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

Don Basham’s controversial ministry of casting out demons from known believers was questioned by many charismatics.

In 1971, Don Basham authored a controversial book titled Can a Christian Have a Demon? An initial assumption presumed that a demon can live inside a Christian just as the Holy Spirit may. Hence, a debate over demon possession and oppression ensued. He believed that according to James 3:5-12 a Christian can have both an evil spirit and God’s Spirit. Quoting James 3:10 “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing” he made note that both a good (Holy Spirit) and evil spirit may reside within a human being. Bashan asserted that in Acts 4 when Ananias and Sapphira gave their money to the church as Christians, Peter the apostle said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?” He contended that Satan was in these people at the same time they also had the Holy Spirit infilling. In addition, he added in Acts 8, that the Samaritans were released of evil spirits with shrieks as Luke wrote (Acts 8:7) and many Christians were not filled with the Spirit until the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them to receive the baptism.[35] His ministry of deliverance from evil spirits is well documented. He truly believed that Satan can have a stronghold on a believer’s life. Thus, as 1 John 3:8 proclaimed, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” became a major emphasis in his ministry. In the end, his controversial ministry of casting out demons from known believers was questioned by many charismatics. However, he always asserted that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4, NIV).

Basham’s style of deliverance ministry was both popular and controversial. He used “the term ‘deliverance,’ then to specify particularly the ministry of casting out demons.”[36] In 1964 he accepted a call to minister as pastor in a Disciples of Christ church in Sharon, Pennsylvania. In his best-selling book Deliver us from Evil he related with candid honesty his successes and failures with the congregation. At first, he experienced disappointment. The traditional methods of counseling did not help the people. After prolonged work with a parishioner who had cancer, her sudden death shook his faith. He reflected on the experience, “I began to appraise my work in Sharon in terms of negatives, reminding myself that in a congregation of over six hundred members, only a few dozen were finding meaningful spiritual answers to their needs.”[37] He believed that the deliverance ministry was meant to be imparted “in addition to, not in place of prayer for healing, crucifixion of the nature.”[38] Basham considered this exorcism important as he wrote that one-third of “Jesus own ministry was given to casting out demons.”[39] However, the accent must stay centered on God’s greatness and power over evil. He related, “the fact that there are myriads of demons representing all kinds of bondage and torment does not mean that all problems, illnesses or errors are caused by evil spirits.”[40] In short, the Holy Spirit’s presence must take preeminence and an understanding of omnipotence of God must prevail in one’s theology.

In due course, his involvement with the “shepherding movement” was ridden with conflict. Basham and the leaders believed many charismatics were rootless and wandered from church to church to seek the latest anointing. “This ‘shepherding’ system was considered to be an answer for the thousands of charismatics who were drifting from conference to conference.”[41] They believed people needed a “covering” to keep them safe from evil. Others saw their expression of Christianity as controlling. This association of ministers came to a head in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Attending this meeting were Mumford, Prince, Basham, Simpson, and Baxter from the Fort Lauderdale group, while critics such as Pat Robertson, Dennis Bennett, and others came from the other side.”[42] Conflict dominated the summit. “At one point Dennis Bennett…stormed out of the meeting, but by mistake stepped into a cleaning closet where he thrashed about among mops and buckets before leaving.”[43] In the end, nothing was solved at the “shootout at Curtis Hotel”[44] and the movement eventually dispersed as they were shunned by major ministries including FGBMFI.

Conclusion

Though Don Basham was a minister in a mainline denomination, he stepped out in faith into the realm of the Spirit for a ministry others never attained. His courage to address evil in his churches spoke of his audacity to declare that the Name of Jesus was more powerful than any demon. Throughout his books, his admittance of mistakes speaks of his humility. He acknowledged his inaccurate assessments of discernment in others but yet continued to press forward in the power of the Spirit. Basham’s real life stories and experiences convey to the unpretentious Spirit-filled faith he provided his parishioners. Every story disclosed, whether about forgiveness, deliverance or tongues communicated his penchant for learning. He wisely expressed in Willing to Forgive, “anytime God wants to teach us a lesson, He very seldom does it in the abstract.”[45]

Two areas of growth and disappointment were the unknowns of the deliverance ministry and the shepherding movement. Yet, preaching deliverance in a liberal mainline denomination took courage. Many of his pastor friends did not believe in this experience. In fact, because America was dominated by Western rationalism (which Alexander Campbell embraced) the ministry of deliverance was considered suspicious. In addition, his involvement with the shepherding movement was a dark mark in his life. Because of the subsequent controversy about his union with the Fort Lauderdale Five, his ministry became less prominent. However, his boldness opened the door for Disciple churches to receive the Spirit-filled experience. Former President of Bethany College, Duane Cummins noted, “the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in our time, therefore, encompasses both Galatia and Corinth, both Bethany and Cane Ridge. There are Disciples congregations unequivocally and sincerely committed to a charismatic faith expressed through gifts of the Holy Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.”[46] Thus, Basham’s ministry in the mainline church was not unique.

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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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