HIXSON, Tenn. (ABP) — Suffering from burnout after a decade as pastor of Central Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in suburban Chattanooga, Tenn., Ron Phillips wrote his resignation letter on a portable computer on the way to a meeting at Glorieta Baptist Conference Center in 1989. He never submitted it.
That night as he slept, he heard a voice calling his name. He went to the door, but no one was there. It happened again, and then a third time. He described the event in his 1999 book, Awakened By the Spirit.
“As I was awakened a third time, my room was filled with God's presence. It was the voice of my dear Savior. I wept as the glory filled the room, and I cried out, ‘Lord, where have you been?'
“He said to me, ‘I've been waiting for you.'
“I asked, ‘Lord, where have you been waiting?'
“He replied, ‘Read your Scripture for today.' ”
Phillips read Psalm 92:10, “I have been anointed with fresh oil.”
Soon, what he called a “baptism of power” came over him. He wept, sang, laughed, shouted and shook. He did not receive a private prayer language until three years later, but the moment changed his ministry forever.
Phillips' congregation, which today goes by the name Abba's House, describes itself as a “Spirit-filled Southern Baptist church.”
On occasion, the church has experienced manifestations like trembling, crying, leaping, jumping and “falling out” in the Spirit. While not seeking such events, Phillips welcomes them as evidence God is moving among them.
As a well-connected leader in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970s, Phillips would have identified himself as a “cessationist” — a Christian who believes miracles occurred in Bible times but were not valid gifts for today.
sAs an officer for eight years with the SBC's North American Mission Board, he also became familiar with countless churches that were declining and dying that he now believes could have been growing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, Phillips says he finds scant biblical support for the cessationist view. Instead, he believes the Bible suggests gifts will remain until the Second Coming of Christ.
Phillips thinks many SBC churches are more interested in appearing mainstream and acceptable to the intelligentsia than in being true to Baptists' free-church tradition.
Historical accounts of frontier revivals described loud worship, wild cries, falling out and other things embarrassing to the modern church. Rather than embracing their “brush arbor” roots, Phillips says most Baptists today seem to be more comfortable with the Reformed tradition that persecuted their Anabaptist forebears.
“Could it be that Baptists who believe in the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are more true to Scripture in their beliefs than some of those who are more comfortable with the formality of the reformation?” Phillips wrote in an article for the May 2008 Theology for Ministry, a journal published twice a year by Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.
Abba's House recently was host for the 10th annual “Fresh Oil, New Wine” conference. Phillips counts more than 500 Southern Baptist churches in the network that open themselves to spiritual gifts.
A study last year by the SBC's LifeWay Christian Resources found half of Southern Baptist pastors believe the Holy Spirit gives some people a “private prayer language,” but those who practice it find themselves increasingly marginalized in convention life.
In 2005, the SBC International Mission Board forbade missionaries to pray in tongues, even though the agency's CEO, Jerry Rankin, has acknowledged using a private prayer language in his own devotional life.
In 2006, Dwight McKissic, a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, prompted controversy by saying in a chapel service that he also used a private prayer language. He eventually resigned from the board under pressure.
Phillips contends Southern Baptists have nothing to fear from those who embrace spiritual gifts but rather should embrace them. “In doing so, Baptists welcome the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit,” he wrote.
“The fact remains that charismatic Southern Baptists exist, albeit a small minority. They are committed to historic Baptist identity and doctrine, but make room for the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit within God's people for ministry and proclamation.
“The question remains: Will the issue of charismatic gifts be a test of fellowship and cooperation? The process of making it a litmus test has already begun; let's pray and hope that brotherly love and toleration for differences on this issue may begin to prevail.”