Trustees for the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) International Mission Board (IMB) have voted to bar new missionary candidates who practice a "private prayer language" from serving on the mission field.

The trustees voted 50-15 for the new guidelines on November 15, during their meeting in Huntsville, Alabama. The move will not affect current IMB staff or missionaries. Worldwide, 5,122 IMB missionaries work among 1,194 people groups.

Candidate guidelines approved by IMB trustees at the meeting state, "In terms of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia," or tongues. "In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as 'private prayer language.' "

Because the ruling is not retroactive, it will not apply to IMB president Jerry Rankin. "I acknowledged even in the discussions that [tongues] has been a continuing practice [of mine] for 30 years," Rankin told CT. The trustees who elected him president in 1993 knew he prays in tongues.

When asked, Rankin told CT, "I am assuming that this does not have anything to do with me, because it was stated that it doesn't."

Trustee Allen McWhite, who opposes the IMB's recent action, told CT, "We have no indication whatsoever that there have been any problems on the mission field" concerning missionaries practicing a private prayer language. The Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC confession of faith revised in 2000, does not address tongues.

The board's personnel committee first raised the tongues issue more than two years ago. The SBC North American Mission Board already bans missionaries from "promoting glossolalia," including having a private prayer language.

IMB board of trustees chairman Tom ...

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