Pentecost Past Or Present

Pentecost Past Or Present

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Charismatic elements were suppressed among colonial Australian Churches of Christ (Disciples) only to re-emerge a century later. Understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit were contested in Churches of Christ in Australia, Britain, and America, as the denomination struggled to account for the work of the Holy Spirit in contempo- rary times due to its foundational opposition to creeds, distrust of experientialism, and insistence on a rational common sense reading of the New Testament. This arti- cle examines Australian Churches of Christ responses to charismatic phenomena via several previously unexamined texts against the background of nineteenth-century revivalism, twentieth-century Pentecostalism, and the charismatic movement of the 1960s and ’70s. It finds that a church that once suppressed the story of an advocate of Holy Spirit baptism came to accommodate the language of renewal.


Churches of Christ – Disciples – Australia – charismatic – Pentecost – Holy Spirit

Charismatic phenomena were not welcomed in colonial Australian Churches of Christ (known as Disciples until 1863), but, a century later, expressions that were once shunned came to be tolerated, even embraced.1 Considering the denomination’s origins, the shift in stance is remarkable. Established in the

1 Within the Stone-Campbell Movement in Australia the name Disciples was used until ca.

1863, after which Churches of Christ was the preferred term: Graeme Chapman, One Lord,

One Faith, One Baptism: A History of Churches of Christ in Australia (Melbourne: Vital Publi-

cations, 1979), 12.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2019 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04103004


pentecost past or present


early 1800s, the Disciples’ movement was a religious product of the Enlight- enment, the empiricist thinking of its founder Alexander Campbell deriving from that of the Scottish School where observable fact reigned.2 In seeking to restore a New Testament Christianity that would unite all Christians, Camp- bell looked not to doctrinal creeds but to a primitivist, common sense reading of the Bible: “The Bible is a book of facts, not of opinions, theories, abstract gen- eralisations.”3The Disciples’ rationalist primitivism was quite unlike the expe- riential primitivism of denominations such as Primitive Methodists and Latter- Day Saints.4 Their contrasting worldview was colored by Romanticism which enabled them to engage with transcendent divinity in a way that Campbell’s followers thought implausible and unreasonable.5For the Disciples, it was not the experience of conversion that mattered but the simple fact of it. Such ratio- nalism left little room for the working of the Holy Spirit. This article traces Australian Disciples/Churches of Christ responses to charismatic phenomena over a century. It explores early suppression of charismatic tendencies amid the fervor of gold-rush missions, understandings of the Holy Spirit among those nineteenth-century thinkers in America and Britain who influenced the small, geographically isolated Australian Disciples, and, finally, changing responses to charismatic phenomena as the denomination developed in the twentieth cen- tury. All of this unfolded against the religious landscape of Victoria, Australia,

2 RichardT. Hughes and Leonard C. Allen,Illusionsof Innocence:ProtestantPrimitivisminAmer-

ica, 1630–1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 158–159; John Mark Hicks, “Locke,

John (1632–1704),” 487 and Michael W. Bollenbaugh, “Reason, Place of,” 627–628 inThe Ency-

clopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony

L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

3 Alexander Campbell, The Christian System in Reference to the Union of Christians and a

Restoration of Primitive Christianity as Plead in the Current Reformation(Pittsburgh: Forrester

and Campbell, 1839), chapter 2, “The Bible.”

4 For early Disciples and Australian Churches of Christ opposition to Methodism and Mor-

monism see Henry Picton, “Looking Backward,” serialized in Christian Pioneer (1897); D.A.

Ewers, “Mormonism” (tract) (Melbourne: Austral Publishing Company, ca. 1899); R.G. Camer-

on, “Why I Left the Wesleyan Church,”Christian Pioneer (May 14, 1889); Alexander Campbell,

Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon with an Examination of Its Internal and External

Evidences, and a Refutation of Its Pretences to Divine Authority (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene,


5 Richard T. Hughes, “Restoration, Historical Models of,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-

Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and

D. Newell Williams (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 637. See also David M. Thompson,

LetSectsandPartiesFall:AShortHistoryof theAssociationof Churchesof ChristinGreatBritain

and Ireland (London: Berean Press, 1980), 8; John Howard Smith,The Perfect Rule of the Chris-

tian Religion(New York: State University of New York Press, 2008), 180–181.

