Don & Angie Finley's Letter of Resignation
April 28, 2003
Dr. Robin Hadaway
Eastern South America
Dear Dr. Hadaway:
Thank you for your e-mail letter of April 24. We appreciate your affirmation of us and our ministry, even though we cannot agree on the issue of the Baptist Faith and Message. This letter is made necessary by Dr. Jerry Rankin’s letter to us dated April 10, which we received by regular airmail on April 16, demanding that we either sign the form affirming the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith & Message statement or resign from the International Mission Board by May 5, or be terminated at the May meeting of the Board of Trustees. Before offering our resignation, we want to specify some considerations that were NOT elements in our decision.
First, we are not resigning because we have a problem with grassroots Southern Baptists. To the contrary, we have spoken as missionaries to countless Southern Baptists in churches throughout the United States, and worked over the years with literally thousands of Southern Baptist mission volunteers who came to Brazil to join with us in evangelistic outreach, chapel construction, and medical mission projects. To our knowledge, who we are, what we teach and preach, and what we do in ministry have never caused a problem for any of them. For our part, we have found the overwhelming majority of volunteers with whom we have worked and other Southern Baptists we have met along the way to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They have blessed our lives. We recognize a profound debt of gratitude to faithful Southern Baptists who reached out to us, who nurtured us as children toward faith in Christ, who discipled us as young people, who provided the colleges and seminary where we studied, and who for so long have provided a productive way to fulfill God’s missionary call in our lives through the International Mission Board.
Second, we are not resigning because we have done anything wrong or have something to hide. While the “request” for missionaries to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message has been acknowledged to be rooted in the suspicions with which an unnamed group in the SBC regard missionaries, and although there are elements in the new BF&M with which we cannot agree, we have never been charged with doctrine or conduct outside traditional Baptist expressions of faith and practice. Nor is it true, as has been repeatedly alleged in the media, that we refuse to be accountable to Southern Baptists. On the contrary, we have consistently and clearly affirmed in the strongest possible terms our acceptance of accountability under Scriptural authority, both in correspondence and in personal conversations with Board leaders. Those affirmations were in their possession even as we were being accused, publicly and in our personal letter threatening dismissal, of being unwilling to acknowledge our accountability. The problem is that we have been pressured to acknowledge accountability under a manmade document, the 2000 version of the BF&M. That we cannot do. For us, the only sufficient and authoritative rule of faith and practice is the Bible itself. That is a stand that for us is non-negotiable, and which we are confident most Baptists will affirm.
Furthermore, we are not resigning because of a change in our sense of call. We are fulfilled as missionaries and currently find ourselves in the most productive phase of ministry in our lives, working side by side with Brazilian Baptist World Mission Board and national WMU leadership to establish a new mission training center. The Center is beginning to minister to laypersons and pastors, as well as to current and future urban, home and crosscultural missionaries. The Center has the potential to make a tremendous impact on Brazilian Baptist life and to be a vital strategic component in Brazilian Baptists’ increasingly significant contribution to world mission, especially among unreached peoples. At the same time that we are working with national leadership, we are finding great fulfillment as well on the front line of mission as we have worked the last three years in one of the poorest slums in Rio de Janeiro, helping to plant a church, disciple new believers, and engaging in a variety of human needs ministries. These ministries have been multiplied as we have worked with Tennessee Baptist volunteers, who are in partnership with Rio de Janeiro Baptists, in outreach and human needs ministries in hardened slums throughout the city.
There is only one reason we are resigning from the International Mission Board. Put simply, we no longer believe that the IMB offers us viable conditions for effective missionary service. When a Baptist missionary sending agency demands doctrinal accountability on the basis of a manmade document rather than on the basis of Scripture, something is wrong. When unnamed critics are taken seriously when they make vague, generalized and unsubstantiated accusations against doctrinally sound and spiritually committed missionaries, many of whom are putting their lives on the line in dangerous places (as we have been tragically reminded in the last few months), something is wrong. When denominational politics takes precedence over mission priorities, and missionaries themselves are made pawns in a denominational political game, something is wrong. When Board leadership resorts to untrue accusations to justify the threat to terminate us, something is wrong. When faithful career missionaries can be forced from the field, even though there are no doctrinal charges directed against them and their regional and national leaders unqualifiedly affirm their effective service, something is wrong. When for no valid reason missionary parents and their children are put through the emotional grinder in ways that few can understand, something is wrong. When national Baptist leaders can no longer count on the continued service of trusted missionaries because of theological and political fights in the SBC that have nothing to do with the mission challenges they face on the field, something is wrong.
