The following was posted by Ben Stratton of the Landmark Southern Baptist yahoo Group List. Baptists pay attention:
(The Arkansas State Baptist Convention will meet in Van Buren, Arkansas this Tuesday, November 6, 2007 to decide whether to keep or delete the words “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and / or alien immersion” from the ASBC articles of incorporation. Be sure to read and forward the below article and to pray for Arkansas Baptists on Tuesday.)
WHY WE SHOULD VOTE TO SUSTAIN ARTICLE III,
SECTION 1 OF THE ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION
Jimmy A. Millikin
former President of Williams Baptist College
At the 2007 annual meeting of the Arkansas Baptist Convention a study committee will recommend an amendment of Article III, Section 1 of the constitution and by-laws of the state convention called the Articles of Incorporation. The recommended amendment calls for the elimination of the phrase: “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion.” In other words, this proposed amendment wants to open the door to allow cooperating churches to accept any baptism regardless from what source it comes as long as it is immersion, and would technically open the Lord’s table to anyone and everyone, even to the unregenerate.
The question that needs answering is, Why change this article of doctrinal belief? The truth of the matter is that there has been very little debate over this issue. The Newsmagazine has been strangely silent about this important matter in Arkansas Baptist life. The only thing that I can remember reading is the reason given for the change. As I recollect three arguments have been advanced for the change. Perhaps the foremost one that has been presented by the Study Committee itself is that the article violates the autonomy of the local church. This argument has been used for years by those who object to using any kind of confession of faith as a basis of cooperation and fellowship among Southern Baptists. If this argument is followed then the entire second paragraph of Article III should be eliminated. To set forth a doctrinal requirement as a basic of cooperation and fellowship among churches does not violate the autonomy of a local church at all. No Convention or Association can tell a local church what it can believe or practice, but a Convention or an Association can define the doctrinal parameters of its body. A local church can decide whether it wants to abide by those guidelines or not. If this were not so, then we are not a convention of Baptist churches, but simply an ecumenical organization composed of all different kind of churches.
Another argument I have seen stated is that many churches in the Convention, especially many of the larger churches, are already violating the article. Sadly, that is true. But I would hope that anyone with a clear mind is able to see the wrong thinking of such an argument. Suppose some of these churches begin to accept other forms of baptism than immersion. Are we to conform our articles of faith to accommodate those who are violating them, or should those who are violating the article be held accountable and asked to cease? I believe the answer to this question is clear.
Another argument I hear is that the restricted view of baptism impedes evangelism and church growth. Can anyone honestly contend that the historic Arkansas Baptist view of alien immersion impedes our evangelistic mission? Let me put in another way, Does accepting alien immersion enable Baptists to make converts more rapidly? Again, I believe the answer to these questions is obvious. The article against alien immersion may indeed impede the proselyting of members from other denominations, but it does not impede winning the lost to Christ.
Now, to deal with this issue in a positive manner, I will advance only one argument for retaining the statement about alien immersion. That is not to say that there are not others, but it is, in my judgment, the most crucial one. One significance of baptism is that it is an identification act. It is an act of identification with Christ, and it is an act of identification with a people. Those who received baptism from other denominations have identified with those bodies from which they come. To require such to be baptized and their willingness to do so indicates that they have broken with their former denomination and now have publically committed themselves to being Baptists. On the other hand, people who desire to join a Baptist church but is unwilling to submit to baptism is a strong indication that they want to join a Baptist church without becoming a Baptist.
It is the ordinance of baptism that protects and preserves our distinctive as Baptists. Here is the question that every messenger to the Arkansas Baptist Convention must answer in his mind and conscience, Will eliminating the statement concerning alien immersion prosper and perpetuate Baptist churches? Or will opening the door to alien immersion eventually erode our Baptist distinctive to the point that many Baptist churches cease to be Baptist churches and become non-denominational churches? As a member of an Arkansas Baptist church for forty-eight of the fifty-seven years of my Christian life, I urge the messengers of the 2007 annual convention to vote to sustain the present reading of the Articles of Incorportation.
(Jimmy Millikin is the Dean of the Master’s and Associate Programs and Chairman and Professor of the Department of Theology at Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis, TN.)
Let’s be in prayer for our fellow Baptists in Arkansas as they meet. Pray first for the Holy Spirit to move in power and for God’s will to be done. Let’s hold to our Baptist distinctives.