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LifeWay offers research on glossolalia beliefs

Half of SBC pastors surveyed believe private prayer language gift possible, while under six percent of recent SBC seminary graduates practice PPL


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NASHVILLE (SBT)—Half of Southern Baptists pastors surveyed by LifeWay Research believe it is possible for the Holy Spirit to give some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately—often referred to as a private prayer language. However, in a separate survey of recent SBC seminary graduates, less than 6% of the graduates said they prayed in tongues, have a private prayer language or practiced glossolalia. Among those graduates now working in Southern Baptist ministries, the number of practitioners goes down to less than 4%.

The number of people who believe the gift of tongues is still given today increases among all Protestant pastors (63%) and laity (51%), according to the LifeWay survey.

The findings were released June 1 as what newly hired LifeWay Research Director Ed Stetzer called a response to the challenge of talking about volatile issues. “This research can add to the discussion with significant openness—maybe surprising openness to private prayer language” among Southern Baptist pastors, he said.

During an Inside LifeWay podcast interview Stetzer noted that a significant group holds to a cessationist view—that the gift of tongues has ceased, referring to a separate survey he directed of recent seminary graduates. He suggested the viewpoint of recent seminary graduates might be seen as representing the future when compared to the broader analysis of current pastors of any age.

Two different studies were conducted then combined for the LifeWay Research report issued June 1 at www.lifewayresearch.com. The site offers a powerpoint presentation of the survey questions and results as well as an audio interview with Stetzer and LifeWay Research and Ministry Development Vice President Brad Waggoner, along with LifeWay Research Associate Director Scott McConnell.

The LifeWay study was conducted by phone survey to 1,004 Protestant laity, 405 Southern Baptist (SBC) senior pastors, and 600 non-SBC Protestant senior pastors in April-May, 2007. In addition, 1998-2004 masters level graduates of SBC seminaries were also called upon to answer related questions in a survey initially conducted by the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research where Stetzer previously served as senior director before joining LifeWay June 1.

Waggoner told the Southern Baptist TEXAN that Stetzer gained permission from NAMB for LifeWay Research to use the results of his study. “While the two surveys were similar in nature, they were not identical,” he said when asked why the LifeWay study did not poll Southern Baptist or Protestant pastors as to their own practice of a private prayer language.

Here are the other results of the survey:

Q. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately? Some people refer to this as a Private Prayer Language or the “private use of tongues.”

Southern Baptist pastors: Yes (50%), No (43%), Don’t Know (7%)

Non-SBC pastors: Yes (66%), No (32%), Don’t Know (3%)

Q. Which one of the following two options best describes your understanding of the term “tongues” used in the New Testament?

1. “Tongues” refers to the God-given ability to speak another language you had not previously been able to speak. SBC pastors: Yes (62%), Non-SBC pastors (54%), Protestant laity (32%)

2. “Tongues” refers to special utterances given by the Holy Spirit meant as messages to the congregation with the help of an interpreter. SBC pastors (28%), Non-SBC pastors (30%), Protestant laity (37%)

3. Don’t Know—SBC pastors (10%), Non-SBC pastors (16%), Protestant Laity (31%)

Q. Which one of the following three options best describes your belief about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues publicly?

1. This gift is still given today to some believers. SBC pastors (50%), Non-SBC pastors (54%), Protestant Laity (26%)

2. This gift is still given today to all true believers. SBC pastors (5%), Non-SBC pastors (14%), Protestant Laity (27%)

3. This gift was only given in the days of the Apostles. SBC pastors (41%), Non-SBC pastors (29%), Protestant Laity (20%)

4. Don’t Know—SBC pastors (4%), Non-SBC pastors (3%), Protestant Laity (27%)

Recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates are more likely to believe the gift of tongues has ceased than current SBC pastors. Fifty-five percent of recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates believe “the gift of tongues (as described in 1 Corinthians) ceased to be a valid gift in times past.”

Describing private prayer language as an issue given increasing prominence, Stetzer concluded, “It might be a little much to say there is a significant Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostal movement in Southern Baptist life. I don’t see that,” he stated. “But at the same time there is an openness that couldn’t have been there 100 years ago,” he said, explaining that the Pentecostal or Charismatic movement is a 20th century phenomenon. “Facts always help us have a good discussion and hopefully these facts will help us do that,” Stetzer said.

More information is available at www.texanonline.net. For a critique of the survey, see Malcolm Yarnell’s commentary on page 5.