Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

All Things Southern Baptist Considered

The IMB Policy On Private Prayer Language

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on June 23, 2006

A few days ago, I was reading Don Carson’s Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. I noticed a lengthy quote that speaks volumes to the current policy concerning private prayer language recently adopted by the IMB trustees. His definition of what qualifies as a spiritual gift (which agrees with Wayne Grudem’s definition) is found in 1 Corinthians 12.7: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That is, there is no ‘definitive’ or ‘exhaustive’ list of spiritual gifts found within the New Testament, but any and all aspects of the spiritual life that promote the common good of the Church qualifies as a spiritual gift.

What about private prayer language, though? There appears to be no express verse listing it as a spiritual gift. More over, it benefits the individual with the language and is not ‘for the common good’ of the Church. Are the IMB trustees, then, justified in rejecting mission candidates with a private prayer language? Other blogs have dismissed any such justification from the standpoint of our convention’s confession (or previously adopted confessions, for that matter). What about from a biblical standpoint?

Carson states:

These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement, but ‘for the common good.’ The peculiar expression that is used might be literally rendered ‘with a view to profiting,’ not in itself making it clear whether the profit is for the individual or the group. The broader context makes it clear that the latter is in view (see especially [1 Corinthians] 14). Even so, this clearly stated purpose of ‘spiritual gifts’ (if I may continue to use that term for the full range of the manifestations of the Spirit that Paul envisages) must not be brought to bear on the broader discussion in a heavy-handed way. As we shall see, some wish to rule out the legitimacy of any private use of tongues on the basis of this and similar texts: What possible benefit for the entire community is there, they ask, in such private tongues-speaking? Clearly there is no direct benefit: no one but God is hearing what is being said. But Paul was granted extraordinary visions and revelations that were designed only for his immediate benefit (2 Cor. 12:1-10); yet surely the church received indirect profit insofar as those visions and revelations, no to mention the ensuing thorn in his flesh, better equipped him for proclamation and ministry. In the same way, it is hard to see how verse 7 of this chapter renders illegitimate a private use of tongues if the result is a better person, a more spiritually minded Christian: the church may thereby receive indirect benefit. The verse rules out using any charismata for personal aggrandizement or merely for self-satisfaction; it does not rule out all benefit for the individual (just as marriage, one of the charismata according to 1 Cor. 7.7, may benefit the individual), providing that the resulting matrix is for the common good (34-35).

Carson has eliminated the argument that a private prayer language is disqualified from the realm of spiritual gifts. There may be no direct impact for the common good, but certainly there is the possibility for indirect impact. His example of marriage and singleness being called ‘spiritual gifts’ given by God (1 Cor. 7) is an excellent example of charismata benefiting the individual primarily and the church secondarily.

In their desire to rid the IMB missionaries of charasmatic tendencies, the trustees have no confessional leg to stand upon. In addition, they have no biblical leg upon which to rest. One wonders, then, where they derive their justification for rejecting private prayer languages. Maybe it's because “Baptists have always believed this way”.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist


3 Responses to “The IMB Policy On Private Prayer Language”

  1. Thanks for this reference. The point you are making is well taken, and, from my point of view, very legitimate. I also referenced a quite lengthy quote from Carson on Jerry Corbaley’s blog, (“”, post entitled “The IMB and the Tongues Policy”) about a related but different question. I would definitely agree with you in recommending Carson to anyone wrestling with these issues. I think his approach is very fair-minded and balanced.

  2. Alethes said


    I remember reading your statement on Corbaley’s blog. I concur that Carson is a Christian scholar par excelant. His treatment of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is conservative but not fundamentalistic. I read him as being both biblical and inclusive.

    The fundamental issue regarding the restriction of private prayer language is, in my mind, two-fold. First, it is not discussed in the BFM and therefore is not an essential for cooperation with Southern Baptists. Second, the only sound argument I have found against it is that Baptists don’t like it. They have no scriptural warrant for rejecting it, nor do they have confessional precedent.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog.

  3. Chris said


    I really apprecaite your post. i have friends that say that they have this “gift” and that they were never looking for it, butI have always felt that is would be the only “selfish” gift amoung those listed in Scriputre. I also wished that Scripture had a finalized and set list of gifts as i ifnd people that feel they have alkinds of spiritual gifts from God when they are skills and talents, and somethimes they are unregenrate. Anyway, thank you.

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