Private prayer language and the IMB

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Feb 21 13:46:01 UTC 2006

>>From the Associated Baptist Press:

Rankin talks candidly about private prayer language, recent IMB action

By Trennis Henderson

Published: February 21, 2006

BANFF, Alberta, Canada (ABP) -- Acknowledging he has practiced a private
prayer language for more than 30 years, Jerry Rankin candidly shared his
views Feb. 17 about the Southern Baptist International Mission Board
trustees recent action on the issue. Rankin, president of the IMB since
1993, addressed the topic during a question-and-answer session with
Baptist editors meeting in Banff, Alberta, Canada, for the 2006
Association of State Baptist Papers annual meeting.

I do have a private prayer language, Rankin told the editors. However, I
don't consider myself to have a gift of tongues. I've never been led to
practice glossolalia publicly. I've never viewed personally my intimacy
with the Lord and the way His Spirit guides me in prayer time as being the
same as glossolalia, he added. I just want God to have freedom to do
everything that He wants to do in my life and I'm going to be obedient to

The issue of a private prayer language, generally considered a form of
glossolalia or speaking in tongues, came to a head in November when IMB
trustees adopted a policy banning the future appointment of missionaries
who practice a private prayer language. IMB policy already excludes people
who speak in tongues in public worship from serving as missionaries.
Although the new policy specifies it is not retroactive, some trustees
expressed concern that the action is a slap at Rankins leadership. He
confirmed prior to his 1993 election that his private prayer life included
occasional experiences of praying in the Spirit.

Rankin said the board action did create suspicion among some of his
supporters because of an awareness of my personal practices. One of his
concerns, Rankin added, is that it was so difficult to identify any
compelling reason for trustees to adopt the policy. Certainly biblically
it goes beyond the doctrinal parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message,
he emphasized. I cant remember in my tenure when the board pushed forward
to actually adopt something that was as divisive and controversial in
terms of why do we need to do this?  It does go beyond what Southern
Baptists have defined in our confession of faith which should be our
doctrinal guidelines, he added. It does alienate and offend a large
segment of our churches. Despite his concerns, Rankin said his
responsibility is to lead the organization, stay focused on the vision and
keep us moving forward in that context.

I understand and accept the rationale and the arguments and the authority
of those who implemented it, he told the editors. To me, its no violation
of my integrity and my responsibility to be accountable to them to
implement it. I would never compromise or violate personal integrity and
convictions, he insisted.

But every leader sometimes has to do things that they wouldn't necessarily
prefer to do or even be in agreement with. Theres an accountability to
implementing the policies of our board and carrying them out and I'm going
to do that to enable us to fulfill our mission task. Detailing his
personal views on the issue, Rankin said, I'm certainly not a cessationist
(someone who believes certain spiritual gifts recorded in Scripture, such
as speaking in tongues, no longer function).

I believe as long as the Holy Spirit is operable in our lives and in the
church and in the world, what the Bible tells about the work and
functioning of the Holy Spirit is applicable, he noted. Now that may
change historically, but I certainly don't think we have the latitude to
just disregard it. I just don't see how you can be an inerrantist and be a
cessationist, Rankin said. But he acknowledged others hold the view that
someone cant be an inerrantist without being a cessationist.

Insisting that I don't consider myself a charismatic, Rankin said his
private prayer language remains just that -- private. No ones ever heard
me pray in anything other than English so I think it is still very private
and it will remain so, he said, but its nothing to deny. I've been very
open with the board about his personal prayer life, Rankin added. I don't
advocate it. I don't see it as normal or that I should propose that anyone
ought to pray in tongues. Its just what God has chosen to do in my life.

Concerning the trustees November action, Rankin said the boards personnel
committee initially adopted a guideline that was drafted in a way there
wasn't really any wiggle room. It was pretty explicit -- anyone who had a
private prayer language, practiced it, was disqualified from serving as a
future IMB missionary. I did insist it come before the full board because
I think you have to be very circumspect in your processes, he explained.
It was at my insistence that the full board act on it rather than it just
being a committee that puts this in place.  It just needed to be affirmed,
voted up or down, by the full board.

Describing debate over the recent trustee action as divisive and
controversial, Rankin added, I don't think its a dead issue. I think theres
a lot of reaction thats been generated across the convention to revisit
it. However, I'm not confident it will be reversed, he said. As much as
theres been reaction against it, theres been a lot of support for it as
well. I think even controversy strengthens the resolve of our board to
kind of justify or defend what they've done.

Looking ahead, Rankin said the IMB's assignment to assist the churches in
sending forth missionaries to plant churches overseas cant be fully
achieved if IMB leaders say were going to only assist certain churches or
an element of our convention. If they're cooperating members of the
Southern Baptist Convention, Rankin said, we have an opportunity to serve

Copyright  2005 Associated Baptist Press. All rights reserved.

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