E-Mail To A Friend
Printer-Friendly Article
Share Your Views
Subscribe To The Witness

IMB adopts revised baptism, prayer guidelines


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)—International Mission Board trustees have adopted revised guidelines on baptism and the practice of tongues and private prayer languages among prospective missionaries. The revisions, both of which are now termed “guidelines,” retain much of their original wording.

The new guidelines, overwhelmingly adopted by the trustees during their May 7-9 meeting in Kansas City, Mo., come after a year of review by two special ad hoc committees. The revised guidelines reaffirm the main provisions of a policy and a guideline that stirred debate among Southern Baptists after being approved by IMB trustees in November 2005.

The 2005 policy ruled out the appointment of missionary candidates who practice either glossolalia (tongues) in public or a “prayer language” usually practiced in private. The baptism guideline stated candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone. Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative, and the candidate’s church must embrace the doctrine of the security of the believer.

The revised measures include several changes for clarification. Neither the original actions nor the revisions apply retroactively to missionaries appointed before adoption of the measures.

“The ad hoc committees have met over the course of this past year along with staff, and we also invited input from our [overseas missionary] regional leaders,” said Paul Chitwood of Kentucky, chairman of the trustees’ mission personnel committee who presented the revised guidelines.

The ad hoc committees met during regular trustee meetings and a two-day special session to “consider the vast amount of material that we gathered from scholars and pastors across our convention,” Chitwood reported. “The [personnel] committee solicited this material in an attempt to be faithful to our task. The committee has also spent considerable time praying, fasting and seeking God’s heart on these issues. The committee has no desire to create further controversy. Rather, our desire is to bring this study to completion and to allow the board to maintain its focus on our world mission task.”

Chitwood said the ad hoc committees found that field-related data and consultation with regional leaders have “not indicated a systemic problem with charismatic practices among field personnel.” He added, however, that “the rapid spread of neo-Pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.”

“Furthermore, the diversity of denominational backgrounds among missionary candidates requires a clear baptism guideline to guide the work of our candidate consultants as they consider the qualification of candidates.”

The new guideline on tongues and prayer language specifies that the New Testament gift of glossolalia [tongues] is generally considered a “legitimate language” that “had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.” If a missionary candidate currently engages in public worship outside those parameters, “the candidate has eliminated himself or herself” from being a representative of the International Mission Board.

The guideline further states that the New Testament teaches that prayer is to be made with understanding. “The board is not persuaded that ecstatic utterance as a prayer language is a valid expression of the New Testament teaching on prayer. Therefore, if an ‘ecstatic utterance as a prayer language’ is a part of the [missionary] candidate’s current practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself” from being appointed.

The baptism guideline states that a missionary candidate’s baptismal experience must be examined in light of the Baptist Faith and Message, Article VII, which defines baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”

Prospective missionaries, therefore, must have received believer’s baptism by immersion after their salvation. The candidate must see baptism as symbolic of his or her death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ, not as regenerative in itself. The guideline states that baptism “must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of a believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation. A candidate who has not been baptized under the authority of a local church, which meets the standards listed above, is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church.”

IMB consultants who work with missionary candidates should have a “working knowledge” of many denominational groups but are not expected to “investigate” every church, the guideline states. “The candidate is responsible for requesting their home church to assist them in meeting this doctrinal commitment. …”

The baptism guideline was passed with one amendment proposed by trustee John Russell of Lakeland, first vice chairman of the board. Russell requested adding the words specifying that candidates ask “their home church to assist them in” meeting the baptism requirement.

“By adding that, we’re saying we’re no longer rejecting the candidate, but we’re sending the candidate back to their local church as a deferral or a delay. We have now identified the issue for the local church,” Russell explained. “My goal here is to try and soften the blow … to give them an opportunity to settle it, and let’s see what God does. It’s less impact on the local church.”

A subsequent proposed amendment by trustee Charles Fowler of Tennessee was defeated. Fowler’s motion to amend was to remove language that required a candidate to “verify that the church where they were scripturally baptized by immersion affirms the security of the believer.” Fowler stated that “candidates are required to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message as well as articulate their beliefs prior to appointment. Therefore their theology regarding the security of the believer is not in question either in faith or practice. Maintaining this language in the guideline is confusing to many local congregations because they have candidates for appointment who are members in good standing and hold theological positions which are biblically sound. The church has affirmed their call to missions yet their baptism is deemed to be insufficient for IMB guidelines and corresponding appointment.”

Trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma urged his colleagues to “seriously consider the wisdom of adopting these guidelines.” If regional mission leaders see no systemic problem with charismatic practices among missionaries, he questioned the rationale for implementation. If the reasons for adopting the guidelines are doctrinal, he said, “I would much rather that the [Southern Baptist] Convention speak on this matter than our board.”

IMB attorney Matt Bristol responded to another question by Burleson about the difference between a policy and a guideline. Bristol said the term ‘guideline’ suggests that “as the circumstances are presented with each individual candidate, it will be applied with a degree of flexibility.”

Following the vote on the guidelines, trustee chairman Floyd asked the trustees to unite around it.

“We have made a decision,” he said. “We need to own it.”