Prayer language policy (cont'd)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 14 18:02:00 UTC 2006

Organizers cite common ground on prayer language
Published: December 14, 2006

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)-With San Antonio as the site of next year's annual
meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, conveners of a "Sandy
Creek-Charlestonian Convergence" roundtable Dec. 5 saw the gathering as a
prelude to addressing what they characterized as a narrowing of parameters
of cooperation within the SBC. Texas pastor Ben Cole looked over the
registration list and estimated 85 to 90 percent of those attending were
actively engaged in Southern Baptist ministry of some kind-some as
pastors, directors of missions or leaders of independent ministries. "Some
are part of National Baptists, American Baptists and some are not
affiliated at all," Cole said at an afternoon news conference following
the roundtable discussion involving 112 people at Cornerstone Baptist
Church in Arlington, Texas.

"We're being intentional in trying to talk with Texas Baptists about their
involvement in the convention," Cole said in reference to the upcoming SBC
annual meeting next June. He described the roundtable meeting as historic
because "a group of Baptists from diverse perspectives came in an open,
transparent meeting to share ideas," voting on every issue with unanimity
in spite of occasional disagreements. He described the forum as a vehicle
for those "who do not feel three minutes a year at the annual convention
is sufficient to express concerns." Those present at the roundtable now
will "prepare more intentionally for [the San Antonio SBC] in order to
have lasting change," Cole predicted.

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson told host pastor Dwight McKissic of
Cornerstone Baptist, "I'm amazed there are Southern Baptists who would
say, We don't want you around,'" referencing controversy McKissic sparked
by advocating an openness to the practice of a private prayer language
during a chapel message at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in
August. Expressing his appreciation for McKissic as "one of us," Burleson
said he first met McKissic when the Texas pastor called him last January
to express a willingness to do "whatever is required for the support of
you and your ministry and family" at a time when the Oklahoma pastor found
himself wondering whether his ministry, career and family had been ruined
by a stand he had taken as a trustee of the International Mission Board
against a policy barring missionary candidates with a private prayer
language. Half a year later, Burleson said he returned the favor of mutual
support, calling McKissic after his defense of private prayer language at
Southwestern Seminary.

McKissic disagrees with any trustee board establishing a policy that makes
a person's private prayer language an issue of employment. In answer to a
question posed by Florida Baptist Witness editor James A. Smith Sr.,
McKissic said he did not take issue with an earlier policy of the IMB that
forbids charismatic practices. He told of a well-qualified couple
interested in appointment as medical missionaries who fear
disqualification if asked about private prayer language. "He's not even
sure if it's tongues, but he's afraid if he answers he would be
disqualified," McKissic said.

Burleson clarified, "The old policy said we are paying you to share the
Gospel, not to speak in tongues. However, when it comes to private prayer
language, Scripture says do not forbid the speaking in tongues. If they
said yes, then they [IMB] said keep it private." Cole added, "If an SBC
agency or institution feels it's necessary to adopt a policy regarding
doctrinal prerequisites that exceed the parameters established by the
Baptist Faith & Message, they better have a ... good reason for doing it
and provide a convincing rationale." Regarding private prayer language,
that has not been done, he asserted.

McKissic called the new policy on private prayer language "paternalistic
and plantational-not in a racial sense, but in a control sense: You're
controlling what individuals do in their private prayer time." Burleson
added, "Some would say we are not forbidding you from speaking in tongues.
You can do it in your prayer closet, but we do not want you to be a
leader." He expressed amazement at anyone saying those who have the gift
of tongues are expressing their spiritual superiority, countering:
"Superiority is being expressed by those who have forbidden" the practice.

"I'm grateful for men of Christ who stand for their convictions on the
Word of God who have the kind of spirit you displayed," Burleson said at
the opening of the roundtable, turning to McKissic. "Our Southern Baptist
Convention is stronger because of pastors like Dwight McKissic, and may
God forbid we ever lose him," Burleson stated, interrupted by strong
applause. McKissic, first telling the crowd that Thanksgiving Day can be a
disappointment if the turkey is dry, said there is something about being
dry that carries a negative connotation. Turning to Ezekiel 37, he offered
a 15-minute biblical basis for the discussion, warning of dry speeches and
dry worship services.

McKissic spoke of a drought among Southern Baptist churches where fewer
people are being baptized today than in 1950. "Simply stated, the Southern
Baptist Convention is reaching no more people today than they did in
1950." He noted that more than 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are
plateaued or declining while more than 11,000 congregations baptized zero
or only one person over a year's time. "These statistics indicate many of
our churches are dry, dying or already dead," McKissic said. "It doesn't
matter what kind of church it is-Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist,
Episcopalian, black or white-many of our churches are dead,"  McKissic
continued, citing similar circumstances in the Book of Revelation.
Speaking of his own church, McKissic shared his disappointment at not
baptizing as many people in recent months as usual and having 1,800 in
attendance as compared to 2,400 in times past. "We all need a fresh touch,
a fresh fire in our pulpits and pews."

In spite of such dire straits, McKissic warned that "to deny or cut off
the spirit of the living God" borders on blasphemy. "It takes the anointed
Word, not just a dry sermon off the Internet, not a cold sermon that
wasn't birthed in prayer. Some of us have an appealing sound to the
neglect of a sound appeal, a moan without a message, a holler without
holiness, a head full of sense and a heart full of sins," McKissic said,
listing habits that short-circuit the Spirit of the living God from
"working in our hearts and churches." Just as God told Ezekiel how the
"dry bones are to be revived," McKissic said churches cannot operate
without the wind from God.

McKissic expressed hope for the Southern Baptist Convention as he looked
around the room and saw "young and old, black and white, charismatic,
continualists, cessationists, semi-cessationists," referring to the
various attitudes regarding whether sign gifts have continued since
apostolic times. "I don't believe people are here today because of Wade
Burleson or Dwight McKissic. You're here today because of the wind of God,
the breath of the Lord," he said. "I believe it is the spirit of Elijah
that brought us here today, not to argue and quibble over our theology,
but for us to all agree," McKissic said, reminding "how good it is to
dwell together in unity."

While thanking God for Southern Baptists producing great preachers with a
powerful word, McKissic warned that "the letter killeth and the spirit
maketh alive." He recalled that the bones that were once dry did not come
alive until the wind came. "Then they began to rattle and make a noise."
McKissic quoted from Leon McBeth's history of Baptists to argue that those
who came out of the Sandy Creek side of Southern Baptist tradition rattled
the rafters with an emotional style of preaching and worship. "What we
have in common is more important than those issues that divide us,"
McKissic said.


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