Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 6)

After a bit of a break from our consideration of Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What Should We Draw New Boundaries?, we now come to the third point under the last section on For What Doctrinal and Ethical Matters Should Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries? Up to now, I have been talking about various doctrinal issues being debated in Southern Baptist life in our discussion of Grudem. But, in this post, I will limit discussion to the issue of “private prayer language.” Perhaps there will be opportunity to discuss other issues as they relate to Grudem’s point here at a later time.

3. EFFECT ON PERSONAL AND CHURCH LIFE: Will this false teaching bring significant harm to people’s Christian lives, or to the work of the church?

If indeed PPL were a “false teaching,” I think you would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that either allowing it or practicing it brings “significant harm to people’s Christian lives, or to the work of the church.” My personal experience has been just the opposite. In general, where PPL is freely allowed and practiced, the church seems to be experiencing vibrant growth and spiritual vitality. Indeed, the most significant numerical growth in the evangelical movement around the world has unquestionably been in the Pentecostal and Charismatic sector.

Some may argue that an openness to PPL tends to go along with an openness to unhealthy spiritual extremes. While I would agree that many who advocate and practice certain forms of extreme doctrine also happen to be advocates of PPL, to lump everyone together is, in my opinion, unfair “guilt by association.” There are plenty of extremists associated with any number of doctrines and practices accepted pretty much across the board as being within the bounds of orthodoxy. A belief in a holy lifestyle, for instance, does not necessarily make you a legalist. Though the majority of legalists would give at least lip-service to the importance of a holy lifestyle.

Others may want to point out the moral failures of several high profile leaders who are known advocates of PPL. Honesty, however, obligates us to admit that moral failure does not seem to play favorites among those of different doctrinal persuasions. My personal observation has been that the presence of both moral shortcomings and moral excellence is pretty much evenly apportioned between advocates of PPL and those who do not advocate PPL.

Others would point towards the high degree of church division that has often been associated with the presence of charismatic practices. A very interesting answer to this line of thinking comes from D.A. Carson, in his excellent book Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. In general, Carson’s treatment of this entire issue is one of the most even-handed and objective of which I am aware. I think the following quote, although a bit long, is especially instructive in regard to the question at hand…

For many young clergy from noncharismatic traditions, one of their first major crises will develop when some strong voices in the church call for freedom to speak in tongues in public services, or start to proselytize members in home Bible studies. Precisely this situation has generated the polarizations that have split countless churches. What should be done?

In some instances, of course, the split may be unavoidable. But as I faced precisely this situation, in a fairly mild form, when I was in pastoral ministry sixteen years ago, perhaps I can pass on some lessons I learned at that time.

Our church was divided between a few procharismatics and several anticharismatics, with the majority fairly confused between the two, and asking for leadership. Neither of the extremes was virulent, but it was obvious the situation could have rapidly degenerated. I asked for prayer and time: prayer to hold us together and do what was right, and time to survey in weekly meetings what the Bible had to say about the Holy Spirit. I asked for six months, and the last two months or so of that Wednesday night series were devoted to much the same sort of material here put together in more sophisticated fashion. I have changed my mind on a number of minor points since then, and on several issues where I was less clear about what the Scripture said, I acknowledged my confusion and ignorance and tried to convey what I thought was being said, while still surveying other interpretative options.

Toward the end of the series, I tried to summarize what I judged to be true points that fair, biblical exegesis could affirm with confidence. The first and most important of these was that tongues cannot possibly serve as a criterion of anything; the second was that I could not find any unequivocal criterion for ruling out all contemporary tongues-speaking, even though I thought much of what I had seen was suspect or was manifested outside the stipulations Paul had laid down. I think everyone in the church came to accept these two points, and as a result, 80 percent of our problem was solved. So much of the divisiveness of tongues-speaking turns very little on the tongues phenomenon itself, but on what it allegedly attests. It so easily promotes pride in those who think that it confirms they have a measure of the Spirit not enjoyed by others; and for the same reason it evokes resentment, jealousy, and defensiveness among many noncharismatics who feel they are being relegated to second-class status in the church. Moreover, because we did not conclude that all contemporary tongues must automatically be dismissed as illegitimate, the few who were practicing tongues in private did not feel threatened or begin to hurl accusations that the leadership did not really believe the Bible and was not open to the Spirit.