While there are those who have encouraged us to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message so we can continue to fulfill our call, we realize with heavy hearts that this organization no longer reflects who we are and what we perceive to be Kingdom priorities. Over the years, we have affirmed that our call comes from God, not the IMB. Accordingly, with a hope based on faith, we now look past IMB resources to the grace and provision of God as we continue to follow his call.
It is therefore with a sense of regret that we have come to this impasse, but with a liberating conviction that we are making the only decision we can make in good conscience, that we communicate our intention to leave the field on or before July 23, 2003, and submit our resignation from the International Mission Board effective December 23, 2003, after an appropriate period of terminal leave in accordance with the Manual for Field Personnel and confirmed by you in your letter of April 24.
Don & Angie Finley
RESPONSE TO DR. RANKIN’S REQUEST FOR AFFIRMATION OF THE
BAPTIST FAITH & MESSAGE
Don & Angie Finley
April 8, 2002
In response to the basic question put to us of whether or not we affirm the Baptist Faith & Message statement, we would respond with a qualified “yes”. We would do so for a couple of reasons. First, we recognize that the great majority of the text of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is a recapitulation of the 1963 version, which we have always accepted as a confession of faith. We feel that to respond with a blanket “no” to the new version, which is based on its 1963 and 1925 predecessors, would unfairly mischaracterize our doctrinal position. We are, in fact, in basic agreement with the majority of the statement’s text. Second, it has always been our practice to work cooperatively in mission with our fellow Southern Baptists without feeling that we must agree with one another at every specific point. It is still our desire to pursue cooperation rather than confrontation.
Before anything else, we want to express as clearly as we can that we have no hesitancy or equivocation whatsoever in affirming our belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The Bible, understood and interpreted in the light of God’s supreme revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, is our final authority for all matters of faith and practice. We are committed to the principle that as Christians, we should examine all that we do and teach in the light of Scripture and submit to its norms. The points below at which we offer clarifications never should be misconstrued as calling into question biblical authority. Neither would we want what follows to be construed as argumentative or combative. We have been asked to define our positions, and will try to do so with clarity in a spirit of humility.
While we can affirm our agreement with the majority of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message text, integrity requires that we clarify our position in places. The question of integrity is of particular importance to us in light of Dr. Rankin’s recent correspondence, in which he states that the reason we are being asked to sign the new Baptist Faith & Message is that some Southern Baptists question the doctrinal integrity of missionaries. In almost 14 years of service with the IMB, we have had contact with approaching 2000 volunteers who have worked side by side with us on the field, and with thousands of Southern Baptists who have heard us speak. We have worked intimately with our national Baptist partners. As far as we know, we have never given occasion for anyone to make an issue over the integrity of our teaching, lives or doctrine. We are determined to maintain that integrity before God and Southern Baptists. Nevertheless, we view the suspicion in which we and our colleagues are supposedly held by an anonymous few to be totally without foundation, and the arbitrary means chosen to remove that suspicion (affirmation of a new statement of faith) to be unbiblical.
Our clearest point of difference with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is not in the text of the doctrinal statement itself, but in the preamble’s assertion that this document is to serve as “an instrument of doctrinal accountability”. We acknowledge readily that we are all doctrinally accountable to one another under the Lordship of Christ. However, we must always be aware that any confession of faith is no more than human words about the divine Word. The Bible is divinely inspired and unchanging; confessions are never more than inadequate temporal attempts to affirm the eternal. Therefore, we believe that the only appropriate instrument of doctrinal accountability is the Bible itself. If we are not crystal clear on this point, we run the danger of accruing human traditions and interpretations on top of Scripture. Throughout history, such a practice has always resulted in spiritual disaster for groups that fall into this error. Our authoritative rule of faith and practice always has been, and always must be, the Bible alone. While the Preamble affirms this principle, as well as recognizing that no confession has any quality of finality or infallibility, these affirmations are negated by the assertion that the confession itself is to be an instrument of accountability.
