NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new study by LifeWay Research on the use of private prayer language indicates that half of Southern Baptist pastors believe the Holy Spirit gives some people a special language to pray to God.
The study also indicates the majority of Protestant senior pastors (63 percent) and laity (51 percent) believe in the gift of a private prayer language.
The study was conducted by phone survey to 1,004 Protestant laity, 405 Southern Baptist (SBC) senior pastors and 600 non-SBC Protestant senior pastors in April-May 2007. In addition, the LifeWay report includes a study of SBC seminary graduates initially conducted by the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research. All 1998-2004 master’s-level graduates from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary were invited to participate (a limited subset of graduates from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were available for the study).
The survey asked SBC pastors, Protestant pastors and laity their beliefs about private prayer language using this wording: “Do you believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately? Some people refer to this as a Private Prayer Language or the ‘private use of tongues.'”
Fifty percent of Southern Baptist pastors answered “Yes,” 43 percent said “No,” and 7 percent responded “Don’t know.”
Non-SBC pastors are more likely to believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people a private prayer language than Southern Baptist pastors. Sixty-six percent of non-SBC pastors responded “Yes,” 32 percent responded “No,” and 3 percent responded “Don’t know.”
Protestant pastors (Southern Baptists and non-SBC) are more likely to believe the Holy Spirit gives some people a private prayer language (63 percent) than Protestant laity (51 percent).
Of the Protestant laity surveyed, 15 percent responded “Don’t know” when asked if they believe in the gift of private prayer language. Of the Protestant pastors, only 3 percent are unsure.
Southern Baptist senior pastors are more likely than non-SBC Protestant pastors to understand “tongues” in the New Testament to mean the “God-given ability to speak another language” (62 percent versus 54 percent).
The majority of Protestant pastors understand “tongues” in the New Testament as “the God-given ability to speak another language you had not previously been able to speak” (55 percent). Thirty percent of Protestant pastors understand “tongues” to mean “special utterances given by the Holy Spirit meant as messages to the congregation with the help of an interpreter.” The remaining pastors selected the “Don’t know” category (15 percent).
Laity are divided among the meanings “God-given ability to speak another language” (32 percent) and “special utterances given by the Holy Spirit” (37 percent), while 31 percent responded “Don’t know.”
Southern Baptist pastors are more likely than non-SBC pastors to believe that the gift of tongues has ceased. Forty-one percent responded “this gift was only given in the days of the Apostles” versus 29 percent of non-SBC pastors.
The majority of Protestant pastors believe the spiritual gift of tongues is “still given today to some believers” (53 percent); 30 percent believe this gift was “only given in the days of the Apostles”; 13 percent believe “the gift is still given today to all true believers”; and 3 percent “Don’t know.”
When asked about speaking tongues publicly, the majority of Protestant laity also believe the gift of tongues is still given today, while 20 percent indicate the gift was only given in the days of the Apostles. Twenty-seven percent said the gift is given today to all true believers, and 26 percent responded the gift is given today to some believers. A quarter of laity responded “Don’t know.”
Recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates are more likely to believe the gift of tongues has ceased than current SBC pastors. Fifty-five percent of recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates believe “the gift of tongues (as described in 1 Corinthians) ceased to be a valid gift in times past.” A minority of Southern Baptist pastors (41 percent) believe the spiritual gift of tongues was only given in the days of the Apostles.
“More recent graduates tend to be more ‘cessationist’ than their pastoral counterparts in SBC churches,” explained Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. “A majority of recent SBC seminary graduates are cessationists — the only group in our study that identified with this position at over 50 percent.”
Ed Stetzer, LifeWay’s new director of research, noted there are two sizeable yet contradictory positions among SBC pastors. Half believe the Holy Spirit gives today the private use of tongues, while and at the same time 41 percent identify themselves as cessationists.
The pastors and laity were not asked if they personally practice the gift of tongues. However, recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates were asked if they “pray in tongues, practice glossolalia, or have a private prayer language.” Less than 6 percent of the graduates practice the gift and less than 4 percent of those graduates who currently work in Southern Baptist ministries practice the gift.
When asked why LifeWay Research conducted this study, Brad Waggoner, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay, stated, “LifeWay Research is committed to studying issues and trends that impact churches. This is an issue that is being discussed throughout the [Southern Baptist] Convention, and we wanted to determine the perceptions and opinions of SBC leaders.”
Regarding the use of the NAMB study, Waggoner told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, “While the two surveys were similar in nature, they were not identical,” particularly with regard to the NAMB study asking recent seminary graduates about their own practice of a private prayer language whereas the LifeWay study did not ask that question of Southern Baptist or Protestant pastors.
An Inside LifeWay podcast featuring Waggoner, Stetzer and McConnell discussing the study is available at www.lifeway.com/insidelifeway. Inside LifeWay is the official news podcast of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter contributed to this story.