THE IMB TONGUES POLICY:
“EMOTIONAL PREJUDICE” OR EXEGETICAL PRECISION
“The Voice of One Crying In the Wilderness”
While recently reading the Praisegod Barebones blog, hosted by the venerable Dr. Bart Barber, in the comment section of a post entitled “But Some of the Cooperative Program Money Is Ours!” I was awestruck by a comment written by David Rogers explaining why the tongues issue is such a “big deal” for many Southern Baptist and contextually the IMB Trustees. For the benefit of those of you who aren’t familiar with David Rogers, I think that you would appreciate his perspective more if you knew more about him.
David Rogers is a career IMB missionary currently stationed in Spain. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Seminary. He is the son of the late great preeminent Southern Baptist pastor and celebrated preacher Dr. Adrian Rogers. If Paige Patterson was the architect of the conservative resurgence, Adrian Rogers was the General Contractor. David offers the only plausible explanation that I’ve ever read or heard that answers the question, why are many and perhaps the majority of Southern Baptist so adamantly opposed to tongues. You may read David’s entire comment [here]. However, I want to provide for you this quote:
“There are certain issues where our convictions are so important that we cannot compromise them on the altar of a supposed greater effectiveness. I personally believe inerrancy is one these issues. It is in the long run better to work under a more “narrow tent” than to compromise our convictions on the authority of the Word of God. We would be giving up too much to do otherwise.
Apparently, for some people, the PPL issue is of a similar nature. I do not understand why it is such a big deal for these people. My hunch is that it is due, in many cases, to a lot of misguided emotional prejudice. But I admit I could be wrong on this.” [Emphasis Mine]
With regard to “emotional prejudice” being the driving force behind the IMB tongues policy, Rogers says that he could be “wrong about this,” but I believe he is absolutely right. David Rogers has unveiled a mystery for me. The mystery is, how could a convention that is usually biblio-centric and exegetically accurate reject plain, clear, scriptural, authoritive, inerrant and infallible biblical truth regarding the Spirit’s gifting of some believers to pray in tongues in private according to the sovereign will of God (I Corinthians 12:7,10, 30; 14:2, 4, 5, 13-15)? Just as the SBC initially adopted unbiblical views on slavery, segregation and abortion, then later recanted, I believe the SBC will eventually adopt a biblical position on tongues or drop restrictions regarding private praying in tongues for staff as did Campus Crusade for Christ who once held similar strict cessationist, anti-tongues policies for staff and students.
The IMB made steps in the right direction by admitting that there were no abuses on the missions field that led to the adoption of the cessationist policies and to somewhat soften the cessationist policies that allows each case to be judged on the basis of its own merit. I’m thankful for these initial steps in the right direction, but I see this as a beginning toward the change that ultimately needs to take place and that is allowing the pre-existing policies regarding public tongues to remain in place and totally drop any attempt to govern the content of missionaries’ private prayers. Lest I sound too critical, I want to state loud and clear again that I’m thankful and I commend the IMB Board of Trustees for somewhat softening their cessationist policy and allowing some wiggle room for missionaries who pray in tongues in private to possibly be appointed. The policy revisions have given me a glimmer of hope and the resolve to continue to pray and believe that the day will come when the policies will line up completely with the Word of God. What is the newly revised IMB Tongues Policy?
Tongues and Prayer Language
1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered a legitimate language.
2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.
3. In terms of worship practices, if glossolalia is a public part of the candidate’s current practice and it does not fall within the definitions of Parts 1 and 2 above, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.
1. Any spiritual experience must be tested by Scriptures.
2. New Testament teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.
3. The board is not persuaded that ecstatic utterance as a prayer language is a valid expression of the New Testament teaching on prayer.
4. Therefore, if an “ecstatic utterance as a prayer language” is a part of the candidate’s current practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.
