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Baptist Heritage Lecture - shy member of Trinity

By Gerard Flanagan, news writer and photographer,
Office of University Communications

Throughout their 400-year history, Baptists have received criticism for not focusing enough on the Holy Spirit - the third person of the Trinity.

So, do Baptists indeed have a "shy" member of the Trinity?

Dr. Doug Weaver, interim chair of the Department of Religion and professor of Baptist studies at Baylor University, explored this question during the spring semester's annual Baptist Heritage Lecture at Campbellsville University.

"I grew up in a Baptist church, and maybe there was a shy member of the Trinity, I don't know," Weaver said. "We did sing the doxology every Sunday. The church I go to now still does sing the doxology every Sunday, and the last line of the doxology, you may know, sings about the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Sister Mary Sweet attended a gathering in the Mount Helm Baptist Church, an African American church in Jackson, Miss., and later began holding meetings with women in the area. She also spoke at several other Black Baptist churches in the Jackson area.

During this, she discussed the need for a baptism of the Holy Spirit in reference to Acts 1:5.

Sweet continued her ministry at a neighboring church. According to Weaver, the pastor at that church told Charles Price Jones, Mount Helm's pastor, "Sister Sweet is fairly raising dead in my church. People have fallen out rigid, their eyes rolling, and they have become utterly motionless on the ground. They'll lay that way for many hours."

"In later Pentecostal history, that's what is called 'being slain in the Holy Spirit,'" Weaver said.

Jones would later run into conflict with C.H. Mason, founder of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American Pentecostal church in the United States. Both Mason and Jones were Baptists and attended the Arkansas Baptist College.

"However, they began to get in conflict together when Mason heard about a revival of the supernatural in Los Angeles, Calif.," Weaver said. "He wanted to go visit. Jones did not. When he got back from the revival, he said that he was Pentecostal, and he had begun to speak in tongues as a sign of being baptized in the spirit. Jones disagreed, and they split."

Pentecostalism is important in studying American religion, as it's estimated that up to 25 percent of Christians globally are part of a Pentecostal form of Christianity.

"In the United States, you can't understand the development of Pentecostalism unless you do a little bit of work on the Holiness movement," Weaver said. "Holiness had a full gospel of conversion, spirit baptism, healing and the imminent return of Jesus.

"All four of those things continue in Pentecostals. The key in Pentecostalism is that the baptism of the Spirit has a sign, and that's what you call 'speaking in tongues.' You can find that in Acts 2."

Early leaders of Pentecostalism were Baptists, such as William Seymour, who started the famous Azusa Street Revival in 1906 and Mason. Most early leaders of The Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination formed in 1914, were Baptists.

"Baptists were a part of early Pentecostalism, but most people were opposed to Pentecostalism," Weaver said. "Most were opposed to the holiness movement. Neither one of those things should be a surprise. Why were they opposed?"

Weaver said their opposition was a result of cessationism.

"Bible miracles, did they occur? Yes. Speaking in tongues? Yes. In the first century church? Yes," Weaver said. "People could admit that God gave these miracles to give birth to the church. But cessationists say that once the early church was birthed, there was no need for these miracles. So, they had stopped."

Most Baptist history accounts don't discuss the history of cessationism. Still, Weaver said, "If you go back in the archives and read Baptist newspapers, you're going to find out that they talked about Pentecostals much more than we would ever imagine."

According to Weaver, the Shantung Revival in China is often seen as the most influential revival in the Baptist mission field. However, Pentecostal practices, such as healings and reported demon exorcisms, occurred at the revival.

"Mission leaders in the USA were worried that Baptists in the pews would quit funding missions if they knew Pentecostal practices were going on in China," Weaver said.

The latter half of the 19th century saw a Holiness movement across denominational lines.

"The movement is, of course, associated with Methodist and the teachings of their founder John Wesley on sanctification," Weaver said.

Weaver said that as the 19th century ended, "Holiness advocates earnestly hoped for Holy Spirit revival to usher in Jesus' soon return."

Non-Methodists gathering at a campground in England called Keswick emphasized a progressive path of sanctification that wouldn't be completed until a person went to Heaven.

"As a result, the Spirit-baptism was not sanctification, but it was receiving an extra dose of Holy Spirit power," Weaver said.

And, while many might have thought Baptists would be uncomfortable with some of these ideas, leading 19th-century Baptists such as John Quincy Adams (not the President) or Absalom B. Earl preached sanctification.

A.J. Gordon, the namesake of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, Mass., preached the need for two separate religious experiences - conversion and a Spirit-baptism of power. Gordon was also a premillennialist, meaning he believed Christ's second coming would occur before the Millennium (the 1,000-year reign of Christ on Earth mentioned in Revelation 20).

Gordon also believed in divine healing and Biblical inerrancy and supported women preachers.

In his college years, Weaver said he often heard of Gordon as someone who should be pushed to the margins as a fundamentalist.

"While we may be uncomfortable with people like Gordon, especially his views on divine healing, what I have found out is if you don't understand and emphasize the spirit of his holiness legacy Gordon has, the Baptist story is actually incomplete."

Weaver closed by saying, "Baptists have talked more about the Spirit than history books acknowledge. We haven't had a shy member of the Trinity even if many Baptists have been cessationists."

According to Weaver, the Baptist faith has also played out as a constant interplay of experience, the Holy Spirit and God's Word.

"We are people of experience, but there is no set order," Weaver said. "But to understand Baptists, we need to reflect that Baptists have wanted more direct experience of God in our lives, thus the constant interplay of experience, Spirit and Word."

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is

This story was posted on 2023-07-02 14:36:14
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