After decade-long resistance, the Southern Baptist Convention will admit missionary candidates who speak in tongues, a practice associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches. The new policy, approved by the denomination’s International Mission Board on Wednesday (May 13), reverses a policy that was put in place 10 years ago. Speaking in tongues is an ancient Christian practice recorded in the New Testament in which people pray in a language they do not know, understand or control. The practice died out until Pentecostalism emerged around the turn of the 20th century. In Pentecostal churches it is considered one of many “gifts” of the Holy Spirit, including healing and the ability to prophesy.

Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice. “In so many parts of the world, these charismatic experiences are normative,” said Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School. “Religious groups that oppose them get left behind evangelistically.” The change does not mean that Southern Baptists will commission missionaries who speak in tongues. But Wendy Norvelle, a spokeswoman for the IMB, said an affirmative answer regarding the practice would no longer lead to automatic disqualification. FULL REPORT