Southern Baptist Charismatic Network Gaining Acceptance

By Ken Walker

Southern Baptist affiliates of a charismatic network of churches known as Fresh Oil represent just 1 percent of the denomination's 43,000 congregations. But Fresh Oil's leader says there is a grudging acceptance developing within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Ron Phillips acknowledges that many Baptists frown on spiritual gifts, and some state conventions remain hostile to charismatics. However, because the denomination supports local church autonomy, many think if a congregation supports mission work that it should be left alone, he explained.

Regardless of where fellow Baptists stand, Fresh Oil members are no longer concerned with debating the issue. "In Tennessee, there is openness and acceptance, not disagreement," said Phillips, pastor of Central Baptist Church in suburban Chattanooga, Tenn. "But we're past rubbing each other's wounds. We're moving on to missions."

Now five years old, the network has cooperated with both the SBC and independent agencies to help build five churches overseas. Attendees at March's annual conference donated $30,000 to overseas missions.

With his services aired weekly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Phillips' outspoken nature rankles cessationists within the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Yet they can't get upset with his church's annual gifts of nearly $200,000 to regional and national SBC causes.

Central Baptist supports the convention because it agrees with its evangelistic spirit. And despite disapproval of charismatic gifts by the convention's domestic mission agency, the scene is different overseas. "At least half the international mission force operates in the power of the Spirit," Phillips said. "They can't work without it. I've been on the field and seen evidence of it."

Some of the 450 Baptist pastors - an overwhelming majority of the group's 500 affiliated ministries -- who identify with Fresh Oil report mixed reactions to their stance.

Dwain Miller of Second Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., said no state or regional official has ever complained about his emphasis on the fullness of the Spirit. Nor is his embrace of the movement as controversial as it was five years ago.

"I preach in a lot of fundamental churches, and we agree to disagree," Miller said. "Fresh Oil is a fellowship of hungry and thirsty people who are tired of the same old thing." The annual conference gives laypersons a chance to see what a church looks like where the glory of God is present, he added.

At this year's meeting, a member of his church - who previously had a vision of God's glory flowing into Second Baptist - interceded for Miller. In addition to having a similar vision, he sensed that April 27 represented a key turning point.

The evening of April 27, a traditional Sunday evening service ran for three hours as numerous people confessed and repented of wrong doing, the pastor said. "It's an old-fashioned spiritual awakening and revival," said Miller, who has seen record numbers accept Christ this year. "I see God pouring out His glory."

Regardless of opposition within the SBC, John Kilpatrick senses a mighty move of the Spirit in Fresh Oil. The pastor of Brownsville Assembly of God, home of the world-renowned Pensacola Revival, Kilpatrick was one of several charismatic speakers at the March meetings.

When he spoke, many people hit the floor, crying and asking God for forgiveness. Kilpatrick said whenever he talks about God's presence, the Holy Spirit invariably comes. "I don't know enough about the background of Southern Baptists to gauge the hunger," Kilpatrick said. "I only know when I was there, it felt a lot like Brownsville."