"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Tears For Miss Bertha Smith -- Then Cheers!

Miss Bertha Smith (1888-1988) is the shining star for Southern Baptist missions in the 20th century. For forty years Miss Bertha faithfully served the people of China, representing Christ and the Southern Baptist Convention as a missionary of the gospel. Thousands of men and women came to faith in Christ due to Miss Bertha's ministry in China.

In her later years, Miss Bertha became the conscience of Southern Baptists as she challenged those of us in the states to long for genuine revival, the kind she experienced on the field in China. She also called pastors and churches to never neglect their collective duty to support SBC missionaries through prayer and giving.

Those of us who knew Miss Bertha loved to hear her speak of her adventures in China and Taiwan, but we were even more moved to hear her petition the throne of God through prayer in ways that made everyone personally feel the power and presence of God.

In the early part of the last century, right before Miss Bertha was appointed to China, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention changed the policies that forbad single women from serving on the mission field. As a result of this policy change, Miss Bertha went to China with FMB approval. Thousands of Chinese men and women are in heaven today because of the FMB's willingness to remove the gender/marital restrictions upon missionaries and enlarge the tent.

In 1977 Adrian Rogers proclaimed, “Miss Bertha Smith exemplifies what all of us feel a Southern Baptist missionary ought to be. She has been a blessing to countless thousands.”

Not anymore Dr. Rogers. Miss Bertha no longer exemplifies what a SBC missionary ought to be. In fact, Bertha Smith is now persona non grata among the majority of trustees on the International Mission Board.

You see, Miss Bertha experienced a private prayer language.

The same Board that changed policies decades ago to allow the appointment of Miss Bertha to China, just two months ago, changed the policies in order to disallow a private prayer language among SBC missionaries. According to current candidate consultants of the IMB, only 3% to 5% of all missionaries profess to have a private prayer language. None of those missionaries were allowed under the old policy to speak in tongues publicly or to advocate a private prayer language as the normative experience of the Christian. Yet, under the new policies, a majority of the trustees of the International Mission Board voted to say "no" to Southern Baptists who experienced a private prayer language and desire future appointment to the mission field.

Miss Bertha never taught that tongues was to be the ordinary experience of all believers. She felt private gifts should be kept private.

In effect, the Board is saying to our grand lady of 20th century missions: "Miss Bertha, our Board made a mistake eighty years ago when you were appointed. You were never called by God to be a missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. You see, Miss Bertha, you experienced a private prayer language, and we can't claim you as a Southern Baptist missionary."

We should all shed tears for Miss Bertha Smith.

We should shed tears when we visit the special exhibit honoring Miss Bertha which is currently on display at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in the Southern Baptist Convention building in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

We should shed tears when we visit the Southern Baptist theological libraries that are named after Miss Bertha. We should shed tears when we check out and read the three books she wrote. We should shed tears when we purchase the biography written about Miss Bertha by former Southeastern President Dr. Lewis Drummond.

We should shed tears for the new generation of pastors who have never heard of Miss Bertha Smith, and now may never hear of her, because she is no longer considered the model missionary.

How can this happen? The IMB already had excellent policies on the books that specifically stated that those who advocated public "tongues" speaking would be fired. The staff and President of the IMB have strictly enforced this policy throughout the years. However, in the past, the trustees and staff of the IMB never entered into the private prayer closet of SBC missionaries. It was believed that how a missionary prays and worships in private was a matter of conscience and private Scriptural interpretation, and of no concern to the trustees.

Not anymore.

Surely some trustees who sought to drive the new policy change on "private prayer language" did not do so to embarrass Dr. Rankin, who himself has a private prayer language? Surely, a majority of trustees did not blindly follow trustee leadership without personally thinking through the ramifications of such a significant policy change. Surely trustees understand that the new policy did nothing but disown certain people within our convention since the former policy already prohibited the public practice of tongues. Surely not.

If that is not the motivation behind the changes then possibly some trustees do have a serious doctrinal concern about a private prayer language. I don't possess the gift of a private prayer language, but I'm sure not scared of people like Miss Bertha. Neither should you be. We should cooperate with each other.

Further, when I read fellow trustee Dr. Alan McWhite's brilliant letter to all of us, defending people within our convention who interpret Scripture to teach that a private prayer language is of God as having the right to cooperate with us in missions, I have a hard time seeing how we who believe in the inspired Word of God can simply dismiss texts like, "do not forbid speaking in tongues" (I Cor. 14:39)without giving room for various interpretations (as we did for Miss Bertha).

What are we to conclude. If there has been NO BIBLICAL DEFENSE FOR THE CHANGES, then what is propelling them?

Maybe you and others genuinely do not know. With all my heart I believe some do know the real motivation behind the changes, but we can't judge the heart or motive of another.

