SWBTS chapel speaker amplifies stance; SBC’s Page sees ‘positive outcomes’

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Dwight McKissic, a Southwestern Seminary chapel speaker whose statements about a private prayer language sparked media attention Aug. 29 has written a letter to SWBTS President Paige Paterson, amplifying his view of speaking in tongues but affirming the seminary’s right to disagree with him.

Meanwhile, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, has issued a statement on what he called “an awkward situation” for the seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and its president, Paige Patterson.

“My prayers go out to them,” Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., and a graduate of the Texas seminary, wrote. “I love Southwestern Seminary and wish God’s greatest blessings on the school and its president. While some may question the handling of this situation, please remember that they are trying to be fair, even under great pressure.”

The seminary, in a statement after the chapel service, stated that its website will not display a link to the sermon by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, who also is a member of Southwestern’s board of trustees.

The SWBTS statement expressed disagreement specifically with McKissic’s embrace of a private prayer language and noted that the seminary would not distribute views critical of a sister SBC entity, in an apparent reference to the International Mission Board which last year adopted a policy against the appointment of missionaries with a private prayer language. Southwestern also noted it “may be harmful to the churches” to disseminate a view akin to McKissic’s and that some people may wrongly conclude that such a view is representative of Southwestern’s position.

Page, in his statement on the controversy, noted: “While some may see this as a negative occurrence, there are some very positive outcomes if we choose to deal with this in a godly, mature, and appropriate fashion.

“1. We must affirm the principal of theological discussion, even debate, within our seminaries. While there are certain bedrock doctrines that must be affirmed without debate within the Baptist family, there are many issues which are open to interpretation. I am very thankful for Southwestern’s stance that they do not 'instruct its chapel speakers about what they can or cannot say,'" Page said, quoting from the SWBTS statement.

“2. It is very encouraging to know that Southwestern Seminary joins this president in strongly asserting that they do not need to be in a place which ‘appears to be critical of the actions of the board of trustees of a sister agency,’” Page wrote, again quoting from the SWBTS statement. “I believe that both professional staff and trustees need to be very respectful about the issues and stances of other entity Trustee boards and professional staff,” the SBC president continued. “While it is certainly appropriate for there to be disagreement and even debate, professional protocol needs to be observed when one is dealing with disagreements, particularly in (but not limited to) a public setting.

“Obviously, SWBTS recognizes this. I believe that this public recognition will help our entire convention in the days ahead,” Page wrote.

McKissick, in his letter to Patterson, strongly defended his view of a private prayer language and, at the same time, expressed graciousness toward the seminary’s position.

“Because I said nothing during my message that contradicted the Bible or the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, I fail to see how my comments are viewed as outside of the Baptist mainstream,” McKissic wrote. He said “banning the free distribution of my message on the school website is a form of unnecessary censorship that is most unusual” because “many Baptist scholars and leaders ... have expressed views similar to mine.” McKissic did not specify, however, the extent to which others in the SBC practice a private prayer language or are reticent to call it unbiblical.

McKissic stated that “the leading evangelical African-American churches in America including Black Southern Baptists, would affirm the practice of a private prayer language by those who are so gifted by the Holy Spirit.”

“They would certainly not invoke a policy denying freedom of a gifted person to practice a private prayer language,” which would be “extremely alienating,” McKissic wrote.

The IMB policy on private prayer language “is not in keeping with Baptist conviction regarding religious liberties,” McKissic wrote, “and it encroaches upon the autonomy of the local church.” He described the “practical effect of the IMB policy” as “treating adults as if you have authority over their private lives and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, beyond the boundary of Scripture.”

“For those of us who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I find it difficult to understand how we can hold that view and at the same time disregard or deny tongues or a private prayer language as a valid spiritual gift,” McKissic wrote.

Patterson, asked by Baptist Press for any reaction to McKissic’s letter, noted in a statement, “All that the seminary feels is necessary to say we have said in our previous release. We continue to affirm our love and appreciation for Dwight McKissic, and pray heaven’s blessings upon him.”

McKissic had stated in his letter to Patterson, “If addressing the [IMB] policy violated SWBTS chapel protocol, and apparently it did, I deeply apologize for having done so. Please forgive me; I was unaware of this protocol. I was speaking from my faith tradition (National Baptist Convention) and cultural background that encourages addressing unbiblical and discriminatory issues prophetically and publicly. However, I do believe in submission to authority and I will submit to SWBTS protocol in the future to the extent that I am aware of it.” He offered to submit an advance manuscript of his message if he is invited again as a chapel speaker.

McKissic stated that “I do understand if I’m not invited again, and that would in no wise affect my love and respect for you and the school. My prayerful, moral, and financial support of you and SWBTS will continue whether or not I’m ever asked to preach again in chapel.”

Compiled by Art Toalston.

Click here for the Aug. 30 Baptist Press story initially reporting on Dwight McKissic’s chapel address at Southwestern Seminary.111

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