Prayer language (cont'd)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Oct 19 12:14:28 UTC 2006

Southwestern trustees adopt policy opposing 'private prayer language'

By Robert Marus

Published: October 18, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) -- Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary overwhelmingly adopted a policy Oct. 17 that puts the school on
record opposing charismatic expressions of the Holy Spirit, including
so-called "private prayer languages." Trustees also heard news of one of
the largest donations in the seminary's 98-year history. Long-time
Southwestern benefactors Harold and Dottie Riley pledged $16 million for
the lead gift in a campaign to build a 3,500-seat chapel on the seminary
campus. Presently, the largest auditorium on campus at the 3,000-student
school is the 1,100-seat Truett Auditorium.

The board of the Southern Baptist school in Fort Worth, Texas, voted 36-1
to adopt the policy on tongues-speaking. It states: "Southwestern will not
knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the
contemporary charismatic movement including 'private prayer language.'
Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators
who promote such practices." The board's lone dissenter on the decision
was new trustee Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in
nearby Arlington.  McKissic delivered a chapel sermon at Southwestern Aug.
29, and since then the issue of prayer languages has been a hot topic on
many Southern Baptist Convention blogs.

McKissic recounted how, while a student at the seminary in 1981, he had an
experience of speaking in a "private prayer language" that he believes was
evidence of the Holy Spirit helping him communicate with God. McKissic
said he continues to have such experiences. Seminary officials, under the
leadership of President Paige Patterson, partially censored the sermon by
refraining from placing a recording of it on the school's website. The
school usually makes such streaming audio available to the public free of
charge. At the time, Southwestern's communications office issued a
statement saying Patterson had made the decision to suppress distribution
of McKissic's sermon because seminary officials "reserve the right not to
disseminate openly views which we fear may be harmful to the churches."

In the sermon, McKissic also criticized a decision by trustees at a sister
Southern Baptist Convention institution, the International Mission Board,
banning appointment of missionaries who practice such prayer languages.
That decision also fueled controversy in the SBC blogosphere and at the
denomination's annual meeting in June. With the latest decision,
Southwestern becomes at least the third SBC agency to have a policy
officially opposing extraordinary expressions of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit. The other agency is the North American Mission Board.

Such gifts as speaking in tongues and healing are spoken of in several New
Testament passages. However, many modern-day Protestants believe those
gifts ceased with the passing of the first generation of Christian
apostles. That belief, known as "cessationism," has historically been held
by many Southern Baptists. However, Pentecostal and charismatic
Christians, including some Southern Baptists, believe in the continued
validity of such gifts -- a belief known as "continualism." McKissic, in
his statement to fellow trustees about the policy, said the decision moves
dangerously beyond the parameters required by the SBC's confessional

"The issue we now face as a family of Southern Baptists is whether or not
we will follow a narrowing path of confessional latitude on theological
matters not included in our statement of faith, the 'Baptist Faith &
Message,'" he said. "The apostle Paul spoke in private tongues more than
anybody. He wrote about it. We discuss it. There is no shame in this, and
I do not understand the agenda of those who wish to drive into the shadows
those of us who are open to this area of the Spirit's work, as clearly
attested in Scripture," McKissic said. But Patterson, in his statement to
trustees, said Baptists have also affirmed the scriptural command "to
'test the spirits' to see if they are of God" and that some charismatic
practices have been used improperly in churches, both in the modern day
and in the apostolic era.

"Southern Baptists have always recognized true brothers and sisters in
Christ within various charismatic groups and denominations," Patterson
said, according to a statement on the Baptist Blogger website. However, he
added, "Neither in the past nor in the present have many Baptists believed
that the Pentecostal or charismatic movements represented an accurate
representation of New Testament doctrine and practice." Several younger
Southern Baptist bloggers who were critical of the IMB prayer-tongue
decision -- seen by many as a slap at IMB president Jerry Rankin, who
acknowledges using a prayer language -- said the Southwestern decision
elevates the controversy further across the denomination.

"Dr. Patterson has taken the 'private prayer language' issue from an
isolated concern of one entity within the convention and turned it into
the new battle for the heart and soul of the Southern Baptist Convention,"
wrote Art Rogers, an Oklahoma pastor who runs the 12 Witnesses blog
( "By staking out this issue and calling
such attention to it, we no longer have an anomaly at the IMB but a
systemic divide over the openness and ability to cooperate among
conservative inerrantists that now make up the Southern Baptist
Convention." He continued: "Will we allow cooperation with those who
practice or even affirm the practice of [private prayer tongues] as
biblical, or will we exclude everyone who does not openly reject any view
other than the cessationist view?"

But Ben Stratton, in the blog's comments section, said the decision was
justified. "How many Southern Baptist pastors do you think believe in a
private prayer language? Five percent? Two percent? Less than 1 percent? I
know that there is not even one in my association. This is obviously a
extreme minority belief among Southern Baptists."

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