Saturday, January 06, 2007

Private Prayer Language, the Cooperative Program, and Missions

Over the past week or so there have been some intense discussions regarding the issue of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. At the heart of many of these discussions has been the issue of speaking in tongues, especially the practice commonly known as private prayer language (PPL). As most of you are well aware, in late 2005 the trustees of the International Mission Board established a controversial policy disqualifying anyone who practices a PPL from serving as a missionary with the IMB. Complicating the matter is the fact that for years IMB president Jerry Rankin has openly acknowledged that he has a PPL. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many Southern Baptists believe that there is a biblical basis for PPL, even if they do not practice PPL themselves.

I believe that this controversy over the issue of PPL poses a significant danger to the Cooperative Program, and thus to the effectiveness of Southern Baptist missions work. As increasing numbers of Southern Baptists are rejected as missionary candidates because they have a PPL, there is a strong possibility that their churches may choose to redirect some or even all of their financial support for missions either to support these candidates directly or to support another entity that welcomes these candidates. It is also possible that Southern Baptist churches in which the church leaders or a significant number of members believe in or have a PPL may see the IMB policies as a message saying, "If you have a PPL, you are not welcome to participate in the one thing that most defines what the SBC is all about." Even if no one from these churches applies to serve with the IMB, it is entirely plausible that these churches may decide that if the IMB doesn't want people like them to serve as missionaries then it doesn't make a lot of sense to send money to the IMB through the CP.

There is another way that this whole matter of PPL could negatively affect the CP. To be honest, I had never considered this possibility, but it was mentioned in some comments on Wade Burleson's blog. In one comment Geoff Baggett said, "The moment that someone makes the decision to send SBC missionary representatives to the field, knowing that they are active practitioners of glossolalia (even in private), there will be an instantaneous disappearance of CP dollars. The big “sucking” sound. The money will be cut off." (To be fair to Geoff, he made it clear that his church would likely not react in such a way.) In a later comment Peter Lumpkins added, "I have a hunch that, should such views become widespread, our Baptist family would likewise exercise their autonomous right, and unfortunately, the CP would probably be transformed almost overnight into a lamentable, empty hull, gutted of any real likeness to its former missionary glory." (Again, Peter said nothing to indicate that his church would curtail its support for the CP in such a case.)

So if prohibiting people with a PPL from serving with the IMB threatens the CP, and if allowing people with a PPL to serve with the IMB threatens the CP, what should the SBC do? The pragmatic solution would be to do an analysis to determine which option will be less damaging to the CP and pursue it, but somehow I get the feeling that God doesn't want us to make such a decision on the basis of how it affects the bottom line. My personal opinion is that the IMB should rescind its policy and allow otherwise qualified candidates who have a PPL to serve, just as they did for all the years preceding the adoption of the 2005 policy. Of course, a cynic might say that I support such a position because I believe that the biblical support for PPL is stronger than the arguments against it. I would surmise that those who believe that the Bible makes no allowance for PPL would prefer for the policy to remain in force. Thus, we are at an impasse, one that could divide the SBC, result in significant reductions in CP giving, and seriously undermine SBC missions work if it is not resolved. The $64,000 question, or I guess in this case the $200 million question, is how can we resolve this impasse and prevent the CP and our missions work from being irreparably harmed?


Dave Samples said...

It's interesting that our SBC was in fact founded in part due to the unwillingness of mission boards to send missionaries who were slave owners. There were two different test cases that went forward and when these "slave-owning" missionaries were not accepted, churches withdrew their support and founded their mission board and their own denomination (SBC). My recollection of Baptist history is that the churches in the North (where most of the money came from) put pressure on the mission board not to accept these "slave-owning" missionaries. I'm not suggesting that PPL will split the denomination, just that we've been here before with other issues. It's true that if a "PPL" missionary is sent, then non-PPL churches may withdraw their "cooperative" funding. It is also true that if a "PPL" missionary is not sent--then "PPL" churches may withdraw their support. I am quite certain that if my church's candidate for the IMB was not accepted because of a "PPL" problem...then we would move forward and support them independently. I respect the IMB's right to freely choose missionary candidates but I also respect my church's right and obligation to send whomever we feel that the Holy Spirit as set apart for service.

loveforthelost said...


