By: Garrett Best
In this series, I’m reflecting on the historical reasons why I believe Churches of Christ have generally avoided talking about the Holy Spirit. I have already suggested in part 1 and part 2 that I believe that our avoidance of the Holy Spirit is caused by our ingrained Campbellian, rationalistic DNA and because we have had tragic defections from our churches by those who went overboard in their interpretation of Scripture and descent into Spiritualism.
In this post, I want to explore how Pentecostalism in the 20th century affected Churches of Christ in America. The Azusa Street Revival of 1906 is typically regarded as the starting date for Pentecostalism in America. William Seymour conducted a three year revival in Los Angeles that gained tens of thousands of converts. Those who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues, testified as they were moved by the Spirit, and experienced fainting. Just over a hundred years later, Pentecostals account for around 15% of the total Christian population with over 280 million adherents worldwide. Their success and rapid growth over the last century has forced Protestant Christian groups to interact with their teaching on the Holy Spirit.
In 1951, the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International was formed. This is typically regarded as the beginning of a new wave of Pentecostalism in America. While the FGBMFI was not gifted in coming up with succinct names, they were good at converting people to Pentecostalism. Through local prayer breakfasts, they introduced non-Pentecostals to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongue speaking. Converts came from Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, and you guessed it- Churches of Christ. In 1971, the FGBMFI published a book entitled The Acts of the Holy Spirit in the Churches of Christ Today. The book included the testimonies of fourteen ministers from Churches of Christ who claimed to have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.
In the 1960s, Pat Boone was the biggest star Churches of Christ had in Hollywood, and for the most part he was a good, upright representative. Boone refused to participate in commercials where tobacco or alcohol were used and refused to sing songs with profane lyrics. He was known in Hollywood as having high morals.
As Boone was in New York, he met Clinton Davidson, also in Churches of Christ and associated with Harding College. Davidson shared with Boone how his wife had suffered from a hip problem and he had taken her to an Oral Roberts healing revival, and she had been miraculously healed. Boone began to question. In 1969, Pat’s wife Shirley claimed to have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Shortly after, Pat prayed and was baptized with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. Pat even went on to appear on national television with Pentecostals Rex Humbard and Oral Roberts to talk about his experience.
James Bales, a professor at Harding, published Pat Boone and the Gift of Tongues in 1970 and Guy N. Woods wrote several articles in the Gospel Advocate responding to Boone’s Pentecostal experiences.
Pat Boone’s parents, Archie and Margaret Boone, were soon to follow. They were members at the Granny White Church of Christ in Nashville. In 1970, they both professed receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. They left Granny White and joined the Belmont Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville.
Don Finto was a language professor at Lipscomb and was the preacher for the Belmont Avenue Church of Christ. In 1970, he prayed for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and was baptized by the Holy Spirit. On their church website, Belmont describes the event like this:
It was a new day for Don, for Belmont, and for the city of Nashville. Our doors opened to invite the work of the Holy Spirit. As a body, we began to emerge from our Church of Christ heritage, and with this awakening, we welcomed instrumental music and began to walk with God’s people of every denomination and background. A day of refreshing had taken hold.
They disavowed association with Churches of Christ and “embraced the Spiritual Renewal that was taking place”. They currently have around 1,200 members and are called the Belmont Church.
Jim Bevis also worked with the Belmont Church in Nasvhille. In the 1980s Bevis began the Conference on Spiritual Renewal that was originally started for ministers in Churches of Christ to learn how to experience the Spirit. For a number of years, Bevis served as the Eastern overseer for Christ Church Fellowship which is an “apostolic network of Spirit-empowered churches.”
I believe 20th century Pentecostalism has had both positive and negative affects on Churches of Christ. Positively, it forced us to talk about the Holy Spirit even when we didn’t want to. Negatively, it scared us to talk about the active work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. In order to deal with the effects of Pentecostalism (even within our own churches), we reverted to our rationalistic Campbellian roots. We combated the excessive emotionalism and supposed ecstatic experiences of the Holy Spirit being claimed by Pentecostals by nearly equating the Spirit with the Word. We took one truth about the Spirit, that the Spirit works through the Word of God, and made it the leading (or controlling) truth. We tamed the Spirit that Pentecostals had let out of the cage.
I will end this series with a story from Carl Ketcherside’s book Heaven Help Us published in 1974. There, he tells of attending a Missouri Church of Christ for a Sunday morning Bible class. He remembers one man asking the teacher a question during the class. Here is the exchange:
Finally, one man asked, “Well, just what is the Holy Spirit, anyhow? I’ve heard about it all my life and no one has ever rightly told me what it is.” The teacher waited, with a slight smile on his face, until the questioner had finished. Then, holding his well-worn Bible slightly aloft, and waving it for emphasis, he replied, “This Book is the Holy Spirit, and all the Holy Spirit there is. When I have it in my overcoat pocket, the Holy Spirit is in my pocket. The Holy Spirit is the Word of God, and that’s what this Book is, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit.”