July 21, 1999






Baptists renew debate
over charismatic practices

___By Ken Walker & Rob Marus
___Associated Baptist Press
___CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (ABP)--Despite recent attempts to stifle charismatic influences in the Southern Baptist Convention, practices including casting out demons, anointing with oil and speaking in tongues occur at Chattanooga's Central Baptist Church--and at other Southern Baptist churches across the nation as well.
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ENERGETIC WORSHIPPERS participate in a four-hour service at Smithton Community Church in Smithton, Mo., home of the so-called "Smithton Outpouring," one of several long-running charismatic revivals that are influencing some Southern Baptist churches. (Photo by Tim Palmer)
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That might not sit well with Florida Baptists, who expelled three churches for neo-Pentecostalism in 1996; in Missouri, where a charismatic SBC church recently was voted out of its local association; or in Georgia, where an amendment to exclude churches involved in charismatic practices narrowly failed last fall.
___Yet those involved in this growing movement contend conventional charismatic labels don't accurately describe what they believe is God's way of bringing renewal to the nation's largest non-Catholic faith group.
___Ron Phillips, senior pastor at Central Baptist in Chattanooga and a popular television preacher, testifies to a life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit in 1989. And he's not alone among Southern Baptists, he said.
___"'Charismatic' has become a label, and it's too narrow a word for what God is doing," said Phillips, a past president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Home Mission Board.
___"There's been a lot of fascination with spiritual gifts and manifestations, but this movement is bigger than that," he said. "I don't think it can be stopped, no matter how much people protest."
___Dwain Miller agrees. The pastor of Second Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., traces the beginning of his spiritual renewal to three visits to Pensacola, Fla., where a revival broke out several years ago at Brownsville Assembly of God. Those trips helped strip away his prejudice and pride, he said, and helped him conclude that the great revival prophesied in the book of Joel is for today.
___Miller said he sensed the same spirit at a 1998 conference at Phillips' church.
___"The Holy Spirit peeled away layers of sin and disobedience in my heart and in the lives of our staff members," he said. "He gave us a renewed vision."
___Associate Pastor Jerry Gay said he was healed of a ruptured disk at the conference. At first skeptical of what he was observing, Gay resisted an invitation to stand for prayer after evangelist Jack Taylor preached on healing. But the next morning during a seminar, Gay suddenly exclaimed that he could feel his arm and neck.
___"He was convinced then," Miller said. "It totally transformed his life."
___Similar unusual manifestations continued last fall when Phillips visited El Dorado for a week of special services. Miller said 300 people were delivered from afflictions including addiction to crack cocaine, alcoholism, depression and fractured marriages.
___The signs at Second Baptist haven't included speaking in tongues, however, a traditional litmus test for charismatic churches. Though Miller said he isn't opposed to glossalalia, he tries to follow the Apostle Paul's admonition to seek the giver instead of the gift.
___Tongues also have been missing from services at First Baptist Church of Shelbyville, Tenn. But Pastor Drew Hayes said his church began experiencing a turnaround in 1997 after he preached a 10-part series on the Holy Spirit. The church has added more than 200 people since then, 134 during the 1997-98 church year alone.
___Hayes said God also directed him to begin praying for healings and miracles and to make First Baptist a house of prayer.
___Hayes believes Baptists and charismatics have a lot to learn from each other.
___Of the newcomers at First Baptist with church backgrounds, many are former Pentecostals. They lacked the kind of solid biblical training emphasized by Southern Baptists, the pastor said.
___However, Hayes said Pentecostals engage in practices he perceives to be "indisputably" biblical. Such traditions as anointing with oil and praying for and believing in divine healing ought to be the norm in Southern Baptist churches, he said.
___"I can't imagine why any Southern Baptist church would not want to cultivate an atmosphere where that can happen," said Hayes, who said two church members recently were healed of cancer and others freed of depression or drug and alcohol addictions. "I never want to go back to traditional Southern Baptist worship."
___Nor does Phillips, even though he acknowledges the unusual atmosphere at Central Baptist has stirred up controversy among fellow Baptist pastors.
___"I've lost my place in line," he said. "But what more could people want than the fullness of the Spirit? There is a freedom that comes in knowing the Spirit and having an intimate relationship with him."
___His sentiment is shared by Pastor Roger Hicks at Calvary Baptist Church in Marshfield, Mo.
___Some of the charismatic, non-traditional worship practices now being manifest at his church have cost Hicks dearly. In 1998, his church lost half its members; almost all of his Baptist pastor friends have become aloof; and, last fall, his congregation was expelled from Webster County Baptist Association.
___But Hicks believes other Southern Baptist churches soon will be faced with the same issue. "I believe every Southern Baptist church in America 20 years from now will have to go through the door I've gone through," he said.
___Hicks said his stock had been rising among the ranks of Missouri conservatives, and he was in line for appointments to offices, committees and speaking engagements. But while attending a revival at a local Assembly of God church, his life was changed, he said.
___"I began hearing things I had never heard before," Hicks said. In particular, the description in Acts 10:38 of Jesus living his life empowered by the "anointing of the Holy Spirit" struck him as revolutionary.
___That insight prompted Hicks to respond to an invitation at then end of the service. "I went down to pray. I knew there was more to God than what I had; there was more to the Christian experience than what I had."
___Hicks fell prostrate before God and the entire congregation. He said he was unable to move.
___It was as if, quoting the 19th century revivalist Charles Finney, "waves of liquid love" poured through him, Hicks said. "There was a sense that something had happened to me. I was changed."
___This was Hicks' first experience of being "slain in the Spirit." Then, he said, he experienced the gift of glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues."
___"I found that, lying there on the floor, immobilized in this sea of joy, words started forming in my mouth while I was praising God," he recalled. "And that's while I was still the moderator of Webster County Baptist Association!" he concluded, laughing at the thought.
___Hicks said his professors in college and seminary approached the study of Pentecostal and charismatic worship practices from an adversarial perspective. "We always studied them to find out what was wrong. We always looked at the abuse and misuse of gifts--never the correct use."
___Since his change of heart, Hicks has become a close friend of Bill Sharples, former pastor of Pythian Avenue Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo.
___In February 1997, Sharples had an experience of speaking in tongues while visiting an Assembly of God revival.
___Later, he resigned his Baptist pulpit in an attempt to avoid a church split over his newfound worship practices.
___To Sharples, the experience that night was worth the resultant hardship.
___"As I was standing there, this cloud of God's presence just settled on me. And I just knew I was in the presence of God," he said. "There was no question. It was not an emotional experience. In fact, I didn't feel that emotional. This deep, abiding peace just settled over me, and all the anger and doubt that I had accumulated in the ministry was just lifted from me."
___Like Hicks, Sharples lamented the negative emphasis many Baptists place on the misuse of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. "The one thing I stress to people is that I'm not talking about that TV-evangelist-let's-make-miracles thing. It's God touching these people," he said. "We're not putting on a show; we're just letting God show up.
___"I think Baptists have watched these excesses--these things that are so distasteful--and we've thrown the whole thing out," Sharples said.
___Ken Walker is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky., and Rob Marus is a news writer for the Missouri Word & Way
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