Board boots Baptist pastor in flap over speaking in tongues
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Feb 4 15:34:15 UTC 2006
>>From Religion News Service
Power Play? Board boots Baptist pastor in flap over speaking in tongues
By Greg Horton
RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
Saturday, February 4, 2006
A Southern Baptist pastor being removed from a national board governing
worldwide evangelism says he doesn't speak in tongues himself but is
defending missionaries who do to keep the denomination "broad in our
cooperation." The Rev. Wade Burleson, the senior pastor of Emmanuel
Baptist Church in Enid, said that the board of trustees of the Southern
Baptist Convention's International Mission Board wants him to be removed
because of his criticism of a policy change enacted by the IMB in November
2005. It stated that any candidate speaking in tongues, even privately,
"has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB
of the SBC."
In a statement, the International Mission Board says it wants him removed
not because of the tongues issue, but because of "broken trust and
resistance to accountability." Burleson's removal depends on a June vote
of the entire Southern Baptist Convention, but the controversy is being
watched beyond Baptist circles, largely because of the dispute over
tongues, an issue that has rankled many religious groups. Tongues is
described in the Bible as a spiritual language used by early Christians,
enabled by the Holy Spirit. The issue of whether it is still relevant, or
appropriate, for modern times has divided many denominations.
Burleson says he is not most concerned about tongues, but a willingness to
remove ministers who disagree with what he and others consider
"nonessential doctrines." Since the changes in the mission board's policy
were made official, Burleson has been writing open letters and
explanations of his position on his blog, kerussocharis.blogspot.com. He
has repeatedly referred to those who wanted the policy changes as
"crusading conservatives." "Crusading conservatives seek to convince you
that their interpretation of the Bible on nonessential doctrines must be
accepted by all conservatives, and if someone chooses to not conform to
their specific interpretation, then he/she is removed from service,"
Burleson says he considers himself a "cooperating conservative," which he
defines as a person who is in agreement on the major doctrines of the
Bible but gives freedom in areas of interpretation regarding nonessential
doctrines. The SBC has long considered the Reformation's rallying cries of
faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone and Christ alone as summing up
the major doctrines of Scripture. The use of the spiritual gift known as
tongues or glossolalia would fall into the nonessential category. Southern
Baptists have a policy that prohibits their ministers from using tongues
in a public setting.
"I do not want people to lose sight of the real issue," Burleson said. "It
is not about the new policies. It is the direction we seem to be moving as
a convention that shuts out dissent and desires conformity in the
interpretation of minor doctrines." Burleson said he does not practice a
"private prayer language," the phrase some use for speaking in tongues,
nor does anyone he would consider a close friend or family member. The
issue, he said, is one of principle and "is not personal."
Leon McBeth is a retired distinguished professor of church history at
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He said
that the SBC has a long-standing antipathy toward what some call the
miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. "In my day, our concern over the
tongues issue was a biblical one," McBeth said. "In the Bible, tongues is
always associated with conflict. And tongues isn't exclusive to
Christianity. The practice goes at least as far back as the Oracle at
"Sometime in the 1970s, as a way of ameliorating opposition to tongues,
some Southern Baptists began to talk about private prayer language. They
believed it was less offensive than calling it tongues." Lyle Story, a
professor of biblical languages and New Testament at Regent University
School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Va., said that the Southern Baptist
resistance to tongues is tied to their belief that all the miraculous
gifts (healing, prophecy, tongues, miracles) ceased with the death of the
original 12 apostles and the completion of the Bible.
Burleson said he is resistant to the policy change because so many
Christian men and women throughout history would have violated it. "Some
of our greatest missionaries of all time had a private prayer language,
including Miss Bertha Smith of China, who led thousands of people to
Christ and died an ambassador of the Southern Baptist Convention at the
age of 100," he said.
Jerry Rankin, the president of the International Mission Board, has
acknowledged that he has practiced a private prayer language for 30 years.
"We have become so intolerant that everyone must now march in lockstep
with us or we kick them out," McBeth said. "I believe this (the policy
change) was part of a power play to force Rankin into retirement." The IMB
made the policy change non-retroactive, so Rankin's position as president
will not be threatened.
The trustees of the IMB deny that Burleson's criticism of the policy
changes had a bearing on their decision to work to remove him. In an
official statement released Jan. 11, board chairman Tom Hatley said: "In
taking this action, trustees addressed issues involving broken trust and
resistance to accountability, not Burleson's opposition to policies
recently enacted by the board." Burleson will remain on the board until
the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Greensboro in June. The
convention must vote to remove him, as the IMB has no power to do so.
Burleson said he remains a strong supporter of the SBC and IMB.
"The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is
doing the greatest work in our 161-year-old history," Burleson said. "I
and my church support the IMB. We will continue to support the IMB."
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