While we could answer positively to the question of whether or not we affirm the new Baptist Faith & Message on the basis stated in our first paragraph, our “yes” is therefore a qualified one. It refers strictly to our general theological agreement with the majority of the document’s text, under the conditional understanding that its proper role is to serve as a confession of faith. Our affirmation does not extend to conferring upon the document a role rightly reserved for Scripture. We cannot affirm the premise that any confession of faith should be used as an instrument of doctrinal accountability, nor the idea that requiring veteran missionaries whose work and teachings are known to sign a newly revised version of a man-made text is an appropriate or effective means to sift out supposed heresy.
As we stated above, we do agree with the majority of the theological positions expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message. There are a few points, however, at which our own position needs to be clarified vis-à-vis the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
We want to address the sentence in the preamble that reads, “We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.” The question of whether the priesthood of believers should be addressed in the plural form, as it is here, or in the singular, as we have traditionally done, is one that deserves attention. First, it is clear that in 1 Peter 2:9, we are referred to as a royal priesthood in the collective sense. Based on the covenant with Israel in Exodus 19:4-6, this verse refers to the fact that we have a priestly function to “proclaim the glorious deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his glorious light.” But while we have a collective priestly function as a witnessing community, there is also a very real sense in which our priesthood is individual. Hebrews presents Jesus as our great high priest, and through him we can “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Heb.4:16). This direct access to God is a priestly attribute, and it is ours as individual believers through the finished work of Christ (Heb.10:19-20). We have no need of any other mediator, but can enter directly as individual believers into the presence of God to receive guidance, encouragement, correction, inspiration, spiritual power, and increased understanding of God’s truth. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth (John 16:13), and Romans 8:9 makes clear that all believers are indwelt by the Spirit. Therefore, while we affirm that Scripture is the treasure of the entire Christian community and that we are therefore responsible to consider input and correction from other Christians, and while we acknowledge a sense of mutual doctrinal accountability to one another, we would also affirm that at the end of the day the individual believer is both competent and responsible for his or her own convictions and responses to the leadership and guidance of God. The issue of whether or not our priesthood is corporate or individual is not a case of either/or, but both/and. Failure to affirm the priesthood of the individual believer would leave us with an unbalanced perspective, with potentially serious consequences.
In Article I on The Scriptures, we would observe that the key affirmation is that Scripture “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.” We affirm that statement. Reiterating what we expressed above, we have no hesitation whatsoever in affirming our belief in both the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
The issue we would raise in this article deals with a question of hermeneutics that has implications for the issue of biblical authority, which we believe is undermined in the new version of this article. Whereas in the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message the first sentence of Article I reads that the Bible “is the record of God’s revelation of Himself”, the 2000 version says merely that the Bible “is God’s revelation of Himself”. In one sense, we can affirm on a very straightforward level that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself because we believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God, and because of the way God speaks to us through the Bible. On another level, however, we can say that the Bible “is God’s revelation of Himself” only because we believe that Scripture is an accurate, inspired and authoritative record of God’s acts in history and of his dealing with his people, culminating in his supreme revelation of himself and his saving act on our behalf in Jesus Christ. God has not revealed himself in a vacuum, or through words dictated from the sky, but as he has interacted with his people throughout history. The Ten Commandments, for example, carry meaning in and of themselves. But their richness and relevance go much deeper when set within the context of the biblical story of the Exodus and God’s mighty acts on behalf of his people, and the larger story of how God was establishing a people unto himself in order to use them in accomplishing his missionary task to reach the entire world. In short, while the text itself is inspired and authoritative, its full meaning cannot be understood apart from its context—the story of how God has acted in history, revealing himself to the inspired writers of Scripture, and how through their written testimony and teaching he has revealed himself to us. God is more than a God who has merely spoken; he is a God who acts in human history and in individual human lives. The Bible is the inspired, authoritative record of God’s self-revelation.
