Saturday, September 16, 2006

Question for Discussion: SBC and Charismatics

Here's the multiple choice question I posed over at Wade Burleson's blog, with very slight editing. Anyone care to speculate or offer an opinion?

"Why is the Southern Baptist Convention the only large historic denomination that has not made room for a fellowship of "charismatic" churches under its tent (like the Methodists, Lutherans, even Presbyterians and Catholics have, for example)?"

Would you say it's mainly because of:
  1. the excesses of the charismatic movement and the off-putting attitudes of the "haves" vs. the "have not's"
  2. the firm theological convictions of most Baptist pastors/leaders (i.e., their certainty of the rightness of their own interpretations of Scripture and their low tolerance of others' interpretations)
  3. fear of change or of rejection or of emotionalism
  4. local church autonomy and the denominational structure (assoc, state, nat'l levels) which makes it impractical, improbable, or even unnecessary to make room for such a fellowship of churches
  5. all of the above, or a combination of the above
  6. other (please explain)
Ok, have at it, please. I'm real curious to know what others think and have experienced.


Anonymous said...

I expect it is a combination of all of the above. I am a Southern Baptist who believes the gifts are still in operation. I have experienced what charismatics would call the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues." I am solidly baptist and pretty charismatic as well. I sigh at the excesses (extremes) within each group. I think one of the problems with forming what you mention is that individuals like myself within our churches have had these experiences, but our churches are not open to it. The gifts were given to edify not divide the church. So people like myself remain rather low key about our experiences. My theology is very close to what that pastor shared at Southwestern seminary recently as quoted on Burleson's blog. There are some charismatic churches that hold similar views, but not in the rural area I live. I would love to see more openess in the SBC. I understand why some would be afraid, but I have determined to welcome the Spirit however he chooses to come. Though attitudes have noticably improved in recent years, I expect there are still some who consider speaking in tongues as being of the devil. I once leaned toward that idea myself. Those who believe this would make such an action unlikely. Recent IMB action has convinced me the attitude is prevelant. I choose to be anonymous as I pastor in the SBC. I hope to remain in my denomination, but this past year has left me with many doubts. Perhaps that is the main reason such an action hasn't taken place. It is easier for a charismatic to leave than to make a home in the SBC.

Todd Nelson said...


Thanks for sharing. Welcome to the minority in SB life. We can still hope and pray, though, for more openness and less fear and dogmatism in the SBC.

Looking back, I'm glad my wife and I didn't make it through the IMB appointment process. I was already having misgivings about getting through the "narrow gate" and then having to walk on eggshells once we got overseas. (Kinda like you're having to do now in a local SB church.) Not that I would have been in any way dishonest to be appointed. I was fully willing to write down my own understanding and practice of a PPL and pledge that I wouldn't make it a divisive thing on the mission field. That was the policy in 1994.

There are several SB churches who are fully and biblically charismatic. Two of them that I know of personally support us in our work here in Malaysia. James Ave Church in Fort Worth (Steve Fish, son of Roy Fish is the pastor), and Forest Drive Church in Columbia, SC (Glenn Anderson, pastor emeritus; and Brian Thomas, current pastor). We lived in both of these cities before coming to SE Asia.

Let's pray for more openness to the person, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit and a balance of Word and Spirit in the ministries of our churches and the whole SBC. I'll pray for you, for God's clear guidance as you serve Him wholeheartedly, whether in or out of the SBC. Feel free to email me directly. (See blogger profile.)

With you, for Christ, among the nations,

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if this is an answer to your question, but there are Southern Baptist churches out there where people speak in tongues.

Todd Nelson said...


Are you the same "anonymous" who posted first?

My reply earlier mentions two churches I know of personally that could be called charismatic Baptist churches. (They practice certain charismatic gifts, and they maintain an affilation in some way with the SBC.) Maybe there are several more such Baptist churches; I'm just not familiar with them. And if there is a fellowship of charismatic Baptist churches, it operates very low-key and under the radar of most Southern Baptists.

I suppose my question has more to do with the idea that is prevalant among many/most Southern Baptists: that you cannot be Baptist and charismatic at the same time. It's an "either/or" mentality with most Baptists. Their appeal is often to Baptist history and to Baptist theologians. I propose that Baptists can adopt the biblical and best practices of the charismatic movement.

