Worship has always been at the center of Baptist life but “spiritual worship,” as described by Douglas Weaver, has always been understood and practiced differently by Baptists. Weaver was speaking during the 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE).
Drawing mainly from 17th century sources in England and the United States, Weaver, professor of religion and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Religion at Baylor University in Texas in the United States, stated that “early Baptist worship was both communal and individual.” The focus on individual faith, he said, was cast in the language of the Holy Spirit. “Early Baptists believed they were a Spirit-led people, and it was the Spirit which justified and emphasized the role of individuals and the communal nature of the church.”
This spirit-led worship was manifested in a number of ways. The first was the allowance given to individual expression in communal and personal worship, including the reading and interpretation of scripture for oneself, rather than relying on others to do so; in preaching, where this act was not restricted only to trained clergy, even allowing for prophesying by any individual led of the Spirit within the worship service; as well as the reign of a free conscience. “Baptists believed that authentic Spirit-led worship was free, voluntary and un-coerced; individual and communal conscience must both be unfettered before God.” A free conscience, Weaver asserted, “Was integral to authentic worship and tied to each believer’s relationship to God.”
Beginning in the 19th century, two movements that began outside of the Baptist faith helped to inform Baptists’ understanding of Spirit-led worship. The first was the Holiness movement that emerged out of, but was not restricted to, the Methodist tradition. Weaver indicated that though “it is difficult to determine the numerical strength of the Holiness Movement among Baptists in America,” nevertheless “the movement attracted some influential pastors and evangelists.”
The Holiness movement was a call to personal holiness and placed emphasis on “a second blessing” that ought to follow the conversion experience. This second blessing may be variously described as sanctification, holiness, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, entire consecration, the higher Christian life or perfect love, all brought on by a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
Thought Baptist denominations in the US and England resisted Pentecostalism, this new movement that began at the turn of the 20th century also influenced Baptist understanding and practice of Spirit-led worship. “Numerous Baptists were drawn to the explicit emphasis on the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in Pentecostal worship,” Weaver claimed. Pentecostal worship was experiential and was “obviously compatible with most Baptist DNA.”
Weaver asserted that some of the early leaders of Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, were former Baptists. “Many early pioneers in African American groups, for example, Charles Mason of the Church of God in Christ, were former Baptists.”
The later Neo-Pentecostal or Charismatic movement that began in the 1960s has also influenced Baptist understanding of the Holy Spirit role and place in worship. “Even among those Baptist communities that are against Pentecostal doctrine, Pentecostal practices have influenced worship.” These include such practices and phenomena as faith healing, miracles, prophecies, the use of multiple prayer languages, and the lifting of hands in prayer or during songs. “What is the most common is the adoption of contemporary praise worship,” which is now widespread and popular in many Baptist congregations . These, Christian rock and roll music, or praise choruses, Weaver said, “have their roots in Pentecostal-charismatic circles.”
BICTE, planned and sponsored by Baptist World Alliance®, is normally held every five years. The 8th edition is being held in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from June 28-30.
Baptist World Alliance®
© June 29, 2013