…the International Mission Board (IMB) Board of Trustees voted to open new pathways of service by, among other things, removing previous restrictions that had been developed a decade ago. In 2005, the IMB BoT created restrictions to missionary service that included barring anyone from service who …had been baptized by immersion in a church that did not teach eternal security or that was not in line with the Baptist perspective on perseverance even if they were members in good standing of SBC churches today… Today, those policies have been changed…
In 2006, I was freshly returned from a year as a tent-maker missionary in southern Japan and very zealous to get back on the foreign mission field once again. Having been a member of a Southern Baptist church for six years that was always in the very upper echelons of per capita giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (the big funding drive that provides a very significant portion, if not the majority, of IMB’s annual budget), the logical, obvious, and highly encouraged choice was to apply to IMB. The perquisites were equally obvious – official SBC pedigree, seminary discounts, well-established support structure. And, I can confidently say as someone who has by 2015 attempted (and failed) to raise his own missions budget, the salary, which means there’s no need to raise one’s own support, was the main attraction.
The salary means the missionary doesn’t have to “waste” his time networking and getting to know lots of people and churches and can instead focus on the actual mission work, the actual project at hand. It’s pretty compelling, to be honest, even though IMB missionaries still take the same kind of home furloughs as those do who have had to raise their own support. More could be said about that, but I’ll move on for now.
So my wife and I applied. We wrote down all the testimonies of our salvations. We got all the references and church information in place. We recounted our life histories, education, whether we were Calvinists, whether we had debt, whether we’d been divorced, etc. (Just kidding about the Calvinist thing.)
Then, the question to the effect of: In what church were you baptized?
Let’s step back in my personal history for a moment. The Lord saved me out of a fairly liberal Methodist family; one day, just before I turned 16, I just realized I was going to serve Jesus and be hated for His name, and that was that. A year later the Lord arranged that I meet some very charismatic high school seniors when I was a sophomore, and (despite my retrospective dismay at some of their sometimes very weird charismatic distinctives) their lack of the fear of man and of regard for others’ negative opinions became a powerful and mostly positive influence on me. I am thankful for them, even though hanging with them made me into a charismatic for around six years.
When in university some years later, I regularly attended Sunday morning service at a charismatic non-denominational church, and one day in 1998 I became convicted that my head-sprinkling as a baby at the hands of the Methodist pastor was not actual baptism. Wanting to obey Jesus, I asked that church to baptize (immerse) me (same thing), which after examination they did, at a Sunday evening service in the presence of friends and witnesses. These were people who give a credible profession of faith in Jesus and just as much evidence in my view of loving Jesus as anyone in most any SBC church.
Fast forward eight years, I am applying to IMB, and I discover the policy that IMB only accepts applicants who have been baptized in a church that at least affirms eternal security (or, in a pinch, the perseverance of the saints). Quite unhappy with that, I decided to try to avoid it by contacting my old charismatic church. On the phone with a staff member, I asked if by chance they affirm eternal security. They laughed “Of course not”, which turned into a brief but interesting conversation.
Thus thwarted, I reported the bad news to my pastor, who fully supported my wife’s and my desire to go overseas with IMB. He recommended that he (re-)baptize me. His reasoning can be condensed as follows:
- The SBC is a loose confederation of churches with non-identical beliefs regarding what constitutes real baptism
- Some of these churches who contribute to the Cooperative Program think that you have to be the right kind of Christian to apply baptism legitimately
- They are the weaker brother and so you can in good conscience accede to their weakness
- It’s worth it to get on the foreign mission field
So to my shame I conceded and was re-baptized a few weeks later. The pastor prefaced my re-baptism with an explanation to the congregation why a respected longtime member and a leader of a Sunday School class and community group was up in the baptistery. I held my nose, literally and figuratively, and got wet to satisfy the short-lived and short-sighted compromise that the IMB made with legalists.
One wonders how the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) or the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19) would answer the question “In what church were you baptized?”. I guess they’d have to get re-baptized too.
It’s hard to picture the Apostle Paul requiring people baptized by, say, John Mark (before their subsequent reconciliation), Barnabas (after their rift), or Demas to be re-baptized before they could join with him on missionary outreach.
It’s difficult to imagine the Apostle Peter holding one set of requirements for becoming a part of his local fellowship but reserving more stringent requirements regarding one’s past associations for “serious” Gospel work.
I can’t see the Lord Jesus finding no fault in a man’s work, confession, or doctrine such that he is called a son of the Most High, but telling him that a ritual he once engaged in wasn’t done by someone whose doctrine was quite as good and so remains entirely incomplete.
I allowed the IMB to use me to illustrate to my entire church body at the time the hypocrisy and compromise into which the Cooperative Program has had to enter for the sake of a “greater good”. I performed a shameful act in order that I might get in good with an organisation who would later bring my wife and me out to a candidate orientation, lecture us about nonsensical things like a “call to missions“, judge our personality based on nothing more than a few hours of observation, and never contact a single one of our references, church leadership, or friends to ask what kind of people we were.
I acceded to worldly wisdom in pursuit of a godly aim. Now the IMB is relaxing that requirement. Will it attempt to bear fruit in keeping with repentance in explicitly re-educating people against the hypocrisy and compromise in which it was until recently engaging?
I repent. I call on the IMB to repent.