Has IMB changed requirements? Past and present leaders disagree
March 8 2002 by Mark Wingfield , Texas Baptist Standard

Has IMB changed requirements? Past and present leaders disagree | Friday, March 8, 2002

Friday, March 8, 2002

Has IMB changed requirements? Past and present leaders disagree

By Mark Wingfield Texas Baptist Standard

DALLAS, Texas - Do differences exist between the doctrinal evaluation process required of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missionaries in the past compared to today?

According to current administrators of the SBC's International Mission Board (IMB), the answer is an emphatic "no."

According to former administrators of the organization, the answer is an emphatic "yes."

The question has generated tense debate in recent weeks, since IMB President Jerry Rankin wrote the IMB's 5,000 missionaries with a mandate that they sign an affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message crafted by SBC leadership.

Leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas believe Rankin is requiring missionaries to sign a creed, something they view as un-Baptist.

Rankin and other IMB leaders insist they're not enforcing a creed and, in fact, are asking nothing different than what was required in the past, before fundamentalists gained control of the SBC hierarchy.

"Requiring missionaries to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message has been the board's practice for decades, even under the administration of Keith Parks," said Larry Cox, IMB vice president for mobilization. Parks, who served as president of the SBC Foreign Mission Board from 1980 to 1992, now serves on a BGCT committee that recently created a transition fund to support IMB missionaries who won't sign the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.

Cox's assessment was echoed in an editorial piece written by Rankin and distributed to state Baptist newspapers.

"Since 1970, under the leadership of Dr. Baker James Cauthen, and later under Dr. Keith Parks, every Southern Baptist missionary appointed by what was then the Foreign Mission Board signed a statement that he or she had read and was in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message," Rankin wrote.

But Parks and other former missionary personnel administrators contend there is a vast difference between what was required of missionaries then and what is required today.

"This current demand is different from what was expected of missionaries in the past," Parks said.

He said that in 38 years of service with the Foreign Mission Board, he went through the candidate process himself, later worked in the missionary personnel office walking others through the process and eventually administered the process as agency president.

"Previously, persons seeking missionary appointment were examined for doctrinal beliefs to determine if they represented basic beliefs of Baptists in general," Parks said. "They were requested to state what they believed in their own words. Staff and board members reviewed their statements and raised questions if needed. They also asked if they were in general agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message.

"I personally stated that I could never sign anything except a Bible as my statement of faith. Nor did I expect or desire missionaries to sign a statement about the Bible written by fallible human beings."

Bill Marshall, a veteran missionary to Israel who later became vice president for human resources in the Parks administration, confirms Parks' recollection of past policy.

"The Baptist Faith & Message statement was not considered a criteria for appointment," Marshall said. "Rather, there were specific theological areas to which missionary candidates were to respond in writing as a part of their process. Those questions or statements, which were to be in their own words, included the nature of God, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the church, etc.

"Current IMB leaders err in their historical reflection as to what potential missionaries had to sign to be appointed.

"Having worked with both Dr. Baker James Cauthen and Dr. Keith Parks as a staff member and colleague as well as missionaries who went through the appointment process ourselves, to suggest that under their leadership all of the missionaries were required to sign the Baptist Faith & Message document as a pass/fail criteria for service as a missionary begs historical accuracy," Marshall said.

Louis Cobbs, another former personnel director for the Foreign Mission Board, made similar claims in a Feb. 18 letter to the editor published in the Baptist Standard.

"For many years, missionary candidates were requested to write 'in their own words' their confession or statement of faith," Cobbs wrote. "Although there was one recommendation adopted in 1919, but never implemented, for candidates to subscribe to 'A Statement of Belief,' it was not until 1970 that FMB trustees required candidates for appointment to sign their response to the question, 'Are your doctrinal beliefs in substantial agreement with those adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention as printed in the Baptist Faith & Message.'"

Confronted with the discrepancy in historical perspectives, an IMB spokeswoman reiterated that "asking for affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message has been a part of the missionary appointment process for many years."