But before I shed any more tears over Miss Bertha Smith and the recent actions of a majority (not all) of the trustees on the IMB, allow me to express a few cheers as I reread personal anecdotes of Miss Bertha's life and ministry.

Miss Bertha: Woman of Revival by Lewis Drummond (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) is a paperback book of 292 pages. The following quotes are from the pages enumerated and contain the key on how we can possibly correct a traic mistake within the International Mission Board.

(1). A Strong Belief in the Power of God to Bring About the Needed Change

One close friend of this author was praying with her one day. He was on his knees pleading with the Lord to help him die to himself ... Miss Bertha ... looked him straight in the eye and said, "Young man, you don't have to beg God to help you to die to yourself. You just tell Him and He'll kill you."(p. 248)

(2). An Insistence that Missionaries and Trustees Focus on the Essentials of the Faith and not Fixate on Non-Essentials.

Miss Bertha arrived in China with a good grasp of the evangelical Christian faith. Yet something was lacking ... Even the missionaries themselves - Miss Bertha included - confessed to a need for a deep movement of God in their own lives. (p.4)

(3). Directness, Even Bluntness, to Cut Through Games People Play

Miss Bertha was blunt and frank at times ... Once while she was praying with a very obese preacher, he prayed, "Lord, you know I have a tendency to overeat. "Miss Bertha broke in: "Don't try to fool God, just tell him you are a glutton." (p. 256)


Three cheers for Miss Bertha!


Should the IMB reverse her policies on a "private prayer language?"

Bertha Smith exemplifies what all of us feel a Southern Baptist missionary ought to be. She has been a blessing to countless thousands"

Thanks Dr. Rogers for the answer to my question.

In His Grace,



Wade Burleson

19 comments:

Clif Cummings said...

Wade,
What the IMB Board has done is unfortunately what many pastors (including myself) have experienced in their own church. What one board (or committee) can vote in another board (committee) can vote out. The board that changed the policies that allowed Bertha Smith to go to the mission field has long been replaced. And apparently even the "spirit" of that past board has been replaced also.
I strongly believe that ultimately thatg something is going to have to be decided by the messengers who attend the annual Convention. That is the only way to "bind the boards" to the will of the majority.
However, my experience is that 99.9% of motions and recommendations made on the convention floor are referred to some committee for study and are never heard from again. THUS, we are back to the same dilemna of the previous generation - a long process of voting out those who have chosen to pursue nothing but their own personal agenda.
The only way to avoid such an extended battle is for the IMB trutees to vote to make null and void their most recent policy changes. As they plan to meet next week, I will be in fervent prayer(though I don't have a prayer lanquage) that the spirit of the committee from decades ago that changed the policy that allowed Bertha Smith to fulfill God's purpose for her life will permeate the current committee.
In HIS Grace,
Clif Cummings

Paul said...

Great observations, Wade. Keep 'em coming.

GeneMBridges said...

(3). Directness, Even Bluntness, to Cut Through Games People Play

Al Gilbert @ Calvary Baptist in Winston-Salem, NC now, tells a story about Miss Bertha from an SBC Convention. Apparently, he and she were walking with some men who were talking about how boring the Convention sermon was and she turned around and told them they should be ashamed of themselves. They had the Bible in front of them didn't they? They had an education didn't they? Then if they thought the sermon was boring they had no excuse not to pull out a pencil and paper and start reading and studying the text for themselves. Nobody forced them to sit through a boring sermon, but they had no right to complain if they could sit and write one for themselves out of the Bible on their laps.

Kiki Cherry said...

I just wish Ms. Bertha was still around to address these issues herself. She would have been thumping someone on the head!!!! : )

What an amazing woman of God. I'm glad that you are upholding her legacy.

Just a missionary, what do I know? said...

As a current IMB missionary, my heart is broken to see such division amongst our leadership. I am not coming down on either side because I do not know enough about this situation. I can say that I have been so busy with my work that this was only brought to my attention via an email from Dr Rankin tonight. Otherwise, I would not have known. I pray for Dr Rankin and the trustees. I have always had great respect for Dr Rankin and believe him to be a great man of God.

God please help us to know your will and to be involved in your work. Help heal division that exists within our convention.

Anonymous said...

A self-reliant man has no one to blame but himself.

A man reliant on God has no one to blame at all, because through all things good and bad he learns to grow more reliant on Him.

I don't pretend to know the facts of the case but I have never known you to be one for gossiping or slander, and though I may not agree with some of your ideals I do know you are not a wicked man. I will pray for you and your family that God shelters you from those only interested in a witch hunt and not a search for the truth.

Anonymous said...

