Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ad Hoc Committee Report

I suppose, if you have read this blog enough to know how I feel about the IMB policy (now “guideline”) on “private prayer language” and guideline on baptism, you will be expecting some sort of a response from me to the content of the recently released reports of the ad hoc committee. (If you have not yet seen the text of the report, you can do so here.)

So, okay, here goes…

1. First off, I am sad. I was sincerely hoping this would end up differently. I guess, from all that I have read in the past year and a half since the original policy and guideline were passed, given the dynamics of the situation, I should not be surprised. However, I was still holding out hope that, as the committee members began to really study and analyze the situation, the reasonableness of the argument against the policy and guideline would be recognized. But, such was apparently not the case.

2. I, like others who have already commented on this, am confused. I do not understand the intent behind the change of wording from “policy” to “guideline.” I am not sure what, if anything, this changes in actual practice.

3. Upon saying, “The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language,” I am unclear what is meant by the term “legitimate.” It seems to me that the intent was to define glossolalia, as others have done, as always a known (although not previous learned by the speaker) human language, and not a so-called “angelic” or “heavenly” or other type of language. But, the choice of words here leaves a small margin for doubt on this.

4. Upon saying, “New Testament teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding,” it would be helpful if the report would include the specific passage or passages underlying this assumption. My guess is that the most direct reference is to 1 Cor. 14:15 (So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind). But, if such is the case, I believe (along with others) that I can make a pretty strong case hermeneutically for the possible interpretation that legitimate prayer is sometimes “with the spirit” and “with the mind” at the same time, and sometimes “with the spirit” but with the “mind unfruitful” as v. 14 infers (For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful). When you add in v. 17 (You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified), the context seems to make perfectly clear to me that it is possible to pray “with the spirit,” with the “mind… unfruitful,” and at the same time “be giving thanks well enough.” Such an understanding would seem to me to directly contradict the affirmation that “prayer is [always] to be made with understanding.”

5. I think the choice of the term “ecstatic utterance” to describe “private prayer language” is both unfortunate and unhelpful. According to Wikipedia, “ecstasy” is defined as “a trance or trancelike state in which an individual transcends normal consciousness.” "Religious ecstasy" is defined a bit more specifically as “an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive (and sometimes physical) euphoria.” I am aware that some commentators have used the term “ecstatic utterance” in their description of supposed “private prayer language.” However, I am convinced that this term is not at all accurate in its description of the phenomenon as testified by many people, and is actually misleading, if objectivity is what is intended in the report.

6. As far as other points in the original policy and guideline with which I am not in agreement, I have already written amply on that on various other occasions, so I will not rehash all of that here.

7. How should I, as an IMB missionary, and a self-professed “continuationist,” respond to this new development? Up to now, I have been holding out hope that perhaps this policy and guideline would be retracted, or at least amended more significantly than has been the case. It would appear that the new guidelines, as approved this week, will remain “on the books” for some time to come.

I am appreciative that the “private prayer language” guideline is not “retroactive.” Also, since I do not personally have a “private prayer language,” I understand it is not directly applicable to me. However, consistency with my personal beliefs and what I understand to be the intent of the guideline leaves me with a bit of cognitive dissonance at this stage of the journey. I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are sovereignly distributed according to God’s choosing. As such, the reason I do not have a “private prayer language,” in my understanding, is not due to my own doctrinal or ethical rejection of that possibility, but rather to divine sovereignty alone. If God had sovereignly chosen to give me the gift of tongues, as I understand it, I could quite easily be in the same boat as others who are currently being eliminated from service with the IMB because of their practice and belief.

In actuality, I am out of step convictionally with the defined position of the organization with which I serve. I realize that it is unrealistic to expect personnel of any Christian organization to be in 100% conformity with that organization on all doctrinal and philosophical issues. We all have minor discrepancies about this or that with everyone.

For me, my views on “private prayer language” and the importance of the administrator of baptism are not necessarily major issues. I have no problem at all working with others who don’t agree completely with me on these matters. However, the thought that these views, if circumstances in my life had been a bit different, might have eliminated me from service with the IMB, is, to say the least, a bit disconcerting. It leaves me wondering, even though, as far as I am aware, nobody is threatening to kick me out, if I am doing the right thing by remaining in an organization in which my personal convictions are de facto taboo.

