Thursday, June 01, 2006

Narrowing the Parameters of Cooperation Affects Real People

We Southern Baptists constantly affirm our love for the inerrant Word of God and our desire to see the lost saved. For this reason it is extraordinarily schizophrenic for us as a Convention to ban from mission work Southern Baptist inerrantists who have been called by God to the mission field, and have exhibited tremendous gifts in reaching people for Jesus Christ, simply because they have a "private prayer language." (This post will deal with the North American Mission Board and not the International Mission Board in order to abide by the new IMB policy forbidding public criticism against the IMB).

I have said on many occasions that I do not have a "private prayer language" and I am not looking for one, but I have no problem in believing the Southern Baptist Convention is large enough, and the Baptist Faith and Message is broad enough to allow those who do to cooperate fully in the mission enterprises of our convention.

Recently, I heard a very sad story from a young Southern Baptist who had been incredibly effective in reaching the lost in a very difficult area of Los Angeles, but when it came time for the NAMB to approve him as a missionary, he was rejected because he had a "private prayer language."

His name is Jason Epps and you can read his story here.

After reading his narrative, you might go to Paul Burleson's blog here, and read a very pertinent post on why it is vitally important for us as Southern Baptists to keep our cooperation around the essentials of the faith, and some practical ways we can work with fellow Southern Baptists who disagree with our interpretations of the sacred text.

If we don't draw a line in the sand today on the issue of the "gifts" then tomorrow you may be rejected for your views on soteriology (Calvinism or Arminianism), your views on eschatology (dispentationalism or amillenialism), or your views on ecclesiology (the local church emphasis of Landmarks vs. the universal church of theologians like J.L. Dagg). We can enjoy the debate on the non-essentials of the faith, and vigorously defend our interpretations based on the sacred text, but when we start excluding conservatives because they don't agree with us, we begin moving down the slippery slope of isolationism that will dump our Convention into the vast sea of powerless conformity rather than propel us into a lost world where we minister in the power of the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ because it is that glorious GOSPEL that unites us.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Bryan Riley said...

Jesus repeatedly decried the religious leadership of his day, noting their focus on legalism and lack of love. They clearly were narrowing the parameters of what it meant to be a good Jew and lover of YWHW.

Paul wrote further about how we are not to judge, lest we be judged. Growing up in a small town Southern Baptist Church I was generally taught that living a certain way and believing a certain way was what defined being a good Christian. There was one truth, the conservative fundamentalist approach of the SBC understood that, and it included following quite a few rules, whether they were scriptural or not. Now, in fairness, many of those rules were based on scriptural principles or were, at a minimum, prudent things to do or to avoid. But, generally speaking, as I've grown in my relationship with Christ, I see that much of that focus was more like the religious leaders of Jesus' day: a focus on legalism at the cost of love, grace, and the Great Commission, and such a focus risks being focused on the splinters in another's eye (judgmentally), all the while a plank is in the eye of the one adjudicating.

Oh, the freedom of realizing this...Oh, to know the joy of not trying to be my own savior and resting blissfully in the real Savior's arms... Of course, living in the reality of God's saving grace and that salvation is not based on my conduct at all is wonderful, and liberating, but it must be tempered always by truth and love. Why? Because I all too easily drift away from true worship of the Father and settle for the plastic versions of love and pleasure and then fall back on God's grace as my excuse, which is why many rules-based teachers stick to that teaching.

Furthermore, and even more troubling, was that I found as I moved away from the infantile life of a conduct-based theology, that even when I didn't slip into the beginnings of an "anything goes" theology, I began to struggle with the same sin from which I was trying to move. Instead of judging people because they might say a bad word, drink a beer, listen to certain music, or watch an R-rated movie, I found myself judging people who lived that conduct-, rules-, and religion/me-based life. I even wanted to poke them in the eye for doing so. Sure, thinking conduct saves us is idolatry (of self), but that doesn't excuse the judgmental heart I harbor often against those who appear to believe such. I might have realized that I didn't want to be a Pharisee, but now I am tempted to sit around on a high horse looking down on those who haven't gotten "there" yet (I'm saying this is how I think when i get all proud of myself). When will I be free of this self-centered focus I drift towards every time I shift my focus from God??

I've written too much and wondered a bit from your subject, Wade, but thank you for blessing me with your post.

Deacon Dentist said...

Greatly enjoy this blog. I'm 34 and have grown up in the same Southern Baptist church for my entire life. That being said, until recently, I was very ignorant of the behind-the-scenes goings-on of the SBC. I stand fully in the support of Pastor Burleson in his situation with the IMB. I am very wary of the possibly slippery slope which may make this Reformed-leaning Baptist with Bapticostal tendencies to be found on the outside looking in at our convention some day. The SBC must keep the main things the main things and allow for personal liberty in the rest. Thanks for your battle. Count on my prayers and support.

