Ripping Pages Right Out of the Bible

Back in the days when the Southern Baptist Convention controversy was raging I was told that it was a “battle for the Bible.”  There were rumors that “liberal” seminary professors were ripping pages right out of the Bible, and otherwise dismissing or ignoring the parts they didn’t care for. 

I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in those days, a school that was once described to me as “a bastion of liberalism,” but I never saw a professor rip a page from the Bible.  In fact, my experience was just the opposite.  I had never met people who treated the Bible with such reverence, who helped us dig down into its truth as if it really mattered, as if it really could change the world.  Their prayers before each class were humble and holy, thanking God for the high privilege of studying his Word.

But that’s not what Southern Baptists were hearing.  In their imaginations, at least, they were hearing the sound of pages being ripped from the Bible.  And so they came to those annual conventions (by the busloads!) and voted for the conservative candidate for president, who appointed the Committee on Committees, who made sure that the “conservative resurgence” spread to every part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  By 1990 their work was completed—the “Battle for the Bible” had been won.

You might assume, then, that the boards and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention would be especially careful to honor the clear teaching of Scripture, and to ensure that their policies are consistent with what the Bible says.  But not long ago I learned that one of the guidelines for hiring at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has to do with “glossolalia.” 

Glossolalia is a good Greek word.  Literally, it means “tongue speaking,” or “speaking in tongues.”  It comes from the 2nd chapter of Acts, where the believers who were gathered on the Day of Pentecost began to speak “with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (vs. 4, KJV).  But it wasn’t only on the Day of Pentecost that believers spoke in other tongues.  Apparently it was a regular feature in the worship of the early church.  Paul said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5), and names glossolalia as one of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:10.  But look at what the North American Mission Board says about it:

“Glossolalia:  No person who actively participates in or promotes glossolalia shall be employed by NAMB in an exempt staff position. This includes having a private prayer language. A representative of NAMB shall counsel any exempt staff member who becomes involved in glossolalia. Continued participation will result in termination” (from the “Employment Guidelines” page of the North American Mission Board web site).

I’m not trying to pick a fight with the North American Mission Board, and Paul himself would warn that speaking in tongues can lead to trouble in the church (as he explains in 1 Corinthians 14), but he ends his teaching on the subject by saying, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39), and that’s exactly what the North American Mission Board has done.  I take offense because I’ve spent some time with Pentecostals—dear brothers and sisters in Christ who cherish the spiritual gift of “tongues.”  For them it is an edifying personal prayer language, a way of talking to God without words getting in the way.  And as a boy in West Virginia I was deeply impressed by the fact that God would shower this gift on people who had almost nothing else in the world (cf. Matt. 11:25).  It made me think of him as a God who was surprisingly generous and kind, even if he did show it in a rather strange way.

So it irks me to think that some of the same people who launched the “Battle for the Bible” and denounced those “liberal seminary professors” could so easily dismiss the troublesome parts of Scripture—rip them right out of the Bible, really.  It makes me wonder what they might do with the truly troublesome parts, like the ones about loving your enemies.

9 thoughts on “Ripping Pages Right Out of the Bible

  1. Good point. I’ve become interested in that subject and do think it ironic that something that seemed so prevalent in the early church is banned in some modern churches that pride them selves on restoring apostolic, Bible based, Christianity.

  2. Thanks, Jim. Some recommended reading for those who are interested: “The Beauty of Spiritual Language” by Jack Hayford. Not perfect, but the most sensible treatise on glossalalia that I have read to date.

  3. Our brother, Harold Hurst, provided a wonderful insight into the “speaking in tongues” method of praising God. We are together in a SS class, working through both books of Corinthians. Near the end of a class, Rev. Hurst commented that when he was en route from one remote location to another, across the mountains in Honduras, trusting his way and gait to the animal on which he rode, he would spending time in reciting Scriptures and thanking and praising God. And after a while, he said, he would just run out of the regular words used in English, and other languages, and would express himself as the words flowed.

    Perhaps it would be worthwhile to interview him for a TV clip and have him tell that story himself. Len

  4. Excellent blog, my brother! Glossolalia as an exclusionary trait sounds unPauline, to be sure. For those seeking rigid uniformity to customs, morés, creeds, rituals, and various human behaviors, the ancient “speaking in tongues” would represent the ultimate challange. To seek the truth would be an abomination. We, instead, must be open to the stirring of the Holy Spirit, wheresoever that force leads us. Sometimes the Paraclete lifts a mirror in front of us as we blame others for sins we commit in our minds and hearts. Human creatures are not perfect in any way, shape, or form. God designed us that way. Each of us has flaws, nicks, or impurities. Those imperfections make us who we are as individual. The imperfection is not the sin really; the sin is how we use, abuse, ignore, or accentuate the flaw. The true follower of Jesus tries to live life as Jesus did or might today. Jesus has fun, but not at the expense of others. Jesus wined and dined, but not to excess or as an escape. Jesus wept and laughed, but not to be pious. Jesus was a leader, but His was natural leadership, not pompous chest-beating as we have seen in Christianity in the 20th and now 21st Centuries.
    Seek truth, and let the Holy Spirit lead you to it.

  5. When I was at Southern we had a student from a southern state spend one semester and withdraw. When his pastor asked him why he left he said, “Why, they were teaching stuff up there I’d never heard before.” I guess that’s what “librals” do.

    It is also interesting that apparently our own president of the IMB could not be employed by NAMB since he claims to have practiced a “private prayer language”.

  6. I know this is almost a 3 year old post, but I had to voice my strong agreement. I am finding it hard to serve with an organization that disqualifies me based on such grounds.

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