Years ago two men in my SS class rarely attended. Then one day, they never missed and even attended every meeting the church had. They were selected to teach young children. At a meeting with them, the deacons of the church asked them to promise never to mention their newly found prayer language to the children. They answered that the children were too young to accept Christ and why would anyone talk to them about praying in the Spirit? However they said they could not promise to man anything that was controled by the Holy Spirit. One word led to another and they were voted out of the church. It was my first time I heard there was a diffrent kind of praying. I was the only one that spoke in their behalf because it broke my heart.
Rex Ray

Dick Heaney said...

Wade
I met with Bertha Smith at SWBTS in the men's dorm in her room my invitation from her. Her first words: "Young man do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?" My reply, "Miss Bertha, there are a lot of things in life I need yet to learn. But one thing I do know if I was to visit with you, I do know Jesus Christ, I have accepted Him as my personal Savior and have received the person of the Holy Spirit to live and dwell within me"
We immediately bowed before the Lord and we PRAYED --what a presence of our Almighty God!
Keep up the "good fight", keep pressing forward toward the mark/goal for the prize of the upward calling.
Loved your heart and words concerning Miss Bertha--who knows, maybe that you experience "a private prayer language" as she did.
Pastor Dick Heaney
Dick.Heaney@nc4.org
www.nc4.org

An Admiring Great Niece said...

I remember my Aunt Bertha well, she was outspoken and we all loved her for it. No one in my family who ever visited her at her home can say they left without her praying for them.
And oh how we loved to go to her home and see all of her treasures from her mission trips. My favorite room was her prayer room, it was in the attic and all it had was a window and a place for her to kneel and pray. Even as a child I can remember feeling God's presence in that room when I walked in. I don't know how she spoke to God, but I know he was listening.

Gary said...

Let me quote a previous comment and then try to post a Big Question mark with regards to this quote and the validity of it. Someone here stated in regards to MISS. BERTHA SMITH the following:.....


In 1977 Adrian Rogers proclaimed, “Miss Bertha Smith exemplifies what all of us feel a Southern Baptist missionary ought to be. She has been a blessing to countless thousands.”
Not anymore Dr. Rogers. Miss Bertha no longer exemplifies what a SBC missionary ought to be. In fact, Bertha Smith is now persona non grata among the majority of trustees on the International Mission Board......

For clarification, I knew Miss. Bertha personally and lived in here home in Cowpens, SC. as an assistant and one to whom she mentored for over a year towards the close of her earthly pilgrimage. Unless she got her "prayer language" after I left her service - she was a strong 90- something when I was with her - she not only had NO! quote prayer language, but she was adamantly and very openly opposed to such a language! What are you talking about sir? This could not be farther from the truth-unless, like I said, she developed such a language sometime after the age of 95!!! She considered modern day tongues to not be the prayer language of God, but quite the opposite!!! Understand, I make no such claim to know either way and have never deemed issues that divide worth majoring on, but for the record I wanted to clarify that someone has their wires QUITE!!! crossed if they think that Bertha Smith was an advocate of tongues privately or publicly or in any other sense of the word.Count your blessings that she is up there and not down here or she might pay you a visit over what I am sure she'd consider a most grievous error concerning her understanding and practice in regard to this subject.

Gary said...

Let me quote a previous comment and then try to post a Big Question mark with regards to this quote and the validity of it. Someone here stated in regards to MISS. BERTHA SMITH the following:.....


In 1977 Adrian Rogers proclaimed, “Miss Bertha Smith exemplifies what all of us feel a Southern Baptist missionary ought to be. She has been a blessing to countless thousands.”
Not anymore Dr. Rogers. Miss Bertha no longer exemplifies what a SBC missionary ought to be. In fact, Bertha Smith is now persona non grata among the majority of trustees on the International Mission Board......

For clarification, I knew Miss. Bertha personally and lived in here home in Cowpens, SC. as an assistant and one to whom she mentored for over a year towards the close of her earthly pilgrimage. Unless she got her "prayer language" after I left her service - she was a strong 90- something when I was with her - she not only had NO! quote prayer language, but she was adamantly and very openly opposed to such a language! What are you talking about sir? This could not be farther from the truth-unless, like I said, she developed such a language sometime after the age of 95!!! She considered modern day tongues to not be the prayer language of God, but quite the opposite!!! Understand, I make no such claim to know either way and have never deemed issues that divide worth majoring on, but for the record I wanted to clarify that someone has their wires QUITE!!! crossed if they think that Bertha Smith was an advocate of tongues privately or publicly or in any other sense of the word.Count your blessings that she is up there and not down here or she might pay you a visit over what I am sure she'd consider a most grievous error concerning her understanding and practice in regard to this subject.
Gary Hoch, Sandy Springs, GA

Anonymous said...

