I have observed with great interest and concern recent developments related to the IMB, most specifically the new policies passed in the November meeting of the Board of Trustees, and the motion to recommend the dismissal of Wade Burleson from the Board in the January meeting. On Jan. 24, I sent an e-mail letter addressed to each of the trustees, expressing my concern, which I feel I should now make public.
During the past weeks, I have read the blogs of various individuals commenting on these matters, as well as the comments sent in from many others in response to these blogs. It has been of particular interest to note the amount of comments sent in by anonymous IMB missionary colleagues. I understand and appreciate the need of some colleagues to remain anonymous due to security concerns. I am concerned, however, about the perceived climate of fear and mistrust which has led many to remain anonymous, primarily due to concerns about possible reprisals from within the Board. I would like to make clear that I am not so much criticizing those who have chosen to remain anonymous as I am expressing concern over the perceived organizational climate which has apparently motivated their desire for anonymity.
I personally would like to "come clean" regarding my views on "private prayer language" and "charismatic tendencies" within the IMB. Since my college days, I have had a great interest in the "charismatic movement" and in the various differences of opinion related to the practices related to it. This interest has led me, as the Bereans in Acts 17:11, to "search the Scriptures" in order to determine "whether those things were so". My study of Scripture has led me to the conclusion that the so-called "sign gifts", including those of tongues and interpretation of tongues, continue to be valid for today (especially 1 Cor. 1.4-9; 12-14; Heb. 2:3-4).
This conclusion, for me, has several important implications. I have not personally had the experience of "speaking in tongues". In accordance with my understanding of Scripture, this is due to one of two things, either: 1) I for some reason, in my spiritual life, have placed some barrier in front of something God would want for me; or 2) God, who distributes each gift to each individual as He sees fit (1 Cor. 12.11), has not seen fit to give me either the "gift of tongues" or the experience of "speaking in tongues". I personally believe it is due to reason # 2.
At the same time, I do not automatically question the validity of the supposed experiences of brothers and sisters in Christ who profess to have had the experience of "speaking in tongues". I have known and enjoyed Christian fellowship with a number of believers, both within Baptist life, as well as without, who have professed to have received from God at one time or another the supernatural ability to "speak in tongues". If I did not accept their testimony as valid, this would leave me, as I see it, with only two other possible alternatives: 1) they were dishonest, and intentionally sought to deceive me and others regarding their experience; or 2) they themselves were deceived, interpreting some sort of psychologically induced experience as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Although, in the case of some individuals, I do not completely rule out the possibility of either of these two alternatives, in regards to many, if not the majority, of those I have known who have professed to "speak in tongues", I have a very hard time, based upon the Christian testimony and fruit of the Spirit evident in their lives, attributing their profession to one of the two above-mentioned alternatives.
This, in turn, has led me to the conclusion that in my missionary work for the advance of God’s Kingdom around the world, I need to work together with these brothers and sisters in Christ, just the same way that in the body, the eye needs the hand, and the head needs the feet (1 Cor. 12.21). I, at the same time, am well aware of many of the aberrant doctrines and practices frequently associated with the "charismatic movement", and affirm the need to be discerning regarding false doctrine. However, it has been my observation, that many brothers and sisters in Christ who profess to "speak in tongues" do not at the same time advocate either the classical Pentecostal position that those who have not "spoken in tongues" have not received the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" or various extreme practices frequently associated with the "charismatic movement". In the country of Spain, in which I minister, many of the warmest-hearted Christians I know, with the greatest evangelistic and missionary vision, profess to "speak in tongues". Many of these happen to also be Spanish Baptists.
While I am in this process of "coming clean", I might ought to add, at the same time, that a couple of years ago, in accordance with the request of IMB leadership, I signed the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 statement, indicating my essential agreement with it. At the same time, we were asked to specify any points within the statement with which we had any possible discrepancy. At this time, I specified the following line, referring to baptism, under Item VII on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:
Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
My reasons for specifying that line were that I do not find clear Scriptural justification for it. Based upon my understanding of Scripture, the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the unity of the Body of Christ based on a common faith in the grace of God made possible by the sacrificial atonement of Jesus at Calvary, not lock-step agreement on secondary points of doctrine. Perhaps in New Testament times, there was such agreement on the matter of believer’s baptism that there did not exist such a thing as true believers who had not been baptized by immersion subsequent to their conversion. However, I find it hard to harmonize my understanding and corresponding application of the principles of Scripture with the exclusion from the Lord’s Table of a true brother or sister in Christ, who, due to differing conclusions based on a serious study of Scripture, sincerely believes that their infant "baptism" experience meets the qualifications of authentic obedience to Christ’s command.
In openly stating my personal views on these issues, I am motivated by more than merely arguing the legitimacy of my perspective. I am convinced that beside myself, both in the IMB, as well as in many other areas of Southern Baptist life, there are quite a few others who hold either the same views or at least views similar to those I have expressed above. If such is indeed the case, I do not believe it is a healthy dynamic to feel the need to remain secretive about such views, for fear of reprisal.
Just as I have "come clean" about what I believe, I believe we as Southern Baptists, through the due processes which have been established, need to "come clean" related to what is expected of those who serve the Lord while receiving spiritual and financial covering from the Southern Baptist Convention. I, and I believe many more like me, want to know if there is still room under the Southern Baptist umbrella for those who believe like me. If the answer is yes, I will rejoice. I believe that the vast wealth of spiritual, human, creative, and financial resources represented by the SBC make up an excellent platform from which to serve the Lord and work together with His Body around the world for the advance of His Kingdom. If, however, the answer is no, I, in good conscience, will need to seek another platform from which to serve.
In either case, I am convinced that God’s work will go on, and that He will continue to use all of those He calls out, in harmony with His Body around the world, with the purpose of "showing forth the praises of him who hath called (us) out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2.9).