Anonymous said...

How the HOLY SPIRIT is grieved by the NAMB actions with Jason. My own heart wants to cry out with Jason. The actions of men that are so contrary to GOD's purpose. Even tho I have a private prayer language, I too have never been that public about it until the word says be not silent in Acts 18.
GOD will bless Jason. He is likened unto a tree planted by the deep waters and much fruit will be accounted unto him and his wife. Paul says he became all things so some could be led to christ. The NAMB is in upheaval. GOD will clean house. The IMB is next. May it be right early. GOD hates a liar

Charlie of Gainesville

Anonymous said...

Wade, the line in the sand was drawn a number of years ago. To move that line will be most difficult. To expand the work force will be made up of those selected by those who control the line. I wish you well. In seeking reform, it might be wise to consider the words of Desiderius Erasmus who published his Greek New Testament in 1516. He met much opposition. He wrote of oppostion with these words: "Men of learning," he wrote, "Who were once warmly attached to me, and old friends, are the most dangerous foes." The goal of SBC was to transform the Boards, etc...We are reaping that political reform. Blessings in your efforts...Wayne

Bob Cleveland said...


It's not necessary to even go to what the next step might be. I think I've said this before, but I'll give it another shot.

1) 1 Corinthians 14:2 says that anyone who speaks in an unknown tongues does NOT speak to me, but speaks ONLY to God. Hence, what kind of "unknown tongues" is there, other than a "prayer language"?

2) 1 Corinthians 14:39 says we are not to forbid speaking in tongues. It's immaterial whether there's such an instruction relative to any other gift, but I don't know of any others.

3) 1 Corinthians 12:11 states that the gifts are giving as the Holy Spirit determines (hence: they're not determined by man).

How can ANY Christian organization refuse eligibility for service for someone with that gift, in light of those biblical facts?

If my logic is correct, I don't see how it can get worse.

I received a nice email from a missionary doing a wonderful work in a foreign country, who has a prayer langauge. He has been ineligible for SBC service, for that reason.

If God decided to turn His back on the SBC, and let the Convention "go it alone", I have to ask what the result would be.

Perhaps it would be just what we're seeing, now.

Anonymous said...

While inerrancy is commonly defended by Southern Baptists, it is a position that steps beyond the BF&M. Why emphasize it as an essential? Is it not sufficient to accept and use the Bible as God's authoritative revelation? said...


Request denied. I have dozens of similar stories from the IMB, but will not post them in order to abide by the new trustee rule on public dissent, which will be appropriately challenged at the convention itself

James said...

Gut wrenching story. I have friends who faced the 1 year delay tactic with NAMB. They had to wait 1 yr after they last had alcohol to be presented to the Board (a taste of champaign on new years--they were not regular consumers). They were not simply asked not to drink while supported by NAMB--something they were happy to do. It left me with two questions:

1. Was NAMB considering drinking alcohol in moderation a sin?

2. If so, does it take God a year to forgive (or for them to do pennance)?

Anonymous said...

I was appointed as a NAMB church planter on the East Coast, where I met a wall of resistance from the sponsoring church solely because I had studied Reformed theology at seminary. Although I had known and loved these guys for years, our "cooperation" has been severely strained.

I applaud the banner you're carrying for people like me--something needs to be done.

--East Coast church planter

Madison said...

It is true that we need to keep our perspective in focus, and that the tertiary issues of the faith should not be too often causes for breaks in fellowship. but do not be so naive that you think that by defeating your opponents on the prayer language issue will not bring to arise some other giant to which we must fight.

You, alarmingly, listed soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology as the next set of issues to be discussed or controlled, have you not seen those who are foaming at the mouth for a chance to take their issue and fight for it as you have with yours?

We need a concerted effort to state what is important. Seek those goals. Discern who is interested in the truth of Scripture and who is interested in power and control.

Inerrancy was a hill on which to die. We all can affirm that now. However, is this fight now of the same caliber? Maybe so. But a journey down this path only leads to battles over every minutia of disagreement. No one will win.

Kevin Bussey said...


One problem I see is when we narrow the parameters, we narrow it for ministering to potential people also. I have a young couple visiting our church and the young lady is from a AoG background. What do I do? Tell them to find another church? No way, I want them here because they can help our church in many ways. The husband is the drama teacher at the local middle school. They have tremendous potential to influence our community. If we keep narrowing the parameters we will narrow ourselves into the grave!

Anonymous said...

