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The Holy Spirit, The Missing Finger: Comparing the Pneumatology of Alexander Campbell and Don Basham

As Romans 8:26 (NIV) affirmed, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Though the barking and jerking seemed eccentric, the Spirit’s anointing many have fallen on the crowd without the knowledge of how to display the manifestations. Paul Conkin noted, “the forms of ‘miraculous’ speech, the holy laughter or sounds from deep within the body, took a form other than glossalia.”[7] The Cane Ridge revival paved the way for future holiness worship with singing, shouting and prophetic words. “These revival techniques involved new rituals-new hymns and new modes of singing them, lay exhortation and personal pleading with identified sinners.”[8]

This seminal event was a missed opportunity for Alexander Campbell. Though he deserted his Presbyterian and Calvinistic background; he never abandoned the approach of the rational thinking of his religion. He not only truncated the Spirit’s work but also created an atmosphere for a subordinate role for pneumatology in the life of the Disciple churches. As a result, the Disciples of Christ contained few reports of such events in their 180 year history. However, a future Holy Spirit-filled minister, Don Basham, would claim, like Cane Ridge, that demons and evil spirits came out of his church members with shrieks and jerks. The miraculous manifestations at Cane Ridge would eventually come to fruition in the twentieth century in the Pentecostal/charismatic renewal in the mainline churches.

The Holy Spirit was moving in His way through churches with the light that they received. Cane Ridge was “a taste for ecstasy. The third person of the Trinity took precedence. People felt the power and received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”[9] Though Alexander Campbell was not a proponent of the emotional religion, it set the stage for his church to grow. Certainly, his lifetime goal of envisioning Christians become one seemed possible. Because of Cane Ridge, for one “brief moment even a glorious millennium seemed imminent.” Christ’s kingdom was closer to earth and many people believed that America was on the path of Christ’s Second coming.

Millennialism in America

As the nineteenth century progressed, Protestant Christianity in America manifested an influx of belief in the millennial kingdom. The word millennial came from the one thousand year reign of Christ described in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Revelation 20:1-4 (NIV) reads:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

The theological term millennial comes from the thousand year reign of Christ described in Revelation chapter 20.

Thus, the teaching of millennialism had its origin. In the 1800’s the idea caught fire and a belief that the world was getting better transpired. “As the millennium became a reality, Christian principles of belief and conduct will be the accepted standards for nations, and individuals. The social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind will be vastly improved. This golden age of spiritual prosperity will last for a long period of time.”[10] Alexander Campbell, a frontier man, was of the belief that humankind was progressing to a higher level. Reason and philosophy could dissipate old societal problems. “Campbell along with others Americans, believed that in America, with God’s help, Christians would eradicate earthly problems and usher in the millennial age.”[11] This idea was his dream and goal. “In his earlier years Campbell actually believed that a millennial reign of peace and righteousness was in the offing, including a united church in America at its center. He saw his movement as a harbinger to that end.”[12] Thus, the name of his magazine was called the Millennial Harbinger. He “saw the Millennial Harbinger as key to the dissemination of ideas that would usher in the millennial reign of God.”[13] His circular discussed the contemporary topics of his day such as slavery, education, the advancement of women and anti-catholic debates. In essence, the journal promoted his religious ideas and the cooperation he believed possible among the many Christian factions. His interests centered on social ills more than pneumatology. All the same, Campbell is an American success story. He enjoyed his life because of the optimism of his millennial views. He founded and built Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia and was a trail blazer in his own right.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2015

About the Author: Cletus L. Hull, III, M.Div. (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), D.Min. (Fuller Theological Seminary), Ph.D. (Regent University), has served as a pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 36 years and psychiatric chaplain for 34 years. He is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies in the Oral Roberts University College of Theology and Ministry. He has researched the growing Disciples of Christ churches in Puerto Rico and has an interest in the significance of the Stone-Campbell churches in American Christianity. His article, "My Church is a Mental Hospital" appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Healing Line. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Cross and the Power of the Spirit in the Corinthian Church: Grounding Pneumatic Experiences and Renewal Studies in the Cross of Christ (Pickwick, 2018) and The Call: My Mission and Our Ministry at Trinity United Christian Church, Lower Burrell, PA (Word Association, 2019). Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook,

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