A final concern here is that in speaking of the Bible as “God’s revelation of himself”, rather than as “the record of God’s revelation of himself”, we may cloud the issue concerning the identity of God’s final and supreme revelation. That supreme and final revelation of God is in Jesus Christ (Heb.1:1-2), who said to his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Because Jesus the Son is the ultimate revelation of God the Father, biblical authority is properly founded on its witness to Jesus Christ. The 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message is weaker in its assertion of biblical authority for its failure to carry over the 1963 statement that the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ. We have diminished unnecessarily our affirmation of a rich christological core in our doctrine of revelation. Such an affirmation does nothing, in our minds, to undermine our concepts of biblical revelation and authority. On the contrary, these concepts are enhanced and reinforced as a christological center brings unity and cohesion to the story of how God has revealed himself “at many times and in various ways” (Heb.1:1b).
Article VI on The Church concludes with the statement that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” It seems clear to us that the nature and level of female leadership in the local New Testament church varied from place to place. Aquila and Priscilla, for example, were Paul’s co-workers and leaders of house churches (Acts 18:1-4; Rom.16:3-5; 1 Cor.16:19), a ministry which they exercised as a couple. Lydia was the first convert in Philippi, and led her entire household in establishing the first Christian group there. Acts 17:4 and 17:12 mention that important women of standing were part of the core of churches planted in Thessalonica and Berea, respectively. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is cited as a deaconess at Cenchreae. In 1 Cor. 11:5, a woman may pray or prophecy in public, but only with a head covering, possibly because of cultural issues related to pagan cults. In sharp contrast, 1 Cor. 14:33b-34 forbids women to speak at all in public worship. Obviously, local context in particular historical moments determined the appropriateness of various female roles in ministry and leadership. This indicates to us that while Paul affirmed the principle of radical equality in Christ (Gal.3:28), he allowed for variety in practice concerning the proper role of women in the church depending on the local context. Accordingly, while on the basis of Gal.3:28 we affirm the equality of all believers regardless of ethnicity, social status, gender, or any other category that the world would use to discriminate against a particular group of persons, we also believe that the proper authority to make decisions concerning the role of women in the church today still would be the local church. We see such an interpretation as in complete harmony with New Testament practice and historical Baptist respect for the autonomy of the local church. Therefore, in our understanding, the concluding statement of this article usurps the authority of the local church.
We understand that Article XVIII on The Family was adopted in response to contemporary issues in American culture revolving around the breakup of the family. In our trips to the USA, we have been distressed by what we agree is a widespread crisis in families rooted in an abandonment of biblical principles. We agree that this is a vital issue that the church must address. However, we do not see our confession of faith as being the most appropriate venue to do so. In our mind, a denomination’s confession of faith should address core issues of the historic Christian faith. Paul, for example, prioritized as of first importance the story of Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins, his burial, and his resurrection (1 Cor.15:1-6). Contemporary social issues are of great importance, but are most appropriately addressed in other ways. In part, this would be because these issues tend to be somewhat passing in terms of priority. Also, proper ways to flesh out eternal biblical principles are determined in part by cultural context. Therefore, as we get farther from the core doctrines of the historic Christian faith, diversity of opinion and practice become both more likely and appropriate within the family of faith. We believe that a confession of faith should focus on the convictions most clearly held among us, and serve as an instrument of unity. Addressing culture-specific issues in a confession of faith, as this article does, is divisive and tends to be exclusive rather than inclusive. We do not believe that this is a proper role for a confession of faith.
While disagreeing with the propriety of this article for a confession of faith, we would agree with the greater part of its specific content. We do need to issue a clarification regarding how we understand paragraph three. Here the article relates several clear biblical principles that we affirm. The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, both being created in his image. The marriage relationship mirrors the way God relates to his people. Much of the paragraph is a synopsis of Eph.5:22ff. Accepting biblical authority, we have no question about what the article says—the husband is to love the wife, provide for her needs and protect her (and, extending the principle in a way consistent with biblical teaching, this role would extend to include the entire family), while the wife graciously submits to her husband and serves alongside him as his helper/partner.
