IMB tightens policy, guidelines on speaking in tongues

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 1 13:35:12 UTC 2005

>>From the Florida Baptist Witness

International Mission Board tightens policy, guidelines on tongues,

Southern Baptist TEXAN

Published: December 1, 2005

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (SBT)The practice of tongues and so-called prayer
languages, as well as baptism from fellowships that are not of like
doctrine with Southern Baptists, will likely disqualify missionary
candidates applying to the International Mission Board, according to new
IMB policies and guidelines. In addition to the new personnel criteria,
the IMB trustees, meeting in Huntsville, Ala., Nov. 14-15, also appointed
89 new overseas missionaries and approved a slightly reduced budget
described as an exercise in good stewardship.

The IMB trustees adopted the personnel criteria after over two years of
extensively studying how missionary candidates are evaluated regarding the
practice of tongues and baptism. The debate ended Nov. 15 with the
majority of trustees approving measures to assist staff in assessing
missionary candidates. While a few trustees appealed to the board for
latitude regarding claims to a private prayer language and the use of
tongueswhat theologians term glossolaliathe majority voted by a 50-15
margin to regard those practicing a prayer language or tongues as
unqualified for missionary service with the IMB.

One trustee cautioned against a ruling that would appear to judge the
legitimacy of private prayer language while another insisted that
defending subjective, non-verbal, conceptual prayer falls outside biblical
parameters. The call to examine a candidates baptismal experience resulted
from concerns that some candidates might be commissioned without ever
having been immersed in what Southern Baptists and other like-minded
congregations view as believers baptism.

Two-thirds of the trustee body voted in favor of requiring greater
scrutiny of a candidates baptism, allowing more flexibility by calling
them guidelines, while the boards action regarding prayer language and
tongues is considered policy. Both measures include an exception clause so
that staff and trustees can review appeals.


Trustees unanimously approved a $282.5 million budget for 2006,
representing a decrease of $600,000 over 2005 and good stewardship in the
words of trustee Ken Whitten of Tampa, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church.
Included is an additional $1.1 million to bring hourly employees in line
with market wages, and merit pay for some salaried employees. Raises for
executive administrators were discussed and approved in a brief closed
session. The IMB in unique among SBC entities in disclosing its salary
structure to Southern Baptists, a policy that drew praise from trustees
during the Administration Committee meeting.

Finance committee vice-chairman A. C. Halsell of Plano said, Baptists get
more spirited when we talk about money, offering an overview of
anticipated IMB budget expenditures. He explained that the Cooperative
Program accounts for 35.47 percent of next years budget, anticipating a
slight increase in the undesignated funds allocated from Southern Baptist
churches according to a formula approved by SBC messengers that gives the
IMB half of those receipts. Reiterating a concern expressed by IMB Vice
President David Steverson, Halsell told the board, I think we need to
realize there is a possibility that both the Cooperative Program and
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering could be less this year because of
[contributions to] hurricane relief.

Halsell said support could be lower than expected as a result of churches
lost in the storms, CP overages being diverted by the SBC Executive
Committee for hurricane relief and donor fatigue. In his report to the
board and in addressing new personnel, IMB President Jerry Rankin
celebrated the additional 137 people groups that IMB missionaries engaged
with the Gospel last year. Even with that increase, Rankin said the number
of unreached groups of more than 100,000 people is increasing as world
population grows.


The board approved 89 missionary candidates for appointment, including
Todd Brain, a member of First Baptist Church in Oviedo. Brain will work as
a strategy coordinator for the IMB in central, eastern and southern
Africa. Brain received a degree in education from the University of
Central Florida in 1997.

A March 20-22 appointment service at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa will
serve as a prototype for planned Global Impact Celebration services, which
aim to increase churches understanding and participation in Southern
Baptist missions, Rankin said. Similar combined events are planned in
Spartanburg, S.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Southern California. Trustees
pledged $114,016 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International
Missions, with participation from the entire board.


After more than half an hour of discussion on prayer language, tongues and
baptism, the board approved as policy a memorandum titled Guidelines
Regarding Tongues and Prayer Language for Candidates, which the trustees
Personnel Committee passed last May. The committees action in May was to
help those who consult missionary candidates assess their doctrinal
qualifications. Previously, the board determined that clarification was
needed because candidates were being evaluated inconsistently.

