Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: How Do We Handle Differences?

Friday, September 08, 2006

How Do We Handle Differences?

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has recently been in the news for media attention concerning the chapel message of one of their board of trustee members Dwight McKissic. In the sermon, McKissic makes reference to a "private prayer language" which is of course another way of saying speaking in tongues.

Typically, Baptists would fall in the category of being a progressive or "weak" cessationalists (of which I am one), that is to say that the miraculous gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing ceased being practiced early in the history of the church but that God still certainly performs signs and wonders. I don't particularly want to chase that rabbit, but the SWBTS was plunged into the question of, how do we respect differences in interpretation of particular issues while maintaining a public, and even private stance on who we are and what we believe as Baptists. The IMB (International Mission Board) adopted a policy last year that would prevent the appointment of missionaries who had a "private prayer language." The fact that the IMB took it upon themselves to make that policy was debated among Baptists, nevertheless, the policy remains. Now we have a trustee member at a Southern Baptist Seminary preaching in favor of a private prayer language. You get the idea.

Dr. Frank Page, president of the SBC, issued a letter concerning the situation, which I thought was well written and addressed the issues fairly. He did not simply rebuke the trustee member and say he was wrong. He outlined some points that clearly came from the heart, but his first point was of particular interest to me.

"We must affirm the principal of theological discussion, even debate, within our seminaries. While there are certain bedrock doctrines that must be affirmed without debate within the Baptist family, there are many issues which are open to interpretation. I am very thankful for Southwestern’s stance that they do not 'instruct its chapel speakers about what they can or cannot say."

That is good to hear. The affirmation that debate and difference is not only acceptable, but healthy within our seminaries is a good word. I am already getting hammered with Calvinism at Southern in Louisville. I am not a 5 point Calvinist, but I am enjoying getting hammered with it, because it is making me think. And then it is causing me to discuss. That is the whole point of seminary. Now, even within our seminaries, that issue is different. Paige Patterson, president of SWBTS, is not reformed at all. He is a big time free will guy. But Dr. Mohler, a strict 5 point Calvinist, and Dr. Patterson are best of friends, share the pulpit together and are not divided in spirit on that theological difference.

So, I want Baptists to continue to take stands on issues and doctrine. But I also am encouraged to hear the affirming of healthy debate and difference. Denominations are good things, not evil. But we are all one in Christ, serving and worshipping the same God.

*note - I should point out that the SWBTS did prevent the sermon from being put on their website for distribution. McKissic was disappointed in that action from the seminary, but demonstrated remarkable class and was correct in announcing that he understood why they did it and was willing to submit to their authority and discernment concerning that aspect of the debate.


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