The clarification we would express is not in what the article includes, but in what is excluded. Set in context of the imperative to mutual submission in Eph. 5:21, it seems clear in the passage that there are expectations that at times the husband will submit his desires or opinions to those of his wife. On a practical level, we know of no healthy marriage where this does not happen. In the same way, it would in our view be erroneous to conclude that because there is no explicit command in Ephesians 5 for the wife to love her husband, she is therefore under no scriptural obligation to do so. In fact, gracious submission (to be distinguished from involuntary submission to the force of a tyrant) and love are intertwined. You cannot graciously submit to another person’s needs and desires without an element of love, just as it is impossible to love another person without voluntarily submitting your own needs, desires or opinions to those of the one you love. We believe that this intertwining of love and submission is supremely exemplified in Christ. While Jesus desired to avoid the cross, he went anyway, submitting his own rights and desires to our needs because of his love for us.
In matters of considerable importance to family life we believe it is important for the husband and wife, whom the Bible clearly teaches have been made one flesh before God, to mutually seek the Lord’s guidance. If there is disagreement, the couple should continue in prayer until they are of one mind in the Spirit. A husband’s servant leadership does not mean unilateral authority to impose his will or opinion.
We know that we have stated our views in a very straightforward manner. We want to reiterate that our purpose in doing so is to be clear, but not argumentative. We make no presumption of having the definitive word on any of these issues. We have no problem working with fellow Southern Baptists who have different perspectives, assuming that the tolerance for freedom and diversity under the Lordship of Christ is mutual.
We can affirm that we will minister and teach within the parameters of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. It always has been our position that as missionaries serving through the IMB, we would not promote controversy or division by teaching contrary to the SBC’s doctrinal statement. We see any differences as being unnecessary to address in our ministry because they are limited in scope, secondary in importance, and grounded in North American issues that are not a focus of our ministry on the field. We interpret this affirmation as referring to the theological text of the document (the articles).
Don & Angie Finley
Personal Letter from Jerry Rankin, January 13, 2003
Dear Don and Angie:
Thank you for writing a very thorough personal “confession of faith” last April and for forwarding it to me once again in response to more recent communication relative to the issue of our missionaries affirming the Baptist Faith and Message. I know you have been waiting for a response, but it has been difficult to get to all those requiring personal attention along with other continuing responsibilities. I made this request last February, confident of the doctrinal soundness of the personnel who had been sent out and were serving with the International Mission Board. I am somewhat aware of your pilgrimage and faithfulness to your calling. It is especially gratifying to know of the effective job you are doing in your current assignment of training missionaries on behalf of the Brazilian mission board. I would consider it a tragedy if you were to jeopardize your continued service with the IMB because of insistence in holding to some inaccurate and distorted perceptions.
Let me hasten to say that I fully appreciate your convictions and the interpretations you have expressed, and I would never want anyone to compromise their personal convictions or affirm something they did not believe for the sake of expedience. I am saddened that you have rejected more accurate explanations of the changes in the 2000 BF&M as expressed by me, Don Kammerdiener and others. Your disagreements and interpretations reflect the view of the moderate critics of the BF&M and treat the confessions of faith, which Baptists have had for 400 years, in a rather condescending way.
It is inappropriate to juxta-position the BF&M and the Bible and refer to it as a man-made document. The nature of a confession of faith is not the issue. Most Christians hold the Bible as their sole authority as we do. Confessions of faith are expressions of our distinctiveness as Baptists. To say it is a “man-made document” is to belittle the divinely-led process of local churches and denominations seeking and determining God’s will collectively. The BF&M is an instrument of doctrinal accountability whether you accept it as such or not, and it always has been since 1925 just as other confessions of faith like the Philadelphia Confession and New Hampshire Confession were before that. The preamble of the 2000 version simply stated the obvious. The difficulty of your response is enhanced since you obviously see this as a personal issue and effort to “sift out heresy” rather than an appropriate personal response as a part of a collective effort of affirm to the churches we represent.
