A BRIEF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTION REGARDING THE ADVENT OF THE FULL GOSPEL BAPTIST CHURCH FELLOWSHIP
By Wm. Dwight Mckissic, Sr.
Dr. Doug Weaver, Professor of Religion and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Baylor University, recently asked me to share some insights/reflections that I hold regarding The Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. Dr. Weaver is writing a book on The Holy Spirit in Baptist Church Life, and my reflections would simply be a part of his back-story research/information gathering. I found his request delightful, after having enjoyed a meal with him and some of his colleagues in Waco recently, including my spiritual son who is a New Testament PH.D student at Baylor School of Religion, Marcus Jerkins. We were also joined by the distinguished Baptist historian, Dr. Bill Leonard; Dr. Bill Bellinger; and Dr. Mikeal Parsons. What a delightful evening!
I want to share with you the reflections I shared with Dr. Weaver regarding the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.
The FGBCF was preceded by The Baptist Free Spirit movement, led by Bishop Otis Floyd of Flint, Michigan. I was made aware of The Baptist Free Spirit movement in the seventies, comprised primarily of National Baptists with a strong charismatic bent. I observed the assimilation of The Baptist Free Spirit movement into the Full Gospel Baptist Church movement in the early nineties. Like The Baptist Free Spirit movement, the Full Gospel Baptist Church movement largely comprised National Baptist Convention pastors and churches who desired a greater emphasis on The Holy Spirit. Knowing The Holy Spirit as a person; understanding The Holy Spirit as a doctrine; practicing the gifts of the Spirit, according to His will (I Corinthians 12:7); for the edification of Christ’s body, seemed to have been the heartbeat of The Baptist Free Spirit Movement of the seventies and the FGBCF of the nineties. They eventually formed one group led by Bishop Paul Sylvester Morton in the early nineties.
I am grateful, indeed, for the evolution of the FGBCF. When Bishop Morton announced the advent of the FGBCF in the early nineties, he simply raced to the front of the line and got ahead of a marching army. The FGBCF provided leadership, affirmation, identity, training, fellowship and a denomination-like expression or outlet for thousands of Black Baptist Churches, who adhered to Baptist doctrine, but a Pentecostal or native African-type worship style.
I was overwhelmed with joy at the news of the soon-coming FGBCF in the early nineties. My worship style preference and doctrinal bent resonated with what this fellowship proposed to offer. The name presented somewhat of a pause because there is only one gospel. The tag, “full gospel,” leaves room for one to consider by implication, that there were other options as it relates to the gospel.
Bishop Morton’s wife served as his Co-Pastor. Whereas I affirm women in ministry and women who exercise proclamation gifts, I believe scripturally, that the office of Pastor (particularly the Senior or Lead Pastor) was assigned exclusively to men.
Not only did the name, initially give me pause and the seeming affirmation of women pastors, I was also concerned about what would be the doctrinal and practical position adopted by the FGBCF on the topic of tongues. From having read a few of Bishop Morton’s books at the time, it was apparent to me that he personally embraced speaking in tongues, not only as a gift of the Spirit but also as a gift that places the tongues speaker in a spiritually superior category, to the non-tongue speaking believer. This hierarchy of believers based on speaking in tongues was going to present a huge barrier to me as a pastor to lead my congregation to affiliate with the FGBCF. Morton’s published view that tongue speakers were riding in first class while non-tongue speakers were riding in coach was a biblically indefensible position from my understanding of Scripture.
Bishop Kenneth Ulmer was and is a dear personal friend of mine. Bishop Morton had charged Bishop Ulmer with the task of writing the initial doctrinal statement of the FGBCF. Bishop Ulmer was kind enough to allow me to have input and consultation with him in the development of the initial doctrinal statement, for which I shall forever be grateful.
The language officially adopted in the original doctrinal statement made it quite clear that the FGBCF would be distinct from classical Pentecostalism in that tongues would be affirmed as a gift of the Holy Spirit; but the phraseology, “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues” was intentionally left out of the original document. Furthermore, another distinction from classical Pentecostalism was made when the statement asserted that “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs simultaneous with salvation, as opposed to a subsequent experience. These are extremely important distinctions and explicit differences with classical Pentecostalism.
Tongues as a necessity, and absolute universal requirement or evidence, for all believers as an “indicator” or sign of being filled or baptized in the Spirit, was not a doctrinal belief affirmed in the original FGBCF statement. Tongue as an “indicator” of the Spirit’s presence was added to the doctrinal statement many, many years after the original statement. Dr. Paige Patterson recently used that “indicator” line as a reason to deny the Texas State Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship led by Bishop Kenneth Spears from renting the facility at SWBTS to accommodate the annual Texas State Full Gospel Baptist gathering.
There was recognition that “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” and “The fullness of the Holy Spirit” are often used as synonymous terms. Yet, how it was defined in the statement made it clear that “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurred at salvation, and it may or may not be accompanied by a tongues-speaking experience.
I was extremely thrilled with the original FGBCF doctrinal statement. The pauses over the other aforementioned issues, gave way to my excitement over a sound, solid, biblical and theologically defensible FGBCF doctrinal statement.