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which is noted for its early charismatic expressions. So before exploring the particular experience of the Disciples, it is well worth surveying precursors to Pentecostalism in Australia.

1 The Australian Context

In 2018 the Australian public took a sudden interest in understanding Pente- costalism when a pentecostal member of parliament, Scott Morrison, assumed the prime ministership in controversial circumstances. A flurry of articles ap- peared in the media, speculating about the impact of Morrison’s pentecostal faith on his politics and explaining this seemingly foreign form of Christian faith.6 In the process these articles revealed a broad lack of knowledge and a suspicion among the Australian public of “new” expressions of religion. But Pentecostalism in Australia is neither new nor foreign. It is most often dated to 1909, when Sarah Jane Lancaster (also known as Janet or Jeannie Lancaster) established Australia’s first pentecostal congregation at the Good News Hall in North Melbourne. She had experienced faith healing and in 1908 was bap- tized in the Spirit, later speaking in tongues.7 Her early influences came from the Holiness movement through her membership at the York Street Methodist Church in Ballarat during a period of revival,8and also through her attendance

6 For example: Mark Jennings, “Explainer: What Is Pentecostalism, and How Might It Influence

Scott Morrison’s Politics?,” The Conversation, October 1, 2018,


‑103530; Anthony Colangelo, “The Pentecostal Prime Minister: Inside Scott Morrison’s

Church,”Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2018,


James Boyce, “The Devil and Scott Morrison: What Do We Know about the Prime Minister’s

Pentecostalism?,” The Monthly, February 2019,

february/1548939600/james‑boyce/devil‑and‑scott‑morrison; John Sandeman, “‘The Month-

ly’ Gets Scott Morrison’s Christianity Badly Wrong,”Eternity News, February 4, 2019, https://‑monthly‑gets‑scott‑morrisons‑christianity‑badly

‑wrong/; Philip Almond, “Five Aspects of Pentecostalism That Shed Light on Scott Morri-

son’s Politics,” The Conversation, May 23, 2019,‑aspects‑of


7 Glen O’Brien, Wesleyan-Holiness Churches in Australia: Hallelujah under the Southern Cross

(Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 186; Stuart Piggin,Spiritof aNation:TheStoryof Australia’sChris-

tian Heritage(Sydney: Strand Publishing, 2004), 65.

8 Barry Chant, “The Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Origins of the Australian Pente-

costal Movement,” in Reviving Australia: Essays on the History and Experience of Revival and

Revivalism in Australian Christianity, ed. Mark Hutchinson and Stuart Piggin (Sydney: Centre

for the Study of Australian Christianity, 1994), 104.

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at religious meetings in a private home and the purchase of a publication from England with the title “Back to Pentecost”—a popular catch-cry of the early twentieth century.9 Other pentecostal congregations formed shortly after and came together to form the Assemblies of God at a meeting in Brisbane in 1929 (known since 2017 as Australian Christian Churches).10 Each of these early congregations grew out of the pentecostal experiences of local people. As Aus- tralian historians have patriotically observed, Pentecostalism in Australia was not founded by overseas missioners.11

Before the establishment of home-grown Australian pentecostal congrega- tions in the early twentieth century there were both international influences and short-term instances of pentecostal experience, including some that dated to the gold rush of the 1850s. Recent oral history research suggests that Indige- nous and settler inhabitants of Innisfail in far northern Queensland experi- enced pentecostal revival through the influence of a Welsh plantation owner around 1904.12While in ministry in Melbourne in 1883, John Alexander Dowie changed the course of his ministry when he took up divine healing, later mov- ing to the USA.13 In 1870, in the sheep grazing district of Portland, Victoria, the members of a religious meeting led by Yorkshire-born farmer and Methodist convert Joseph Marshall experienced speaking in tongues.14 In 1862, members of the Reverend John Watsford’s congregation at the Pirie Street Methodist Church in Adelaide, South Australia, experienced Holy Spirit baptism.15 From 1853, when Catholic Apostolic Church evangelist Alfred Wilkinson arrived in


10 11



14 15

Shurlee Swain, “Lancaster, Sarah Jane,” The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia(2014), accessed February 16, 2019, http://womenaustra; Barry Chant, “The Spirit of Pentecost Origins and Development of the Pentecostal Movement in Australia, 1870–1939” (PhD thesis, Mac- quarie University, 1999), 430. Historians of Lancaster do not mention the author of “Back to Pentecost.”

