Theology: Holy Spirit
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Southern Baptist head Frank Page isn’t certain that the convention’s stance on speaking in tongues should be put in writing in their confession of faith.
While the Rev. Dwight McKissic – who raised debate over speaking in tongues, or private prayer language – had praised Southern Baptists for making a clear decision on charismatic practices with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary banning such practices, Page believes it is okay to have varying views.
“I guess I would have to say honestly that I’m not certain if it ought to be in the Baptist faith message,” says Page, according to Agape Press, “because I don’t know, really, where other Southern Baptists fall. I think I know.”
McKissic, who spoke of experiencing private prayer language during a sermon at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, had requested Southern Baptist leaders adopt a formal position on spiritual gifts. His sermon had sparked controversy with some leaders who oppose speaking in tongues and the debate soon led to an official ban against any charismatic practice at the seminary.
In response, McKissic saw the ban as a positive step toward clarifying the denomination’s stance on the issue and moving closer to a vote. However, Page does not want to make a formal stance.
“I do believe that there are varying interpretations regarding the issue of private prayer language,” says Page. “And because I do believe there are varying interpretations, I believe it is okay to believe one way or the other.”
SBTS President Paige Patterson defends the seminary’s ban against private prayer language.
“We believe Baptists ought to be Baptists and charismatic folks ought to be charismatic,” says Patterson, as reported by Agape Press. “We simply felt that at this point it was necessary to indicate the trajectory of our school.”
Other leaders and students had showed their support for McKissic and disagreed with the ban. But for the most part, Page, who does not practice private prayer language, says he believes most Southern Baptists are opposed to it, saying the use of tongues has ceased.
Nevertheless, Page wants to address the issue “very carefully.”
“Now, if we put something in the Baptist faith and message, it is a confession of faith that we would say is our primary means of interpreting a passage.”
Southern Baptist pastors opened debate on speaking in tongues at a weekend conference where a charismatic Baptist sought to educate his fellow believers on the Holy Spirit.
Hundreds of Christians, mainly Southern Baptists, attended “A Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit” in Arlington, Texas, as either skeptics of charismatic practices or as supporters.
After affirming his own conviction that he has been gifted with a private prayer language, Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church said Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit it celebrates, are largely overlooked in Baptist churches, according to the Associated Baptist Press. And the lack of awareness is a loss for Baptists, he added.
McKissic had triggered the controversial debate within the Southern Baptist Convention on the gifts of the Holy Spirit last year when he spoke of experiencing private prayer language during a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
While the majority of Southern Baptist leaders do not practice or accept charismatic practices, Baptists are split on the issue and SBC president Frank Page also recognized and let stand the varying interpretations within the denomination.
“[B]ecause I do believe there are varying interpretations, I believe it is okay to believe one way or the other,” said Page, months after the chapel sermon.
The Apr. 27-29 conference presented charismatic, continualist, semi-cessationist, and cessationist viewpoints of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
One skeptic of speaking in tongues said exegesis cannot answer the question of the current-day validity of the use of tongues or a private prayer language.
“Two people using the same methods of interpretation can look at the same text and come to completely opposite conclusions. When someone says, ‘I’m speaking in tongues and it is from the Holy Spirit,’ some people believe them and other people don’t, and there’s the difference,” said Bart Barber of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, as he presented the semi-cessationist viewpoint (belief that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the early church), according to Baptist Press.
He went further to address the bans on some charismatic practices at the domestic and international mission agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Arguing that the mission boards have not wronged people who practice private prayer language by not funding their missions, Barber explained, “In the process of reviewing a candidate’s background, they can come to the conclusion, ‘That’s not Baptist missions but Pentecostal. If they choose not to fund that, they have not denied anyone’s liberty,” Baptist Press reported.
The Rev. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Enid, Okla., challenged Barber, saying the International Mission Board policies are too restrictive.
Burleson indicated in his latest blog post that he has seen all spiritual gifts in operation and experienced them first-hand. And although experience, “in isolation from the biblical text, proves little,” it still “must be noted, especially if it illustrates or embodies what we see in the biblical text,” he wrote.
Amid varying viewpoints, McKissic, who hosted the conference, stressed that the conference was not about indoctrination but about education and fostering understanding between people with different opinions.
“I have a dream that the Baptist family will come together – not as black, Hispanic, Asian and white [nor] as tongue-speakers and not-tongue-speakers,” he said, according to ABP. “I have a dream that we will come together as Christians.”
