A spokesman for a Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is defending the public stance that theology school has taken against certain contemporary charismatic Christian practices or beliefs.
In late August, Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, preached a chapel message at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, during which he spoke of having experienced a "private prayer language." That reference to what some charismatic believers describe as speaking or praying "in tongues," prompted the seminary to pass a resolution stating that it would neither endorse charismatic practices -- including “private prayer language” -- nor employ those who promote such practices.
According to a recent Christian Post article, McKissick, who is also a newly appointed trustee at the seminary, was aware at the time he gave his sermon that many leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) disagree with speaking in tongues and a number of other charismatic beliefs. However, he has commented that he believes God gave him that specific message to preach that day.
The message sparked debate throughout the Convention, with some Southern Baptists saying that encouraging Christians to speak in tongues conflicts with the policy of the SBC's International Mission Board, which prohibits appointment of missionary candidates who practice a private prayer language.
And now, some two months after the inciting chapel sermon, trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), have voted 36-1 not to tolerate any endorsement or promotion of the practice on the school's campus. McKissick himself cast the dissenting vote and commented afterward on the "charisphobia" of the prohibition. However, he told the Christian Post he praises God for the "clear, forthright, honest" statement from SBTS, which he hopes will lead to further clarification of where the SBC stands on this issue.
Seminary Head on Charismatic Christianity: Let Baptists Be Baptists Paige Patterson, president of SBTS, defends the seminary's ban on private prayer language, saying it was important for the school to remain faithful to Baptist witness and distinctions. "We do believe in absolute religious liberty," he observes, "but we also believe that if you're going to be a New York Yankee, you shouldn't wear a New York Mets uniform."
In other words, Patterson explains, "We believe Baptists ought to be Baptists and charismatic folks ought to be charismatic. We simply felt that at this point it was necessary to indicate the trajectory of our school." He characterizes the seminary's ban as a move to affirm the Convention's doctrine and its distinctiveness.
"We recognize that our charismatic brothers and sisters are just exactly that -- they're brothers and sisters in Christ," the seminary president points out. "We honor that, and we do a lot of things with them; but we're Baptists," he says. "We are concerned about the confusion that often exists now as to who's what and where."
Patterson says SBTS adopted its firm stance against Pentecostal or charismatic practices, in part, in the interest of maintaining the school's focus on the denomination's primary concerns. "The emphasis that we want to have here at Southwestern Seminary," he asserts, "is on the evangelization of the lost and the international mission enterprise."
Meanwhile, McKissic has mentioned that he plans to ask the SBC to take up the issue officially, as the Convention has yet to adopt a formal position on spiritual gifts. The Texas pastor is "absolutely convinced," he says, that while many of the leaders and "the elite" in the denomination may disapprove of speaking in tongues and other charismatic practices, a majority of those in the pews of SBC churches would look favorably on them.
Copyright 2006 AgapePress.