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Pastor to stay on trustee board despite prayer language issue

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The lone opponent of a statement clarifying how Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees expect faculty to approach the practice of a private prayer language found a silver lining to the cloud he sees over Texas school following the Oct. 17 vote.

Dwight McKissic said he is grateful for the “honesty and straightforwardness” with which the view of private prayer language was set forth, believing it will help prospective students and interested churches that hold to the practice evaluate whether they’re welcome at the nearly century-old school.

“Now students know the school has shifted from the openness of the era of Hemphill, Garrett and MacGorman,” McKissic told the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal, referring to the former seminary president and two faculty members whose views he described as contradictory to the trustees’ new statement. “Southwestern Seminary does not believe in the legitimacy of private prayer language,” McKissic stated, adding that the “philosophical shift” causes him to question the school’s belief about biblical inerrancy.

McKissic’s accusation is based on the Apostle Paul’s instruction that the exercise of the spiritual gift of tongues should not be forbidden. “I’m just surprised when the Bible says do not forbid that this institution is going on record clearly disobeying what the Word of God says on this. It clearly excludes anybody who endorses a private prayer life,” McKissic continued, placing Billy Graham, Jack Taylor and SBC President Frank Page in that camp.

Baptist Press was in the process Oct. 20 of attempting to independently check McKissic’s claims regarding the various views he attributes to those he mentions.

“I know a lot of people who go before God with a groan, a moan, a sound you cannot translate into English. [The seminary] has said to all those people you’re not welcome here. If there’s anything I feel good about, it is that it brought this to a point of going on the record.”

Had he known the seminary would draft such a statement, McKissic said he would not have accepted the assignment as a trustee. “I don’t need any more meetings,” he said.

While discouraged to the point of sometimes considering resigning as a trustee after his first meeting, McKissic said, “I’m not gonna let my flesh do that. It’s not about what I want.” He found encouragement from the many Southern Baptists who called or e-mailed praising his stand. “For those people I will continue to act.”

McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said he believes Page was placed in office “for such a time as this” in SBC life, describing the author of “The Trouble with TULIP” as allowing for a private prayer language in spite of not practicing such a devotion himself. “He wouldn’t be qualified to be a professor” in light of the statement, McKissic contended. “The fact that he’s open on this question is the principal reason that I remain.”

McKissic found it ironic that Southwestern Seminary is the place where he first spoke in tongues in private. “The policy speaks loud and clear to me that such a person would not be welcome. I feel like Martin Luther when he stood alone against the Catholic Church.”

Having called on Page and the SBC Executive Committee to consider revisiting the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement to clarify the view toward private prayer language, McKissic will await their decision. “I pray the SBC makes a decision that continualists, semi-cessationists and cessationists can coexist in SBC life and through all our agencies. That will determine my future in Southern Baptist life.”

After preaching a chapel sermon Aug. 29 in which he criticized a new International Mission Board policy refusing missionary candidates who practice a private prayer language, McKissic apologized for “failing to get the memo” that forbids criticism of a sister entity. “The memo came out today.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter