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Theology Thursdays: Private Prayer Language And Speaking In Tongues: A Letter To Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from William Dwight McKissic, Sr., Senior Pastor Cornerstone Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas

Dear Dr. Patterson:

Thank you again for the opportunity to preach during chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and for the opportunity to enjoy lunch with you and Mrs. Patterson. I appreciate the email you sent regarding chapel on Tuesday, August 29, 2006 and I do find it fair and affirming of all parties involved, yet inconsistent with views attributed to you, views you’ve written, and other outstanding Baptist scholars, theologians, and preachers.

With regard to the “public criticism of the actions of a sister board,” the IMB policy regarding missionaries who practice a private prayer language is a public policy that is in direct contradiction to what many noted Baptist scholars and preachers believe about the practice of a private prayer language. My statement was designed to cause the students to critically think about whether or not the IMB policy lines up with Scripture, not to criticize the IMB. If addressing the policy violated SWBTS chapel protocol, and apparently it did, I deeply apologize for having done so. Please forgive me; I was unaware of this protocol. I was speaking from my faith tradition (National Baptist Convention), and cultural background that encourages addressing unbiblical and discriminatory issues prophetically and publicly. However, I do believe in submission to authority and I will submit to SWBTS protocol in the future to the extent that I am aware of it.

I am very comfortable with your decision to discontinue the video streaming of my message because again, I honor and respect your position of authority at SWBTS. Because I said nothing during my message that contradicted the Bible or the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, I fail to see how my comments are viewed as outside of the Baptist mainstream. I do believe that banning the free distribution of my message on the school website is a form of unnecessary censorship that is most unusual considering the fact, again, that many Baptist scholars and leaders (Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Ken Hemphill, the late Dr. Jack Gray, Dr. Jerry Rankin, Dr. J.W. McGorman, Dr. Timothy George, and the current Southern Baptist Convention President, Dr. Frank Page as cited at the end of this letter) have expressed views similar to mine. Nevertheless, I value and love you and SWBTS, and I will continue to do so as I submit to your authority in this matter.

Just as you suspect that most of the faculty and trustees at SWBTS do not believe the Bible affirms a private prayer language, the leading evangelical African-American churches in America including Black Southern Baptists, would affirm the practice of a private prayer language by those who are so gifted by the Holy Spirit. They would certainly not invoke a policy denying freedom of a gifted person to practice a private prayer language. The practical effect of the IMB policy is treating adults as if you have authority over their private lives and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, beyond the boundary of Scripture. For those of us who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I find it difficult to understand how we can hold that view and at the same time disregard or deny tongues or a private prayer language as a valid spiritual gift.

I remain committed to support and recruit students to attend SWBTS, but if the majority of the faculty and trustees believe that the Bible forbids the exercise of a private prayer language for those gifted by the Holy Spirit, this would be extremely alienating to the vast majority of evangelical African-American Christians, and many Black Southern Baptist Pastors and congregants, including those who don’t believe in or practice a private prayer language. The IMB policy is not in keeping with Baptist conviction regarding religious liberties and it encroaches upon the autonomy of the local church. It also prohibits and thwarts missionary endeavors for which I thought was the main purpose of the convention.

Finally, if offered future opportunities to preach at chapel, I would submit my manuscript to you for your approval and would try not to veer from my approved manuscript. However, I do understand if I’m not invited again, and that would in no wise affect my love and respect for you and the school. My prayerful, moral, and financial support of you and SWBTS will continue whether or not I’m ever asked to preach again in chapel.

I am putting this statement on our website and will release it to those interested in the matter. I look forward to future fellowship opportunities with you and my tenure on the trustee board at SWBTS.

Sincerely In Christ,

Rev. Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.
Senior Pastor

Attached Notes:

A. In Reference to the Gift of Tongues and a Private Prayer Language

Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

What do we conclude? The apostle Paul clearly said “Do not forbid to speak in tongues”. “It would be a mistake for evangelicals to forbid others to speak in tongues” [1]

In a chapel service Dr. Paige Patterson stated there are two major approaches to the tongues doctrine. The first option is to hold that the concept of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is the same as that in Acts 2. The second option is to say that the Corinthian text refers to tongues as a “rush of indeterminate sounds for the purpose of praising God and for self-edification.”[2]

First Corinthians 14 provides evidence for private prayer languages, Patterson said. However, Paul says that this practice leaves the mind out of prayer, and he would rather pray with the mind.[3]

Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention

“Page cited 1 Corinthians 14 as a passage which may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, while noting that he does not personally have a private prayer language.”[4]

Billy Graham is another Southern Baptist who has recommended tongues and charismatic signs and wonders. In his 1978 book, The Holy Spirit, he “endorsed laying on of hands, divine healing and tongues.” He said: “As we approach the end of the age I believe we will see a dramatic recurrence of signs and wonders, which will demonstrate the power of God to a skeptical world.”[5]

“Speaking in tongues is Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation, which itself is an attendant gift. It is a form of ecstatic utterance. The glossolist speaks to God rather than from God.”[6]

“Here was Paul’s consistent estimate regarding the relative values of these speaking gifts: prophesy was to be desired earnestly whereas speaking in tongues was simply not to be forbidden.”[7]

“Are we now going to set a policy that says if God in his sovereignty gives someone a prayer language, we are now going to disqualify them?” says Rick White, pastor of the 6,000 member Baptist-affiliated People’s Church in Franklin, Tenn. “My concern is, who’s next?” [8]

Recently, Kenneth S. Hemphill former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote “Paul viewed ecstatic experiences as a very personal occurrence which were of value to the individual, but not for the church as a whole.”[9]

