies and core beliefs of candidates recommended by staff consultants. “

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