Wade, the diet of legalism in the matter of "nonessential" Christian doctrinal issues, as has been demonstrated by the NAMB, (as well as the "other elephant" in the room) has such a debilitating impact that its effects reach through the missions initiatives of the SBC directly into the lives of many who have been called by God to serve Him in the local and international mission field. The damage already done is manifestly demonstrated in the testimonies of Brother Jason and others who have been shunned by the "Magisterium of Nonessential Christian Doctrines" now in control of many agencies in the SBC. Hopefully, the convention in Greensboro will address this error and put "Cooperation" back into the "Cooperative Program".

In His Grace and Peace,


Maury R. said...


I admire your challenge of NAMB on the issue of prayer language being a disqualifier and also the statement about the inerrancy of the scripture; which brings me to my point.

I to was born and raised in a Southern Baptist Church and I strongly believe in the inerrancy of the scripture, however I get the feeling that we as a church and convention have allowed for to much “interpretation” as opposed to taking the scripture for what it says.

Bob Cleveland already pointed out several scriptures indicating the Bibles position regarding tongues, however there is more to the story.

For the person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks mysteries in the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:2

Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret. For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

1 Corinthians 14:13-14

The first scripture clearly points to the possibility of a personal prayer language, after all who am I to say that God cannot grant someone that ability.

There is yet another piece to this question of tongues.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Verse 8 clearly states that these gifts will come to an end.

I think we as Christians need to spend less time interpreting the scriptures and focus on their inerrancy and direct our focus to discernment of the individuals use or gift of a prayer language. Again I cannot judge God’s willingness to bestow this type of gift upon any individual, but what I can do is consider their use of the gift. If it is used according to scripture then it is to the glory of God and no individual should be hindered from entering the mission field with the full support of NAMB.

The only other question that comes to mind is this; if God truly blesses a person with the gift of a personal prayer language that is just between him/her and God, then why would they share that with anyone else up to and including NAMB? If it is a personal gift then it should be kept that way.

It is my prayer that God has spoken here and not my flesh, and I will also pray for you Wade and the convention as a whole in this time of unrest. All things work to God’s sovereign plan.

In Christ


Anonymous said...

I've known about the NAMB guidelines for a long time now. I did not know they had changed the language. I haven't been as concerned about NAMB because if we want to do work in North America, it is feasible to do so without going through NAMB - just partner with some other churches. The IMB thing really mobilized me because the stateside churches really need the IMB to work through.

But, the issues are the same in both agencies. We claim to be inerrantists, yet we refuse to even read the Bible(Bob Cleveland's points were succinct and excellent). These policies need to be confronted and overturned at both agencies. Yes, I do believe it is a hill on which to die. As Wade has said, we can disagree and still work together. But, when one group holds power and excludes and disenfranchises the other over "theological minutiae", someone needs to say something. It is out of control. It is stopping the work of the Kingdom. It is hurting people. I know several IMB missionaries who have PPL and I consider them good friends. I don't want them hunted down and expelled over nothing. They are doing great work for the Lord.

Anonymous said...

There have always been those who think the most important words in any language are:


These sad individuals may be members of Southern Baptist churches but they are not


Bryan Riley said...

Riding on Kevin's comment, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the [people who look like, think like, eat and drink like, and believe like you do], baptizing them [by immersion only and only within the authority of a church body who looks like, thinks like, eats and drinks like, and believes like you do] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachin gthem to observe all things that [we believe are the right interpretations of the Word of God in addition to what Jesus] commanded you; . . . Amen."

Anonymous said...

Madison, inerrancy was not a hill on which to die even if Pressler wrote a book about it. It is, in fact, the wrong hill on which to die because it is a hill that cannot be defended. Bible believing baptists, who supported the Cooperative Program better than many of the inerrantists who now control the SBC, and have burning hearts for the unsaved of the world, were forced out of service in the convention because they refused to bow down to the fundamentalist requirement that they refer to the Bible as inerrant. When copying errors and other minor errors were pointed out, the new mantra became, "The original manuscripts, or autographs, are inerrant". A belief in the inerrancy of the autographs is a hill that cannot be defended because they no longer exist. By forcing out faithful baptists who believe whole- heartedly in the authorative word of God but refuse to defend a claim that cannot be substantiated, the architects of the SBC takeover set in motion a series of similar purges that has led to the present sorry state of affairs threatening the very viability of the Convention. If there is anything that baptists should affirm together, it is that the Bible is God's word to us and it is trustworthy and sufficient. That is a hill that can be defended and it is the one on which to die.

Arkansas Razorbaptist said...

Your last sentence should be read over and over again. You speak the truth.

"We can enjoy the debate on the non-essentials of the faith, and vigorously defend our interpretations based on the sacred text, but when we start excluding conservatives because they don't agree with us, we begin moving down the slippery slope of isolationism that will dump our Convention into the vast sea of powerless conformity rather than propel us into a lost world where we minister in the power of the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ because it is that glorious GOSPEL that unites us."

Anonymous said...


I attended Western Seminary for a few years and took several courses on a not-for-credit basis. I did this while working in Silicon Valley as a software engineer.

The Theology Professor at Western is Dr. M. James Sawyer. He wrote an excellent paper about "Taxonomy of Doctrines". This paper in on

Here is a quote from his paper, "The raising of issues that properly are fourth or fifth level concerns in a taxonomy to touchstone levels reveals a fundamental flaw in the way theology is approached. . "

I think this is very good advice. Christians waste so much time arguing about "secondary" or even "tertiary" issues. Hopefully, we can agree to disagree on non-essential stuff.

Roger Simpson
Oklahoma City OK

Bob Cleveland said...


I appreciate your comments.

It's true that the gifts will cease. I've heard that argued as evidence that tongues have ceased. But as long as we still condone knowledge and prophecy, that time, apparently, hasn't come yet. Personally, I'm looking forward to the passing of all kinds of languages, when we'll all speak whatever they're speaking today in Heaven.

Praying with understanding: I do like to pray with specificity, but on those occasions in prayer meetings when I hear someone praying in a language I don't understand, I can support them in prayer anyway. As long as the church (at least ours) willingly accepts silent prayers and unspoken requests, I don't see any inconsistency in that.

I think the majority of my friends know I have a "prayer language". Very few of them have ever heard it, though. And that's as it should be, IMO. Some have even asked for a "demonstration", which I will never, ever, do.

One of these days, I'll put my testimony about that gift, on my Blog. It's completely unlike any other I've ever heard.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

I am with Mr. Cross, for me this IS a hill on which to die.

Time is short, hell is hot and I don't want to waste time with these disappointing squabbles over non-essentials rather than celebrating and working diligently together over the essentials that unite us.

I pray that this years' convention will show a reveral to recent steps toward legalism and narrowing parameters for cooperation.

My concern is, to what degree can we expect God's full blessing on a denomination that would reject future missionaries as men and women like Dr. Jerry Rankin? (he has confessed to a PPL)

May it be said of the SBC in the future, "the hand of the Lord was upon them..."

Anonymous said...

Fundamentalism has always loved to fight. The SBC will continue to fight because many consider it more important to be called conservative than they do to be called Christian. The band of followers of Jesus Christ were not a conservative bunch by SBC standards.....but they were a trusting bunch of people who were used by God to transform the world. Jesus Christ is our salvation....nothing more nothing less. May all of us trust HIM and serve in peace with our fellow believers.

drglenn said...


Would you hire a staff member that told you he had a private prayer language? said...

Dr. Glenn,

I would love to have Dr. Jerry Rankin on my staff.

tl said...

DrGlenn wrote:
Would you hire a staff member that told you he had a private prayer language?

Would you hire someone who knowingly rejected an unambiguous teaching of Scripture?

1 Corinthians 14:39 is both clear and unambiguous.

Where does that stop? The Bible is either true in its entirety, or the teachings of (certain) men are more authoritative than God.

Anonymous said...

Besides if it is a PRIVATE prayer language, the Boards do not need to know whether one of their missionaries
prays in english or some other language.

ex: a person of finnish background moves to the US becomes a baptist and goes on one of the boards to a place that may speak only spanish, which language is he required to pray privately in? perhaps he would prefer to praying his heart language--finnish were someone to listen to him praying like this. In principle it would not be the samething as what your talking of, but it would effectively be the same thing. He would probably be kicked out.
It's too bad only people from a strict "Southern Baptist" background are the only people encouraged to go. I think that the various agencies could benefit from some more unorthodox people.

Anonymous said...

Well Brother Wade,

You sound like a lot of liberals today.
Your tone is combative and hypocritical. You practice the intolerance of those who disagree with you and squawk that they are wrong and YOU ARE RIGHT.
iT IS UN-ETHICAL TO TAKE THE SUPPORT FROM A GROUP OF PEOPLE UNDER FALSE PRETENSES. A missionary who would do so is un-ethical. If you want to practice your belief then do so. but leave others alone. You bragged on Your church and it sounds like anything goes there; Surely you don't have any requirements for participating in worship do you? In your church, I mean. Let me know. I have some professed christians that are in capable of leading a worship service that needs the practice.
Get a grip on yourself brother, for the sin of pride has you in it's strong grip. I'm praying for you.
Pastor Dave said...

Pastor Dave,

You precisely illustrate why I will not leave the SBC. You need me.