Denominational identity is slowly fading away. That's the belief of pastor Jon Aamodt of Valley Life Church (VLC) in Aloha, Ore., who bases his opinion on the fact that his Baptist church is one of several experiencing Pentecostal renewal.
VLC, which grew out of the Baptist tradition, is affiliated with Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The growing network is part of a new wave of congregations that some say represent a postmodern, post-denominational body of Christ.
Members of VLC support a view that many call "open but cautious," a view that embraces charismatic gifts and the manifestations that occur when the Holy Spirit moves in power, Aamodt said.
"Charismatic renewal has been blowing through the Baptist movement since the late '60s," he noted. "I don't think we're going to see the whole Baptist movement become charismatic.
"However, the theory of cessationism is dying as Baptist folks become open to gifts of the Spirit. And while they don't embrace spiritual gifts in their worship services, many don't dismiss charismatic gifts in their members."
Aamodt's congregation is an exception, openly embracing moves of the Spirit at their services. To share their thirst for God's presence, members held a conference in August that drew participants from across the country.
"The gathering emphasized several themes--prophecy, renewal and healing," said Nicole Kenley, 26, of Houston, an aspiring opera singer and chorus member with the Houston Grand Opera. She is also an influential lay person in the Cooperative Baptist Young Leader Network.
Since she became a Christian at age 6, Kenley said she has steadily learned how to be a true disciple, though she said "the learning curve increased significantly this last year as God opened my heart to a more influential role of the Holy Spirit."
Kenley said that after she received a prophecy at a VLC conference she felt released from pain and rejection she experienced in her search for a singing career. She began to "find a language of prayer and praise through my singing like I had never before experienced," she said.
"I was ignorant of [the power of the Holy Spirit] for the first 20 years of my Christian walk," she said, and added that she prays for God to bring Baptists into the fullness of Spirit-filled life through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Not all Baptists are as open to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but most, like CBF's National Network Coordinator Bill Bruster of Dallas, embrace the Baptist distinctions: freedom from denominational dictates, and freedom of conscience and the soul.
"And because I believe so strongly in freedom, I cannot infringe on others' freedom who might happen to interpret some passages differently than I do," said Bruster, who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma in a traditional Baptist household.
"Our contact with charismatics was seldom and was always with what we considered the more radical Pentecostals. They were usually even poorer and less educated than we were, and that is really saying something. My early views of charismatics were more shaped by class differences than theological differences."
Bruster said that in his 35 years as pastor his congregants have stressed the gifts of the Spirit and encouraged one another to exercise them. Seldom has the issue of tongues or healings surfaced, as it has in other Baptist congregations, he said.
Aamodt said he has been in contact with a growing number of churches nationwide that have been "hit by the Spirit." They include Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco; James Avenue Church and Lake County Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas; Rock Creek Community Church in Portland, Ore.; and First Baptist in Goldendale, Wash.
Aamodt believes many Baptist churches would tolerate charismatic expressions outside of their main services and programs, but not as part of Sunday morning worship. "It's difficult to keep the Holy Spirit in the back room without quenching [Him]," he noted.
Aamodt's own church is grounded in the Bible and almost 2,000 years of church history, he claims, but some 800 attendees revel in their "own unique expression" of worship. "What we are seeing is a resurgence of what has been stirring since the beginning of charismatic renewal," Aamodt said. "Personally, I think it would be a mistake to try and organize a Baptist charismatic organization. I'm much more interested in a sovereign move of renewal and revival among Baptists."
--Mary Owen in Aloha, Ore.