After trustee Jerry Corbaley of California presented a paper titled
Regarding Speaking in Tongues, the Interpretation of Such and Prayer
Language, the Mission Personnel Committee assigned the task of studying
the issue to the six-member Process Review Committee. PRC chairman John
Floyd of Tennessee assigned two-member groups to each study particular
issuesnamely, baptism, private prayer language and missionary
qualifications. Floyd said the group drew information from the IMB
president, staff and Personnel Committee members, in addition to
soliciting advice from the Southern Baptist Council of Seminary Presidents
and reviewing the North American Mission Boards personnel policy relating
to charismatic practices.

Before introducing Floyd, IMB trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Arkansas
explained that when the guidelines were passed last May he assumed the
Personnel Committee had the authority to implement the guidelines. He
noted, however, that the IMBs lawyer determined that the trustees had
never delegated that responsibility. In an overview distributed in advance
to acquaint new trustees with background on the proposal, Floyd said
Rankin related at the July meeting that he preferred the guidelines be
treated as policies and that the whole board make the decision rather than
the Personnel Committee alone.

Candidates were already required to be committed to and identified with
Southern Baptists, convictionally hold to The Baptist Faith & Message
while not allowing for differences. I do think this will have an impact on
our candidates coming through, he added, noting that it may not be a large
number who fall into the category of practicing a private prayer language,
but there are some who would otherwise be very qualified. McWhite further
stated that a very clear policy is in place to deal with abuses of any of
the charismatic gifts that would result in termination, including tongues,
healing or any other doctrine elevated as normative or projected as
evidence of a greater degree of spirituality, he said.

The newly implemented policy affecting future candidates notes the New
Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia generally considered to be a
legitimate language of some people group, noting specific uses and
conditions for its exercise in public worship. In terms of worship
practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice
glossolalia, the statement reads. A prayer language as commonly expressed
by practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia, it
further states.

Noting Paul's teaching that prayer is to be made with understanding, any
spiritual experience is to be tested by the Scriptures, the statement
says. And since the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept private
prayer language, candidates espousing such eliminate themselves from
consideration for appointment, according to the statement. Trustee Rick
Thompson of Oklahoma asked what seminary presidents had said about the
other discussion on baptism, adding that greater division had occurred in
the Personnel Committee over that guideline.

Thompson, a first-year trustee, said new trustees needed more time to
digest the information. Corbaley objected, stating, Two years of in-depth
investigation and weighing the issues and bringing the largest committee
of our trustee board along is adequate for Southern Baptists to trust.
Trustee Bob Pearle of Texas praised the committee and said staff preferred
the passage of guidelines rather than policies in order to provide more
wiggle room. Ultimately, he said, That did not seem to satisfy. At the
request and insistence of our president who wanted it as a policy, its
coming back as a policy for the entire body to vote on.

In supporting the recommendation regarding a private prayer language,
Pearle said, Southern Baptists, as a rule, are going to say we are opposed
to speaking in tongues. He called the reference to a private prayer
language a politically correct way to avoid using the term glossolalia.
Regardless of the label, he said, It is, in fact, speaking in tongues and
that is not what we historically as Southern Baptists have stood for. This
policy will put us in sync with the other mission-sending agency of the
Southern Baptist Conventionthe North American Mission Board. Quoting from
NAMBs personnel policy, Pearle read, No person who is actively
participating in or promoting glossolalia shall be appointed, approved or
endorsed by NAMB. This includes having a private prayer language.

If this is rejected, Pearle argued, I fear this board then would be
rightly or wrongly perceived by the people who sent us here as endorsing
tongues. Pearle urged adoption of the glossolalia recommendation in order
to state the IMB position in clear language.


While the vote to approve the previously offered guidelines on baptism
prompted less debate, speakers firmly stated their opinions. Trustee
Winston Curtis of Oklahoma said the division that occurred in committee
involved whether a guideline or a policy would be the best approach.
Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson said he found the language on baptism
unconscionable because it puts the IMB in a position of telling a
candidate he is not qualified to be a missionary even if his church
approved him for membership, requiring re-baptism.

Corbaley responded by saying there is a repeated misunderstanding the
board was trying to impose its will on the local church. He said
Christians who affiliate with a church must abide by the congregations
perspective on baptism even if it is different from the last church. We
are simply attempting to set a policy that must be set somewhere for the
International Mission Board. It does not require any local church to
comply. It does require Christians who wish to affiliate with this
organization to cooperate with this organization, Corbaley said.

After the recommendations passed, Hatley told trustees: There is no need
in leaving with any kind of spirit of pride. Its been a humiliating
process to go through, but Im grateful to the Lord for finally reaching
conclusion on some things.

Copyright  2001-2005, Florida Baptist Witness,

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