Having said that, I don't like the label "charismatic" for my theology and practice as a pastor. I am a "continualist" that believes that all the gifts of the Spirit are available and needed today, just as they were in the period of the NT and the apostles. I believe in the power of the Word to renew our minds, and I believe in multiple fillings of the Holy Spirit for empowering our service.

Public tongues and private prayer languages are not big issues with me. I try to teach on this topic in such a way that it brings unity rather than division (PPL is normal but not normative; it is not the only sign of Spirit-fullness). I prefer to emphasize prophecy as a more desirable gift that builds up the church, according to Paul.

I've commented on other blogs about my interpretation. Perhaps I'll copy and paste over here in a new main entry.

Any other comments, whether anonymous or signed. :-)

terry said...

well, for the sake of balance, I suppose someone ought to give the opposing view.

first, you need to define what constitutes a "charismatic SB church". private prayer languages? no problem.

but public tongues, interpretation thereof, and prophecy, at best, divide the congregation. more often, they distract from the Gospel itself. inevitably, salvation becomes merely a weak "first step". gradually, those who don't speak in tongues become viewed as 2nd-rate Christians. this is not what Jesus preached.

Todd Nelson said...

Dear Terry,

Apparently you’ve witnessed some unbiblical and divisive uses of spiritual gifts like public tongues, interpretations, prophecies, etc. I have, too. But I can also testify that, when used according to Scripture, in a church where people are open rather than opposed, the gifts are not divisive or distracting from the gospel. No doubt, what you describe does happen in many churches unfortunately. But it does not have to be that way.

I would define a charismatic Southern Baptist church as one where there is an openness to and desire for all the gifts of the Spirit to be utilized scripturally for the building up of the body in an atmosphere of love, wisdom, and order. Following from this desire, I believe there will be the practice of most, if not all, the gifts – as God intended them to function.

For example, our church in Kuala Lumpur is a multi-denominational international church. We are open and desirous that all the gifts be practiced biblically. We do have passionate worship/prayer and biblical preaching; there are occasional prophetic words shared publicly during or following worship; and we practice laying on of hands and prayers for healing (and the Lord has answered some of those prayers in wonderful ways). We’ve never had a public message in tongues, and we don’t have many “words of knowledge” yet that precede prayers for healing or whatever the need is that is revealed (we’re asking God for more of these). We conduct the 10-week long Alpha Course in which many come to faith and receive the filling of the Holy Spirit either simultaneous with their conversion or after it. We believe in multiple fillings of the Spirit and in private prayer language as a normal sign of the Spirit’s infilling but not a necessary one. We take authority over unclean spirits that harass believers and seekers (Westerners and Asians), we cast out the demons, and we follow up the person with biblical instruction and counseling. Amazingly, by the grace of God, we have precious unity in our fellowship despite the different cultures and denominational backgrounds.

Could such a church be Southern Baptist? Well, I know a few who are (in Fort Worth, TX and Columbia, SC). And I know Baptist churches in Malaysia and Singapore that fit this description.

Regarding what Jesus preached, He did command His disciples to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Mat 10, Luk 10). He did say that we would do his works and greater ones (Jn 14:12). Southern Baptists are doing some good works in missions and disaster relief (and certainly greater in number than what Jesus did), but why aren’t more SB churches doing His works as a regular part of local church ministry?

Terry (and others), what do you think?

Terry said...

Your prayer is that the Holy Spirit has its way in your church. Excellent! You are earnestly open to, and desire that the (9) spiritual gifts be used by God in your church. 'Tis a noble desire indeed. And let no one try to tell you that Scripturally, that can't happen. But...

What if it simply isn't the will of God that these gifts be used in the church today? How will you know? Allow me to give a similar case.

In the first days of the church, there were a lot of good, Godly, earnest Christians who stood upon the promise given in Matthew 16:27-28. To wit, that there were some among them who would not taste death before Jesus came back, in Glory and with the angels, to "reward every man according to his works".

They were a persecuted church. They prayed for this, they hoped for this, they had the promise of it from Jesus himself (and confirmed in several of the Gospels). Preachers preached it, teachers taught it, and I will speculate, that prophecies and interpretation of tongues lent credence to it. And it cannot be argued that, had this come to pass, God would have been glorified.

