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Southern Baptists Struggle with the Holy Spirit
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Southern Baptists Struggle with the Holy Spirit

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer

CBN.comThe Baptist world was rocked in 1993 when Jack Deere, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, published the groundbreaking book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit – describing the evolution of his biblical interpretation and personal experience regarding the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the contemporary Church.

Since that time, many Southern Baptists have been challenged to reconsider the traditional “cessationist” doctrine – a view that does not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy and tongues, are operational in the Church today.

A Southern Baptist friend of mine attended Dallas Theological Seminary for four years with Jack Deere. He and I met monthly in a pastor’s fellowship that included people from various denominations, including Baptists and Charismatics. We met to pray together and encourage each other in the Lord because we were all Christian leaders who needed and valued fellowship.

After reading Surprised, this pastor was more willing to consider the Charismatic view of embracing the gifts of the Spirit for today. In time he actually invited two of the Charismatic pastors in this fellowship to minister in the gifts of the Spirit in his church.

A wave of openness to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit has swept through the Southern Baptist world in the last decade, causing great joy in some circles – and great angst in others.

The official Southern Baptist stand, however, has remained in opposition to the open manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

But one pastor and seminary trustee has taken a bold stand in support of those who are open to the gifts of the Spirit.

At the beginning of the new school year, Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, took issue with the International Mission Board policy refusing to appoint missionary candidates who engage in the contemporary Charismatic practice. As a recently-appointed trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, McKissic preached a chapel message defending the practice of a private prayer language.

In the chapel message, McKissic boldly stated that speaking in tongues “is a valid [spiritual] gift for today” that has been embraced or accepted by a number of Baptist leaders and theologians.

Southwestern Seminary issued a statement that afternoon disagreeing with McKissic’s view – and his message was removed from the seminary’s Web site.

Shortly afterwards, the president of Southwestern called a closed-session forum where trustees adopted a statement, unanimously recommended by the board’s executive committee, clarifying the seminary’s perspective on private prayer language. Only one member, McKissic, voted in opposition.

The statement referred to the seminary’s historical affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention. “We wish to remain faithful to the biblical witness and its emphases, taking into careful account the historic positions of Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular.”

According to Baptist Press, SWBTS President, Paige Patterson, expressed as “unfortunate” the need to address an action that was “ill-timed, inappropriate, unhelpful, unnecessarily divisive, and contrary to the generally accepted understandings and practices of Southern Baptists.”

In a five-page response, pastor McKissic clarified his opposition to the vote. “My conscience and biblical convictions necessitate that I vote against our president’s recommendation.”

McKissic believes that the stance recommended by Patterson and the trustees will tell “potential faculty, administrators, students, donors, and the entire Southern Baptist family ... that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is not a place where a diversity of views about the work of the Holy Spirit within the history and theology of Baptists is tolerated.”

This statement, he declared, will shift “the historic position of Southwestern Seminary from a place of open and diverse theological discussion within the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message to a de facto cessationist school” that believes some of the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit have not been operative since the New Testament church.

Citing the description of such practices as a private prayer language, which McKissic said he experiences – but the trustee statement called divisive – he observed, “The source of division in Southern Baptist life is not from those of us who want more of God’s empowering presence in our lives, and are willing to seek his power earnestly. The source of division seems to come from those who wish to silence and deny us the freedom to serve in a convention that has never in its history spoken definitively on this matter.”

“... I do not understand the agenda of those who wish to drive into the shadows those of us who are open to this area of the Spirit’s work, as clearly attested in Scripture.”

McKissic referenced controversy at the International Mission Board where the president, Jerry Rankin, has acknowledged his practice of a private prayer language.

“I now know what God-called Southern Baptist missionaries must feel when they are told that they are unqualified to serve because of a work of the Spirit in their private devotional life,” McKissic wrote. “I know what it must feel like to serve as a leader in our convention, like IMB President Jerry Rankin, when the institution you serve passes policies that would keep you from serving had they been in effect when you began serving.”

“It is time for Southern Baptists to recognize our diversity on these matters,” McKissic wrote, reiterating his call for the Southern Baptist Convention “as a whole to address this matter.”

McKissic made it clear he intends to maintain his friendship with Patterson, expressing ongoing appreciation for the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence of which Patterson was a part.

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Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director for Send him your e-mail comments.

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