Matthew R. Perry

Jim Richards on the IMB Controversy

In SBC on February 16, 2006 at 11:32 am

For too long I have been deafened by the silence of doctrinal debate in Southern Baptist life. We struggled for 20 years to establish the basis of our belief concerning the nature of Scripture. Southern Baptists settled the discussion by saying the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We had little time to discuss other doctrinal issues.

Regardless of the position you take on speaking in tongues, the practice has never been widespread in Baptist churches. Pentecostalism at the turn of the 20th century and the charismatic movement in the 1970s popularized tongue speaking, but neither made it biblical. Whether you are a closed dispensationalist or require tongue speaking to conform to rules found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14, the modern practice in American churches does not qualify as scripturally authentic. There is more I could say but I find the baptism controversy even more intriguing.

Liberalism, neo-orthodoxy and existentialism had an impact on how many people approach the practice of Christianity. This approach would place the highest value on the individual’s experience and personal opinion. You see baptism is not a personal issue. It is not about “how I feel about my baptism.” It is not just the sincerity of the candidate. It is about scriptural authority. The question is whether baptismal authority is individual or congregational.

Jesus gave the commission to baptize to the local church. If the commission were given to every believer then any 9-year-old girl who was a Christian could baptize her convert in the backyard swimming pool. Jesus vested the authority to baptize in the church. The Baptist Faith and Message says baptism is a church ordinance. The local church is the custodian of the ordinances. Only a New Testament church can administer scriptural baptism. There are a few identifying marks of a New Testament church. Are all Baptist churches, New Testament churches? Probably not! Are there New Testament churches that are not Baptist churches? Sure, because what makes a New Testament church is what it teaches, not the name over the door. By the way, one of the identifying marks is that a New Testament church will teach security of the believer.

Doctrine does matter. It is not too late to raise the banner of doctrinal sufficiency of the Scriptures and reclaim our heritage as people of the Book.

(Jim Richards is the Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas state convention. The above is part of an article he wrote on the IMB controversy in the Southern Baptist Texan Issue on Feb. 6, 2006. I was especially glad to see Richards is a strong believer in church authority in baptism and is doing his best to encourage and remind others of the doctrinal heritage that Baptists have.)

(Sent to me by Ben Stratton: )

  1. The only problem I found in the article is this: if he is so intent on “reclaiming our heritage as the people of the Book”, where is his Scriptural references to back up this sentence: “Jesus gave the commission to baptize to the local church”?

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