I had promised to post portions of these letters earlier, but failed to do so. I apologize for that, but here are parts of three letters that Dr. Allen McWhite, International Mission Board trustee and Director for Global Missions at North Greenville University, sent to various people through out the Southern Baptist denomination.
In his letter to the IMB Personnel Committee, McWhite first addresses his concerns over the proposed change in the baptism requirements. He wrote his reasons for disagreement were:
1. “We already require our candidates to give testimony of their identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptists.”
2. “The local Southern Baptist Church (of which the candidate is required to be a member) and its pastor are required to provide statements and/or reference forms endorsing the candidate as someone who clearly identifies with Southern Baptists and their doctrinal beliefs. I believe the IMB would be drastically overstepping its authority by dictating to a Southern Baptist pastor and church that a missionary candidate be re-baptized when he or she has already been accepted into the membership of that church based upon his or her statement of faith in Jesus Christ and previous baptism (by immersion) in another evangelical Christian church.”
3. “I strongly reject the idea that scriptural baptism is intended to illustrate a person’s identification with a particular church, denomination, or its doctrinal beliefs. Biblical baptism is an illustration (symbol) of a person’s identification with Jesus Christ, his kingdom and his purposes in the world. This is clearly what the Baptist Faith and Message states. A new believer, be it a child or an adult, has responded in faith to Christ – not to a particular church, denomination, or doctrinal confession, other than ‘Jesus is Lord!'”
In reference to the “private prayer language” issue McWhite said:
…I recognize that certain “charismatic” practices can be, and often are, the cause of much confusion and division because of their abuse and their failure to follow the clear biblical instructions for their exercise. We are all aware of this fact. Let me also state — lest someone think that I feel personally threatened by this proposal — that I have never spoken in tongues and have never advocated it. I do not do so now. I have never had a private prayer language experience and I have never felt any “less-spiritual” because I have not. Furthermore, I have never felt a need to seek such an experience. I did, however, have a godly grandmother who was the wife of a godly Southern Baptist pastor (both are now with the Lord) who confided in me – with fear and trembling – that she had had a tongues experience when praying alone with the Lord. I believed my grandmother when she told me about it then and I believe her now! I have known many other deeply dedicated and humble Christians who have had similar, private experiences with the Lord when alone in their prayer closets.
While such experiences have not been part of my own walk with the Lord, I can find no clear biblical injunction that would prohibit them in the lives of others. Again, we must recognize that there is disagreement over this issue among honest and sincere believers and interpreters of Scripture. One can find advocates for a private prayer language in evangelical circles and one can find those who do not believe that a private prayer language – or tongues in any form – are valid spiritual gifts today. I have read the views of men of God on both sides of this issue. Most all of them will somewhere acknowledge the difficulty of this issue and admit that there are honest differences of opinion. Those who humbly acknowledge their own finiteness and lack of complete understanding in spiritual things will usually avoid being dogmatic about such issues. I believe that when dealing with the private prayer language, we should follow this wiser path and not seek to standardize a particular interpretation and impose it on others who may have differing views or experiences.
We can and should take action to prohibit the abuse of spiritual gifts and/or erroneous teachings concerning their role in the Christian life and experience. This is legitimate action for the trustees to take and we have already done so in established policy. The regulation of spiritual gifts, however, is much better left to the discretion of the Holy Spirit himself who gives such gifts to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11)
From his letter to SBC leaders, including the President of the Convention, the President of the Executive Committee, seminary presidents, IMB Trustee Chairman and Personnel Chairman:
Let me quickly say that I supported the conservative resurgence in our convention in recent years. I will place my conservative “credentials” up against anyone else’s. However, these recent Board actions go way beyond conservatism. I am afraid that these kinds of policy decisions will not only continue to alienate Southern Baptists from the global Christian community, but will also cause the younger generations of Southern Baptists pastors and leaders to re-think their affiliation with the SBC. Unfortunately, this is already happening. I fear for the future of our wonderful convention and our Cooperative Program if the kinds of actions taken by the IMB Board of Trustees continue to be the norm.
Please, show me where I am wrong in my concerns. I have listened to the arguments, read the recommended books and papers, and sought God earnestly in these matters. I have yet to see – from Scripture – that either of these new policies is justified. I have also stated my support for the re-writing of the previously existing policies on baptism and charismatic gifts that would not resort to the unnecessary and extra-biblical lengths to which these new policies go. I personally do not believe that the pre-existing policies needed re-writing, but if this was a concern of the trustees there were appropriate ways to address these concerns without going beyond what Scripture teaches.
In his note to me, Dr. McWhite said, “Not everyone responded to this letter and I certainly did not expect a response. I know that these are very busy men and I greatly respect each of them. The responses I did receive were all very gracious but, in most instances, expressed disagreement with my concerns. I will only point out that I asked specifically in this letter for biblical grounds supporting our recent IMB actions. No responses I received stated any such support.”
From an email sent in January to all IMB trustees:
My appeal to each of you as members of our Board is that we rescind the actions that we took at our meeting in Huntsville and then, if there is still concern that our previously followed policies and guidelines were not sufficient, let’s write new ones that adequately address those concerns while staying true to Scripture and not unnecessarily alienating fellow conservative Southern Baptists who may have different experiences from us and who support the IMB’s goal of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations! We can certainly do this while maintaining our doctrinal integrity. We can also set a wonderful example of how theological conservatives can cooperate when there are honest differences of opinion in some of the more peripheral areas of biblical interpretation.
Some of you may be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t this guy just accept the vote of the majority of the trustees and be quiet?” I assure you, that is a question I have asked myself many times. It would certainly be the easier route to take, and it has been tempting to take it! In all of this dialogue that we have had over these past months, however, I have yet to see – from the Word of God – any argument from anyone that would justify the actions that our Board took in Huntsville. This is a biblical and a theological issue for me and, until I am persuaded – by Scripture – that I am in error, or until the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole determines that these specific interpretations of Scripture will become “the official interpretation” for the SBC and its entities, then I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent or passively accept these recent decisions.
In each of this letters, McWhite maintains a very open and friendly tone, yet solidly standing on what he sees as the teachings of Scripture. I apologize to the reader and to him, if that has not come out in the portions I selected. To ensure that readers see where he is coming from I wanted to include the conclusion to his email to his fellow trustees:
I thank each of you for your service to the Lord and to the cause of Christ and the gospel through our International Mission Board. I respect each of you. This is NOT a personal issue between me and any trustee or group of trustees. I have kept my focus on the policies, not personalities. I am sure that we will agree on 99% of most anything else I can think of. On these issues, however, I must take my stand where I believe Scripture does.
May God continue to richly bless each of you, your families, and your ministries.