Among the many theological issues over which Christians differ, some hinder practical fellowship far more than others, especially those that immediately impact the life of the church. People may live together happily while differing on theological interpretations that do not directly or significantly impact behavior (e.g., eschatology or creation issues) or on those that are practices individually (e.g., particular practices of spiritual growth). Such is not the case with the topics of this book. Many of these issues directly affect behavior within the corporate church, making it difficult for people of differing opinions to fellowship together.
In my opinion the greatest problem to unity comes from those views that create (perhaps unintentionally) distinct spiritual levels among believers or cast aspersions on another person’s spirituality. Insisting that a particular relationship to the Spirit be evidenced by a particular miraculous manifestation clearly draws a line marking off some from others spiritually. So also does advocating the manifestation of a particular gift as providing a significant key to fellowship with God. Even teaching that the failure of the church to manifest gifts equal to the apostolic era is a sign of sin or lack of faith can imply a spiritual differentiation. At least those who believe this recognize their failure, while others are not even repentant over their unbelief.
At the same time, perhaps more subtly, those who advocate that no miraculous gifts are available today may disparage others who do believe, for example, that they are using the biblical gift of tongues in their prayer life. They imply (or even teach outright) that such tongue speakers are deceived at best and involved with other spirits at worst. In all such instances, it is hard to see how those who hold the contrary positions could maintain fellowship in the church.
Unity in fellowship is based on similarity of belief and practice. Unity grows as divergent beliefs become less or are held as less significant, thereby providing more toleration of those who differ. History demonstrates that full unity on all things is probably not possible. But it also reveals that discussion among those of goodwill can do much to dissolve some differences and bring greater love and respect when difference remains. The recent history of miraculous gifts, while it has engendered some confusion in the church, has also brought helpful dialogue among opposing positions and some blurring of the traditional lines. Believers who seek Christ’s goal of unity for the church must continue to make these issues a matter of study. Where the positions sincerely held allow for coexistence in church life, such fellowship should be pursued. Where issues sincerely held make regular church fellowship impossible, respect, love, and cooperation in the things of Christ must still flow across the lines to those who hold the same precious faith in the other areas of vital Christian doctrine.
I believe the old policy of the IMB—
Reasons for termination…—was probably a good policy, due to what Saucy says in paragraph 2 of the quote above.
"A persistent emphasis of any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive to the Baptist fellowship"
At the same time, I believe that the new policy—
Tongues and Prayer Language—violates the spirit of Saucy’s third paragraph.
That the following policy regarding tongues and prayer language of missionary candidates be adopted:
1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.
2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.
3. In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.
1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.
2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.
3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures.
4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as "private prayer language." Therefore, if "private prayer language" is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.
I believe the trustees, in their wording of the justification for this new policy, have taken on the role of interpreting Scripture for Southern Baptists beyond what Southern Baptists have done for themselves, by way of the Baptist Faith & Message.
The reason given against "private prayer language" is not due to its potential to "disrupt," but rather out of a disqualification of one aspect of both "Third Wave" and "Pentecostal/Charismatic," and even some "open but cautious" biblical interpretation. The wording given, in my opinion, is tantamount to saying that: "tongue speakers are deceived at best and involved with other spirits at worst."
Although not officially given as a reason for the new policy, trustee Jerry Corbaley has implied on his blog (both the old one, in which his post on "tongues," and the related comments were removed, as well as the new one) that the practice of tongues (or "babble" as he calls it) in private, will invariably become "public," thus leading to "disruption" in church life.
I believe this is an unfair assumption, and that the burden of proof is on those making this claim. In any case, verifiable cases of the practice or "emphasis" of any spiritual gift to the point of "disruption" were already covered under the old policy.
The real "sticking point" for the Board of Trustees concerns those like myself, who do not actually practice a "private prayer language," but who do not at the same time, subscribe to the doctrinal basis given for the new policy against "private prayer language." If asked what I believe concerning tongues, or any other spiritual gift, ethics will not permit me to lie. When teaching through the Bible systematically, upon coming to the passages that teach on spiritual gifts, I will teach what I consider to be the proper interpretation, taking care, in accordance with my own convictions, to not "emphasize any spiritual gift as normative for all." But I will teach that I understand the gift of tongues to be valid for today, and that it is among the gifts that God might sovereignly choose to give you as a believer. At the same time, I am not going around "parading" my view on this subject (with the possible exception of this blog, in response to questions raised initially, in my opinion, by others). In the past 16 years of missionary service in Spain, I can honestly say I have preached and taught far more on the dangers of the excesses involved in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave movements than I have the benefits or blessings associated with any particular spiritual gift.
In my opinion, there is no reason to expect that the practitioner of "private prayer language" who agrees to abide by the same policy will be any more likely than me to "emphasize any spiritual gift as normative for all" or to become "disruptive" in their practice of their gift. Just like me, though, it would be unreasonable to expect him/her to lie or gloss over his/her understanding of Scripture on these issues.