Wendy Norvelle, an IMB assistant vice president for mobilization, outlined the evolution of the wording used to ask missionary candidates about their agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message since 1970.

In 1970, candidates were asked: "Are your doctrinal beliefs in substantial agreement with those printed in Baptist Faith & Message (1963) and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1963?"

In 1975, the question was modified to ask: "Are you familiar with the contents of the Baptist Faith & Message? Are you in substantial agreement with this statement? Please cite and explain the areas of differences in beliefs and/or interpretations."

By early 1976, the question was modified again to ask: "Are you familiar with the contents of the Baptist Faith & Message? Are you in agreement with the statement? Please cite and explain any area of differences."

In 1990, the question read: "When did you last read the Baptist Faith & Message? Are you in agreement with the statement? If no, attach a separate sheet of paper citing and explaining any area of difference."

In 1995, the question was stated more succinctly, with a place to respond yes or no to this statement: "I have read and am in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message." Candidates who checked "no" were asked to "attach a separate sheet of paper citing and explaining any area of difference."

Currently, candidates are asked to respond "yes" or "no" to this statement: "I have read and am in agreement with the current Baptist Faith & Message." They are instructed if checking "no" to "please cite any area of difference." Then they also are asked to sign a second statement: "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 & Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention."

In addition to the debate over how the previous requirements compare to current requirements for missionary candidates, critics of the latest IMB policy contend it is unfair for the IMB essentially to change the terms of employment for missionaries who signed on under the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message. Missionaries who were examined and appointed in broad compliance with the 1963 faith statement now are being asked to affirm a different faith statement.

Although overwhelmingly adopted by messengers to the 2000 SBC annual meeting, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message has met with strong opposition in Texas and elsewhere. Messengers to BGCT annual sessions twice have refused to endorse the SBC's changes to the faith statement.

Objections include the statement's description of itself as an "instrument of doctrinal accountability," removal of a phrase that said Jesus Christ is "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted" and weakened language concerning the Baptist doctrine called the priesthood of the believer.

In his letter to missionaries, Rankin said the changes from the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message to the 2000 version "have not been major."

Norvelle did not respond to a question about the content of the faith statement being different now than it was in the past. Instead, she pointed to Rankin's letter to the missionaries and the editorial piece he wrote.

Also, no further clarification has been given on what will happen to IMB missionaries who refuse to sign the affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message or who note objections to parts of it. Rankin told a group of Baptist editors in February that missionaries who didn't sign would not necessarily be terminated, but he acknowledged final decisions had not been made on how to deal with such a problem.

Some missionaries on the field, however, have reported to the Baptist Standard and to the BGCT missions committee that lower-level administrators have sent them a clear message that failure to sign the statement as requested by Rankin could imperil their jobs.

Norvelle said IMB personnel "have long had the freedom to cite differences" with the SBC's faith statement and "that hasn't changed."

Neither she nor other IMB officials, however, responded to a question about discussion of this matter among IMB trustees in board meetings last year. Trustees reportedly discussed requiring missionaries to sign the affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, with some asserting that any who did not sign should be removed.

Rankin told the editors' gathering he issued the mandate for missionaries to sign the affirmation as an administrative action so IMB trustees would not have to make that an official board policy.

Rankin explained his request that IMB missionaries affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message was necessary to silence questions some have about the doctrinal integrity of the missionary force.

"The reason I have asked them to reaffirm their beliefs in regard to the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is to remove suspicions that their beliefs and practices could be inconsistent with our common confession of faith and move us forward in reaching a lost world," he wrote in the editorial piece disseminated by the IMB.

In the letter to missionaries, Rankin explained: "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."

Meanwhile, Parks reported that during his 13 years as president of the mission board, only 10 missionaries out of 3,000 were even charged with heresy. After careful examination, two of those were found to have "drifted from acceptable Baptist doctrine" and were terminated, he added.

"The former system was reliable as well as baptistic," Parks said.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
3/8/2002 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Texas Baptist Standard | with 0 comments
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