We then took two more steps. The first was to invite anyone who had attended the series of addresses to testify as to his or her experience on these matters, and to seek to evaluate that experience on the basis of what had been learned from the series. This proved fascinating. In the mercy of God, enough trust had been established to allow us to listen to remarkably diverse points of view, and without rancor. A few testified how they felt they had been helped by their gift of tongues, but were quite willing to admit that they had unwittingly elevated it to the level of criterion, a step they were prepared to abandon. One person, a highly respected deacon, told of his own experiences in the charismatic movement, and how he had left it because he had come to think that its claims were commonly false. Another deacon who, I knew, had been converted in Pentecostal circles, at first said nothing. I did not know what he would say, but I elicited from him his own testimony, not wanting anything to be bottled up. He cheerfully acknowledged, with gratitude to God, the context of his conversion as a young patrolman in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the long watches of the night, when he sat in his car by the hour in a fairly remote part of the Rocky Mountains, he used some of his time praying in tongues, and he felt that the experience had made him profoundly aware of God’s presence and had helped to ground is fledgling faith. I asked him if he still, twenty years later, spoke in tongues, and he replied, “No, I don’t.” I asked him why not; and he answered, with innocent candor, “I guess it’s because I don’t need it now. I think that was for when I was a baby Christian.”

That judgment, of course, needed to be assessed against the testimony of Paul, who, certainly no baby Christian, could testify that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthians. But the direction of the discussion, including the witness of that police officer, was profoundly right in another sense; without suggesting that all experiences of tongues-speaking are spurious, the general effect was to downplay the importance of the phenomenon. That is surely in line with one of Paul’s aims in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and the effect in our church was to draw the sting out of further discussion.

I took one more step. I asked for another week to survey New Testament teaching on church discipline before offering any recommendation; and the congregation kindly agreed. At that last Wednesday evening, I tried to outline the three areas that could lead to the supreme sanction, excommunication: flagrantly immoral life, major doctrinal aberration, and a loveless, fundamentally divisive spirit. It was the last one, of course, that was so important in our context: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10). This strong response is a reflection of the New Testament’s profound commitment to the unity of the church. The question, then, was this: In the light of what we had learned of tongues and related gifts in the New Testament, and in the light of the emphasis on loving unity in the body, what stance should we as a church adopt?

The conclusion was that we would not foster tongues-speaking in public meetings, but we would not oppose them if they occurred, provided they fell within the Pauline stipulations. However, those who felt they had the gift were encouraged to practice it in private, rather than in the public assembly where those who were still suspicious of all instances of the phenomenon would have been more than a little uncomfortable. We also agreed in the strongest terms that is a charismatic began to use his or her gift to proselytize, or if a noncharismatic began to agitate to squeeze the charismatics out, action would immediately be taken by the church leaders to warn against the divisiveness bound up with such conduct.

In the Lord’s mercy, we did not lose anyone, and in six months, the issue was dead. In retrospect, it is clearer to me now than it was then that many things could have gone much worse than they did, if we had not enjoyed the mix of people who were there. Doubtless in a slightly different mix, or in a different ecclesiastical tradition, exactly the same sorts of arguments might have led to occasional use of tongues in public assembly. But of the thrust of the steps taken, and of the relative valuation of church unity and the place of tongues-speaking, I would not change one iota if placed in a similar situation today.

In short, the church must hunger for personal and corporate submission to the lordship of Christ. We must desire to know more of God’s presence in our lives, and pray for a display of unleashed, reforming, revivifying power among us, dreading all steps that aim to domesticate God. But such power and hunger must always be tempered with joyful submission to the constraints of biblical discipline.

*D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, Baker Books, 1987, pp. 185-88.


Alan Knox said...


Thank you for pointing people to Carson's book. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. It is a very balanced study of 1 Cor. 12-14.


Grosey's Messages said...

Interestingly, Don Carson's book was written in 1988, with a dedication to the staff of Moore college in Sydney (Moore is a wonderful evangelical anglican college (currently planting quasi Baptist churches throughout Australia). I attempted to resign from the Baptist college in 1981 to attend Moore college due to the rising liberalism in our Baptist college.. much more extreme than in the SBC during the same period.)By God's grace 18 months ago we had Don as our Baptist convention speaker. Don has been to Australia about 20 times.
However, Don's book does not deal with the current phenomena that is being experienced among Pentecostals in the South East Asia region.

In 1987 the pastor (Arthur McGrath) of the Paradise AOG church rang me..

AM: "Steve, we have a church in Paradise."

SG: "Arthur I sure do hope we got one there too."

AM: "No Steve, Paradise South Australia"

SG:"Tell me about your church Arthur"

AM: "We have added 2000 new members every year for 18 years."

SG: "Wow Arthur that's amazing! How many members have you got now?"

AM: "3000!"

SG: "Wow Arthur, you got a big front door.."

