IMB chair explains prayer-language decisions

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Mar 9 14:27:47 UTC 2006

Published: March 7, 2006

IMB trustee chairman Hatley sends 'open letters' to Southern Baptist
pastors, laity explaining decisions

RICHMOND, Va. (IMB)  International Mission Board Chairman Tom Hatley sent
an "open letter" March 7 to all Southern Baptists - and a much longer
letter to all Southern Baptist pastors - addressing recent decisions by
IMB trustees. The letters accompany detailed background material outlining
the trustees' votes on glossolalia (the practice of tongues), the use of
private prayer language by missionary candidates and candidates' mode of
baptism.  Southern Baptists can access both letters, the new policy on use
of tongues, the guideline on baptism and additional background materials
at, the International Mission Board's Web site. The documents
are also available on the Witness Web site here: IMB doctrinal policies

"I have addressed (the detailed explanation) to pastors because they are
the teachers and guardians of the Word for their congregations," Hatley
said in his letter to Southern Baptists. "But feel free to look over their
shoulders and read this material. "There has been no small controversy
concerning some of our recent decisions," Hatley acknowledged. "However,
as I have shared this information with pastors and others, most have
expressed joy because information they had previously received was
incomplete. Seeing the greater context has helped many to appreciate the
decisions recently made.  I pray you will have the same experience."

IMB President Jerry Rankin expressed appreciation for the statement
released by the board chairman. "Much of the confusion and misperceptions
regarding these actions came from the lack of clearly defined explanations
for the policies," Rankin said. "While some will not be in agreement with
the rationale, these documents will help others understand the deep
convictions of those on our board for moving in this direction.

"There is no question that those on each side of these issues are
committed to the effectiveness of the International Mission Board and are
conscientious in their desire to be accountable to the Southern Baptist
Convention. God is at work around the world in unprecedented ways. We want
Southern Baptists to be assured of the doctrinal integrity and practices
of our missionaries and move forward to win a lost world to Jesus Christ."

During their Nov. 14-17 meeting in Huntsville, Ala., the trustees approved
a policy stating that a missionary candidate eliminates himself or herself
from potential IMB service if he or she has the practice of tongues or a
"private prayer language" as an ongoing part of his or her conviction or
practice. They also adopted a baptism guideline stating that future
missionary candidates must have been baptized in a church that: practices
believer's baptism by immersion alone; does not view baptism as
sacramental or regenerative; and that embraces the doctrine of the
security of the believer. Exception clauses were included in both the
guideline and the policy for special situations. Neither the guideline nor
the policy is retroactive and neither will be applied to anyone already in
the missionary appointment process.

The documents available online include:

1. The official policy on tongues and private prayer language and the
official guideline on baptism - both in their entirety - as approved by
IMB trustees in November.

2. The full text of Hatley's letters to Southern Baptists and to pastors.

3. Unofficial position papers on the glossolalia and baptism issues. "They
(the position papers) have not been voted on by our board and may not
reflect the views even of some who voted for the (tongues) policy and
(baptism) guideline," Hatley said. "(B)ut they are the theological points
that many reflected upon when working through these issues and I thought
them worthy of presentation for your consideration."

4. The definition of a church, as approved by trustees - another subject
of much recent discussion as it applies to the starting of churches on
overseas mission fields.

The letter to pastors, Hatley stressed, "is written from my perspective as
your chairman of this board. Further clarification may come from
appropriate (trustee) committees. Because such contextualization might not
be formed and delivered to you until April or even June (because of the
timing of our next meetings), I thought it best to write and at least give
you my perspective."

The need to address the baptism and tongues issues has been discussed
"from time to time for more than a decade," he added. "The decisions that
were recently made have been matters of review and study for more than two
and a half years. Similar precedents adopted by staff in dealing with
these issues have been used for years. They were not as strong as the
current guideline and policy but they were the base upon which the current
statements were constructed."

Hatley also responded to another charge: that the policy on tongues and
private prayer language was initiated by trustees to "embarrass" IMB
President Jerry Rankin, who acknowledges he has had a private prayer
language for many years. "Trustees have been blamed for having the motive
of trying to hurt our president," Hatley wrote. "The force that pushed the
issue to this higher level, however, included the president and a few
others on staff and on the board." Hatley asked Southern Baptists to pray
-- and to put these issues in the larger perspective of the global
missions challenge:

"We are on a great adventure together," he wrote. "It stands to reason
that our adversary would love to put us against one another. Let's put all
blame on our real enemy and work harder than ever to reach every person
with the Gospel in our lifetime. "Thank you so much for your prayers. We
are your servants and we appreciate every word you share, even the
constructive criticism. I pray our hearts will be obvious as you read
these pages." Hatley said he is asking the IMB trustee personnel committee
to take "a fresh look at these documents with the intention of providing
further clarification." He invited pastors and any interested Southern
Baptist to e-mail their suggestions and feedback to imbtrustees at

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