Evangelist Wayne Neal's sermons mix the elements one would expect of a Holy Ghost Pentecostal revival, but the Southern Baptist church setting is raising eyebrows in Marshfield, Missouri, and beyond. Neal hops and skips across the platform at Calvary Baptist Church in the small town near Springfield. He paces the center aisle while telling a story. People respond to his loud and spellbinding message with "Preach it" and "Come on," occasionally clapping and rising to their feet at a particularly salient point.Sometimes Neal speaks in tongues. Children dance joyfully near the platform. Adult members are "slain in the Spirit." This is all part of the nightly pattern for the past year at Calvary, despite the vote by other Southern Baptist churches in the county to withdraw fellowship from Calvary for "unBaptistlike" activities."Many [charismatics] are wonderfully sincere, but we do believe they are misled and have the wrong emphasis," Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Paige Patterson told CT. "The focus of the New Testament is on Jesus. Much of the charismatic movement is [focused] on the emotions of man."Calvary Baptist pastor Roger Hicks, 42, has allowed Assemblies of God (AG) evangelist Neal, 51, to preach at the church's revival services—which are held three nights a week—since March 1999. Despite criticism, Hicks and Neal say their cooperation is biblical.

Fellowship Withdrawn

Hicks believes prayer is a key to the church's growth and revival. About 40 people pray at the church at 5:30 weekday mornings as well as half an hour before the evening services. Children are also important members of the prayer team, and they worship with intensity.A recent Tuesday-night service lasted a typical three hours, starting with extended worship, shifting to testimonies from the congregants, preaching by Neal, more worship, and ministry time that included several attendees falling over.While copies of the Baptist Hymnal fill the pew racks, they remain untouched. Instead, guitars, drums, and a keyboard pound out contemporary praise songs as well as old-time Pentecostal tunes."Jesus don't want dried up prunes at the feast," Neal bellows. "It's a glorious day when there's more excitement in church than in an Amway meeting," Hicks says.Hicks came to the church on the outskirts of this town of 4,500 in 1986 when it had only 17 members, eventually building the membership to 300. For his first dozen years, Calvary Baptist used a traditional worship style. But by 1997 Sunday-night attendance had dwindled to 15 and church leaders were discussing doing away with the service. Hicks began reading about revival and renewal, concluding that he and his congregation lacked a New Testament dynamism.Hicks then visited Calvary Temple Assembly of God in Springfield, 25 miles away. While praying at the altar, Hicks says, he received "the baptism of the Holy Spirit."Hicks began to preach differently and worship took a new direction. Months later in March 1998, the congregation voted 173-121 to retain the contemporary form of praise and worship. Five of the seven deacons resigned and 150 people, nearly all members since Hicks arrived, quickly left. The former members have built another church in town, Faith Southern Baptist Church.Despite the exodus, Calvary had more than three times as many water baptisms as any other local SBC church in 1998. And the church has grown again to a regular attendance of 250 people, hardly any of whom were there two years ago.Designees from the Webster County Baptist Association, representing the 21 SBC churches in the county, began visiting services and noting behavior out of sync with traditional Baptist practice. In October 1998, Baptist messengers to the annual county meeting voted 102-2 to "withdraw fellowship" from Calvary Baptist.Hicks believes nothing that has happened at Calvary Baptist contradicts Scripture or the Baptist Faith and Message, a statement the SBC revised in 1963 that is the denomination's closest document to a creed. Nevertheless, "When it's detrimental to the fellowship and harmony of the association, action has to be taken," John Schuler, the Webster county association's director of missions, told Baptist Press.

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Traditional and Cutting Edge

Calvary Baptist is not alone in its revival controversy. Charismatic Baptists are unlikely to feel at home in the SBC, which does not allow them to become missionaries. "Having a Southern Baptist church carry on like the Assembly of God church down the street is confusing and odd to most Southern Baptists," Timothy Weber, dean of Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, told CT.Some Southern Baptists believe charismatic signs such as speaking in tongues only occurred in the apostolic era and do not occur today. SBC President Patterson believes the current charismatic movement is not the same as what occurred in Acts 2 and is based on a misreading of Scripture. Patterson does not rule out that the Holy Spirit could act in that way again."I don't want to put God in a box," Patterson says. "If he did it once, he could certainly do it again."Last November, 61 percent of the messengers to the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to withdraw fellowship from member churches that "engage in nonbiblical charismatic worship practices that are divisive and disruptive." But the vote did not reach the two-thirds majority required to amend the Georgia convention's constitution.Gerald Harris, president of the Georgia Convention, has advocated further study of charismatic worship among Baptists, but the SBC Executive Committee voted against a proposal to do so.Northern Baptist's Weber predicts that withdrawals of fellowship will probably crop up from time to time. "Southern Baptist piety is Jesus-centered, not Spirit-centered," he says. "But like it or not, traditions are blurring."Meanwhile, the Missouri Baptist Convention has not withdrawn fellowship from Calvary Baptist and recently approved a 20-year growth plan to increase convention membership by 60 percent, aiming for a target of 1 million.For its part, Calvary Baptist remains committed to contributing to church growth in its own unique way. "We're traditional, but we're on the cutting edge," says Gary Reilly Jr., 32, a new Calvary Baptist member who was a pastor at an AG church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.In Marshfield, the art of cooperation seems to know few boundaries. Recently, youth from regional AG congregations attended services at Calvary Baptist."When the Assemblies of God comes to get prayed for in a Baptist church, we know we're in revival," Neal says. "It's not a Baptist thing," Reilly says. "It's not an Assemblies of God thing. It's a body of Christ thing."

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Related Elsewhere

The Calvary Baptist Church Web site offers pages of information about the revival there. The church apparently also offers an e-mail newsletter with regular updates from the church. E-mail MajJoshua@aol.com for more details.A brief news article from Charisma News Service also looks at Calvary Baptist. Charisma magazine promises a major story in its May issue. In the meantime, readers may find interesting past Charisma articles "Shaking Southern Baptist Tradition" (Mar. 1999 and "'But Lord, You Don't Understand … I'm a Southern Baptist'" (May 1998).For the Southern Baptist perspective, see the January 7, 1999 Baptist Press article "Association Expels Missouri Church Over Charismatic Worship Practices." See also a related Baptist Press article on the charismatic movement, "Vines' Book on Charismatic Movement Draws Seminary President's Affirmation" (Feb. 2, 2000)

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