We have given you the latitude to disagree with elements of the 2000 BF&M, but your position of disagreeing with practically every revision reflects a broader problem of unwillingness to understand and accept the interpretations and Biblical authority on which these statements of faith were based. You affirmed very explicitly in the beginning of your letter and then at the end that you would work in accord with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and not contrary to it, but I fail to understand why you would be unwilling to sign the form sent to you to facilitate our collecting this affirmation. Would you be willing to do that over your signatures with your letter referenced above attached? I am hopeful that you and others will in the future come to understand and accept the rationale for changes that have been made in the context of contemporary culture, theological relativism and tendencies to dilute Biblical authority, but it does create difficulty for us when your disagreements are so extensive.
If you feel that you cannot with integrity comply with my request and should choose not to continue service with the IMB, we would certainly want to work with you in consideration of your ministry responsibility and family needs to effect an appropriate time of transition.
Don and Angie, we deeply value you and your ministry. We do not want to lose you. I pray that you will be able to join with us in affirming the Baptist Faith and Message (with any differences sited) and your willingness to work in accordance with it.
cc: Dr. Avery Willis
Rankin's April 10, 2003 Letter
Mr. and Mrs. Don Finley
Rua Uruguai 488A, Casa 14 Tijuca
20510-060 Rio de Janeiro, RJ
Dear Don and Angie:
More than a year ago I requested that you, along with all of our missionary personnel, review the current Baptist Faith and Message and affirm that you would work in accord with this confession of faith and not contrary to it. It is altogether appropriate that Southern Baptists be assured that the missionaries they send and support have personal convictions consistent with our current confession of faith, and this is not unlike the commitment you were asked to make when you were appointed. Understanding that some would disagree with various changes in the BF&M, and with interpretations of scripture, we have even allowed such disagreements to be expressed within acceptable boundaries of basic Baptist beliefs; therefore, it is inaccurate for this to be perceived as a creed being imposed on individuals.
Continuing to support missionary personnel whose personal beliefs are not consistent with those held by Southern Baptists or those unwilling to affirm that they will work in accountability with these doctrinal positions would erode the credibility and support of the International Mission Board. IMB leadership and our board of trustees must be responsible to our denomination, and it would be untenable to allow support for more than 5,000 of your colleagues to be undercut by lack of compliance with this request on the part of some.
In the months since the request was made, your regional leadership and IMB administrators have discussed it with you in order for you to understand the nature and rationale for the request. It has been gratifying that more than 6,000 new and current missionaries have affirmed the current Baptist Faith and Message, and though some have completed their term, most continue to fulfill their assignments throughout the world at a time of remarkable evangelistic harvest and unprecedented opportunities. Although it has been disappointing, I respect the decision of the few who have chosen to resign their service with the International Mission Board because they can no longer express doctrinal accountability to the convention in line with the Baptist Faith and Message.
I am grateful for your 14 years of service in Brazil and Central Asia and would be delighted if you should decide to affirm the current Baptist Faith and Message and continue your effective ministry with the IMB. Apart from that, I would like to ask that you consider resigning rather than maintaining a position that would undermine the integrity and credibility of the IMB. If I do not hear from you regarding one of these options by May 5, 2003, I will be recommending that the board take action to terminate your service in their May meeting. Whether as a result of this action or your resignation, you would be expected to leave the field by July 1 should you choose to return to the U.S. and will be granted a two-month terminal leave with full pay and support through August 31, 2003. The board will cover the cost of your travel and shipment of freight according to policy provisions. Should you choose to remain on the field unrelated to the IMB, termination will be effective June 30 with no subsequent provision for travel or freight.
Don and Angie, I do hope you will realize that these consequences have nothing to do with your calling and the effectiveness of your ministry, but are due to your unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support you. For the sake of the people of Brazil, their missions outreach and our Great Commission task, I pray that you might reconsider your position and join your fellow missionaries in complying with the request I have made.
Cc: Robin Hadaway
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