O’Brien,Wesleyan-Holiness Churches in Australia, 187.

Piggin,Spirit of a Nation, 64; Mark Hutchinson, “Pentecostals,” inThe Encyclopedia of Reli- gion in Australia, ed. James Jupp (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 518; Ian Breward, A History of the Australian Churches(St. Leonards,NSW: Allen and Unwin, 1993), 178.

Tanya Riches, “The Third Day: Syncretism, Heresy, or Mediating Australian Realities,” Pen- tecostal Charismatic Christianities in Oceania Symposium (delivered August 17, 2018, Alphacrucis College). Historians have noted the influence of the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival on Australian Pentecostalism, and this may constitute an example: Hutchinson, “Pente- costals,” 518.

D.William Faupel, “Theological Influences on theTeachings and Practices of John Alexan- der Dowie,”Pneuma29 (2007): 228–229.

Chant, “Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Origins,” 103.

Chant, “Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Origins,” 100.

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Melbourne, it is likely that charismata were part of his church’s worship in Aus- tralia.16 Against this backdrop the rationalist primitivist Disciples established their ministry.

2 Disciples’ Ministry on the Goldfields

In 1861 the Disciples’ first full-time evangelist inVictoria, Australia, commenced preaching on the goldfields, meagerly supported by the colony’s several con- gregations comprising just 230 church members.17 His name was Isaac Mer- melstein (ca. 1828–1906?) and he had journeyed a long way. Born in Kiev to an Orthodox Jewish family, he traveled as a young man to Jerusalem for study but was converted to Christianity through the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.18 From Jerusalem he traveled to work in a Chris- tian mission in India and then on to Melbourne, where he joined the Disciples in January 1861.19 He then travelled 180 miles north into the dry Box-Ironbark forest of Chiltern and Beechworth. Gold had been discovered there in 1858 and people had flocked to this new frontier, finding fortune but also hardship and disappointment far from familiar comforts. Such circumstances favored evan- gelism, and there were many religious revivals on the goldfields.20

Mermelstein’s Chiltern mission was initially successful. Beechworth book- seller and British Churches of Christ member James Ingram reported that “Bro. M’s labors have been greatly blessed, and we have every hope that the Lord will continue to bless the cause amongst us.”21 Baptisms were enumerated in the Churches of Christ’s British Millennial Harbinger as a witness to the denom-


17 18




Peter Elliott, “Four Decades of ‘Discreet’ Charismata: The Catholic Apostolic Church in Australia, 1863–1900,” Journal of Religious History42, no. 1 (March 2018). Before Wilkinson arrived in 1853, there was at least one church member resident in Melbourne in 1852 who placed an advertisement in The Argus (October 8, 1852) calling for other members who recognized spiritual gifts as recorded in 1Cor 12 and Eph 4 and perhaps practiced accord- ingly.

Chapman,One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 15.

Isaac Mermelstein,TheSophistryof theMelbourneSabbatarianLecturers(Melbourne: self- published, 1860).

Kerrie Handasyde, “Pioneering Leadership: Historical Myth-Making, Absence and Iden- tity in the Churches of Christ in Victoria,” Journal of Religious History41, no. 2 (June 2017): 235–250.

Anne O’Brien, “Religion,” inThe Cambridge History of Australia, vol. 1, ed. Alison Bashford and Stuart Macintyre (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 425–426. James Ingram, “Melbourne (Victoria),”British Millennial Harbinger, October 1861, 523–524.

