A very bright seminary employee of one of our Southern Baptist Convention seminaries wrote a comment on SBC Outpost yesterday saying, "If a private prayer language is that big of an issue to some, then over time I believe trustees can make those changes (to the new policy that forbids missionaries from having a private prayer language).
I responded to the professor's comment in this manner.
The issue in the Southern Baptist Convention is NOT ABOUT private prayer languages. It is about the freedom for orthodox, evangelical Southern Baptists to disagree on secondary and tertiary doctrinal issues.
Don’t get hung up on 'private prayer languages,' or Calvinism, or a church's style of worship, or the proper administrator of baptism, or elder rule, or the methodology of the ‘contemporary’ church.
The issue is FREEDOM for autonomous churches and independent Southern Baptist people to COOPERATE in missions and evangelism though we may not agree on secondary and tertiary doctrinal issues — whatever they may be!!
For you to continue to say the issue is 'private prayer languages' makes me wonder who else is missing it."
A Very Clear Illustration of the REAL ISSUE in the Southern Baptist Convention
I would encourage you to realize that there are currently two interpretative positions on the issue of private prayer languages in the Southern Baptist Convention. Some would like to write a book entitled "Unintelligible Prayer: The Futile Search for Biblical Support,” implying that anyone who believes the Bible teaches that to pray (privately) in an unintelligible manner should disqualify you from leadership or mission service in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Southwestern Theological Seminary is the center of this cessationist viewpoint and the two men who most represent this kind of thinking are, first . . .
Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, a professor at Southwestern Seminary who has written a white paper entitled Speaking of ' Tongues,' What Does the Bible Teach?
Second, Dr. Emir Caner, head of the College at Southwestern, has also written a white paper espousing the cessationist position entitled Southern Baptists, Tongues and Historial Policy.
These two men are bright. They are Southern Baptist. They believe to pray in tongues cannot be supported by Scripture.
On the other hand, there is another view among Southern Baptists that Scripture does permit, and in fact teaches, that the Spirit of God gifts some believers to pray in an unintelligible language -- to God -- for for their own edification. Two Southern Baptist men who would hold to this position would include, first . . .
Dr. Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor and no small theologian in his own right, has written an article entitled Evangelicals and the Holy Spirit: What About Speaking in Tongues?
Dr. Alan Cross follows up with an outstanding contribution to the current Southern Baptist theological dialogue with an article entitled Evangelicals and the Holy Spirit: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Prayer which is an examination of what is commonly called a private prayer language.
Second, Dr. Sam Storms, a fellow Southern Baptist and an astute theologian and author has written two excellent articles on the subject simply called The Southern Baptist Convention and Tongues: Part 1 and The Southern Baptist Convention and Tongues: Part 2.
I have read all the articles by all four men. Here are a couple of observations about their writings:
(1). Dr. Yarnell and Dr. Caner are no more Scriptural or Biblical in their presentation than Dr. Storms and Dr. Cross. In fact, it seems to me that Drs. Storms and Cross appealed more to Scripture than Drs. Yarnell and Caner who seemed to support their views more on Baptist history and tradition than an exegesis of the sacred text.
(2). These two views are mutually exclusive. In other words, if you are a continualist, you cannot be a cessationist. Likewise, if you are a cessationist, you cannot at the same time be a continualist. Both views cannot be right at the same time. Therefore, someone is right and someone is wrong.
(3). Now comes the twenty four million dollar question --- who's right? Is there such a thing as a gift of the Spirit of God that enables a person to pray in the Spirit in a tongue that is unintelligible (possibly an angelic language?), or do those who pray this way come under the influence of something else other than God's Spirit?
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
What difference does it make to a drunk in need of a Savior to deliver him from his demon of addiction?
What difference does it make to a woman who has been abandoned by her husband and is in need of a love that is eternal, unconditional and found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ?
What difference does it make to the one billion people in India who are in need of deliverance from their three million gods of the imagination and require a knowledge of the one true God?
What difference does it make to the fanatical Muslim who has a hard enough time understanding the clear language of the gospel of a Redeemer who died as a Substitute for sinners?
What difference does it make among evangelical Christian men and women who are bound together by a common love for the Lord Jesus Christ and are committed to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world in need of good news?
Please, someone, somewhere, somehow, tell me . . .
What difference does it make?
Can those of us Southern Baptists who disagree on this doctrinal issue -- and others -- that are not essentials of the faith, cooperate together in ministry and missions through our Cooperative Program for the sake of a lost world, the good of God's people, and the glory of our God? Could it be that those who are making these tertiary doctrinal issues a matter of primary importance and EXCLUDING people who disagree are actually harming our convention by causing us to lose sight of that which is truly important.
I ask, for the final time, what difference does it make?
In His Grace,