Organizers cite common ground on prayer language issue
ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)--With San Antonio as the site of next year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, conveners of a “Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Convergence” roundtable Dec. 5 saw the gathering as a prelude to addressing what they characterized as a narrowing of parameters of cooperation within the SBC.
Texas pastor Ben Cole looked over the registration list and estimated 85 to 90 percent of those attending were actively engaged in Southern Baptist ministry of some kind -- some as pastors, directors of missions or leaders of independent ministries. “Some are part of National Baptists, American Baptists and some are not affiliated at all,” Cole said at an afternoon news conference following the roundtable discussion involving 112 people at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
“We’re being intentional in trying to talk with Texas Baptists about their involvement in the convention,” Cole said in reference to the upcoming SBC annual meeting next June. He described the roundtable meeting as historic because “a group of Baptists from diverse perspectives came in an open, transparent meeting to share ideas,” voting on every issue with unanimity in spite of occasional disagreements. He described the forum as a vehicle for those “who do not feel three minutes a year at the annual convention is sufficient to express concerns.”
Those present at the roundtable now will “prepare more intentionally for [the San Antonio SBC] in order to have lasting change,” Cole predicted.
Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson told host pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist, “I’m amazed there are Southern Baptists who would say, ‘We don’t want you around,’” referencing controversy McKissic sparked by advocating an openness to the practice of a private prayer language during a chapel message at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in August.
Art Rogers, a pastor from Tulsa, Okla., said he, McKissic, Burleson and Cole intentionally encouraged diverse opinions at the Dec. 5 meeting. “That stands in stark contrast with what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention right now,” Rogers asserted.
Expressing his appreciation for McKissic as “one of us,” Burleson said he first met McKissic when the Texas pastor called him last January to express a willingness to do “whatever is required for the support of you and your ministry and family” at a time when the Oklahoma pastor found himself wondering whether his ministry, career and family had been ruined by a stand he had taken as a trustee of the International Mission Board against a policy barring missionary candidates with a private prayer language. Half a year later, Burleson said he returned the favor of mutual support, calling McKissic after his defense of private prayer language at Southwestern Seminary.
McKissic disagrees with any trustee board establishing a policy that makes a person’s private prayer language an issue of employment. In answer to a question posed by Florida Baptist Witness editor James A. Smith Sr., McKissic said he did not take issue with an earlier policy of the IMB that forbids charismatic practices. He told of a well-qualified couple interested in appointment as medical missionaries who fear disqualification if asked about private prayer language.
“He’s not even sure if it’s tongues, but he’s afraid if he answers he would be disqualified,” McKissic said.
Burleson clarified, “The old policy said we are paying you to share the Gospel, not to speak in tongues. However, when it comes to private prayer language, Scripture says do not forbid the speaking in tongues. If they said yes, then they [IMB] said keep it private.”
Cole added, “If an SBC agency or institution feels it’s necessary to adopt a policy regarding doctrinal prerequisites that exceed the parameters established by the Baptist Faith & Message, they better have a ... good reason for doing it and provide a convincing rationale.” Regarding private prayer language, that has not been done, he asserted.
McKissic called the new policy on private prayer language “paternalistic and plantational -- not in a racial sense, but in a control sense: You’re controlling what individuals do in their private prayer time.”
Burleson added, “Some would say we are not forbidding you from speaking in tongues. You can do it in your prayer closet, but we do not want you to be a leader.” He expressed amazement at anyone saying those who have the gift of tongues are expressing their spiritual superiority, countering: “Superiority is being expressed by those who have forbidden” the practice.
“I’m grateful for men of Christ who stand for their convictions on the Word of God who have the kind of spirit you displayed,” Burleson said at the opening of the roundtable, turning to McKissic. “Our Southern Baptist Convention is stronger because of pastors like Dwight McKissic, and may God forbid we ever lose him,” Burleson stated, interrupted by strong applause.
McKissic, first telling the crowd that Thanksgiving Day can be a disappointment if the turkey is dry, said there is something about being dry that carries a negative connotation. Turning to Ezekiel 37, he offered a 15-minute biblical basis for the discussion, warning of dry speeches and dry worship services.
McKissic spoke of a drought among Southern Baptist churches where fewer people are being baptized today than in 1950. “Simply stated, the Southern Baptist Convention is reaching no more people today than they did in 1950.” He noted that more than 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining while more than 11,000 congregations baptized zero or only one person over a year’s time. “These statistics indicate many of our churches are dry, dying or already dead,” McKissic said.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of church it is -– Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, black or white -– many of our churches are dead,” McKissic continued, citing similar circumstances in the Book of Revelation. Speaking of his own church, McKissic shared his disappointment at not baptizing as many people in recent months as usual and having 1,800 in attendance as compared to 2,400 in times past. “We all need a fresh touch, a fresh fire in our pulpits and pews.”
In spite of such dire straights, McKissic warned that “to deny or cut off the spirit of the living God” borders on blasphemy.
“It takes the anointed Word, not just a dry sermon off the Internet, not a cold sermon that wasn’t birthed in prayer. Some of us have an appealing sound to the neglect of a sound appeal, a moan without a message, a holler without holiness, a head full of sense and a heart full of sins,” McKissic said, listing habits that short-circuit the Spirit of the living God from “working in our hearts and churches.”
Just as God told Ezekiel how the “dry bones are to be revived,” McKissic said churches cannot operate without the wind from God.
McKissic expressed hope for the Southern Baptist Convention as he looked around the room and saw “young and old, black and white, charismatic, continualists, cessationists, semi-cessationists,” referring to the various attitudes regarding whether sign gifts have continued since apostolic times. “I don’t believe people are here today because of Wade Burleson or Dwight McKissic. You’re here today because of the wind of God, the breath of the Lord,” he said.
“I believe it is the spirit of Elijah that brought us here today, not to argue and quibble over our theology, but for us to all agree,” McKissic said, reminding “how good it is to dwell together in unity.”
While thanking God for Southern Baptists producing great preachers with a powerful word, McKissic warned that “the letter killeth and the spirit maketh alive.” He recalled that the bones that were once dry did not come alive until the wind came. “Then they began to rattle and make a noise.” McKissic quoted from Leon McBeth’s history of Baptists to argue that those who came out of the Sandy Creek side of Southern Baptist tradition rattled the rafters with an emotional style of preaching and worship.
“What we have in common is more important than those issues that divide us,” McKissic said.