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ination’s growth.22 In contrast, they were described in the local press with bemused irreverence. On May 1, 1861 it was reported that a quartz reef miner and another man were baptized by immersion at the Chiltern Baths23 (which were not established public infrastructure but actually a section of a water- hole in the Black Dog Creek).24The evening was cold and the creek very chilly, but, having been ritually immersed, “neither Mr Brown nor Mr Bonnett appear to be any the worse of [sic] their bath.” A week later further baptisms among the miners and women were reported, and it was commented that “the cere- mony appears to be becoming quite a mania.”25Irreverence had shifted quickly to concern at signs of increasing religious fervor: intense expressions of reli- gion have long made Australians nervous. Mission with a focus on baptism by immersion was entirely consistent with Disciples’ practice and it caused some excitement among the locals in Chiltern and celebration among the Disciples in Melbourne. However, Mermelstein soon fell out with the Disciples. He was a restless man who courted disagreement with both Christian and Jewish lead- ers, so perhaps his departure was inevitable.26 But the denomination’s early historiography is not only silent on the reasons why—it does not mention him at all. After Ingram’s positive reports in 1861, Victoria’s first full-time evangelist was simply absent from the historical record for several decades.27While other evangelists are named and feted for their faithful pursuit of the denomination’s cause, there is no mention of Mermelstein in either of the two serialized histo- ries written by eyewitnesses to the denomination’s foundation in Victoria (one of whom was Ingram) or the expensively produced national church history



24 25 26


R.H. Tucker, “Chiltern Ovens (Victoria, Australia),”British Millennial Harbinger, October 1861, 524.

“Baptism by Immersion,”The Federal Standard, May 1, 1861. I am indebted to Judy Dixon of the Chiltern Athenaeum Museum for transcribing the fragile pages of the Chiltern peri- odicals.

“The Bath,”The Chiltern Standard, January 25, 1860, 2.

“Baptism by Immersion,”The Federal Standard, May 8, 1861, 2.

For disagreement with Christians: Isaac Mermelstein, Sound Words: An Address to Chris- tians(Melbourne: self-published, 1859) andSophistryof theMelbourneSabbatarianLectur- ers. For disagreement with Jews: Mermelstein’s exchange with Rabbi Cohen inThe Argus (September 23, 28, 29 and October 4, 5, and 8, 1858); “Mount Zion Mission,”Mount Alexan- derMail, December 27, 1862, 2; and, a century later, his description as “an obsessed creature whom no one took very seriously,” in H. Rubenstein,TheJewsinVictoria,1835–1985(Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1986), 76.

Handasyde, “Pioneering Leadership.” This article demonstrates that while Mermelstein was mentioned in contemporary journals, once his ministry concluded he remained con- spicuously absent from the denomination’s histories until mentioned with minimal detail in A.W. Stephenson, Pioneering for Christian Unity in Australia and New Zealand (Mel- bourne: Austral, 1940), 50.

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published in 1903. These celebratory histories were written in Mermelstein’s lifetime, but they read as though he had never lived.28

The historiographical silences provide no reasons for the suppression of Mermelstein’s story. It seems unlikely that anti-Semitism was the prime moti- vation for Mermelstein’s exclusion.29 Conversion of Jews had general support within the Disciples movement, and in the USA there had been a millennialist tendency in which some believed that the Second Coming would not eventuate until the conversion of the Jews,30 though few among the British and colonial members shared Mermelstein’s enthusiasm on this matter.31Instead, the expla- nation for the silence is hinted at in Mermelstein’s own writings. He was an avid self-publisher and in November 1862 explained: “such convictions … have reduced me to the state I am in, which however, I do not regret, I have counted the cost and know in whom I have believed.”32 What were these “convictions” that so differed from those of the Disciples? Isaac Mermelstein advocated Holy Spirit baptism.

3 Early Views on Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The Disciples accepted that the miraculous events of Pentecost really hap- pened, and they welcomed contemporary evidence of the fruits of the Spirit. But they were very concerned about contemporary manifestations of pente- costal events, especially Holy Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues or glos-




31 32

James Ingram, “The History of the Church of Christ in Victoria,” serialized in Australian ChristianWitness(1884); Henry Picton, “Looking Backward,” serialized inChristian Pioneer (1897); Aaron B. Maston, ed., Jubilee Pictorial History of Churches of Christ in Australasia (Melbourne: Austral, 1903).

Anti-Semitism cannot be discounted, as T.H. Milner would not print Mermelstein’s article addressed to Jews and provided no explanation as to his decision. The article was later self-published: Isaac Mermelstein, An Appeal to the Jews to Recover their Own Land (Mel- bourne: H.T. Dwight, n.d.).

For concerns regarding conversion of Jews see Paul Blowers, “‘Living in a Land of Proph- ets’: James T. Barclay and an Early Disciples of Christ Mission to Jews in the Holy Land,” Church History 62, no. 4 D (1993): 494–513; Jack P. Lewis, “James Turner Barclay: Explorer of Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem,”Biblical Archaeology 51, no. 3 S (1988): 163–170; Victor McCracken, “The Restoration of Israel,”Restoration Quarterly47, no. 4 (2005): 207–220. Mermelstein, An Appeal to the Jews.

