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SWBTS takes stance against Pentecostal/charismatic doctrine

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Fixing its focus on historic New Testament and Baptist doctrine to guide students in the tasks of world missions and evangelism, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language nor hire professors who advocate the practice, according to a statement issued by trustees Oct. 17.

Earlier this semester one of the seminary’s new trustees preached a chapel message in which he defended the practice of a private prayer language. In an Aug. 29 sermon, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, took issue with the International Mission Board policy refusing to appoint missionary candidates who engage in the contemporary neo-charismatic practice.

SWBTS President Paige Patterson, in the midst of what he told the Southern Baptist TEXAN would be a report on “exciting evidence of the blessings of the hand of God” on the seminary, 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.”

Consequently, at the president’s encouragement in a closed-session forum Oct. 16, trustees adopted a statement unanimously recommended by the board’s executive committee clarifying the seminary’s perspective on private prayer language with only one member, McKissic, voting in opposition.

The statement referenced the seminary’s affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention for the sole purpose of “training men and women to understand the Bible in all its ramifications in order to facilitate the assignment of Christ as provided in the Great Commission,” citing Matthew 28:18-20. “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,” the trustees stated.

“As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary.” The trustees pledged, “Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’ Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”

Southwestern’s trustees expressed a resolve to devote the seminary’s energies to “the twin tasks of world missions and evangelism,” emphases which “were characteristic of our founders, B.H. Carroll, L.R. Scarborough, and George W. Truett.”

Patterson told the TEXAN he expressed in the Oct. 16 forum a desire to be “true to biblical instruction as understood by our best efforts to interpret the message of the Bible, while taking into account the positions of Baptists from the past.” Most Southern Baptists both acknowledge and advocate the practice of spiritual gifts as described in the New Testament, he explained. However, faithfulness to the entirety of the New Testament requires the need to “test the spirits” to see if they are of God, he said.

Patterson said “sincere misunderstandings and misreadings of Scripture, excesses, and sometimes apparent deliberate deception” sometimes occur. He pledged that the seminary will always resist such errors in an effort to be both a lighthouse for the Gospel and a stronghold for biblical theology.

“Southern Baptists have always recognized true brothers and sisters in Christ within various charismatic groups and denominations,” Patterson told the TEXAN. “In keeping with our historic Baptist convictions, we affirm the right of all to believe and to promote the convictions of their hearts.” Based on “best efforts” to interpret Scripture, Patterson added, “Neither in the past nor in the present have many Baptists believed that the Pentecostal or charismatic movements represented an accurate representation of New Testament doctrine and practice.”

Patterson said he told trustees the issue is not about the president of Southwestern Seminary nor “a much esteemed and greatly loved pastor and newly elected trustee.” Instead, it concerns “Southwestern’s trajectory for the future — whether we shall be clearly identified as Baptist or only baptistic.” He described the choice as “whether we will remain distinctive in our convictions or whether we will succumb to the neo-ecumenism of the time, embracing, as it certainly does, many of the doctrines and emphases of charismatic theology.”

While statements of faith from the Assemblies of God reveal they are “baptistic” based on their advocacy of believer’s baptism by immersion, Patterson said they are not Baptist. “We can favor the unity of God’s born-again saints, which does not involve compromise, but we cannot countenance any ecumenical movement, whether it be the National Council of Churches or the pressure of the contemporary neo-charismatic perspectives.”

Trustee chairman Van McClain of New York indicated no further statement would be made regarding the subject. “I believe the board has addressed the issue of the Aug. 29 chapel service by this statement. I believe Dr. Patterson handled the matter in an appropriate manner and there is no need for the board to make any other statement at this time.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter