Month: November 2006

GRACE GIVING: Gov. Perry urges Baptists to speak truth in public square

AUSTIN–In a visit to the ninth Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting, newly re-elected Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged Baptists to take a stand in the public square for faith and God’s eternal truths. Speaking from the pulpit of Great Hills Baptist Church Nov. 14, Perry shared the story of his faith journey, affirmed the pastor’s role and responsibility in society and his own commitment to protect unborn human life.

“I don’t make any bones about it. I’m a Christian,” said Perry, a Methodist and fifth-generation Texan from Paint Creek.

Perry’s walk of faith began in the small town with one school and no post office 60 miles north of Abilene.

“We had a Baptist church on one end of the property and a Methodist church on the other end. So we spent as much time in the Baptist church and Vacation Bible School.”

Perry said he was honored to speak to “men and women who are dedicated to building a better Texas and dedicated to the faith.”

“My walk of faith started a long time ago and is substantially a more important journey [than the one] I made from that little place in Paint Creek that has taken me to the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas,” he said. “My walk has taken me to the top of a number of mountains and to the very depths of a few valleys. I’m sure my mama thought I’d never make it out of the shadow of the valley–but by the grace of God here I am, a confessed sinner who has accepted our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Perry was quick to add that although he is a committed Christian, he is a flawed person who still has a lot to learn about faith.

“I’m not going to insult anyone here by saying that I’m an authority on the Christian faith or that I’m deeply versed on the Greek, but I’m an imperfect practitioner of the Christian faith,” he said. “But I do know that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, the God who blinded Saul so he could see as Paul, and who led the early Christians with the power of the Holy Spirit, the God that transcends time and ?history and who has called men and women of his own choosing is alive and well and continues to concern himself with all the issues that go on in the world today. He is alive.”

Perry said while he is thankful to know the Creator God counts every hair on our heads and is familiar with the number of drops of water in the ocean, he finds utmost comfort in the knowledge that God cares for humanity.

“The all-knowing, all-powerful Creator has a specific plan for each one of us–whether you are the child of privilege, whether you are a single mom or a son of two tenant farmers from Paint Creek, Texas–he has a plan for you.”

With a foundation built on faith in God, Perry said he understands the difficulties that arise in living the Christian life.

Acknowledging that “life’s most important battles are not waged in the halls of government; they are waged in the hearts and souls of men and women,” Perry commended Texas pastors and laymen for their call to serve Texas and the world.

“A governor has an important role. We have an important role to play in distributing services to people in need, but you dispense something more important and that is hope–the hope of redemption,” he said to the convention pastors.

Perry said he ran for governor intent on making a profound difference on society and individuals. Recently re-elected with more than 1.7 million votes, Perry garnered roughly 39 percent of the total ballots. Believing voters have confirmed his goals for office, Perry said he desires to make a lasting difference “at such a time as this.”

With spiritual battles ravaging culture and politics, Perry asked if “our children will be drawn to a culture of godlessness and licentiousness, or will we illuminate them with a path” of truth? “Will they be raised by the values taught on television or by the values taught by two loving parents? Will they aspire to hear the praise of men or the words ‘well done, good and faithful servant?’

“I am always intrigued with the debate that rages, and I ask myself if we can so openly talk about the spiritual battles that confront us in the Sunday pulpit, why can we not have the same debate in the public square?”

In finding a public forum for discussion, Perry said one of the greatest lies of all time is the misperception that morality cannot be legislated.

“The fact is, we can’t change people’s values just by passing a law. But to say you can’t legislate morality is to abdicate all responsibility for the laws we do legislate,” he said emphatically. “If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither lock up criminals nor set them free. If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither allow prayer in school nor prevent it. If you cannot legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage nor prevent it. I say you can’t not legislate morality.”

Perry said a larger question looms over the predicament of legislating morality: whose morals will we legislate?

“Some say the people of faith shouldn’t impose their beliefs on society,” he said, noting his critics have used this criticism against him during the recent election. “They claim that is intolerance, but isn’t the act of shutting people of faith out of the public square the very different definition of intolerance?”

In trying to find balance between morality and intolerance, Perry acknowledged that today’s culture is pluralistic in nature and that the government should not endorse a particular view. But the governor also said “freedom of religion should not be confused with freedom from religion.”

“What a sad day it will be when the role of faith in the public squire is limited to a few monuments and symbols while the laws of God are on assault,” Perry said. “That’s a sad day if it were to become a reality.”

In looking at the laws of God that should be protected, Perry reaffirmed his commitment to the sanctity of life.

“One of those eternal truths is the idea that human life is sacred and should always be protected by the laws of this state and this nation,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from convention messengers. “Today, that truth is under assault by the decision made by the highest court in our system. The most vulnerable are to be taken from us before they are ever born.”

Quoting Jeremiah 1:5, Perry said God’s Word reveals a Creator “who had plans for our lives—who has plans for all of mankind—long before we were ever even conceived. I can only imagine the great sorrow that God feels for the lives of purpose who are lost to the tragedy of abortion.”

While it is true that not every child is born into ideal circumstances, Perry said there is no such thing as an unwanted child.

“God calls people of all circumstances. Look at Moses floating along in that basket by the river. He was condemned by an edict by Pharaoh that all Hebrew baby boys would be killed. He was the son of a slave. You could argue that Moses was not born into ideal circumstances, but my God works in some mysterious and I would suggest, even humorous, ways. This 3-month-old outlaw was rescued by the daughter of the man who sought his death—raised all on Pharaoh’s credit card,” Perry said with a smile.

With so many parents vying for adoption, Perry said God is a loving Creator who not only gives life, but also provides a clear purpose for those lives. With the lives of society’s most vulnerable at stake, Perry wondered how people of faith can abstain from entering the public square.

“How can you be silent when those without a voice need a chance?” asked Perry, who signed a bill last year limiting late-term abortions and requiring girls under the age of 18 to obtain parental permission for the procedure.

“How can you turn your back on policies that trap the very people that they are supposed to help? A government’s compassion shouldn’t be at odds with wisdom.”

Perry said his role as governor gives him an unusual perspective on Christian social responsibility.

“I want to lead this state with an inclusive agenda that lifts all people up,” he said. “People of faith mustn’t be lulled into complacency. You need to be empowered for your faith to change the face of our state and nation.

With the danger of indifference lurking in our hearts, the governor encouraged Texas Southern Baptists to speak up for truth and faith.

“I stand before you today one flawed human being who God has given a great opportunity to make a difference. But I want to be real up front with you. It is not about me. With all due respect, it isn’t about you either,” Perry said. “Whether we get the credit it is irrelevant, as long as God gets the glory. If we will take an unshakeable stand and build on the solid rock, then we can make a huge difference. But we must speak the truth and act decisively in the public square.”

SBTC raises percentage for SBC missions, hears from Texas governor





AUSTIN?Messengers to the ninth Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting voted to increase the percentage of Cooperative Program funding for Southern Baptist Convention mission causes to 54 percent and approved an unprecedented ministry relationship with the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas.


Newly re-elected Republican Gov. Rick Perry addressed the meeting at Austin’s Great Hills Baptist Church during the afternoon session Nov. 14, with Perry telling messengers, “I don’t make any bones about it. I’m a Christian.” Perry said churches offer people something government cannot: redemption.


Miles Seaborn, retired pastor of Fort Worth’s Birchman Baptist Church and a former missionary to the Philippines, received the H. Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award, named in honor of Pressler’s work in the SBC’s conservative theological resurgence and given annually to a Texan who has demonstrated similar leadership at the state or national level.


Seaborn was instrumental in the 1998 formation of the SBTC, which has grown from about 120 churches to more than 1,820. Pressler said he initially “threw cold water” on the idea of a new state convention.


“The fact that we’re here today?over 1,820 churches?a budget that is very strong, a great leadership in giving Cooperative Program funds, a leadership in missions, a leadership in soul winning, is due to the vision of Miles Seaborn. And Miles, I’m grateful for you. You saw it, you understood it, I didn’t. And thank you for leading. I’m very grateful to you.”


Of the 2007 budget of $20.079 million, the remaining 46 percent of CP receipts will fund Texas ministries. The budget is an increase of $778,840, or 4.04 percent, over 2006.

PASTOR’S CONFERENCE: Elliff tells pastors: highest calling is being with Jesus

AUSTIN?Speaking from authority gained through experience, key Southern Baptist preachers and leaders addressed the unique ministry challenges pastors face during the Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, held Nov. 12-13 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.

The pastors heard from former SBC president Tom Elliff that their highest calling is being with Jesus. During the two-day conference that preceded the SBTC annual meeting, the group elected new officers. Serving first terms are President Don Wills, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth; First Vice President Billy Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fate; and Secretary-Treasurer Lyn Holly, pastor of Boyd Baptist Church of Bonham.

The Pastor’s High Calling

Using Martha and Mary as examples, Elliff, International Mission Board vice president for spiritual nurture, told the conference during the opening session that a pastor’s highest calling is simply being with Jesus. If a pastor’s activity grows greater than his personal fellowship with Christ, Elliff predicted an eventual train wreck would occur. “Sometimes people around you notice before you. A dry well sounds deep to itself,” Elliff said, noting that the religious leaders in Acts 4:13 perceived that Peter and John, though unlearned, had been with Jesus.

“What is the greatest joy of heaven going to be? Uninterrupted witness and fellowship with Christ,” Elliff remarked. “The highest calling is being with Jesus.” Elliff said there is danger in teaching people to love the principles of Christianity without loving the person of Christ. From a comparison of the two sisters described in Luke 10:38-42, Elliff explained how Martha, while doing worthy activities, failed to respect the highest calling of fellowship with Jesus?the one thing that would not be taken away from her. In Mary’s life is a definition of the relationship that pastors, and all Christians, must have for effective service, Elliff said.

From the passage, Elliff observed about Mary: her posture, seated before him, revealed her reverence for Jesus; her proximity revealed her availability as she sat as close to Jesus as discretely possible; and her preference revealed a desire not just to hear, but also to listen to Jesus.

Elliff told of his grandfather, whom he was assisting in his wood shop one day, asking young Elliff to fetch a tool. While he looked for it, his grandfather used his screwdriver instead because it was handy. “‘Listen, I didn’t use this screwdriver because it was the best tool for the job,'” Elliff said, quoting his grandfather’s words. “‘I used it because it was close to my hand.’ And then he said, ‘I want to tell you something, Tommy. There are a lot of men out there you’re going to meet; they are perfect to do something ? God has great things in store for them. They are so equipped. But they’ll never be used, and you’re going to wonder why. Just remember this, son. It’s the handy tool that gets used the most.'”

“If the highest calling is defined by Mary, it’s differentiated by Martha,” Elliff said. “Here we see some things that look a lot like being with Jesus. They’re not bad things, but you can do them and not be with Jesus,” he said, noting of Martha: her praise, by which she welcomed him with her words, failed to affirm him from her heart; her productivity that only amounted to “doing stuff” for God; and her plea for help instead of spending time in fellowship with Jesus. “Nobody was better at doing stuff than Martha.”

Youth ministry summit to explore mass exodus of young from churches

FORT WORTH?The death knell of Western Christianity may be the mass exodus of young people from evangelical churches within a year of high school graduation. At least that’s the contention of some youth experts familiar with church statistics.

Somewhere between 75 to 88 percent of young people leave the church in their late teens and aren’t reconnecting later.

The low number, 75 percent, represents the findings reported by LifeWay Christian Resources’ Glenn Schultz in his book “Kingdom Education.” The 2002 report of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life stated a higher number?88 percent?of young people from evangelical homes who leave the church.

Similar numbers are getting the news media’s attention, prompting questions about Christianity’s viability in North America.

The statistics alarmed SBTC Youth Evangelism Associate Brad Bunting enough to organize a summit next month of some of the leading youth experts to tackle the problem.

That summit, called “Discovering a Biblical Paradigm for Youth Ministry,” is planned for Dec. 7 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and is sponsored by the SBTC. It is free of charge and will attempt to answer why churches are not retaining their young adults and to formulate solutions, Bunting said.

The eight-person panel includes Southwestern professor and True Love Waits founder Richard Ross; Houston pastor Voddie Baucham; Mark Matlock, founder of Wisdom Works and a youth ministry author and speaker; Eric Bancroft, youth minister at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., and professor at The Master’s College; Bubba Thurman, youth minister at LakePointe Church in Rockwall; Alvin Reid, evangelism professor at Southeastern Seminary; Jeff Pratt, managing director of student ministry publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources; and Johnny Derouen, youth ministry professor at Southwestern.

According to promotional material, the topics will address:

?What should biblically principled youth ministry look like?

?Is there a biblical model for youth ministry?

?What is the greatest role that youth ministry can play in the local church?

?Does contemporary youth ministry usurp the role of parents in the discipleship of students?

?What needs to change in the current youth ministry paradigm?

“Our current approach to youth ministry is unbiblical, unhealthy and unsuccessful,”

Baucham said in a statement printed on the conference flyer. “The overwhelming majority of teens in our churches are biblically illiterate, steeped in secular humanism, and are not likely to stay in the faith past their freshman year in college. We can no longer turn a blind eye and conduct ‘business as usual’ if we are serious about our future.”

Bunting said in 1972 Southern Baptist churches baptized 138,000 young people?the highest number on record. Since then youth baptisms have dropped dramatically while the United States population has increased to more than 300 million. In 2004, the number had dropped to 84,000 baptisms. In 2005, the number was 81,000.

“So what we’ve been doing is not effective,” Bunting said.

Not that the blame belongs entirely to youth ministers, Bunting added. The family breakdown and cultural rot also have played negative roles in reaching and discipling students, he said.

Criswell Theological Review tackles charismatic gifts question

DALLAS–“Ever since conservatives regained control of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination has found itself embroiled in a variety of theological controversies.” In his lead editorial for the new issue of the Criswell Theological Review, Editor R. Alan Streett recalls that critics claimed once the battle was won, conservatives would turn and start taking aim at each other.
“The prognostications were not far off the mark,” Streett notes, citing heated debates over egalitarianism, Calvinism, elder-rule, the Emergent church, social drinking and war policy. In the latest controversy within the SBC, speaking in tongues, CTR attempts “to separate fact from fiction” in the fall 2006 edition released on the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which introduced the Pentecostal Movement to America.
Criswell College humanities professor Barry K. Creamer avoids attacking either the sincerity or mode of expression of a half-billion people worldwide who claim to practice sign gifts through religious and emotional expressions.
“It must be admitted that there is no simple point-and-shoot passage to resolve the issue,” he writes, adding that most people readily admit some gifts and activities cease at some point.
“Even if one acquiesces that there is not a single, brief passage which pointedly addresses this issue, it is not the same as admitting that the Bible gives no direction to it,” Creamer says.
He prefers to frame the issue so that Scripture can address it, he states, by asking what is meant by a gift being supernatural or miraculous. He reduces the query further by asking whether God still gives supernatural gifts and whether he gives them as signs. Since sign gifts indicate apostolic authority, then any ongoing specific revelation today threatens the authority of the completed canon of Scripture, Creamer asserts.
Creamer walks the reader through a series of logical conclusions to answer the questions posed. Along the way he writes that “aberrant Christian practices” do not necessarily render the practitioners to be non-Christians.
“Whether charismatics of any brand have contributed positively to the culture or the kingdom is not in dispute here.”
In another CTR article, Edward Watson, assistant professor of biblical literature at Oral Roberts University, argues that the situation in which the SBC finds itself regarding its International Mission Board ruling on private prayer language reflects the ongoing tension over charismatic influence within the denomination over the last century. Among those Southern Baptists who at some time embraced modern Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements, he includes:
>John Osteen, who was pastor of Hibbard Memorial Baptist Church in Houston when he announced in 1958 that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues, and a year later began Lakewood Baptist Church. The church is now known as the interdenominational, charismatic Lakewood Church, where Osteen’s son, Joel, preaches his life-success message to 25,000 each week.
>James Robison, once a crusade evangelist who partnered with Southern Baptist churches throughout the Bible Belt until his announcement of deliverance from demonic oppression and support for some charismatic teachings caused many to stop supporting his evangelistic ministry. In the last decade Robison’s focus has shifted to a missions/relief program in Africa sustained by his television audience;
>Ron Phillips, once the trustee chairman of the North American Mission Board and president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, led Central Baptist Church near Chattanooga to become known as Abba House to bring “a balance to both evangelicals and charismatics as we operate in the gifts of the Spirit while firly holding to the Word of God” after he reported speaking in tongues in 1989.
Watson writes that Phillips said it should be nobody’s business whether or not a missionary candidate uses a private prayer language, stating that half the international mission force “operates in the power of the Spirit.”
Watson observes that while Southern Baptists were initially open to “manifestations of the Spirit” such as the practice of laying on of hands, cessationism took hold to view signs and wonders as limited the early church during the apostolic age. Still, he argues, Pentecostal churches have probably won more converts from among Baptists that any Protestant groups in the United States. He cites a conclusion of historian Vinson Synan and a 1979 Gallup poll in which 20 percent of all Baptists in the U.S. viewed themselves as Pentecostal or charismatic Christians.
Describing that minority view as “an extreme dichotomy within the SBC,” Watson says it indicates “strong feelings among Baptists over this delicate and divisive issue.”
Further evidence of his claim is offered through reference to a resolution offered in the annual SBC meeting of 1971 to exclude all charismatic churches from fellowship—a proposal that was defeated by messengers, and the dismissal of Southern Baptist missionaries to Singapore in 1995 for their open acceptance of charismatic practices.
Watson draws from the testimony Phillips offered in his book “Awakened by the Spirit,” to conclude, “In the end, many charismatic Baptists retain a hope that the SBC will abandon its hard stance toward its charismatic brethren and find that ‘the Baptist tent’ is big enough to ‘embrace evangelical doctrines and, at the same time, welcome the Spirit’s move.’”
Paul G. Chappell, vice president of The King’s College and Seminary in Van Nuys, Calif., offers a Pentecostal perspective of tongues as the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. His paper explains the roots of the Pentecostal Movement out of the American Holiness Movement, which redirected the biblical focus of John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection from a focus on cleansing and purification to the baptism of the Holy Ghost and Pentecostal power.
“It was the early Pentecostals’ ardent belief in the authority of Scripture and their experience of living in the midst of a powerless, impotent Christianity that created their desire to return to the primitive Apostolic era—to leap back in history to Pentecost in the book of Acts and to immediately reconnect with the God or the New Testament that demonstrated he was in living communion with humankind,” Chappell explains.
Tongues as evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the doctrinal marker that separated the new Pentecostals from their birthing holiness community, he writes before further exploring that distinctive in the article.
Roger E. Olson of Truett Seminary in Waco offers “Confessions of a Post-Pentecostal Believer in the Charismatic Gifts,” giving a firsthand account of his childhood experience and college training among Pentecostals. While careful to write that not all Pentecostals are guilty of anti-intellectualism, Olson states that attitude pervades the movement to some degree.
Eventually, he found more in common spiritually and theologically with Baptists of North American Baptist Seminary where he studied while serving at an independent Pentecostal Charismatic church. Along the way, he observed, “Pentecostal hermeneutics is seriously flawed insofar as it attempts to base that doctrine [that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit] on a pattern allegedly found in the book of Acts.”
After briefly teaching at Oral Roberts University, Olson began a 15-year stint teaching theology at the Baptist-related Bethel College in St. Paul.
“Throughout my time at Bethel I drifted farther away from my Pentecostal roots, while I watched it making inroads into mainline evangelicalism. The whole phenomenon of ‘contemporary worship’ which focuses on ‘praise and worship’ choruses is influence by Pentecostalism, the Charismatic movement and the Jesus People Movement. An anti-intellectual influx of theology into evangelicalism which focuses on inwardness and subjectivism came in large part from Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement,” he concludes.
CTR’s Streett interviewed Criswell College alumnus Tom Hatley, who chaired the IMB trustees when that passed a policy excluding the appointment of practitioners or promoters of tongues, including a private prayer language. The Arkansas pastor states that action was an addition “to the many qualifiers which are used to help applicants for mission service to determine Whether or not the IMB is the right choice for them in their calling to mission service.”
Hatley states he researched how the Southern Baptist mission board had handled appointment of people as missionaries who spoke in tongues, finding staff leadership had little tolerance for anything that resembled Pentecostal theology in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
Hatley remarks: “Back then no one had even heard of private prayer language. The private use of tongues was simply seen as just a different use of tongues. In short, no one was knowingly appointed with any such beliefs and few even applied.”
When a popular couple was turned down for appointment in 1987 because they claimed a privte use of tongues, Hatley writes that the term was introduced to trustees, prompting staff to recommend in 1989 that candidates claiming such a gift should explain its use by way of a letter. In 1992 a Mission Personnel Committee asking for an update was told people who spoke in tongues would not be commissioned, but those using tongues in their prayer closet would, Hatley recalls.
A decade later a subcommittee studied the issue over a three-year period, leading to the vote in 2005 passed by three-fourths of the trustees.
The interview with Hatley is one of several CTR articles available online at, in addition to CTR Extras where Internet readers can post responses. One of the earliest posts is by IMB trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma, who disputes Tom Hatley’s representation of tongues only as a known language.
Hatley tells Streett, “I am one of those who believe that there is still a strong majority of Southern Baptists who think that modern charismatic practices are not part of our history or our distinctives. There has been a growing number in the last two decades who have sensed the need for an accommodation of such practices into our churches and agencies.”
He says he believes the trend is driven by a desire for acceptance in the greater evangelical community where, according to Chappell, Pentecostal communities of faith represent the largest portion of the National Association of Evangelicals membership.
A second preoccupation with numbers “caused many churches to no longer make theology an essential concern for its members, at least on the front end of membership,” Hatley writes. He says many pastor friends are expressing regret in recent days for not making membership more meaningful.
“Many are seeing that a large membership does not make a church strong without a common theology that produces unity.”
Responding to those who charge that the SBC is moving out of the mainstream of evangelicalism, narrowing the doctrinal lines on secondary issues and making it difficult to do evangelism in a postmodern context, Hatley disagrees. Instead, he said evangelicalism is drifting left, causing Southern Baptists to appear less in the mainstream due to no fault of their own. Hatley argued that Southern Baptist have always held to “the right edge” of the mainstream.
“In fact, I see Southern Baptist as the anchor for the evangelical community. If we drift to center stream we send the whole community even further left and weaken Christianity around the world.”
He writes that several years of study, teaching and preaching from God’s Word about the New Testament gifts would be healthy for Southern Baptists.
“Many have seen this day coming for a long time, and the strong emotional objections of some regarding the IMB policy merely reveal the reason we have not heretofore dealt with it.”
Hatley also says IMB trustees knew there would be a strong response and initially sought to avoid conflict. “Well, that is not impossible; so, let’s take a breath and deal with it.”

Rainer: Individuals must accept responsibility for sharing gospel

TYLER?LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer told participants at the Church Leadership Conference Oct. 14 in Tyler that evangelistic churches and small groups are evangelistic because individuals take responsibility for sharing the gospel in their circles of influence.

The meeting at Friendly Baptist Church was the final of three regional Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by the SBTC this year. Two previous events were held in Euless and Houston.

Preaching from the Acts 4 account of Peter and John’s arrest for proclaiming the gospel, Rainer said the men were solely focused.

“Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard,” Rainer said, quoting from Acts 4:19-20.

Having just published the book “Simple Church” with Eric Geiger earlier this year, Rainer said one of the book’s assertions is that churches should focus on doing a few things well rather than attempting many things with mediocre results.

Peter and John were not distracted, Rainer said, from their one objective of preaching the gospel, but many churches, by contrast, have so many activities that “we forget the main thing.”

“We are so busy doing good, we are not doing that which is the best,” Rainer said. “We can be so good at doing ‘church-tianity’ that we fail to be bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ. I’m as guilty as you are. As a matter of fact, I have accountability with someone every week.”

Rainer talks with his son weekly and the two report to each other how faithful they were to share the gospel.

Rainer said LifeWay recently developed a CD, available for $1 each, with a simple gospel presentation by Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and additional material from several recording artists, including Casting Crowns.

“I hand these to people and say, ‘Here’s my name and here’s my e-mail address if you have any questions.'”

Rainer said he bought 100 of them for each of his three sons, “and they already are getting people saying they’ve accepted Christ because of this.”

“They are so many things we could be doing at church, but are we doing the main thing?” Instead, Christians must be like Peter and John, “unable to stop because of the things we have seen and heard.”

Peter and John were courageous also, Rainer stated. Amid intense opposition, they were willing to face death or imprisonment but unwilling to stop preaching.

“God is calling courageous Christians,” he said. “God is calling those who can can take an adverse situation and turn it around for the gospel.”

Rainer said his wife recently faced cancer, though she is in remission and doing better. Upon being diagnosed, she vowed to be a witness.

“‘If I die I die, and we all will. I’m going to heaven,'” Rainer said, quoting his wife’s words. “She says, ‘If I don’t, I’m going to pray that the Lord will use this to be a witness for him.’ ? She’s become in many ways a witnessing machine, if I can use that in the best sense of the word.”

Profs, former president respond on tongues

Nearly one year after the matter of private prayer language began dominating Southern Baptist headlines, pastors, professors and church members are weighing in on a topic that is relatively new and obscure to many Southern Baptists.

In several letters posted on his church’s website, Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington disagreed with what he views as forbidding the practice of a private prayer language at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seminary officials, meanwhile, have insisted they are not forbidding tongues, but instead discouraging the promotion or advocacy of the charismatic gifts by faculty and administration through a statement the school’s trustees passed in their October meeting.

To make his case, McKissic appealed to the writings of several Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professors and its former president.

The two Southwestern professors whose writings are quoted extensively, James Leo Garrett and Siegfried Schatzmann, along with former seminary president Kenneth Hemphill whom McKissic described as having endorsed the practice of private prayer language, varied in their reactions to McKissic’s citations.

One said he thought his treatment in a systematic theology text had been misrepresented as an endorsement of the practice, another preferred not to comment further and the last agreed that the practice should not be a test of fellowship.

McKissic made clear that he distinguishes his “continualist” viewpoint from a classical Pentecostal theology, favoring the word “ecstatic” to describe the use of a private prayer language.

Serving as a new trustee on Southwestern’s board, which last month issued a statement against promoting charismatic practices at the school, McKissic, convinced that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 allows freedom for both views, pressed board officers to explain how their interpretation of private prayer language is more valid than his own.

“If my interpretation is unbiblical and harmful to the churches, how are you going to label the interpretations of current faculty members that are similar to mine as I will reference and document later?” McKissic asked.

Responding to a request from Baptist Press to clarify his view, Hemphill noted he had been referenced on the topic in both the recent discussion at Southwestern as well as in a document IMB trustees used a year ago. Both trustee boards used his 1992 book “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Discovering Your True Self Through Spiritual Gifts,” as a source. Hemphill’s workbook on spiritual gifts was released a few years later.

“Since a brief quotation from a much larger context has been used, additional information might prove helpful,” he told BP. “I do believe that Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 prohibits the public display of tongues in worship. He declares that they can be confusing to the ungifted,” citing 1 Corinthians 14:16, “and detrimental to evangelism,” referring to verse 23.

“I do not, however, believe that 1 Corinthians 14 provides sufficient scriptural warrant to prohibit the practice of a personal prayer language. I do not believe the Bible clearly teaches the cessation of such gifts,” Hemphill said.

“There are legitimate issues of interpretative difference on this matter among scholars with a commitment to biblical inerrancy. While I do not personally practice a prayer language nor advocate such practice, I do not think we should make this a test of one’s commitment to the conservative resurgence, the principles of biblical inerrancy, or loyalty to Southern Baptist life and work. I think we should be guided by Paul’s preference for intelligible speech in the gathered assembly and his caution that we should not prohibit a private prayer language,” he added, referring to 1 Corinthians 14:39.

Offering a further warning, Hemphill told BP, “We must be careful not to allow issues of personal interpretation and preference to deter us in our passion to expand God’s kingdom through our Baptist family of faith.”