At the same time, a counterbalancing factor for me in all this is my commitment to put the gifts God has given me to the best use possible towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Up to now, the IMB, thanks to the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists, has given my wife and me some fantastic opportunities to do just that. I love the current administration of the IMB. I love my missionary colleagues on the field. I love the overall strategy and vision of the IMB of facilitating church planting movements among the various people groups of the world. I love being an IMB missionary.

One thing I have pretty clear, though, is that I cannot be dishonest about my beliefs on these issues. I remember how, during the beginning days of the Conservative Resurgence, it was stated that there were “closet liberals” in various positions in the SBC, who were not totally up front with their beliefs. It was stated, at that time, that it was not ethical for these liberals, in the instances where this charge may have been accurate, to continue to receive their salary from a Convention that did not support the views they were espousing. I am in agreement. At the same time, neither do I believe it would be ethical for me to try to hide my convictions on these particular issues.

That is one reason I have chosen to be as open as I have on this blog about my beliefs. So far, no one has officially communicated that my views are out of line with my continued service with the IMB. In the eventuality that day were ever to come, I would be sad, but, at the same time, feel obligated to fulfill whatever were asked of me in that regard. I would probably also want to have the assurance that what was communicated was indeed in accordance with the collective will of the believers and churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention, and not merely the opinion of a minority who wished to impose their preferences on the rest.

In the days ahead, I will continue to reflect and pray about how I might be able to be the best steward possible of the gifts and circumstances God has placed in my life. Wherever and however that may be, I hope to always be someone used by God to edify the Body of Christ, as represented both within the confines of the Southern Baptist Convention and without.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. I often read your blog, and although I do not always agree with your position, I always appreciate the way you approach issues. On this one: I agree with you pretty much completely. Assuming the Convention itself provides no course correction, I would like, in a year or so, to know how many candidates with a PPL have been accepted by the IMB, or have been baptized by immersion outide the "guidelines." If a substantial number, even if still a minority of the total, it will speak eloquently that this is merely a "guideline," and that the IBM is genuinely evaluating candidates on their merits and calling. I am not sure I agree with doing it this way--I have long believed that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander--but at least it will say that the Board is doing what it says. If, on the other hand, the answer is "none," it will speak even more loudly that this "guideline" is nothing but the former policy with a little window dressing. Do you know if there is any chance such information would be forthcoming?

I recently shared with the Missions committee at our church this information (re: the "policies"). I told them that I was not asking them to make any decisions, but that I felt they should be informed and make it a prayer concern. I concluded by asking them, "Why should we continue to support a missions-sending organization that would reject every member of this church as a missionary candidate?"

The jury is still out on that one--I am wrestling with it and so is the church.

John Fariss

bryan riley said...

Great post, David. Thank you for your honesty. I think you should serve where God tells you to serve. I am confident you will do that.

Alan Cross said...

I'm in total agreement, David, obviously. Your struggle is mine as well, or it would be if I were in your situation.

Alan Knox said...


I appreciate the way you've shared your heart in this post. I appreciate the honesty, the vulnerability, and the humility. I hope many in the SBC and outside the SBC listens carefully to what you are saying.


Strider said...

A good word David- as usual. I would say for myself that I am stubborn enough to refuse to let others tell me what a Southern Baptist is. I was baptized in an SB church by an FMB M at age 12. I was discipled in SB youth groups, went to an SB University and an SB Seminary. I was an SB pastor for four years before coming on to the field as an IMB M 11 years ago. Don't tell me what an SB believes- I am telling you. What I learned in all of that was that SB's are people of the Book and the Book is true. When a so-called SB committee delivers a report with no references to the Book at all I am telling them, 'YOU are not Southern Baptist.'
I guess that sounds arrogant, and I am not an arrogant person, but I hate with a great hate all the shepherds standing around watching the wolves devour the sheep and saying, 'Now now, let's all be nice.' I am not that kind of guy. Thank you for being much more gracious than I.

Alan Cross said...


You again capture my sentiments. I have a resolution up on my blog that I am going to submit to the convention to address the differences with the BF&M. I don't know if anything will come of it, but it is worth a try.