10/30/06

Southern Baptist Seminary bans "Charismatic" teaching

My dad tells a story of when he was in the navy stationed in Italy. One day he and a friend went into a beautiful old Roman Catholic Church to pray and have a look around. While inside they watched a very old nun shoo-ing a white bird, that looked suspiciously like a dove, out of the church with a broom. He and his friend just looked at each other not missing the powerful symbolism of how the old established churches had neglected the Spirit of God.

That story came to mind when I read that Southwestern Seminary's leadership had voted to ban any teaching or preaching that was favorable to Charismatic experiences, in particular speaking in tongues (even as a private experience), a decision similar to that of the International Mission Board because of which I was very critical of the IMB. The seminary's only board member that voted against the ban lamented the "charisphobia" that this decision represents.

I wonder which is worse: attributing activity to the Holy Spirit which he has clearly not taken (as when some church leaders - even bishops - claim that the Spirit is leading the church in a direction contradictory to the clear teachings of the New Testament and unanimous tradition of the Church) or banning the work of the Spirit when it does show up because it threatens the control of church leadership and the status quo (as has happened pretty much anytime a Spirit-led renewal has broken out). Now I know the SBC does a lot of good ministry and brings more people to know Jesus Christ than probably any American denomination (except perhaps the Assemblies of God, a pentecostal denomination), but this ban is part of a trend in the wrong direction on the part of the SBC. I hope that young charismatic Baptists will challenge this move in an appropriate manner.

Some have argued that charismatics ought to "let Baptists be Baptist," but I don't buy this. Since when was "being Not-Charismatic" somehow constituative to being Baptist? Classically, the SBC is congregationalist in polity, allowing each congregation freedom in doctrine and practice. If, in practice, the mission board and the seminaries become "top-down" doctrinal filters for the convention, then the SBC finds itself moving toward becoming a denomination with certain confessions or creeds. This is fine with me (I think those are vital things to have - one reason that I am not Baptist), but it does turn the question of who is really "being Baptist" on it's ear, I think. Unlike some of my fellow Methodists who are (sadly) more than happy to do so, attacking the SBC is not at all my point. I have many personal connections to SBC churches and have been greatly enriched by those ministries. My point is simply "cracking down" on the Charismatic movement, which if judged by its fruit in so many lives and churches must clearly be seen as a work of the Holy Spirit, is wrong.

The United Methodist Church (in spite of her many shortcomings) has, like several of the older more liturgical churches, actually (ironically) done a better job on the whole (we certainly have plenty of examples of "charisphobia") of integrating the blessings of the Charismatic movement into the life of our denomination. The Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, which are affiliated with the UMC's General Board of Discipleship is a ministry that focuses on teaching congregations to explore and use ALL of the charismata in the life of the local church (in a responsible manner consistent with our tradition), through various annual seminars and events and it is one of those few "official" ministries that I am really proud of.

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8 Comments:

Blogger John T. Meche III said...

"in particular speaking in tongues (even as a private experience)"

Scripturally, it is SPECIFICALLY the practice of "speaking in tongues" as a private experience that the church is against. There are two divisions to speaking in tongues. (I was a charismatic, so I feel I can attest to this) There is the spiritual gift referred to by Paul which is done publicly in the church and is coincided with an interpreter. The second is a "personal prayer language" which is derived from Romans (the Spirit prays for you with groans that words cannot contain) and which many believe to be spoken against as "ecstatic utterance" in the Corinthians when Paul is talking about the spiritual gifts. Charismatics claim that when one is "baptized in the Spirit" (a separate event from salvation and baptism by water, which is where one receives the "mark of the Spirit" denoting salvation), it is evidenced by the reception of a "personal prayer language". If the seminary banned a spiritual gift, then they are wrong for it. If they banned a practice which is unscriptural, then they are right for it. But it's important to clarify that there are two separate things going on. This is not something I've derived, but it's the fact of the matter from within the charismatic movement. It's actually the outsiders looking in who see both things being done and mistakenly call both "speaking in tongues".

6:38 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger John said...

I live about 20 minutes away from Pinecastle UMC -- one of the few charismatic UMC congregations in the country. It is a large church with a very diverse membership. Miraculous healings and speaking in tongues are commonplace. It's amazing.

8:37 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

John Meche III;
I think you are over-simplifying the diversity of "charismatic" interpretation that exists.
I think there are actually 4 different ways or "divisions" of "tongues" in (some) Pentecostal circles. 1) Speaking in another human language for the purpose of spreading the gospel to non-believers of a different language (as on Pentecost); 2) Speaking in tongues as an "initial evidence" reception of the Spirit (some point to Acts 10:45-46) on this. It is NOT the same as a prayer language since some classic Pentecostal teachers say that these folks do not necessarily recieve the "gift/charismata" of tongues and may never speak in tongues again after this experience (Smith Wigglesworth, for example, taught this). This is where I (and you) disagree with classic Pentecostalism (it is also the only aspect of classic pentecostalism that did not already exist in the ancient tradition) because the Scriptural evidence is not necessarily meant as a universal prescription on the one hand, and the great body of evidence from the experiences of Spirit-filled believers who never spoke in tongues; 3) Speaking in tongues as a sort of prophecy that must be interpreted for the congregation (this may overlap with #1) so that the Spirit intends for the whole church to hear the prophetic word through both the PUBLIC tongues AND the public interpretation. This seems to me is what is going on in 1 Cor. 14:12-14; and 26-28. Which brings me to the most controversial (that which is being specifically banned by the SBC, though from conversations I have had folks seem to lump "tongues" together and then dismiss it all) and that is tongues as a private "prayer language." "Praise language" might be more appropriate, and we are not talking about "gibberish" (that would be nonsensical) but rather real "tongues of men and angels" that exist within the created order of seen and unseen. Note what Paul says, even when there is a tongue with NO interpretation then "my spirit prays" (1 Cor. 14:14) and if there is no interpreter, then let them "speak to themselves and to God" (14:28) which seems to be exactly what is being banned, even though it is a gift from the Spirit to build up the individual (though not the whole church). Well, I think there is nothing wrong with building up the individual Christian and if the Spirit gives an utterance of Tongues to one member of the congregation and does NOT give an interpretation to another member of that congregation, then the Spirit nevertheless knows what he is doing and is doing something in that individual, that the Church should not ban. SO I am saying "public utterance (in whatever language)" and "private utterance" in a foreign language are two experiences of the same gift (#'s 1,3,&4 above), that have nothing to do with "initial evidence" of being baptized in the Spirit (a phrase that is actually used loosely in the NT, not as a solid category the way we talk about it, this is why I prefer the more ambiguous "filled" b/c it doesnt have all the same associations). I don't see from what position we could ban this private experience since (though the Biblical evidence is iffy on either "side") the Biblical evidence seems stronger in favor of allowing the practice and the experience of the last 100 years is clear: Pentecostal experience brings people to experience the Kingdom of of Jesus Christ, and does so with a speed, efficiency, and power that is unmatched around the world and I can only attribute to the work of the Holy Spirit.

