On May 13, 2016, the missionary arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced that it will now allow its missionaries to speak in tongues privately.
This ended a policy initiated in November 2005, when the board said it would no longer accept missionaries who spoke in tongues. Originally the board allowed missionaries to speak in tongues in their personal prayer life, but forbid any public expression.
On its application form one of the first questions asked was if the person spoke in tongues. The question will remain but will not impact a person’s ability to work as a missionary with SBC.
The Southern Baptist church, the largest protestant denomination in North America, believes the gift of tongues, also called glossolalia, ended with the age of the apostles and is no longer valid today.
Then the very next year, 2006, in a nearly unanimous vote (36-1) trustees of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary announced they will no longer allow anyone to promote speaking in tongues on campus and will not hire any person who knowingly speaks in tongues. The seminary in Fort Worth, Texas is part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The proclamation made in October 2006, came two months after Rev. Dwight McKissic, a seminary trustee, while speaking in chapel confessed he spoke in tongues while praying.
During his sermon, he described the experience as his “private prayer language.” He told the students he started speaking in tongues while a student at Southwestern in 1981. He described tongues as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to believers.
In their official statement, the trustees said: “Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including private prayer language. Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”
The seminary also did not release a video of McKissic’s sermon on its website or store the message in its archive of chapel sermons which is normal procedure.
Though Rev. McKissic did not mention the missionary board by name, he did question any policy that forbids people from ministering the Gospel because they spoke in tongues privately. He described the policy as “extra-biblical.”
McKissic, who later resigned as a seminary trustee, urged SBC to resolve the issue stating it would disenfranchise the large number of SBC members who speak in tongues. One prominent Baptist minster said on his website, “McKissic set off the political equivalent of a nuclear device.”
But were there any consequences to this decision a decade ago to restrict the gift of tongues?
It may only be a coincidence, but last year the Southern Baptist church announced that its membership numbers had declined for the ninth year in a row. The decline started in 2006, the year after the missionary board restricted the private use of tongues.
The church has grown each year since its start in the 1800s. According to Wikipedia, between 2000 and 2005 membership grew from 15.9 million to 16.6 million. Then inexplicably it declined to 16.3 million in 2006 and has decreased every year since then.
In 2015, its membership sat at 15.2 million down from 15.4 million the year previous. This despite SBC starting 294 new churches that year.
Average weekly attendance in 2015 was 5.6 million down 97,000 from 2014 and the number of water baptisms fell from just over 305,000 in 2014 to 295,000 in 2015.
Though SBC does not allow tongues in church services, this in itself is not unusual. I attend a Charismatic church and tongues are rarely spoken out loud during the service. But I wonder if SBC leadership crossed a line when they tried to control the private spiritual lives of its missionaries and ministers?
Paul warned the Corinthians:
39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:39 NASV)
The Greek word for forbid, ‘kolyo’ means to prevent and stop but it also refers to hindering or standing in the way — just making it difficult to do something.
By intruding into people’s private lives was SBC hindering their personal spiritual development?
In his closing remarks to the Church of Thessalonia, the Apostle Paul gives this admonition:
17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. (1 Thessalonians 5:17-20 NASV)
Though this warning to not quench the Holy Spirit is tied to the gift of prophecy, I believe it applies to all spiritual gifts. The Greek word for quench is ‘sbennymi’ and means literally to ‘put out the fire.’
The word is used in Matthew 25:8, to describe fire being quenched because of the lack of oil. Oil is a word commonly used in the Bible to describe the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38; Psalm 133:2).
Has there been a quenching of the Holy Spirit at SBC by decisions its leadership made 10 years ago? Has this impacted God’s anointing on this church?
If so, hopefully the recent moves will help get the church back on track.
- Southern Baptists change policy on Speaking in Tongues: Charisma News
- Southern Baptists see 9th year of membership decline: AP Press
- Seminary pulls plug on trustee’s online sermon, Robert Marus: Associated Baptist Press: September 1, 2006
- Texas seminary bans promotion of speaking in tongues: Foxnews.com: October 19, 2006
- Southwestern trustee’s sermon on tongues prompts response: bpnews.net: August 30, 2006
- Southern Baptist Convention (source of Membership numbers): Wikipedia