With this section of Grudem’s article, When Shoud Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries?, the issues discussed begin to cut a bit closer to the heart of the discussion in recent Southern Baptist life, and, accordingly, open up potential for greater controversy.
According to Grudem, the correct time for a Christian organization to draw new boundaries is, first of all, after a false teaching has become a significant problem. As Grudem observes, “open theism,” being basically an unknown position, was not readily recognized as a doctrinal issue that needed specific mention in most doctrinal statements of evangelical organizations, up to as recently as twenty years ago.
Along this vein, I would agree with many who are quick to point out that one of the the main reasons that Baptists in general, and the Southern Baptist Convention in particular, have not previously defined themselves on “private prayer language” is because, not having been taught or practiced to any great degree in contexts that impinge upon the beliefs and practice of Baptists until fairly recently, it is an issue that has largely been deemed irrelevant. However, since the “Azusa Street Revival” in 1906, and especially the spread of Charismatic and Third Wave theology and practices to other churches and denominations outside of traditional Pentecostalism from the 1960’s on, this has become an issue over which many more people have begun to show a growing interest.
Along with the practice of “private prayer languages,” there have commonly been associated a whole series of teachings and practices that many in Southern Baptist life have come to regard as “significant problems.” Churches have been divided. Spiritual elitism, dividing along lines of “haves” and “have-nots,” has derailed many efforts of Christian discipleship. It is completely understandable, in my opinion, why many might well be concerned.
At the same time, however, there are certain practices that may originally have been more associated with Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement that are gradually becoming accepted across the board, and recognized as a source of blessing. These include such things as the singing of praise and worship choruses, the lifting of hands to the Lord in public worship, and, in more recent times, prayer walks. The truth is some, even in Southern Baptist circles, have been critical of each of the above practices as well.
Change is never easy, nor is it always welcome. When the Reformers of the 16th century began to talk about “justification by faith,” they were met with stern opposition, and many suffered persecution. During the Radical Reformation, many feared that the teaching of believers’ baptism and separation of church and state would open up a huge Pandora’s box, and felt they had seen their greatest fears confirmed with the onset of the Münster Rebellion. Similar opposition was raised against the abolitionist movement in the 19th century in the United States. Yet, today, the “new” teachings and practices introduced through each of these examples are accepted across the board as sound doctrine among Southern Baptists and many other Christian groups.
We will have to leave to our discussion of Part 4 of Grudem’s article the question of whether or not “private prayer languages” are indeed a “false teaching” that has become a “significant problem” in Southern Baptist life. For now, the point is: “new” understanding of doctrine does indeed come onto the scene from time to time throughout the course of church history. When such doctrines can be demonstrated to be “false teaching” and to create “significant problems,” we do well to deal with them by, if you will, “narrowing our parameters.” However, not all “new” teaching is necessarily “false teaching” and some “new” teaching may prove to be more of a blessing than a problem.
Grudem’s second option for when Christian organizations should draw new boundaries is before the false teaching does great harm, and before it has a large following entrenched in the organization.
This seems to be the motivation given in the rationale statement for the new IMB policy on “private prayer languages,” as evidenced in the following statement:
Not all of the trustees who voted for this policy are strict cessationists (those who believe the revelation producing gifts ended with the death of the Apostles). Yet, when the practice of something that may or may not be biblical is creating confusion in the ministry then trustees have acted to do what is best for the work.
Paige Patterson, Keith Eitel, and Robin Hadaway, in their follow-up paper to Eitel’s “Vision Assessment” refer to “systemic problems running throughout the structure” of the IMB, in large part related to what they term “neo-charismatic leaning.” Steve Grose, Baptist pastor from Australia, has on repeated occasions commented on this blog and others of the dangers of growing Charismatic influence and corresponding extremes in doctrine and practice that have infiltrated Baptist work in his own country.
In my opinion, while it is true that those who have a “private prayer language” may be more likely than those who don’t to espouse Charismatic extremes, I do not see this, in and of itself, as a proper motivation for prohibiting this practice. It could also be argued statistically that those who believe in eternal security are more likely than those who don't to fall into extremes of hyper-Calvinism, and as a result, to deemphasize the need for evangelism. “Guilt by association” can be a dangerous model to follow.
From Grudem’s perspective (as well as mine), the changes introduced in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 came at an opportune time. One of these changes is the declaration that "at the moment of regeneration, [the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ," thus precluding traditional Pentecostal and Charismatic teaching on a subsequent “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting to me, however, that the BFM 2000 committee chose neither to specifically address the issue of “private prayer languages” nor of the legitimacy of the administrator of baptism.
This leads us to the next point in Grudem’s article: But who has the authority to make these changes? According to Grudem, there are two basic alternatives: 1) "decisions are made by tens of thousands of organizations in a gradual process, as their governing bodies, or the organizations as a whole in some kind of formal meeting, come to a decision on doctrinal matters"; or 2) "some kind of worldwide church government…[that] would concentrate too much power in the hands of too few people, and would likely lead to far worse decisions in the end."
Evidently, the IMB Board of Trustees has the authority to determine policy for the IMB. However, it is my contention (and that of many others) that their authority to set doctrinal directives is subject to the joint decisions of the individual congregations that make up the Southern Baptist Convention, as expressed through the Baptist Faith and Message. If the SBC as a whole has not chosen to define itself yet on a particular doctrinal issue, I think it best that the various boards and agencies that receive their support from the Cooperative Program not go beyond what has been formally agreed upon.
Dwight McKissic and others have gone on record as supporting an amendment to the BFM in order to specifically address the question of “private prayer languages.” I myself question the wisdom of forcing this issue before there is any sort of consensus. I believe the BFM 2000 committee were wise in not including it. At the same time, however, I concur that it is inconsistent for the IMB Board of Trustees to demand compliance on something on which the SBC as a whole has not yet defined itself.
Grudem astutely observes: "Almost always such decisions are preceded by vigorous debate and discussion, and by much study on the part of the people involved." It has been stated that the new policies at the IMB are a result of 2 ½ years of discussion and study among the Board of Trustees. This is well and good. However, before making such decisions binding on an organization that represents the SBC as a whole, the opportunity should be given for these issues to be discussed in a more open forum, with the various points of view taken given fair and honest representation.
That, in my opinion, is precisely what has been going on in the blogosphere over the past year. As I understand it, it is also a big part of the motivation behind the "Roundtable" in Arlington, TX, and the upcoming "Conference on Baptists and the Holy Spirit." No doubt, at the upcoming "Baptist Identity Conference" in Jackson, TN, various views will also be articulated on these issues. Opinions have also been expressed through Baptist Press, various state papers, “White Papers” and other publications issued by various Baptist entities.
To all involved in these discussions, I believe the words of Grudem ring true:
For those of us who are scholars, we have a significant responsibility in this process, for we often write the materials that are read by study groups and church leaders as they make decisions on these questions. It is our responsibility to be truthful and accurate in what we publish, to represent the arguments fairly, and above all to be faithful to Scripture as God by his grace enables us to do so.