Miss Bertha's life holds a lesson (or multiple lessons) for us today. In that vein, Master Design is republishing some of her works. First is the book "How the Spirit Filled My Life". This should be available by the end of 2008. See the site: http://www.masterdesign.org.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you. I knew Miss Bertha well and this is just not true.

smissita said...

From most of the comments, it appears that there has been a gross misunderstanding about Miss Bertha Smith’s experience in regard to tongues. I read her book "How the Spirit Filled My Life" and in Chapter 10, titled: "Beware of Special Experiences Calling Attention To Self," Miss Bertha clearly teaches AGAINST tongues with a "private prayer language." To tell you the truth, I was deeply disappointed, as I believe such an experience is completely Biblical and valid. I thought her "arguments" against the experience were poor, and sounded much like what I have heard for years from those who oppose this type of personal prayer. She held true to the Baptist tradition of belief regarding tongues. However, I highly esteem Bertha Smith. She was a remarkable woman of God!!! Reading her books, “Go Home and Tell” and “How the Spirit Filled My Life” makes a Christian re-examine their walk and life in God. Her life of holiness caused a deep hunger for a life of obedience, holiness and purity in those whom she reached. I wish I could have known her personally.

Rick said...

As a new born Christian in 1975,I was able to attend what was known then as the Evangelical Institute of Greenville, SC directed by long-time friend of Miss Bertha, Joseph Carroll. I had the honor to spend many weekends at Peniel Center to do odd jobs around the old place, listen to amazing stories of Miss Bertha's life and work in China and Taiwan and pray alongside her. Never did she ever mention the need for me to speak in tongues, no second blessing, none of that. I cherish my memories of knowing her, watching her care of her older sister, "Miss Jennie" and her discipleship of this young, clueless adult.

I have several cassette tapes of her stories and would be willing to make them available to any archives. I can be reached at cfsawyer24@aol.com

Grace & Peace,

Rick Sawyer, Miami, FL

Anonymous said...

Private prayer language doesn't speak to speaking in tongues or a seperate blessing. 2 different things here. Private prayer languages are private with a capital P. You can't legislate it or keep it from happening. Whether this guy who worked for Bertha Smith knew or didn't is just stupid. He would have to be with her during her most intimate time with the Lord. I hope he wasn't. Don't know why we as SBC can't agree to disagree. Wow we are small.

Creech Family said...

Dear Sir -
I ran across this blog when trying to find more information on what might be available from Miss Bertha on the web. I attended one of her prayer retreats, my aunts attended two others and she spoke in our church several times. Also, I have in my possession every book she wrote and almost every cassette tape that was made of her teaching, including two tapes made when I was attending and my aunts were attending. Miss Bertha was truly a wonderful, Godly woman who loved the Lord and taught clearly and to the point. Over again and again in her books and her teaching she mentions the danger of doing anything that draws attention to oneself and not to the glory of the Lord. She addresses the danger of "tongues" (both private and corporate) several times and her admonition is the same as Paul's - do everything to edify the body in unity and love. I would ask you what I believe Miss Bertha would -"Does your post edify the body in love?" If yes, then leave it. If not, then pray to the Lord for strength to remove a self-seeking piece that does not edify HIS church body in love (denominations do not matter, Christ does).

The Tax Mule said...

My dear sir,
I had the great privilege of serving our Lord as Miss Bertha's personal assistant at Penile Prayer Center, Cowpens, SC from 1980 to 1983. During those years I was her co-worker and her prayer partner. I have to say what brings me to tears is this blog that so maligns the memory of such a woman of God. I never, ever heard Miss Bertha use a "prayer language" and I have spent hundreds of hours on my knees with her in private praying for people and for this lost world. I have witnessed Miss Bertha so full of the Holy Spirit that all she could do was laugh and laugh with joy but never, ever heard her utter a single unintelligible word in prayer. I never ever witnessed her speak in tongues or any such thing as that. In fact, I remember how heart broken she was when James Robinson wandered off into the holiness movement even to the point that she called him to tell him he was destroying his ministry and testimony. Your blog here is completely self-serving and totally untrue and shame on you for using Miss Bertha's name and reputation to promote yourself by spreading untruths about this Godly woman!!

Anonymous said...

I was blessed when Miss Bertha came to talk to us at Southwestern Theological Seminary in 1977. I had already read her book and was inspired by her blunt way of talking. Not many of us women were attending SWTS, most of us wanted to be missionaries but the Foreign Mission board always tried to discourage us women. Miss Bertha was a hero of mine. That evening she layed it on the line to pastors with 'why do you play music when giving an invitation? Are you trying to sway people with emotion? Stop it!' The pastors/future pastors all just looked at her shocked. I think at that point they either thought about it or thought as a woman she was deceived. Thank God He used women like Miss Bertha, forget the denomination...if God calls NO denomination can stand in the way!