The Sad State of Southern Baptists
Several years ago, someone confused the Southern Baptist Convention with the Assemblies of God. I was flabbergasted. How could anyone confuse the two? Baptists come from a Calvinist background, AOG from a Wesleyan Arminian background. WeÂ have different kinds of polity, but most important, they are charismatic and Southern Baptists were solidly anti-charismatic.
However, I knew that there was great danger. Many Baptist churches have been importing charismatic worship styles. The presumed reason was that they thought it would reach more people. It seems to me that the more this style is used, the lower our baptismal rates are going. But the real danger was and is that if you import charismatic worship practices you will eventually import charismatic theology.
Well, it has happened. According to a survey by Lifeway (once upon a time called the Sunday School Board of the SBC), 50% of SBC pastors believe in or accept the possibility of a private prayer language. I am trying to understand.
There is no biblical evidence for private prayer language. Read that as none, zip, absolutely zero evidence. They base it on a contrived look atÂ 1 Corinthians 14 and even more contrived, just plain bizarre interpretation of Romans 8:26. It is quite clear that in 1 Corinthians 14 that Paul is imposing limits on the use of the gift of tongues. In that discussion, he said that if a person just speaks with his spirit, in other words, not use his mind, he speaks nonsense. Why was Paul even addressing this? Because he told them that if there was no interpreter, then do not speak. In other words, the text has nothing to do with prayer or prayer language. And in Romans 8:26 the groaning is done by the Holy Spirit not the believer. And even if it was done by the believer, it is GROANING, not a language.
I do not understand the desire for such a practice. It can do no good. If the person does not know what he says, what good is it? How does communicating nonsense to God make any sense? God does not need a finite, puny, human mind transmitting encrypted data to Him. Our sovereign God knows all things. And if it is a Spiritual gift, then it violates the purpose of spiritual gifts in that it benefits the believer and not the church. In other words, spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the local church, 1 Corinthians 12:7.
I suspect that the survey has some problems, but I am no mathematician. However, I also suspect that this is a political issue. Since the International Mission Board dealt with private prayer language (because they rightly saw it as a threat to Baptist work), it has become a weapon for a certain group who want to take over the SBC. We have suffered through almost 30 years of infighting only to have the whole thing fragment into these kinds of issues. It is my perception that we fought over the integrity of the Bible, only many, many leaders don’t actually believe in it or live it. Just recently, a secret meeting was held here in Louisiana. It was supposed to be a meeting of young innovative pastors. Part of the purpose of the meeting was to organize so that they would have more say in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. I suspect this kind of thing is going on all over the SBC. What should we to expect after almost 30 years of fighting? We have a generation of young leaders who think that the way you get what you want is through power politics.
For whatever reason, we Baptists have lost sight of biblical faith. We stopped believing in the legitimate role of the Holy Spirit a long time ago. It the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin (John 16:8) yet we can’t rely on the Holy Spirit anymore. We must help him out or we must take over because the Holy Spirit just can’t do the work to our satisfaction.
Worship has become big entertainment. We turn worship into a three-ringed circus, complete with animals in church. Church is a stage. Baptist churches are actually turning their “stages” into Pirates of the Caribbean sets. Many copy the latest gag on the David Letterman show. Symbols of the faith are removed, sermons are now little warm talks about how God wants us to be happy. No one preaches about sin particularly telling the lost that they are sinners in such a way that it is clear that they are eternally damned by their sin. We don’t want to offend and we want to slip people into the kingdom without real repentance. We don’t think the Holy Spirit can do his work without our gimmicks. So, we waste millions of dollars looking like the latest charismatic church. And we add people to our membership lists who say they believe in Jesus but who never acknowledged they were sinners nor did they repent of their sin. We have forgotten that real evangelism is not about gimmicks or about expensive programs but about people telling people about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and about faithful pastors preaching the Word.
We need leaders who will stand up for the Bible that so many fought for. We need humble leadership who live humble lives that express biblical sanctification in their daily life. We need professors who will teach their students to love the church as Christ loved the church. We need members who will practice the faith while rejecting all the materialistically driven charismatic practices. We need to rediscover the local church and she needs to repent before God and seek God’s face. That is our only hope-no more programs, or high powered, arrogant leaders who live lavish lifestyles and receive ridiculous salaries.
I wish I had some optimism to offer. But we started with the charismatic worship practices, which has lead to our tolerance of charismatic theology, including private prayer language. I fully expect the issue of tongues to come forward as well as healing services and prosperity gospel. I only hope that a Baptist remnant will remain.