A three-day conference is underway in Arlington, Texas, to teach Baptists and other Christians what Scripture says about the Holy Spirit.
Recent debates on charismatic practices within the Southern Baptist Convention prompted the Rev. Dwight McKissic to open “A Baptist Conference on The Holy Spirit” on Friday along with a host of speakers lined up to discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in the church.
McKissic, a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), was recently involved in a controversy at the school where he had mentioned in a chapel service of experiencing private prayer language. The sermon sparked debate among Southern Baptist leaders, most of whom do not engage in or accept charismatic practices, and the video recording of the service was not posted on the seminary’s website, as was regular practice.
When SWBTS voted to ban charismatic practices, McKissic, who pastors Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, said he saw the decision as a step toward a clear stance on the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. The denomination has not adopted a formal position on spiritual gifts, which McKissic is proposing for.
Months out of the controversy, McKissic and other like-minded Baptists realized many believers do not quite study who the Holy Spirit is, according to Veronica Griffith, minister of communications for Cornerstone. McKissic thus had a “burning in his heart” to host a conference to “educate people on the person of the Holy Spirit.”
For the Arlington pastor, speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts is tradition in his family of believers.
And he’s backed by a group of Southern Baptist pastors who are proposing to draft resolutions to present during the SBC’s annual meeting in San Antonio this summer.
One of the pastors expressing strong support for McKissic is the Rev. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Enid, Okla., and a board member of the International Mission Board, which bans missionaries from speaking in tongues in private. Burleson is scheduled to speak on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Great Commission at the Arlington conference on Friday.
Over 650 people from around the country are expected to attend the Apr. 27-29 event, themed “One Body, One Spirit and One Hope.” Attendants include evangelicals, the majority of whom are Southern Baptists as well as charismatics. The conference will address the different belief systems within Baptist life, including the charismatic, continualist, semi-cessationist, and cessationist viewpoints of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The goal of the conference, McKissic clarified, is to not to get everyone “on the same page” but to help people understand and appreciate various Baptist viewpoints, he said.
“We are praying that God will pour out His Spirit upon us as we gather as a body of Baptist and evangelical believers with diverse viewpoints,” stated McKissic. “We’re also praying that we will leave this conference knowing more about the Holy Spirit as a doctrine, but more importantly we will also ask the Lord to pour out His Spirit upon us at this conference so that we will all fellowship with the Holy Spirit as a person.”
This is the first time McKissic and Cornerstone are hosting an event on the Holy Spirit.
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have put it in writing: They will not tolerate any promotion of speaking in tongues on their campus.
The 36-1 vote Tuesday came nearly two months after the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington said during a chapel service that he sometimes speaks in tongues while praying. University President Paige Patterson responded by not allowing the video of McKissic’s sermon to be posted online or saved in the seminary’s archives.
McKissic, a new trustee at the Fort Worth school, passed the lone dissenting vote on the resolution.
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.”
McKissic called for the Southern Baptist Convention to weigh in on the matter. John Revell, spokesman for the SBC’s executive committee, did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
In McKissic’s sermon at the school’s chapel, he describes experiencing a “private prayer language.”
Leaders at the seminary have said the statement conflicts with the SBC’s International Mission Board, which voted in November to ban missionaries from speaking in tongues in private. Previously, missionaries were discouraged from speaking in tongues publicly, but private prayer was not monitored.
The controversy has erupted as some Baptist churches become more accepting of charismatic forms of worship.
Speaking in tongues is common among Pentecostals, whose more exuberant brand of Christianity is spreading in the United States and in foreign countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work.
“I have opposed (speaking in tongues) for all of these years because I think it’s an erroneous interpretation of the Bible,” Patterson said. “Southern Baptists traditionally have stood against what we feel like are the excesses of the charismatic movement. All we’re doing is restating where we’ve always been.”
Patterson said he defends the right of other Christians to believe in speaking in tongues.
“But don’t wear a Yankee uniform when you play for the Mets,” he said.
The Rev. Eric Redmond of Temple Hills, Md., a board member, said trustees made the right decision.
“We interpret the scriptures in such a way that we do not see room for a private prayer language and we’re saying we will not waver on that,” Redmond said.
Although it has been a painful experience, McKissic said he has no plans to resign as a trustee of the seminary. He said he has received many supportive e-mails and phone calls from like-minded Baptists.
“My flesh wants to quit, but the spirit of God tells me that I’ve been called to this hour to do this,” he said.
Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s international missions agency this week approved more flexibility in its controversial policies on speaking in tongues and private prayer language.
After a year of studying the issues, the ad hoc committee, which was charged in 2006 to revisit the International Mission Board’s policy barring tongues and private prayer language, softened the language and recommended “guidelines” rather than “policies” on the charismatic issues, which ultimately allows some wiggle room when screening missionary candidates.
While a policy is “dogmatic,” a guideline is flexible in its implementation, Matt Bristol, attorney for the IMB, explained at the trustees meeting in Kansas City on Tuesday.
There is no difference functionally, he added, but “guideline” conveys a spirit of flexibility in its application, according to Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee who backs charismatic practices.
The International Mission Board already had policies in place barring missionary candidates who practice public glossolalia (speaking in tongues). However, a 2005 adopted policy went further to bar missionaries who practice a prayer language in private, sparking wide debate within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The controversy led to the appointment of the ad hoc committee in March 2006 to study the approved board policy on speaking in tongues and private prayer language as well as baptism – a policy that was designed to prevent the approval of candidates baptized by a church or denomination with a different understanding of the doctrine of baptism than the views held by most Southern Baptists. The committee has met over the past year to consider material gathered from leaders across the denomination.
“The committee has no desire to create further controversy,” Burleson quoted the committee in his blog post on Wednesday. “Rather, our desire is to bring this study to completion and allow the board to maintain its focus upon our world mission task.”
Although concluding that there was no indication of a “systemic problem” with charismatic practices among field personnel, the committee stated that “the rapid spread of neo-pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on the new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.”
“Furthermore,” it contined, “the diversity of denominational backgrounds among missionary candidates requires a clear baptism guideline to guide the work of our candidate consultants as they consider the qualifications of candidates.”
While trustees adopted a softened language, Burleson argued that it isn’t enough.
“I would like to urge my fellow trustees to seriously consider the wisdom of adopting these guidelines,” he told the board, according to the Associated Baptist Press. “I would much rather the [full] convention speak on this matter for the board.”
Still, Burleson saw the guidelines as “progress” to understanding that there are different viewpoints on the concerned matters in the denomination.
“[F]or us to function as a cooperating convention, we must not exclude anyone from missionary cooperation and participation those who disagree on tertiary doctrines like the authority of the baptizer and the importance of what a person does in his private prayer closet,” he wrote in his blog.
Despite a handful of opposition to the recommended guidelines, the guidelines were approved by a majority of the IMB trustees.
New figures out today show a rise in the number of Pentecostal churches, and with it the practice of speaking in tongues. While sceptics scoff, our correspondent looks at the evidence
If you have never witnessed the spectacle of someone speaking in tongues you won’t have to look far to find it. There is footage it in the satirical film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And the internet serves up copious numbers of examples of people practising glossolalia, its technical term, on sites such as YouTube, in which believers ululate in a strange language, laughing or singing in religious ecstasy or, in one case, appearing to moo like a cow. The comments posted alongside them range from “amazing” to “and we thought the Muslims were insane”.
But millions of people are convinced that they speak in tongues — mysterious utterances of which they have no understanding — and that when they do so it is the Holy Spirit speaking through them. According to a Newsweek report nearly 20 per cent of American Christians speak in tongues several times a year and up to a third of churches encourage it.
In Britain this more exuberant brand of Christianity is growing fast in many charismatic evangelical churches — known as New Churches. The Church of England, while neither encouraging nor discouraging it, says: “The gift of speaking in tongues is recognised as a powerful expression of faith and spirituality.” Followers insist that it is a form of mental possession. Though they don’t understand what is coming out of their mouths they believe it is the spirit of God moving through them.
Well, now they may claim to have some scientific data to back them up. A study by neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania studied the brains of five people while they were speaking in tongues and found that they didn’t seem to be faking it.
The front and parietal lobes — the areas that manage control, a sense of orientation and language — showed decreased activity while they were speaking. To the layman that means that they were not willing or controlling their actions as people usually do when they talk.
All the volunteers had least a five-years history of speaking in tongues in church. Dr Andrew Newberg, associate professor in radiology at the university, made them start by singing a hymn and after a few minutes they began speaking in tongues. To measure brain activity each was given an injection of slightly radioactive material which enabled Dr Newberg and his team to take a freeze frame of the brain’ s blood flow.
He was surprised by the results. “The scans demonstrate that these subjects are not in control of the usual language centres,” he says. “That is consistent with their perception of a lack of intentional control while speaking in tongues. They can make themselves get into a state that allows this to happen, but once it begins they do not control any aspect of what is coming out.”
What does this prove? “It doesn’t prove that it is God, but it is something these people are perceiving in a real way,” says Dr Newberg, who is the author of Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality and Truth. Donna Morgan, the co-author of the university study, is a born-again Christian and served as a research subject. She describes speaking in tongues thus:
“You’re aware of your surroundings, you’re not really out of control, but you have no control over what’s happening; you’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort and it’s a fantastic feeling.”
The findings are unlikely to cut much ice with sceptics of glossolalia who believe that it proves nothing more than people’s suggestibility and the power of belief. Dr Susan Blackmore, a British psychologist and specialist in consciousness, meditation and the paranormal, says it would be a “ludicrous jump in logic” to take this as proof that speaking in tongues is a divine experience.
“All this proves is that people speak in tongues,” she says. “It doesn’t prove anything about the claims those people make. It is an exact parallel with near-death experiences. Of course people have near-death experiences, but is it evidence of life after death? No. Of course people (who speak in tongues) aren’t faking it. There has been a release of frontal lobe inhibition; they have let off the normal control mechanisms that stop you talking gibberish. But that is all. Some people can slip into a trance quite easily. It’s very similar to hypnosis.”
Anyone who has seen a preacher speak in tongues will know that it can prove to be infectious. Once one person starts, more follow. No one wants to be left out.
Gerald Coates, the founder of Pioneer, a network of charismatic evangelical churches, says that the congregation at nearly all the New Churches in Britain now speak in tongues; in his youth he met a Pentecostal leader shortly after he found himself singing in an unrecognisable language. “As soon as he laid his hands on me it was like a river of words coming out,” he says.
Mr Coates, the leader at the Church in the Theatre at Leatherhead, Surrey, says that people speak in tongues on most Sundays, often quietly to themselves. Rather than a dialogue with God, he describes it as an experience of religious ecstasy to which you surrender. Sometimes people simply lose all their strength and fall to the ground.
He believes that such worship is the future for the Christian church. People have turned away from the predictability and liberalism of the traditional church and are embracing the “passion and dynamism” of the New Churches. “Nearly all growing churches in the UK speak in tongues,” he says.
Dr Blackmore says that there is often a desperation to believe that enhances suggestibility, and compares it to a Ouija board when those present begin to believe they feel the glass moving.
Many theology academics agree that glossolalia has less to do with the Holy Spirit and more to do with people’s desire for a religious experience. Nine years ago Angie Golding walked out of her evangelical church in Broadwater Down, Kent, because it asked her to attend an Alpha course in which, she said, there was a “brainwashing exercise” in which participants were required to speak in tongues, “bark like a dog and snort like a pig”. This is a claim that Alpha denied. She said: “I’ll be a fool for the Lord any day, but I won’t be a fool for man.”
Speaking in tongues is one of the defining characteristics of the Pentecostal Church, charismatics and independent churches such as The Rock. Pentecostals are named after the biblical feast of Pentecost, which began 50 days after Passover. According to the Book of Acts, early followers of Jesus were able “to speak in other tongues”.
But many churches are uncomfortable with such “ecstatic utterance”, regarding it as un-biblical. Earlier this year the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas announced that the church would not engage anyone who advocated the use of tongues in prayer.
Ingrid Collins, a consultant psychologist at the London Medical Centre in Harley Street who has conducted research into altered states of consciousness and is now also a spiritual healer, believes that psychologists should take a broader view. “Many of my colleagues would just write it off as hysteria,” she says. “But I think we have to be open-minded. As with all phenomena there can be imitators and there can be hysterics, but there is so much we don’t know.
“The mind, the psyche is a vast, uncharted world. We know only a fraction of it; we use only 5 per cent of our brain. There is a lot of work to do with the altered states of consciousness.”
The real question of Dr Newberg’s study is this: if normal parts of the brain are not in control during speaking in tongues, then what is? It all depends on your perception, he says. “A believer might say it is the spirit of God taking over; a scientist might say that a different part of the brain is taking over. It is part of the grand question and answer we are searching for: why we believe what we believe.”