A recent Lifeway study shows that Southern Baptist pastors are divided over the spiritual gift of tongues. The survey shows that the divisions on various aspects of the gift basically split the denomination into equal halves.
This is already a divisive issue. In spite of comments that, in most cases begin with statements like, “While I respect Bro. Whomever, and I appreciate his ministry and know he’s a good pastor….” the debate has been quite vigorous, and has, on occasion, descended into name calling, ridicule, sarcasm, ad hominem attacks and other rude behavior.
Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be.
I’ve been in several situations where a 50-50 split of opinions on an issue in the church resulted in a split. Personally, I don’t see that as a good thing, though sometimes there are people who would rather have a church, or a denomination, empty out by a half in order to have their own view prevail. This disagreement can, and should be worked out. There is nothing I can see that will be of benefit to the cause of the Kingdom as a result of one side or the other of this debate prevailing in the Southern Baptist Convention. Nothing.
Neither cessationists nor continualists are advancing a position that diminishes the gospel message in any way. The nature of Jesus as the Christ is not affected, so there is no heresy involved. The nature of scripture as the authoritative, written word of God is not affected by either position. Both groups advance arguments based on sound hermeneutical principles and have scriptural support for their position. Essentially, it is a difference of opinion over what the scripture says.
I’ll admit to a personal bias. I don’t think there is any scriptural evidence to support the assertion that the gift of tongues was temporary, and that its necessity in the church was diminished by the development of the canon of the New Testament. On the other hand, the scripture does attest to its practice, both as a means of edification and as a private, prayer language. And while I’ve never been gifted in such a way, I have observed people who have been, and they passed the scriptural test. But I do not think my fellow Baptists, who don’t share this view, should be excluded from convention life as a result of it. What purpose does it serve for either of our mission boards, or our seminaries, to exclude people from service or teaching who hold this particular view? It serves no purpose, except to divide, disenfranchise and advance personal agendas over the gospel message of Christ.
Cessationists are downplaying the results of the Lifeway survey, continualists are quoting it as inerrant and infallible. I smile at some of the things I’ve read about it, just today. There is clearly a significant difference of opinion on the subject. May I offer some suggestions as to how Southern Baptists can deal with this issue and turn it into an opportunity instead of a fight?
1. Tone down the rhetoric. Name calling, accusations, ad hominem attacks and mockery aren’t becoming. If you don’t have something constructive to say, in a Christlike manner, then keep your mouth closed and your fingers off the keyboard!
2. Do not create a win-lose situation. It would be a great idea for a task force to be appointed to develop specific doctrinal guidelines that everyone could live with regarding the issue of tongues, private prayer language, and other sign gifts of the Spirit. This task force would develop specific guidelines during the next year, and bring a recommendation back to the SBC in 2008. It would be comprised of an equal number of cessationists and continualists.
3. In the meantime, the restrictions placed on missionary candidates practicing a private prayer language would be lifted. The mission boards would be instructed to closely monitor events in the field for abuses.
This creates a win-win situation for the convention. It gets us past heated emotions and reactions on the eve of a convention meeting, and gives time for thinking heads to create a workable solution that doesn’t have to result in a compromise where each side gives up something, but where the whole convention comes out ahead, and the Kingdom, rather than being tarnished by bickering and fighting, benefits from a solid example of how Christians work together.