New rules also loosen restrictions on baptism, divorce, and parents of teens.
Last night I saw in my Facebook feed the news that The Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board has changed some of their rules. Among them was the one that caught my eye: the IMB will no longer bar its missionaries from speaking in tongues, nor will they reject applicants who do.
On the surface this sounds like an amazing breakthrough.
So far so good, right?
Maybe even revolutionary on the surface, but let’s look at some key quotes from the post on Christianity Today:
The changes also address the question of charismatic worship and prayer practices, which have been controversial for Southern Baptists. Under the previous rules, candidates who spoke in tongues or had a “private prayer language” were barred.
A person who has spoken in tongues or may have a private prayer language is not automatically disqualified for missionary service. Further, IMB may still end employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive” to Southern Baptist missions work.
The Apostle Paul wrote to not forbid speaking in tongues in the first place
This is great news, considering the Apostle Paul clearly and in plain language told the Corinthian church not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). So it was pretty unbiblical that the IMB were banning their missionaries from something plainly taught in Scripture in the first place.
“That’s one reason that Southern Baptists have been suspicious of glossolalia,” Hatley told CT in 2006. “If somebody believes they’re getting direct divine revelation from God, obviously that’s claiming an equality with Scripture that we would not allow.”
The unfortunate irony about this statement, and the perspective it conveys, is when one speaks in tongues, they are edifying themselves, and part of that edification involves, often times, revelation into the Scriptures. Nobody who truly understands the gift of tongues, specifically the private prayer language, would claim “equality with Scripture”.
In my experience, speaking in tongues regularly helps one to be more sensitive to walking in other gifts of the Spirit, like the gift of prophecy, for example. Not only that, but I find an especially astute revelation of the Word of God comes. It’s like the Bible is the soil, and the Holy Spirit waters it with our speaking in tongues.
Not only that, but in their attempt to make sure they’re being Biblical, and frowning upon what they believe to be unbiblical behaviour, they themselves were contradicting something the Scriptures stated plainly while they were banning it. Who’s being unbiblical? Those who forbid its use, or those who use the gift of speaking in tongues?
In other words, Tom Hatley didn’t know what he was talking about when made that statement in 2006. I don’t say this to be insulting or disrespectful, but most people who’ve never spoken in tongues tend not to understand its role in spiritual revelation, since by default they have never experienced the benefits of speaking in tongues for themselves if they have never actually spoken in tongues. I can’t describe to you a rainbow if I’m color blind or completely blind. You have just got to see it to understand its beauty, and that my friend is an experience.
David Platt on Speaking in Tongues
From reading the article, it seems the current president, of the IMB, David Platt, has been the one who helped facilitate this change in policy,
Platt also addressed the question of speaking in tongues. He remains wary of some charismatic practices, which he says may introduce errors that contradict Scripture.
“I have seen and confronted the dangers of the charismatic movement,” he said.
Still, Platt said, the IMB has policies that will protect Baptist principles while allowing missionaries who do speak in tongues and have a private prayer language.
I have no idea what alleged dangers in particular he has seen and confronted, but I have some ideas. Not long after my book, 9 Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues came out, a friend sent me the following video of Platt teaching on the Holy Spirit.
The friend who sent it to me wanted my opinion on what is said in the video and I wrote back “he believes at least 5 of the lies I demolished in my book. Maybe we can send him a copy?” half joking. But only half.
My takeaway: though this change in the IMB is a positive thing, it’s really only an incremental change, since Scripture is pretty plain on this and they shouldn’t have been barring missionaries from glossolalia in the first place. Not to mention they will still, in their own words, discourage and frown upon anything “too charismatic” in their missionaries. Unless I read the article wrong.
However, I realize a lot of people don’t understand speaking in tongues, hence why I wrote my book — to address the most common misconceptions about the gift of tongues.
Really all the IMB did was take a couple of steps away from being the hardcore cecessionists they have been up until recently. But it’s a start! Those few steps are at least a step in the right direction.
Could This Be The Real Reason For the Change of Policy?
Just after publishing this article I saw Charisma Magazine has also posted something about the policy changes. Check out some comments:
Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice.
“In so many parts of the world, these charismatic experiences are normative,” said Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School. “Religious groups that oppose them get left behind evangelistically.”
Southern Baptists have long prided themselves as among the world’s most ambitious missionaries—reaching countries and regions few dared to go—but they are increasingly finding competition from fast-growing Pentecostal Christianity, which now has an estimated 300 million followers worldwide.
I commend the Southern Baptist Convention for this step.
Would you Like to Join Our Street Team?
Recently I was asking different friends and former guests of the Fire on Your Head podcast for endorsements for the upcoming published version of 9 Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues, and one of them wrote me back saying the following,
I actually learned some great stuff from the chapter on initial evidence [of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit]. I hold credentials with the Assemblies of God, so I’m trained to believe and teach that way. But until now, I was never quite satisfied with the arguments I heard for why tongues was the only good evidence for the baptism. I thought that chapter finally cleared my conscience on signing my paperwork every year stating that I agree with the AG statement of “fundamental truths” (the jury is still out on their eschatology, but the AG bylaws allow credential-holders to believe whatever they want on that so long as it doesn’t “cause a problem”…whatever that means). Anyhow, I found that chapter particularly helpful.
That kind of encouragement helped encourage me that I’ve written a book that will be helpful to both evangelicals as well as charismatics, which is what I’ve striven for.
I believe the Body of Christ in general will be blessed and edified by it, and many obstacles holding people back from speaking in tongues will be removed.
Thanks for reading!
Check out other posts and podcast episodes on my blog about speaking in tongues.