IMB reverses field, asks missionaries to sign 2000 BF&M
February 1 2002 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

IMB reverses field, asks missionaries to sign 2000 BF&M | Friday, Feb. 1, 2002

Friday, Feb. 1, 2002

IMB reverses field, asks missionaries to sign 2000 BF&M

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. - Reversing an earlier policy, the International Mission Board (IMB) is asking its 5,100 missionaries to affirm the Southern Baptist Convention's "Baptist Faith and Message" (BF&M) statement.

Trustees of IMB voted a year ago not to require missionaries already on the field to endorse recent changes to the BF&M. Last January, trustees upheld a traditional practice of requiring missionaries to work within parameters of the statement even if they disagree with minor points. Leaders said at the time that policies in place for preventing and dealing with aberrant theology already provided adequate safeguards for doctrinal accountability.

In a letter now being received by missionaries, however, IMB President Jerry Rankin cites ongoing controversy about the issue and is asking missionaries to read and affirm the current version of the BF&M.

"Failure to ask for this affirmation is creating suspicion that there are IMB personnel whose beliefs and practices are inconsistent with those represented by Southern Baptists," he wrote.

"While we believe this is unfounded, we do not need an issue such as this to generate needless controversy, erode support and distract us from the focus on our task at such a critical time of opportunity around the world."

The BF&M is not binding on local churches or individual Southern Baptists, but convention agencies use it as a guide for hiring. While the statement has been around in some form since 1925, revisions in 1998 and 2000 have sparked controversy.

A 1998 amendment on the family made headlines by proclaiming the Bible teaches that wives should "graciously submit" to husbands. A more comprehensive revision two years later said women should not be allowed to serve as pastors and removed a provision in a 1963 statement on the Bible that the criterion for interpreting Scripture is Jesus Christ.

Rankin said those aren't "major" changes, but along with others constitute "appropriate responses to contemporary issues and challenges."

"To assist our board in assuring Southern Baptists that all those who serve with the International Mission Board and (are) supported by the convention affirm and support the current 'Baptist Faith and Message,' I am asking that you sign the attached form indicating your affirmation and return it to your regional leader."

An attachment asks missionaries to respond yes or no to the statement, "I have read and am in agreement with the current 'Baptist Faith and Message.'" The form asks anyone replying "no" to cite any area of difference.

By signing and dating the form, the missionary also affirms, "In accountability to the International Mission Board and Southern Baptists, I agree to carry out my responsibilities in accordance with and not contrary to the current 'Baptist Faith and Message' as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention."

Rankin said neither trustees nor the SBC required him to ask personnel for the affirmation but the board is aware of the action and supports it. While Rankin's letter doesn't spell out the consequences for not affirming the statement, he advises, "I cannot overemphasize how important your cooperation is in order for us to move forward in fulfilling the Great Commission."

"We who have chosen to serve with a denominational mission agency are expected to be doctrinally accountable to those who provide our support and send us out," Rankin wrote. "There should be no reticence in our willingness to express agreement with what the SBC has adopted."

Rankin wasn't immediately available for comment.

But IMB spokesperson Wendy Norvelle said administrators "expect most, if not all," missionaries will comply with the request. She said some might not understand what they are being asked to affirm because they have been isolated from denominational affairs, however.

She said regional leaders would counsel with those who express concerns about signing the pledge.

Rankin said willingness to endorse the statement would protect missionaries "from charges of heresy behind your back while you are overseas and cannot defend yourself" and "disarm those who may be trying to use the BF&M to divide Southern Baptists." It will "also clearly communicate to overseas Baptists and Great Commission partners what we believe," he added.

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2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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