But we now kbow that it simply wasn't God's will. And late in his life, Paul (I think) had to pen a couple lines cautioning the church not to get its hopes up about this.

So I repeat my question - what if it is not God's will that these nine gifts be active in the church today? How will we know?

Well I propose for starters that if this is the case, then the three gifts that will be pseudo-practiced most will be prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Why? Because these are the three that can most easily be imitated by well-intentioned, but ultimately not Spirit-led Christians. Healing (as a Spiritual gift, not the routine part of the daily ministry), miracles, discernment (again, the Spiritual gift, not the common practice), knowledge, faith and wisdom are very difficult to simulate. The other three are much easier.

Try the prophecies! Test the spirits! Not all of them come from God. In the end, seek what God wants for the church, not what man wants.

You have given many more wonderful topics in your comments and post. There isn't space in these comments to properly address them. Perhaps they can become topics for future posts by you? Maybe each of the nine gifts is worthy of study and discussion. As well as the command to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons and do greater things. Plus prayer tongues, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. You've brought up a trove of great subjects.

May God bless you and your church, Todd. I had the privilege to visit Malaysia five years ago on business; you are among wonderful people. You are open to the Holy Spirit, and there is no telling what can be accomplished for God with that recipe.

Bob Cleveland said...


Start with a premise that a lot of highly educated folks think that if something hasn't happened to them, then it doesn't happen any more. To anyone. Then play their seminary education against a simple guy in the pew, onto whom God dropped the gift of unknown tongues. Finish with the fact that the guy with the experience simply cannot be shaken in his experience and you have a recipe for frustration for a highly educated cessationist.

That frustration leads to all sorts of reactions, like defensiveness, scorn, and even sanctions where the skeptic is in a position of power.

I'm blessed to have a very understanding pastor. I sat down behind him the other evening and he said ... about some recent blog entries speaking against unknown tongues .. "I don't understand all the controversy ... hellOOOO ... you'd think if it was all that important, God would have something to say about it. Oh .. wait .. He did ... why don't they just say what God says about it?" And he held up his bible.

I speak in tongues and I'm a 5 point calvinist. He baptist born & baptist bred & when he's gone he'll be baptist dead (his words). We get along famously and love each other and he knows when I teach, I'm going to teach whatever the bible says.

It's not all doom & gloom for pentecostal baptists. In fact, I'm having a blast with it all.

jonlas said...

Let me tell you a story, a personal one at that.
I was son of a Baptist minister or the ultra conservative (King James only) type. When I was 14 I started learning new songs from Integrity, and taught them to my youth group. Our church's way of worship (after much prayers) transitioned from a very traditional to a more "praise and worship" one. We were three years into the praise and worship tradition when I felt the need to be equipped to be a better worship leader. I heard that Don Moen was in town (Manila) holding a conference and concert. I went. During one of the morning worship sessions, as I stood with four thousand others in rejoicing, clapping, liftin' hands, etc. As soon as we finished singing, an Indian guy in front of me asked where I learned how to speak HINDI. I do not speak a word in HINDI. He insisted that he heard me sing "I worship You Almighty God" in HINDI. I insisted that I did not speak the language I sang in English all through out. His sister beside him corroborated what he said, and so did a chinese lady beside me. Then one man to my right said, "Maybe the Lord allowed you to worship in a different tongue without you knowing it." I did not feel anything magical, extravagant, or a rushing mighty wind. I just worshipped, and they said I did so in another tongue. I have no way of explaining it. But I'm sure it happened. I can't refute four witnesses.

The thing is, it never happened again. But it surely did propel me to a deeper life of worship.

Todd Nelson said...


Thanks for the personal story. Singing in tongues, huh? How did that go over with your Baptist family and friends in the Philippines?

It's interesting that you weren't even aware of it happening at the time. That seems unusual. Hard to find a biblical precedent for exactly that, huh? But is it necessary to have a direct precedent in the Bible if there was nothing about the experience that is against Scripture? Seems like there are several things about your experience that are biblical: worship context, praise content, unlearned language, interpretation.

We worship a mighty and mysterious God.

I hope to talk to you soon.