I appreciate your posts. I've never commented here (at least I don't think I have).

My guess would be the total opposite of yours here. While this is a significant issue with bloggers, I highly doubt that there are that many churches that would make a big deal about this. Like you said - Geoff did not think his church would take this type of action.

Of course there are some that would probably back out, but for it to be significant, i think, is out of the question.

Of course, we're both just guessing. If worse comes to worse, I hope I am right.

Tim Sweatman said...


I pray that history doesn't repeat itself.



I tend to agree that most churches seem to be unlikely to withdraw support over this issue. In fact, I would guess most Southern Baptists, including many pastors, are completely unaware of this controversy.

Where I think such withdrawal of support is most likely is from churches who have members rejected as missionaries because they have a PPL. It would be only natural for such churches to support these members directly or to support organizations that are willing to accept them. Whether this would have a financially significant impact on the CP and IMB over time is difficult to say.

I believe the greatest danger to the CP comes from the precedent that this policy sets. If this policy and the baptism policy are allowed to stand, I will be very surprised if efforts to disqualify candidates do not extend to other disputable doctrinal issues. This, in turn, would draw more churches into the controversy.

loveforthelost said...

good thought.

Paul/Mary Burleson said...


Your comment to loveforthelost about the greatest danger being other disputed doctrines may become a basis of disqualification for appointment is exactly the issue Wade raised in the very beginning of his reaction to the policies.

It was not originally ONLY that the two policies were unbiblical, though he said he believed they were, it was what else will be decided is to be guarded against theologically that exceeds the BF@M.

Lee said...

There are always Baptist churches that want to throw their missions money around and use it as a wedge to attempt to get their way in convention politics. How well would we tolerate a Sunday School class that declared they were escrowing their tithes because they didn't agree with the salary that the Minister of Music was getting paid?

Had the moderates in the last battle in the SBC elected to take their Cooperative Program money and skedaddle, the SBC would probably have split down the middle, and lost almost half of its churches. There is certainly a lot more designated giving these days than there ever used to be, but by and large, that long-built in loyalty to Cooperative Ministry kept a lot of churches from abandoning the missionaries and the mission boards. Even those who left to form CBF still contribute to NAMB and the IMB, at least most of them do.

Our church has three of its own families serving in foreign missions, because of the stringent requirements, none of them opted to serve with the IMB. But our church still supports the IMB, because it is committed to mission support through the Cooperative Program. While they may think it is sad that the IMB's requirements disqualify our own members, they would never use the threat of stopping their contribution as a means of attempting to get policy changed. I think most Southern Baptists probably feel the same way.

Tim Sweatman said...


I think in most cases it's not a question of using threats to pull funding as a means of getting policies changed. It's more a case of questioning why a church should partner financially with an organization that refuses to accept its members for service. As the generation of "give to CP because that's the Southern Baptist way" passes on, a newer generation that has less institutional loyalty is going to, and in some cases already is, asking these questions. Whether good or bad, I believe this is the reality we are facing.

Rick Long said...

I appreciate the concern expressed here about SBC churches pulling support. If a SBC church were to decrease or cease giving CP dollars it doesn't necessarily mean that they would be doing so in order to influence the IMB in any way. It could be that the church has determined that they want more of each dollar to go to the mission field. The debate about PPL aside, there are some significant issues with the IMB and the funding of missionaries in the field. They are not supported to the extent that they should be, relative to the amount given to the CP and the IMB from local churches.
Back to the PPL's too bad that the SBC yet again chooses to follow sacred traditions rather than clear interpretation of Scripture.
I do not practice a PPL, but for the IMB to focus on such matters rather than being faithful in providing our missionaries with enough support to keep them living about the poverty level is absurd.
There are many, many SBC churches that are still giving to the CP and sending missionaries on their own or with another organization. It is only a matter of time before this begins to chip away at CP support and giving. This saddens me, because I believe the CP is the greatest tool we have as Baptists to respond to the Great Commission. Is it any wonder that it has taken us this long to mess it up?