Southern Baptist pastors opened debate on speaking in tongues at a weekend conference where a charismatic Baptist sought to educate his fellow believers on the Holy Spirit.
Hundreds of Christians, mainly Southern Baptists, attended "A Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit" in Arlington, Texas, as either skeptics of charismatic practices or as supporters.
After affirming his own conviction that he has been gifted with a private prayer language, Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church said Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit it celebrates, are largely overlooked in Baptist churches, according to the Associated Baptist Press. And the lack of awareness is a loss for Baptists, he added.
McKissic had triggered the controversial debate within the Southern Baptist Convention on the gifts of the Holy Spirit last year when he spoke of experiencing private prayer language during a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
While the majority of Southern Baptist leaders do not practice or accept charismatic practices, Baptists are split on the issue and SBC president Frank Page also recognized and let stand the varying interpretations within the denomination.
"[B]ecause I do believe there are varying interpretations, I believe it is okay to believe one way or the other," said Page, months after the chapel sermon.
The Apr. 27-29 conference presented charismatic, continualist, semi-cessationist, and cessationist viewpoints of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
One skeptic of speaking in tongues said exegesis cannot answer the question of the current-day validity of the use of tongues or a private prayer language.
"Two people using the same methods of interpretation can look at the same text and come to completely opposite conclusions. When someone says, 'I'm speaking in tongues and it is from the Holy Spirit,' some people believe them and other people don't, and there's the difference," said Bart Barber of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, as he presented the semi-cessationist viewpoint (belief that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the early church), according to Baptist Press.
He went further to address the bans on some charismatic practices at the domestic and international mission agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Arguing that the mission boards have not wronged people who practice private prayer language by not funding their missions, Barber explained, "In the process of reviewing a candidate's background, they can come to the conclusion, 'That's not Baptist missions but Pentecostal. If they choose not to fund that, they have not denied anyone's liberty," Baptist Press reported.
The Rev. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Enid, Okla., challenged Barber, saying the International Mission Board policies are too restrictive.
Burleson indicated in his latest blog post that he has seen all spiritual gifts in operation and experienced them first-hand. And although experience, "in isolation from the biblical text, proves little," it still "must be noted, especially if it illustrates or embodies what we see in the biblical text," he wrote.
Amid varying viewpoints, McKissic, who hosted the conference, stressed that the conference was not about indoctrination but about education and fostering understanding between people with different opinions.
"I have a dream that the Baptist family will come together – not as black, Hispanic, Asian and white [nor] as tongue-speakers and not-tongue-speakers," he said, according to ABP. "I have a dream that we will come together as Christians."