1. This guideline is not retroactive.
2. Any exceptions to the above guideline must be reviewed by the staff and the Mission Personnel Committee.
The IMB tongues policy or now guideline does not offer one Scripture to support their position because there isn’t one verse in the Bible that supports an anti-praying in tongues in private policy for believers so gifted by the Holy Spirit. The reason there was no exegetical precision or defense offered to support these guidelines is because there is none. The Word of God declares,
“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” (I Corinthians 14:2)
“He who speaks in tongues edifies himself…” (I Corinthians 14:4)
“I wish you all spoke with tongues….” (I Corinthians 14:5)
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.” (I Corinthians 14:14)
“……I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding….. (I Corinthians 14:15)
“If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to him self and God. (I Corinthians 14:39)
In order for the IMB to have adopted their cessationist – anti- praying in tongues in private policies they had to totally disregard or give a liberal interpretation and consequently application to the above Scriptures. For the IMB tongues policy to be biblical, they have to believe Paul did not mean the things he said regarding praying in tongues for himself and gifted believers. What Dr. Jimmy Draper’s current position on gifted believers praying in tongues in private is, I am uncertain. However, in his book THE CHURCH CHRIST APPROVES in a chapter on tongues published in 1974 by Broadman Press, he makes a powerful statement that in my opinion speaks to the current discussion and debate, “Only the sovereign Holy Spirit has a right to forbid or command in personal devotions!”
The IMB policy places the IMB trustees of serving in the role of the “sovereign Holy Spirit.”
The IMB Guideline on Tongues and Prayer Language says:
1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered a legitimate language.
Some scholars consider praying in tongues a legitimate language, others do not. When I was a student at SWBTS (1981) in Dr. Jack Gray’s Spiritual Foundations class we were required to learn this definition of tongues that I still remember today: Tongues – ecstatic utterance, rapturous religious expression, unintelligible to the speaker or the hearer except through divine interpretation. It doesn’t really matter to a great degree whether scholars are in agreement whether or not tongues is a language understood or not understood because if the Holy Spirit gifts a believer to pray in tongues certainly God understands what is being said. Since Paul said, “he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God,” we know for sure it is prayer because Paul said you’re speaking to God (I Corinthians 14:2). Therefore, it is irrelevant whether or not man understands as long as God understands. The IMB insists that tongues is a “legitimate language” but Paul said when one speaks to God in tongues, “no one understands him; …in the spirit he speaks mysteries” (I Corinthians 14:2). Why would the IMB object to gifted believers praying in tongues in private as outlined by the Apostle Paul? If God’s Holy Spirit is responsible for 20% of Christians in America (according to a recent Pew poll) praying in tongues, the IMB policy is in direct opposition to the Word, Work and Spirit of God. This is no small matter. This is a very serious issue.
I applaud and appreciate item #2 of the IMB guideline – “The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.” This is a totally biblical statement (I Corinthians 14:27, 28) Our convention would be well served if all the IMB policies regarding tongues could be backed by Scripture. No Southern Baptist that I’m aware of is arguing for the missionaries to be able to practice public tongues speaking. I’m certainly not. Paul is clear that for those so gifted by the Holy Spirit tongues speaking is primarily for private devotion (I Corinthians 14:4, 17, 18) and not public display (I Corinthians 14:19). The IMB policy forbids speaking in tongues in private worship without any biblical basis, as a matter of fact the Bible speaks quite to the contrary (I Corinthians 14:39).
I totally concur with the statement “any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures. The burden of responsibility is upon the IMB to tell the missionaries and the SBC family which Scripture(s) does praying in tongues in private violate? GIVE US THE SCRIPTURE THAT’S VIOLATED – NOT AN ARGUMENT – NOT AN INTERPRETATION OR EXPLANATION – JUST SOLA SCRIPTURA – which Scripture is violated by praying in tongues in private? If you can give me just one, I will repent to God and acknowledge and apologize to anyone interested that I was wrong. Until then, my faith and practice will stand solidly on the Word of God.
The IMB statement declares, “New Testament teaches that prayer is to be made with understanding.” I certainly understand the intent of this statement, the problem is this statement directly contradicts the scripture. Paul said, “For if I pray in tongues, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful (I Corinthians 14:14) (emphasis mine). Paul makes it clear that the one praying in tongues does not understand what is being said, “no one understands him” (I Corinthians 14:2), not even the one praying, therefore Paul stated, “let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret” (I Corinthians 14:13). If New Testament prayer was always with understanding as the IMB alleges how would they explain Paul’s regarding praying in tongues as, “my understanding is unfruitful?” New Testament prayer was not always made with understanding. Even Jesus groaned (John 11:33, 38) and sighed (Mark 7:34).
