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

Alexander Campbell and the Holy Spirit

There is not a considerable amount of information on Alexander Campbell’s pneumatology. However, his premier book, The Christian System contained some brief thoughts on his portrait of the Spirit. He believed that the Holy Spirit “was GOD, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God.”[14] An old Campbellite maxim was “where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Campbell did not use the word Trinity in his theological jargon because the utterance was not identified in the Bible. However, he did have a sense of the Spirit in his writing. He confirmed that, “the Spirit is said to do, and to have done, all that God does and all that God has done.”[15]

A movement built on reason rather than a strong Spirit-filled foundation.

Though he was not in the vein of holiness churches, he penned, that the Holy Spirit “is designated as the immediate author and agent of the new creation, and of the holiness of Christians.”[16] He wrote that the Holy Spirit is “the Advocate, the Sanctifier, and the Comforter of Christ’s body-the church.”[17] In short, he believed in the Spirit though he had sparse thoughts about the third person of the Trinity.

Campbell’s belief system was enamored by the millennial teachings of the day. Furthermore, his interest in intellectual pursuits and debates caused him to speak rarely about the Holy Spirit. This lack of emphasis in the Spirit laid the foundation for a weak pneumatology for over a century in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “Taken by itself, the phrase, ‘gift of the Holy Spirit,’ had a rather vague meaning.”[18] His analytical method of Bible study and worship created the cerebral personality of his churches. “Campbell contended that in conversion the influence of the Spirit came only through the word. His basic concept was his Lockian sensationalism, as when he said that ‘our first argument in proof of our proposition, shall be drawn from the constitution of the human mind.”[19] Thus, the millennial kingdom was to come, not with dynamic emotion but rather with an intellectual pursuit of reason.

Acts 2:38, The Five Finger Exercise, and the Holy Spirit

Don Basham: Something is missing in your spiritual life if you have received the Holy Spirit yet have not spoken in tongues.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) originated on the American frontier in the early 1830’s. Its mission was born from a passion for Christian unity among diverse people. Walter Scott, a fiery evangelist who traveled the frontier, presented a simple plan using his five fingers and Acts 2:38. Interestingly, Campbell embraced Scott as an evangelist he could trust. Though Campbell was a rationalist, Scott was his emotional sidekick. One of Scott’s well known sermons consisted of an easy way to recall the plan of salvation. He called it “The Five-Finger Exercise.” The words of the apostle Peter in Acts 2:38 became the basis of his strategy—“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (NIV). Thus, Scott created a simple sermon with five points—repentance, faith, baptism, forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. The plan “has undergone some interesting alterations. Some who honor the five steps have them arranged them “hearing, faith, repentance, confession and baptism.”[20] In this five step plan of salvation “Campbell also, in 1831, gives Scott credit for ‘restoring the Ancient Gospel’ in the fall of 1827 by arranging the several items involved as faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.”[21] Winfred Garrison and Alfred DeGroot document in The Disciples of Christ, A History:

“Scott’s specific purpose was to show that preachers try to produce belief in the Messiahship of Jesus by presenting the evidence, instead of trying to induce a mystical state variously called an ‘assurance of pardon,’ or ‘assurance that Christ died for me,’ by emotional techniques, vivid pictures of the fate of the damned, and wrestling to win the miraculous action of the Holy Spirit to bestow saving faith on an mourner already ‘convicted of sin.’”[22]

Campbell had a unique opportunity to revive the Spirit’s work in his ministry. However, he emphasized baptism to the exclusion of the other points. The missing finger of the Holy Spirit is the lost piece of this sermon. If Campbell had embraced the Spirit at his moment in the ministry of Walter Scott, he may have created a far more Spirit-filled church than the one existing today.

As a result, “in the twentieth century a great silence settled upon the Disciples search for meaning of the Holy Spirit.”[23] Just as the 400 years from the last Old Testament prophet Malachi, until John the Baptist appeared, the Spirit was silent; similarly, the lack of a strong pneumatology with the Campbellites created a vacuum of the Spirit’s presence and power in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In the history of the Disciples of Christ, the lost years were painfully obvious. An initial anemic pneumatology created a church with little emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Without acknowledgment of the Spirit’s operation, one noticed a movement built on reason rather than a strong Spirit-filled foundation.

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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 32 years and psychiatric chaplain for 30 years. He teaches courses in New Testament at Biblical Life Institute in Freeport, Pennsylvania. 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). Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook, www.CletusHull.com

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