B. In Regards to the Policies of IMB and SBC

Timothy George states “many Baptists sense a kind of ghetto-ization of the Convention: an unhealthy and occasionally bizarre isolationist and sectarian-minded tightening of the boundaries on secondary issues (i.e., the IMB and ‘private prayer languages’). Were the phrase not used ad nauseum, I might be tempted to suggest that there are a number of conflicting paradigms within the Convention and that these conflicting paradigms are evident in the struggle over these secondary issues.”[10]

Timothy George continues “Very few Southern Baptists engage in speaking in tongues or other Pentecostal practices. But the charismatic movement has influenced Baptist life in music, worship, and spirituality, including distinctive forms of prayer. Occasionally, congregations have been ousted from Baptist associations over charismatic issues. But recent efforts to exclude from missionary appointment all who have a ‘private prayer languag’Âť seemed to many ordinary Baptists both intrusive and unnecessary. As one person said to me, ‘If we are serious about sharing the gospel around the world, shouldn’t we be glad that we still have missionaries who pray rather than setting up a bureau of prayer inspectors!’”[11]

Right. The overall impression I get from talking to my peers (mainly younger pastors) is outright confusion: “Why are they doing this? What are they thinking?” Furthermore, the IMB Board of Trustee’s rejection of those who practice a “private prayer language" is especially egregious given that Jerry Rankin, President of the IMB, is on record as saying that he practices a private prayer language. Furthermore, the overall dissatisfaction with this odd stance of the IMB trustees can perhaps be seen in the fact that Jerry Sutton, who favored a formal denunciation of private prayer languages, received the fewest number of votes of the three Presidential candidates in Greensboro , NC . There is a word our Convention needs to learn: adiophora.[12]

I concur with Joyce Rogers the wife of the late Adrian Rogers.

“Adrian Rogers would not have been a part of what is going on in some parts of our convention today, getting narrower and narrower about very highly interpretive issues,” “He would try to convince you of his view, but not to exclude you from service and fellowship, or to prevent you from going around the world with Southern Baptists to share the Gospel if you disagreed on these controversial issues,” Rogers said. “And I challenge you on his behalf to graciously work for unity in the body of Christ.”[13]

The seventeenth century English Nonconformist Richard Baxter is believed to have said (quoting Augustine) regarding adiaphora:

“In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Adiaphoron, pl. -a (Ancient Greek “indifferent things”; German “Mitteldinge” “middle matters”) refers to matters not regarded as essential to faith, but are nevertheless permissible for Christians or allowed in church. What is specifically considered adiaphora depends on the specific theology in view.

New Testament examples of adiaphora are often cited from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Some of this epistle was written in response to a question from the Corinthian Christians regarding whether it was permissible for a Christian to eat food offered to idols. In response, Paul replied:

… food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:8-9 New International Version)

However, upon study of several other Pauline passages ones sees that Paul is not necessarily saying that there are such things as adiaphora. Elsewhere he says:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17 New International Version)

The adiaphora are morally acceptable or unacceptable by the Christian God based upon the motive and end of the doer. In this sense there are no indifferent things.

The issue of what constituted adiaphora became a major dispute during the Protestant Reformation. In 1548, two years after the death of Martin Luther, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V tried to unite Catholics and Protestants in his realm with a law called the Augsburg Interim. This law was rejected by Philipp Melanchthon, on the account that it did not ensure justification by faith as a fundamental doctrine. Later he was persuaded to accept a compromise known as the Leipzig Interim, deciding that doctrinal differences not related to justification by faith were adiaphora or matters of indifference. Melanchthon’s compromise, however, was rejected by the majority of Lutherans led by Matthias Flacius.

In 1577, the Formula of Concord was crafted to settle the question of the nature of genuine adiaphora, which it defined as “church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God.” However, the Concord added believers should not yield even in matters of adiaphora when these are being forced upon them by the “enemies of God’s Word”.

The Lutheran Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession) states that the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.

Calvinists, especially those who subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (see WCF 1.6, 21.1), distinguish between the elements or acts of worship as such (worship proper), and those things which are circa sacra, that is, the circumstances of worship. The elements of worship must be limited to what has positive warrant in Scripture. This is known as the regulative principle.

The circumstances of worship are adiaphora, although they must be done for edification and to promote peace and order (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14: 26-33; Romans 14: 19). According to the Westminster Confession chapter 20, section 2, the conscience is left free in general belief and behavior within the realm of whatever is not “contrary to the Word”. However, specifically concerning worship and religious faith, the conscience is free from whatever is “besides” Scripture; that is, it is free to worship and believe only according to whatever has positive warrant in Scripture.


[1] Dr. Paige Patterson. Chapel Service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

April 4, 2006

[2] Ibid

[3] Dr. Paige Patterson. Chapel Service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

April 4, 2006

[4] James A. Smith Sr. Frank Page discusses SBC theological issues Florida Baptist Witness

[5] Graham, Billy. The Holy Spirit

[6] J.W. MacGorman. The Gifts of the Spirit: An Exposition of I Corinthians 12-14. pg 81

[7] J.W. MacGorman. The Gifts of the Spirit: An Exposition of I Corinthians 12-14. pg 88

[8] Anita Wadhiwani, The Tennesean, Proposed Ban on “tongues Prayer” divides Baptists. USA Today. 4/5/06

[9] Spiritual Gifts: Empowering the New Testament Church, pp 93,211

[10] Timothy George Timothy George on the Southern Baptist Convention: An Analysis Christian Culture July 26, 2006 @ 11:46 am

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] The Ghost of Adrian Rogers weighs in. Article Insight Monday Morning June 15 2006

This letter appeared on the website of The Cornerstone Baptist Church

Rev. William Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

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