However, there was one hurdle left for me before I could consummate a relationship with the FGBCF. And that was, the doctrinal statement adopted, directly contradicted Bishop Morton’s published and often preached views as it related to tongues. Bishop Morton was kind enough to have lunch with me and Bishop Ulmer at the famous Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans to talk through my dilemma.
Bishop Morton was extremely gracious, kind and congenial in our dialogue. He was rather resolute in his positions though. I could never reconcile in my mind, how could the official FGBCF doctrinal statement and the Bishop Morton position “dwell together in unity.” We departed lunch as friends, but I chose not to officially unite with the Fellowship, because I thought inevitably, these two “visions” would result in “division.” And actually a few years later, that’s exactly what happened. Several Bishops and pastors departed from FGBCF, because of the insistence of Bishop Morton holding all Bishops and pastors accountable to speak in tongues and leading their memberships to do the same.
Later, the following statement was added as a “Compendium on Distinctives” to the original doctrinal statement, after Bishop Ulmer departed the fellowship.
“We believe in tongues, as our heavenly language that builds us up in our most holy faith. Tongues are an indicator, not a qualifier. (Jude 20, Acts 19:5-6; Acts 2:1-4, I Cor. 14:14-15)
“Tongues” as an “indicator” is an extremely unbiblical, “unbaptistic” and a theologically problematic statement. “Tongues”……”not a qualifier” is somewhat of a confusing statement to me; not exactly sure what is meant by that statement. If what is meant is that Tongues is not a qualifier for salvation, that would certainly be a true statement. This doctrinal statement would have been far, far better if they had left this confusing, controversial and incorrect statement out.
Finally, as it relates to doctrine, a statement on the doctrine of eternal security or perseverance of the saints is conspicuously absent from the FGBCF doctrinal statement. Honestly, I recognized that glowing absence from the outset; but, never paused to ask about or address the matter. By the time, I could not get my other doctrinal concerned resolved, I decided not to ask about the absence of a statement on eternal security because I would not be a member. I earnestly believe that the vast majority of the Bishops and pastors in the movement believe in eternal security. But even the current, updated statement, presently on the FGBCF website, does not address eternal security.
I have huge respect and appreciation for Bishop Paul Sylvester Morton. He would be welcome at any time in my pulpit, and indeed recently preached at my church, for a meeting under the auspices of Bishop Marvin Winans. The FGBCF was and is a game changer. Thank God for Bishop Morton and the FGBCF!
In response to Dr. Weaver’s inquiry regarding the FGBCF and “the larger Prosperity gospel of which it is a part,” I wrote:
That’s news to me. I have not had an engaged presence with FCBCF since the early ‘90’s. I’m simply unaware of any teaching or emphasis of the prosperity gospel among FGBCF churches or in their gatherings. But, I yield to your knowledge. I am aware that the NBC is strongly opposed to the “prosperity gospel” and have released statements warning churches about its dangers.
A response to Dr. Weaver’s mentioning of the FGBCF current Bishop, Bishop Joseph Walker and the FGBCF’s relationship to the NBC:
I’ve heard a similar story about Bishop Walker’s congregation being “booted” out of the Baptist World Center. However, when the NBC met in Memphis just a few years ago, Bishop Walker was welcomed to the stage, enthusiastically received, and asked by the current NBC President, Dr. Jerry Young, to address the audience.
I don’t sense any current tension between the NBC and FGBCF. Many pastors/churches hold dual membership in the NBC and FGBCF. There are many of us in the NBC who hold theological and worship practice convictions very similar to the FGBCF. The worship life in the NBC is quite animated, dynamic and would, by most White Baptist standards, be labeled—charismatic.
These two groups may not be as far apart as one might think. Dr. Jerry Young stated at his inaugural installation service as President of the NBC, in Jackson, Mississippi, in January 2015, that as Baptists “We need to go by Calvary to get our pardon, but we need to stop by Pentecost to get our power.” Yes, these two groups have different emphasis, and the NBC has a doctrinal statement, quite similar to the ’63 BF&M—that simply does not address in detail—charismatic beliefs as does the FGBCF statement. But, from my vantage point, there is not enough difference to really separate the groups. The difference is more in emphasis than distinctions, in my judgment.
The NBC by design is a denomination. The FGBCF by design is a fellowship. Therefore, it’s quite understandable that they would have a difference in focus and emphasis. However, the NBC is theologically diverse and does not exclude or include Pastors/Churches beyond the parameters of their doctrinal statement. Consequently, the adherents to a doctrinal and worship bent quite similar to the FGBCF would be huge within the NBC. Many NBC Pastors/Churches belong to both. The NBC addresses and focuses on denominational-like stuff. The FGBCF has an almost singular focus on The Spirit and His impartation, empowerment, enablements (gifts) and presence. Therein, lies the difference!
The Cornerstone Baptist Church of Arlington, where I pastor, is dually aligned, exclusively, with the NBC and SBC. Yet, we have great appreciation and admiration for the excellent ministry and fellowship led now by Bishop Joseph Walker, The Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. Bishop Morton was certainly led by the Spirit of God in choosing Bishop Walker as his successor. Bishop Walker is a very effective, affable, accomplished and charismatic leader.