- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nearly 50 years ago, an Episcopal priest shocked his listeners during a Palm Sunday sermon at St. Mark’s Church in Van Nuys, Calif. On April 3, 1960, the Rev. Dennis Bennett announced he had received a personal Pentecost or “baptism in the Holy Spirit;” an infusion of spiritual power that brought with it the gift of speaking in tongues.

His congregation took the news calmly but some of his fellow clergy and vestry members did not, and Mr. Bennett resigned that very day. His story hit the local media, then Time and Newsweek, then national TV. A sympathetic Episcopal bishop invited him to pastor a dying church in the Seattle suburb of Ballard and in short order St. Luke’s/Ballard was turned around, eventually attracting guests from around the world to its famous Friday night meetings.

Modern-day Pentecostalism had been around since 1901, but Mr. Bennett was the grandfather of the charismatic renewal, which brought Pentecostal practices into mainline Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. Today, about 500 million Christians are pentecostal or charismatic worldwide.

I interviewed Mr. Bennett at his Edmonds, Wash., home in 1985, 25 years after his famous sermon.

“You didn’t get tired when you were healing the sick and casting out devils,” he said. “People were so excited in the early days because so much was happening. Back then, we hardly went to bed sometimes. In the old days when you got together for prayer, you couldn’t stop people from talking about the Lord.”

By the mid-1980s, charismatics had gone from a few thousand people to millions across every denomination. Yet, the priest was fretting about how the distinctive aspects of the movement were being compromised to appeal to more people.

“Churches have become afraid of the word ‘charismatic’,” he mused. “We’ve been afraid of the manifestations of the Spirit.”

Some detractors were saying one could have “gifts of the Spirit,” such as prophecy and healing, without the required initiation of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Mr. Bennett fought against this all the way.

“The baptism in the Spirit is a separate experience and there is a specific time when this occurs,” he said, citing examples in the biblical Book of Acts. “Often people want everything except speaking in tongues. But every Christian can speak in tongues and when he does, he is baptized in the Spirit.

“There’s always a need to compromise,” he added. “People say, ‘I want what you’ve got but I don’t want your doctrine.’ We need to say, ‘I’ll take everything you’ve got and sort it all out afterwards.’

“You’ve got to be loving and firm about these things and say, ‘There’s an experience you need and it involves opening your mouth and praying in the Spirit.’ I feel I’m supposed to hang in there and keep on saying this.”

He was particularly concerned about his fellow pastors.

“Some good clergy friends of mine are dramatically baptized in the Spirit but then they try to fit him back into the Episcopal pattern instead of daring to let him change us,” he said. “We’re afraid he’ll change us beyond recognition.”

In the 25 years that have passed since our conversation, most of the people Mr. Bennett helped bring into the renewal have fled the Episcopal Church. He died unexpectedly in November 1991.

Fortunately, several events, including conferences in March and April at Regent and Oral Roberts universities, will honor the memory of this unassuming priest who, from the day he made that auspicious announcement from his California pulpit, never looked back.

c Julia Duin can be reached at [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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