Isaac Mermelstein, A Letter on Baptism by a Believing Jew (Melbourne: self-published, November 1862), 12. Mermelstein’s belief in baptism “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (original emphasis) is hinted at in a publication that predates his association with the Disciples: Isaac Mermelstein,Truth vs. Fables(Melbourne: self-published, 1859), 3.

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solalia, which is often perceived as the physical evidence of baptism in the Spirit.33 Orderly forms of worship based on the plainly interpreted Word were integral to the denomination, so intense and arresting incoherence was espe- cially threatening. Among Melbourne-based Disciples, Isaac Mermelstein was almost certainly alone in his belief in Holy Spirit baptism. His “convictions” on this issue would have been sufficient heresy to warrant his parting ways with the denomination and, apparently, his omission from its early histories. Despite the denomination’s origins in a period of revivalism, there was little accommo- dation of apparently irrational religious phenomena. This was especially the case in the churches of Britain and her colonies.34

While the denomination began in America, it came to Australia via British migration and publications. Early Australian Disciples were exposed to a vari- ety of views on the Holy Spirit via the British Millennial Harbinger, which was edited by James Wallis until 1861. This journal was widely read as a source of discussion and authority on matters of practice and belief, and it became a cen- tral source of communication of news within the colonies and with leaders and congregations in Britain. American periodicals were rare in the British colonies and so the views of leading thinkers in the USA were largely mediated to the colonies through British sensibilities.35There were a variety of views expressed among foundational thinkers in America, not all of which were accepted in Britain and her colonies.

In the early days of the denomination in the USA, views on the Holy Spirit differed among three influential thinkers: Barton Warren Stone (1772–1844), Alexander Campbell (1788–1866), and Walter Scott (1796–1861). Stone was min- ister at the Presbyterian Church at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, during the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival, a significant event in the Second Great Awakening. He was wit- ness to the ecstatic experiences of men and women at the revival: shrieks, groans, and falling down.36 With some reservation he recognized such expe- riences as valuable and real, and he affirmed the working of the Spirit through


34 35


Shane Clifton, “The Spirit and Doctrinal Development: A Functional Analysis of the Tradi- tional Pentecostal Doctrine of Baptism in the Holy Spirit,”Pneuma29, no. 1 (2007): 14–15. Chapman,One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 51.

There is evidence to suggest that there were no regular subscribers to Alexander Camp- bell’s Millennial Harbinger in colonial Australia until the visit of Eliza Davies in 1858: Thomas Magarey, “Letter from Australia” (dated May 20, 1861),Millennial Harbinger5, no. 1 (January 1862). South Australian Disciples ordered copies of Alexander Campbell’s The Christian Systemin 1861: Harold E. Hayward, “Dedicated to Her Pupils: An Appraisal of the Life and Work of Eliza Davies,”Churches of Christ in New South Wales Occasional Papers in History and Theology14 (2016): 20.

D. Newell Williams, “Cane Ridge Revival,” 164, and “Stone, Barton Warren,” in The Ency

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the preaching of theWord by revival preachers, but did not promote the height- ened emotionalism of spiritual “exercises” within regular church services, espe- cially after the union of his movement with Alexander Campbell’s in 1832.37He believed that Christians received the Holy Spirit for the purpose of spreading the Word.38 However, Stone’s willingness to include those baptized in infancy at the Lord’s Table was too accommodating for the exclusively-minded former Scotch Baptists that dominated the British Churches of Christ, and, conse- quently, his views were rarely heard in Britain and his writings rarely reprinted in British publications.39

