Forty years ago, the Assemblies of God hosted the Conference on the Holy Spirit, which brought together Pentecostals and charismatics from across the denominational spectrum. While the speakers and attendees came from different backgrounds, they shared a desire to know more about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The conference, held Aug. 16 to 18, 1982, at the Hammons Student Center on the campus of Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) in Springfield, Missouri, included notable speakers from classical Pentecostal churches and from the charismatic movement in mainline and evangelical denominations. The opening speaker was Dennis J. Bennett, an Episcopal priest who was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1959 and became a leader in the charismatic movement.
Other speakers included Revivaltime speaker Dan Betzer; Frank W. Smith, former general superintendent of the Open Bible Standard Churches and chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America; Harold A. Carter, a leader among African-American charismatics and pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland; Morris G.C. Vaagenes Jr., pastor of North Heights Lutheran Church in Roseville, Minnesota; and John Bueno, Assemblies of God missionary to El Salvador.
An estimated 8,300 people attended the opening rally where Bennett gave a message, “Baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Bennett, one of the earliest leaders in the charismatic renewal in the Episcopal Church, authored several books, including How to Pray for the Release of the Holy Spirit and Nine O’clock in the Morning.
Bennett shared that after receiving Jesus as his Savior many years before, he “went on to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit as on the day of Pentecost, with its normative manifestation of speaking in other languages as the Spirit gives utterance.” Bennett also stressed that he believed the experience is not optional, but a commandment for all Christians. He said, “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not incidental for the Christian life; it is basic.”
Bennett described how Pentecostals paved the way for the charismatic movement. He commended Pentecostals: “All of us owe much to Christian brothers and sisters of the older Pentecostal fellowships, such as the Assemblies of God, who first put up with persecution and ridicule to testify that Pentecost is for today. They performed a service to all Christendom that is of inexpressible value.”
The Episcopal priest encouraged Pentecostals to keep the faith: “What do I want to say to you? Don’t let your witness be weakened. Don’t let Pentecost be watered down, not even for good-sounding reasons.” He said, “a faith that proclaims the full gospel can still accomplish miracles in this world. There is much to be done. The story of mankind is not over. Our orders are unchanged. Jesus said, ‘Occupy till I come.’ The Greek means, ‘Be doing business till I come!’”
Attendees listened to a special broadcast of Revivaltime, the Assemblies of God weekly radio program, on the Sunday evening just prior to the conference. Revivaltime speaker Dan Betzer’s sermon was titled, “Overflowing With the Holy Spirit of God.” A mass choir and orchestra of more than 200 people ministered on Sunday and during each evening of the conference, including former Revivaltime choir members and selected singers from area churches. Cyril McLellan directed the combined group. Susan Smith, vocal instructor at Evangel College (now Evangel University), ministered at the Monday evening service. Well-known gospel musicians the McDuff Brothers sang during the Tuesday evening rally, and the Blackwood Brothers sang at the closing rally on Wednesday.
Between 8,000 and 8,500 people attended each of the three evening rallies of the conference; the total number of attendees was between 10,000 and 12,000. In addition to the evening rallies, 90 small seminars took place during the daytime hours of the conference. Gospel Publishing House published sermons and lectures from the event in a two-volume Conference on the Holy Spirit Digest.
The Conference on the Holy Spirit provided a valuable opportunity for Pentecostals and charismatics to rub shoulders and learn from one another. While the early 20th century Pentecostal revival birthed the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal churches, the conference was a reminder that the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to those in Pentecostal churches.
Read “Baptized in the Holy Spirit” by Dennis J. Bennett on page 3 of the Oct. 10, 1982, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Songs in the Night,” by D.V. Hurst
• “800 Million Muslims,” by David Irwin
• “Inmates Need Love, Encouragement, Prayer,” by Kenneth H. Leep Jr.
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.