My wife could listen to the groans, moans and sighs of our four children when they were babies and immediately know whether or not they were hungry, hurting, needed a diaper changed, or to be held etc. Certainly, if a mother could understand the groans, moans, and sighs of her children, how much more can the heavenly father understand the groans, moans and sighs of His children.
The IMB may not be persuaded that ‘ecstatic utterance as a prayer language is a valid expression of the New Testament teaching on prayer,’ but the Apostle Paul was persuaded that when a person prayed in tongues in private they were offering thanksgiving to God (I Corinthians 14:16) and communicating with God (I Corinthians 14:2). Furthermore, Billy Graham, Jack Gray, Dr. McGorman and other Southern Baptist have affirmed tongues as indeterminate or unintelligible speech. But because the majority of the IMB Trustees without any scriptural referencing or rationale explained, have decided to exclude from mission service any missionary “if an ecstatic utterance as a prayer language is a part of the candidate’s current practice.” I find this astonishing and amazing in light of clear biblical teaching and recognized Southern Baptist who affirm the gift of praying in tongues.
Clearly, the cessationist – anti praying in tongues in private policy of the IMB is driven by “a lot of misguided emotional prejudice” and what Dr. Jack Gray labeled as “charisphobia.” Why is there such strong “emotional prejudice” or “charisphobia” driving this policy? In conclusion, I offer three reasons: (1) Tongues historically has been associated with Pentecostals and charismatics. Certainly there has been a lot of abuse and misuse of the gift of tongues, by some in the Pentecostal movement. There was an abuse and misuse of tongues in the Corinthian church. Paul did not use the abuse of tongues as a rationale to disallow or rule out tongues, he simply regulated the use of the gift of tongues rather than forbid praying tongues.
Because of an “emotional prejudice” toward Pentecostals or charismatics, many Southern Baptist reject any practice or belief no matter how biblical that has any remote association with Pentecostals. Let’s throw out the bathwater of misuse and abuse but let’s keep the baby.
(2) Tongues have been historically associated with poor and uneducated people. This is true. However, I’m aware of highly educated and wealthy people, many who are Southern Baptist and other Bible believing Baptists who pray in tongues in private. The IMB tongues policy is driven by an “emotional prejudice” toward poor and uneducated people. The posture is certainly elitist and arrogant.
(3) Tongue speakers have often held viewpoints that they were spiritually superior to others without this gift or they have expressed a Pentecostal viewpoint of “the Baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues” as an absolute normative or universal experience and as an experience subsequent to salvation. Baptists recognize that these viewpoints do not have a biblical basis. Paul makes it clear that all believers do not have the gift of tongues (I Corinthians 12:30) and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs simultaneous with salvation (I Corinthians 12:13). Baptists recognize that all who are genuinely born again have been baptized by the Holy Spirit at salvation, but all do not speak in tongues (I Corinthians 12:30). But because many Pentecostals have taught an erroneous viewpoint of tongues and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit along with being elitist and arrogant at times, many Southern Baptist respond in kind with an “emotional prejudice,” “charisphobia” and an elitist and arrogant attitude as well.
I pray that God will forgive us as Southern Baptists for rejecting the truth about tongues as taught in the Bible and for rejecting missionaries who speak in tongues in private prayer. As a fellow Southern Baptist I confess our unbelief, “emotional prejudice,” “charisphobia” and arrogance and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. David Rogers would never articulate what I’ve stated as strong as I have. I take full responsibility for this post and am willing to suffer whatever consequences, if any at all for my position. God Help Me. Here I Stand.
The IMB tongues policy is driven by emotional prejudice because of tongues speaking historic association with Pentecostal, poor and uneducated people. This policy is also driven by charisphobia. What’s missing? Exegetical Precision!