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. 


About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

9 responses

  1. downshoredrift says:

    Sounds great to me, Lee. I’ll go on record in saying that I do not think that the survey is infallible. But, even if it is off by 15 %, there are still obviously a sizable number of SB pastors who believe in the validity of PPL. Too large a number to push away.

    As for me, I completely agree with you. I do not want to see any situation that pushes cessationists out of power or out of the SBC. I ONLY want to see them allow continuationists the ability to serve and lead as well. We should respect one another in our differences on this tertiary issue and focus on the main thing. You advance a good solution that I, for one, would completely support. If I do another post on this this weekend, I will link here.

  2. Lee,

    If you put this in petition form, I’ll sign it. If you put this in resolution, form I’ll second it. If you just leave it out there as your opinion, I’ll even fib and say I said it. 🙂

    This should be our STANDARD approach on ALL non-essentials.

    Finally……….. I kinda like what you said.

  3. Lee says:

    As a resolution, it would probably depend on how the committee is stacked as to whether it would make it to the floor. As a motion, it would have to pass the chair and parliamentarian to get to the floor, but I think that’s where it would have a better chance of making it.

  4. As a fib that “I” said it, I’m sure it would be totally “dead in the water.” 🙂

  5. Bob Cleveland says:

    As a continuationist in whom God manifests that gift from time to time .. and I don’t even subscribe to the common thought of what that means … I’m all for this.

    You done good, man.

  6. Greg Alford says:


    Like the elder Mr. Burleson (meant with respect) said… “if you put this in petition form, I’ll sign it”.

    By the way you stepped on my toes with this one… Thank You!

    Grace to all,

  7. bwriley4 says:

    Lee, well said.

    I do wonder this… can a convicted cessationist ever accept a practicing continuationist? I mean, if gifts have ceased, the manifestations of the spirit from a convicted cessationist’s viewpoint must be faked and, it would seem, quite troublesome. Intentionally faking a “God thing” would seem to be one of the worst things we can do.


  8. Lee says:

    I would hope that any Christian is convicted enough by the Holy Spirit to realize that no doctrinal position they hold is infallible, and while they may have come to a strong conclusion about some things, would not be so convinced of their own rightness that they could not avoid making a judgement of someone else’s position.
    Grace through faith in Christ renders doctrinal purity unecessary. I hope most Christians realize that.Believing that the scriptures are the authoritative Word of God is one thing, interpreting them is something else.