10:37 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, by the way--pretty much all Southern Baptists realize that Southwestern is crazy. They are pretty legalistic and anti-women (to super simplify the idiology of the shcool).
But seminaries and mission boards don't have to function like churhes. All SBC churches are autonomous, but the mission board and our schools are still able to pass regulations. THey are separate entities.
As far as your main issue mentioned...I'm going to abstain from commenting. -bethany

1:29 AM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to call you on the carpet for this one Daniel. Not because I agree with Southwestern
s policy or policies, but because I remember not to long ago you yourself were arguing in favor of a school that took a stance, or made its teachers ascribe to a certain level of belief, or maintained core values.

So here is a seminary taking a stance, ascribing to a level of belief and making its professors do the same. Yet it seems like you are criticizing the seminary for doing such.

2:54 AM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

ah, but Stephen, the situation is different here (I am not sure the specific example you refer to, but I assume it was in relation to either a United Methodist or Anglican or Catholic school?). We have specific doctrines and policies that our denomination as a whole officially endorses and to which all ministers must subscribe in their ordination vows taken before God and his church. The seminaries then should train the ministers to think critically about these things and to engage honestly with them, including reading defenders and attackers, emphasizing the covenantal nature of the Doctines and Discipline as how we choose to live together as a denomination (and after we do so, we may even decide that this denomination is not for us, and even that, I think, would be a "successful courtship" so to speak). The SBC has no such thing historically as a confession that someone must agree to, but in practice the "Baptist Faith and Message" has been moving in that direction for the cooperative bodies that Bethany mentions (which, I realize are NOT congregations, but are shared ministries among autonomous congregations). Whether it is "really Baptist" for the BFM to function as a doctrinal confession for the mission board and seminaries, I leave that question to folks more knowledgable about such things (as I understand it, this has been a source of debate within the SBC over the past couple of decades, but I may have been talking with disgruntled and exaggerating dissenters who said so). It does seem like a good idea to me, as I mentioned earlier. But EVEN so, the BFM does NOT mention these experiences (of tongues), nor does it ban them! Thus, the Baptist seminary is not keeping its profs accountable to vows they have already taken (as would be in our case, or for Roman Catholics), but is imposing it's own interpretation from above based upon the convictions of the board members, rather than any officially established doctrine. Do you see why this is a different situation?
So I agree with Bethany, that the cooporative organizations ought to pass guidlines, but it seems too much if they make rules about theological issues about which the Baptist Faith and Message is silent. Unless there is some other doctrinal statement that I am just ignorant of?
I would apply the same logic to our seminaries. I do not think they ought to require any professors to believe or teach anything that our doctrinal standards do not address (which is a whole lot since our standards really only cover the bare fundamentals, leaving signficant leeway for diverse opinions on these matters). In fact, our Articles of Religion come alot closer to regulating
"tongues" than does the BFM when, in article 15, we forbid "public prayer" or "administration of the sacraments" in "a tongue not understood by the people." The article refers to the discussions in 1 Cor. so that if there is no translation/interpretation supplied then these things ought not to occur. In fact, I wrote a "letter to the editor" at Perkins citing just this article after attending a chapel service in which prayers were prayed in a number of languages, but no English translation was supplied. How could I say "Amen" (invoking a covenant oath upon myself) to the prayer, when I had no idea what it was about? So it seems to me I am being entirely consistent with my principle, just applying it as the very different polities of our different denominations logically implies. Does that make sense?

3:05 PM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Me thinks he doth protest too much"

It does make sense, but since I grew up Southern Baptist (and feel some insight however bad into this and other things the SB are trying to do). Even though they claim to be a congregational denomination, they want to be an episcopal denomination. The SB wants to have total authority rendered to the Convention not the congregation. What is playing out at Southwestern is just a microcosm of what is playing out (and has been playing out) in the entire denomination. The BFM is merely a first step of ensuring that the denomination become more uniform so to speak in their theology. (A difficult thing for congregationalist to do, which is why you have this Cooperative Baptist Fellowship split.) I wouldn't be the least bit suprised if this issue arises at the Convention this month. (with further statements against)

Alas, however, I am no longer Baptist. I believe Wesley said it best, "Though we may not think alike, may we not all love alike?"

3:39 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Yes he did, and what he said was exactly right...when taken IN the context of the rest of that sermon. mwahaha!

4:09 PM, November 06, 2006  

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