AM:"and a big back door Steve"

SG: "tell me Arthur what are they like when they go out the back door?"

AM:"They are more blasphemous, more immoral and more ungodly than before they walked in the front door."

SG: "How do you know this Arthur?"

AM"I have visited them myself, What do you think the problem is Steve?"

SG: "Maybe they were never born again in the first place Arthur!"

AM: "You know what Steve, I think you are right! Funny, I have never thought of that before!"

I have had that same conversation with the elders at Hillsong. I have had that same conversation with the Youth pastor at Newcastle City Church.

Tomorrow I have to do a funeral for some folk where the majority are ex pentecostal.. all really bitter and hateful to the things of God.

When 7/8ths of Pentecostal people (tongue speakers) are actively haters of God, I find it difficult to listen to someone say that this actually improves someone's spiritual life.
It may do so for a very short time (2-5 years). But in the main, 7 out of 8 will be out the back door bitter and hateful towards God, at the end of the day.
I am sorry David, as a former pastor of a charismatic church I believe you are wrong.

Todd Nelson said...

As the founding and present pastor of a church in SE Asia similar to the one Don Carson describes, I can wholeheartedly say it is possible for charismatics and non-charismatics to serve together.

In our international church, the current elders and deacons come from these backgrounds: Brethren and Evangelical Free (3 Malaysians), Assembly of God/G12 (1 South African), Baptist and Presbyterian (3 Americans), and charismatic Anglican (1 Englishman coming on board).

Granted, we are probably an exception to the norm, as are many international churches, but with God's grace and biblical teaching such as Carson described, it is possible -- I would say desirable -- to demonstrate love and unity in diversity as we pursue a clear mission and vision. We don't have to convert everyone to all of our interpretations in order to work together.

PPL and "baptism in/with the Holy Spirit" are not necessarily dangerous doctrines or "harmful to our churches." They can be taught and practiced from Scripture in an atmosphere of love, wisdom, and order.

Obviously, David, I think you're on the right track, along with Grudem and Carson. Thanks for this series.

Anonymous said...


I trust you will receive my comment in the spirit it is intended. One of cessationists' main points of contention is that continualists too often resort to arguing from experience. Yet, brother, that is what you have done herein. If memory serves, many (if not most) of your posts on this subject contain references to your experience observing abuses of Pentecostalism in Australia. While none of us can fully divorce our hermeneutics from our context, it does seem as though the latter more often drives the former in your comments, at least on this particular subject.

Perhaps you will then forgive those of us who side with Carson and Grudem (and Rogers) for we do not approach the sacred text on this subject through the lenses of your experiences in Australia.

Jonathan K. said...


That is a well-written post. I thought I would jump in with a few comments.

First, I agree that to lump extremists (whatever that means) in with those who advocate having a prayer language is totally unfair “guilt by association.” Further, I agree with you on your analogy to advocating a holy lifestyle versus a legalist. I think the question though for all is where does one draw the line?

Second, while I have read some of Dr. Carson’s other books, unfortunately I haven’t read his treatise on 1 Cor. 12-14, although every report I hear about it is positive. I will comment on the excerpt one thing, and that is I believe Dr. Carson’s experience is somewhat unique, in that he’s not a Southern Baptist (and Grudem IS, by the way). Regardless, I believe in a “mixed” congregation consisting of tongues-speakers and non-tongues-speakers (those who are somewhat opposed), and a great majority in the middle who do not know what they believe, I think that Dr. Carson’s solution was wise, and maybe even advisable (although my background is ardently and wholly charismatic, and so I lack experience in a more “mixed” congregation).

One thing I’d like to comment on is what Todd Nelson said. Like Rev. Nelson, I, too, believe that charismatics and non-charismatics can and do work together, even on the mission field. I’ve heard many good reports about this from both YWAM (Youth with a Mission) and Teen Mania ministries, which actively recruit young people from both charismatic and non-charismatic circles for short-term and long-term mission trips. I also agree with Todd that “PPL and baptism in the Holy Spirit are not necessarily dangerous doctrines and harmful to the churches,” but “can be taught and practiced from Scripture in an atmosphere of love, wisdom, and order.”

Lastly, I’d like to share a story to make one last point. I am not trying to teach here from experience, but I am sharing this story to illustrate something. Last night (Tuesday night), I was at a late dinner with my pastor, his wife, a guest speaker we have been hosting at our church, and a few other church members. It was a small group, of the six of us who were there. Anyways, one of the members of my church’s worship team was with us, and she was talking about a conversation she had with her supervisor at work. Obviously, because we are a charismatic church, we speak in tongues, but her supervisor, who is a godly Christian man, is non-charismatic, and also happens to be her fiancée’s dad. She asked her father-in-law to-be, “Have you received the baptism, and do you know the power of God?” His initial response was, “I don’t know.” Eventually, he said “No,” but asked her “Is that the tongues thing?” She encouraged him he needed to pray and ask God about it. But she also said the point of it is NOT whether you speak in tongues, but rather do you know the power of God in your life. That’s really the key issue --- do you know the power of God, working in your life. I believe that is the larger issue, rather than speaking in tongues. As a former charismatic pastor of mine says, “Speaking in tongues does no good, if it does not result in a transformed, changed life by the power of God.” Amen?

Tim Cook said...


I have to agree with some of the other folks here - I am not charismatic, and have never spoken in tongues, but some of the most important people in shaping my faith as a young man were and are. They, to the contrary, are not haters of God, nor are they blasphemous or immoral. They are, in fact, honest, God-fearing, Jesus-following, on-mission Christians to this day. They, to my knowledge, still speak in tongues.

Perhaps there is another common denominator in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement in Australia that causes this phenomenon? An inadequate emphasis on doctrine, perhaps? Too much emphasis on experiance over scripture? An "easy gospel"? There are many possibilities. Just something to think about.

In Christ,
Tim Cook

Strider said...

Tim, I think you have hit the nail on the head. For myself I don't speak in tongues- I prayed for that gift for many years after my conversion but it never came. God probably didn't give it to me so I could serve with the IMB today!
But while I disagree with Steve about tongues he is dead on about what he has seen in Australia and I have seen it in a more limited way myself. My brother in law is quite bitter toward God and the Church as a result of his experiences. It was not tongues that let him down though. It was the Health/Wealth doctrine that always promises more if you only have the faith to believe. Well, a good many folks have burned themselves out on this teaching.
So, back to Grudem's point in David's post. Yes, there are doctines and practices that act as wolves among the sheep and they must be opposed by caring shepherds. Tongues is not a wolf in and of itself. But the truth is that those who believe and practice tongues often carry this other baggage. We need to discern these things and care for our brothers. A blanket rule about tongues will not help our people or our organizations. We must discern the real wolves and cast them out from among us.

Grosey's Messages said...

Thank you Strider,
I 100% agree. In fact I think the issue is actually one of the new birth (I hold to perserverance of the saints). Also, all that glitters is not gold.
But rightly, anonymous indicated that my argument on this issue appears to be experiential rather than theological.
May I state my understanding theologically in a positive way?
Dependance upon anything other than the Lord and His Word for Christian growth or comfort is counterproductive to true christian growth and maturity, and constitutes idolatry. The things we find comforting often indicate the things to which we are truly devoted.
May I use as scriptural proofs:
Acts 20:32 “And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Of course, the entire book of Colossions should also be cited.

PPL has proven to be an unhelpful distraction when used as a substitute, producing idolaters (worshippers of a god created in the image of the prosperity preacher) rather than worshippers of God.

Now I guess that sounds like an angry rhetorical unchristian statement because it is stated so bluntly. I have struggled with the phenomena for 3 decades, I'm not angry, just deeeply concerned for the burnt over ground. The statement does however make sense of the 80% fall out rate from pentecostal (and I use that term broadly) type churches.

Oh, do I think SBC's are immune from the same thing? No Way! Why do some preacher's in SBC megachurches see their ministry as getting the members saved?
When I commence a new church plant, or commence ministry in a new church I always go into that ministry with the understanding that only about half of the church members are truly saved. (Still, half is better than 20%, and if you are a mathematician you will already have surmised that by the figures I quoted in my earlier comment, its around about 12%)


Debbie said...

We cannot Biblically denounce PPL just because of the potential abuse. That could be said of any part of doctrine. Staying with what scripture says is the key.

Dr. Jerry Rankin has been head of the IMB for quite awhile. He has a PPL, he has not brought any abuses in. People like Dr. Rankin cannot be excluded out of fear.

volfan007 said...

you know, if someone feels the need to get worked up emotionally and in a private prayer closet utter ecstatic, unintelligible words.....well fine. go ahead. but, the danger you have is when these people start teaching others to do it too. then, it leads to unsoundness and wild, pentecostal type practices. if you could really trust people with a ppl to keep it private, then i would have no problems with it. but, i dont know if they can keep it private.


David Rogers said...

Vol fan David,

Beside the fact that I don't agree with your description of PPL as "getting worked up emotionally" and uttering "ecstatic, unintelligle words" (although I will not deny that is exactly what happens in SOME cases), it looks like, by what you say here, that you are really not that far from what I (and a lot of others) have been trying to say. We are not advocating public teaching of tongues, at least not, as Carson refers to it in the excerpt quoted in the post, as a "criterion" of anything. I am firmly against that.

