A pastor whose Aug. 29 chapel sermon was partially censored by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to add a statement concerning speaking in tongues to its articles of faith.

William Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, on Friday issued an open letter asking SBC president Frank Page and the SBC Executive Committee to begin a process of amending the Baptist Faith & Message “regarding our position(s) on spiritual gifts, private prayer language and speaking in tongues.”

Southwestern Seminary’s president decided not to make video and audio of McKissic’s sermon available on a Web site, saying views he expressed about private prayer language aren’t shared by a majority of faculty. McKissic, a seminary trustee, told students and faculty he prays privately in unintelligible tongues and said trustees of the International Mission Board were wrong to ban the practice for missionaries in a policy adopted last fall.

In his open letter, McKissic said there is nothing in the Bible or Baptist Faith & Message that contradicts what he said in chapel.

“I’ve only been given explanations of private interpretations of Scripture,” he wrote. “What makes one Baptist private interpretation of Scripture authoritative and not another Baptist view of a topic or text in the absence of an official position on the topic by the Baptist Faith and Message?”

McKissic said certain denominational leaders have made “cessationism“–the view that charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit including tongues, healing and miracles, ceased early in Christian history–the de-facto view of the SBC, even though the convention has never addressed the matter in its confession of faith.

McKissic said he believes if the “continualist” viewpoint were properly explained to Southern Baptists, they would affirm it in a vote at the annual convention in 2007 or 2008. But if indeed the majority of Southern Baptists are cessationist, he said, “doctrinal clarity and integrity” demand the convention say so.

“It is extremely unfair for a Southern Baptist who is continualist to observe the convention’s boards and agencies move toward cessationist and semi-cessationist policies, thus identifying all Southern Baptists with these viewpoints without convention approval,” he wrote. “The SBC owns the boards and agencies. They shouldn’t be defining theology and polarizing and alienating the Southern Baptist family over these secondary and tertiary matters, unless the convention officially sanctions these viewpoints. Missionaries shouldn’t be disqualified to serve solely based on their private prayers lives.”

Even if the cessationist position in a majority view of Southern Baptists, he said, “Since when did majority opinion dictate theological interpretation and practice in SBC life beyond the Baptist Faith and Message?”

“The majority of Southern Baptists at one point didn’t believe in or practice raising hands, clapping hands, or praising the Lord with a holy dance and many still don’t,” he wrote. “Are we also going to adopt policies to outlaw these practices (although they are biblical) based on the majority view?

“The majority of Southern Baptist don’t tithe or practice soul winning. Should we stop preaching and teaching tithing and soul winning because it is out of step with the majority of Southern Baptists?

“The majority reported to Moses that it was too dangerous to enter Canaan. The majority voted to crucify Jesus. The majority voted to restrict personal religious freedom in England, which led many of them to come to America in pursuit of religious freedom. Why are we restricting Baptists’ private prayer lives and making it a litmus test for orthodoxy? Have we forgotten our heritage?”

McKissic said under current policy, “The Apostle Paul could not serve as an IMB missionary or testify about a private prayer language in a SWBTS chapel without facing termination or having his epistles censored by seminary administrator.”

“Southern Baptists are diverse in our viewpoints regarding spiritual gifts,” McKissic said. “The Southern Baptist tent should be large enough to include cessationist, semi-cessationist and the continualist viewpoints. I believe that we could unify our convention by acknowledging in the context of the Baptist Faith and Message that Baptist that scholars and lay people have diverse viewpoints and they all are within the boundaries of acceptable evangelical scholarship.”

McKissic said if the Executive Committee doesn’t act on his request for a study he will make a motion himself at next summer’s annual meeting.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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