I have known quite a few, of whom I found out in one way or another (either I asked, or they privately confided to me...) they had a PPL. Of those I have known, very few have exhibited to any degree known to me a compulsion to proselytize or win others over to the same experience. Many have been extremely discrete about it. It is the elimination of these type of people from missionary service that concerns me. Does it not concern you as well?

Wade Burleson said...

I believe the evidence of a lack of new birth can be seen in intentional lying, hatred, pride and the seven deadly sins of Proverbs than in speaking in a private prayer language.

Would you not agree Mr. Grosey?

volfan007 said...


maybe the ppl issue at the imb is a little over the top, or maybe not. as i said, i dont know if someone with a ppl can not teach it....will not promote it. i just dont know if they can refrain from such a thing. it seems that many who claim to have such a gift do end the least....telling others about it, and in the worst, they teach it. and, this can lead to the extremes and wildness that steve talks about in australia. i believe most of us have seen, or know of churches where the charismatic movement came in and caused great trouble. do we not?

wade, i dont think that steve was even talking to you, nor about you, and that passage in proverbs is a good one for all of us to look at. God hates...yes, even despises....those who cause discord amongst brothers.


David Rogers said...

Vol fan David,

A question for you. Do you know, or have you had the opportunity for fellowship with any "non-charismatic" practictioners of PPL (see my post here if you don't know what I mean)? Because I can assure you they exist, and not just a few here and there.

Once you have had the opportunity to get to know and spend some time to fellowship in the Lord with some of these folks (if you have not), then I may be more open to what you have to say regarding having PPL and not being able to refrain from teaching it or promoting it.

volfan007 said...


again, if its truly a ppl, how did you know that they had one? and, yes, i have a man in my church that has a ppl, and i have an uncle that used to have a ppl. on my momma's side of the family, several of them were church of God and had charismatic leanings. also, i had many friends in college who had a ppl.


David Rogers said...

Vol fan David,

As I said before, "either I asked, or they privately confided to me." By the way, I don't define "private prayer language" as never, ever tell anyone about it. I define it as practiced in the "privacy" of one's prayer closet.

Anyway, you say you have a man in your church. How did you know? Does this man "teach" or "promote" it? Also, remember (regarding the others you mention) I said specifically "non-charismatic" PPL-practicers. I think the main predictor as to whether someone will feel a compulsion to "teach" or "promote" it is the teaching they receive from others, either in their church, or some other context. If the teaching they receive is that it is just a gift, and God gives different gifts to different people, then, they will likely see no need to "teach" or "promote" it, except as just a gift that God might happen to give you.

volfan007 said...

the problem i would have with a ppl is when they would tell others about it...thus promoting it.....and, even teaching it as a true gift.

david, i guess the problem we have right off the bat is that i dont believe that ppl is a real gift of the Spirit. i think its just someone who is having an emotional experience. like i said, i have no problem with those who feel that they need this in thier life. i just would not be for them telling it to others. they should keep it to themselves. otherwise, as a missionary, or a pastor, it would automatically be teaching it and promoting it.


Grosey's Messages said...

David, I would have to agree with david :)
my experience with tongue speakers who agreed to ppl in the former charismatic church i pastored was that their spiritual maturity was limited by their unwillingness to deal with personal problems and crises, and instead of resorting to the Lord and His Word in when they were in crisis, they resorted to their PPL.
Effectively, they retreated from their problems rather than proactively dealing with them before the Lord.
I believe their spiritual growth suffered because of this "retreat" perspective, with similar psychological effects as that experienced by those who retreat to physical escape mechanisms such as soft drugs, over the counter sedatives, or alcohol.
I have spoken with medical practitioners who have a similar opinion. Some medical practitioners I know say, "Well I guess its safer than alcohol, so let them do it!"
Although PPL may be perceived as a fairly safe escape mechanism, it can be psychologically addictive, and is still an escape mechanism; a retreat from problems rather than a dealing with problems biblically.

Anonymous said...

So Steve has resorted back to his own experiences. And Volfan David is arguing from what he imagines a scenario would be like. I'm so pleased that the scholarly efforts of people like Fee, Grudem, and Carson (among others) do not fall on deaf ears.

volfan007 said...


if you want to read what bible scholars have to say about a ppl, then why dont you read john mcarthur? j. vernon mcgee? a.t. robertson? calvin? and such a host of others that it would take a long time to list all of them.

why not bring them up in our discussion?