Alexander Campbell also witnessed various charismatic phenomena in Sec- ond Awakening revivals, but he viewed the “excesses of the emotional camp meetings and revivals” with suspicion.40A committed Lockean, he valued reli- gious tolerance but was uneasy around such phenomena and did not ascribe it to the work of the Holy Spirit. The emotionally reserved British Disciples, who had grown out of similarly minded Glasite and Scotch Baptist traditions, shared Campbell’s concern over the excesses of revivalism and forged a par- ticular affinity with him.41 Campbell acknowledged that the Spirit acted in contemporary times but primarily through theWord: guiding the sinner to con- version through scriptural reading, preaching, and the reasonable persuasion of other Christians. For Campbell, the events of Pentecost constituted a special circumstance unavailable to contemporary Christians. Historian Douglas Fos- ter observes some inconsistency in Campbell’s approach, noting evidence to suggest that Campbell also allowed that the Spirit worked through a “literal per- sonal indwelling in the Christian” that was gifted to the believer at baptism. But Campbell emphasized the activity of the Spirit through the Word, and this was increasingly what his followers understood as his teaching.42 Many of Camp- bell’s writings were reprinted in Wallis’s journal and were received as a source



39 40



clopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant and D. Newell Williams (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 707. Thomas H. Olbricht, “Charismatics,” inThe Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 170.

Thomas H. Olbricht, “Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott on the Holy Spirit and Ministry,” Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry12, no. 3 (2004): 169.

Thompson, Let Sects and Parties Fall, 25.

Douglas A. Foster, “Waves of the Spirit against a Rational Rock: The Impact of the Pen- tecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave Movements on American Churches of Christ,” Restoration Quarterly45, no. 1 (January 2003): 96.

Rowland Ward and Robert Humphreys, Religious Bodies in Australia, 3rd ed. (Wantirna, Vic.: New Melbourne Press, 1995), 151.

Foster, “Waves of the Spirit,” 97.

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of authority in the British Churches of Christ. But, in the context of this non- creedal denomination with roots among Independents and strong associations with Scotch Baptists, Campbell’s was not the only voice.43

Prominent evangelist Walter Scott clarified thinking on the topic through his publication of Discourses on the Holy Spirit (1831), which was reprinted in Britain in 1839.44 Scott proposed that Christians were not led to faith by the Holy Spirit but received the Spirit after baptism.45This was reinforced in Scott’s evangelistic mnemonic, the “Five Finger Exercise,” which emphasized the gift of the Holy Spirit as the fifth and final stage in salvation after faith, repentance, baptism, and the remission of sins. Unlike the popular understanding of Camp- bell’s position, Scott did not believe that the Spirit only operated through the Word.

4 The Holy Spirit in the British Millennial Harbinger

Around the time of Isaac Mermelstein’s brief association with the Disciples in Melbourne, members of the denomination read numerous articles on baptism and on the working of the Holy Spirit in the pages of the British Millennial Harbinger. Clearly it was a topic in need of renewed attention. As the infant denomination struggled to establish itself, questions about the Holy Spirit were often framed in relation to the beliefs of those churches competing with the Disciples for members: Scotch Baptists, Unitarians, Plymouth Brethren, and those denominations, such as Methodists, that accepted believers who had been baptized as babies. In the October 1859 issue of the British Millennial Harbinger, a member of a Scotch Baptist church atWortley in Leeds,UK, alleged that an evangelist supported by the Churches of Christ was teaching that con- version was effected “by the Word alone” without the involvement of the Holy Spirit. Characteristic emphasis on Christ left the denomination open to sug- gestions that they were like the Unitarians. In response, the periodical’s edi- tor, James Wallis, criticizes the correspondent’s lack of reasonable “proof” and invokes Campbell’s trinitarian “orthodoxy”.46

While orthodoxy demanded a trinitarian stance, the precise action and loca- tion of the Holy Spirit was in question in 1860–1861. Consistent with Stone and

43 44 45 46

Thompson, Let Sects and Parties Fall, 17–24.

Thompson, Let Sects and Parties Fall, 25.

Olbricht, “Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott,” 170–171.

Letter from Samuel Swan, “The Church in Wortley,” and response by James Wallis, ed., British Millennial Harbinger, October 1, 1859, 504–505.

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Scott (and sometimes Campbell), an article by W.H. Burford of Adelaide, South Australia, endorses “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”47 How the Spirit came to dwell was a matter of contention, and baptism in the Spirit was consistently ruled out. For example, in 1860, an article describes belief in modern accounts of baptism in the Spirit as a “mistake,” for “since the baptism of Cornelius” there has been no empirical “proof” of such an event.48 The issue was clearly a live concern, as similar ground was covered again the following year. In December 1861 a letter arguing against aUKmember of the Plymouth Brethren maintains belief in “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” but argues that Christians “are not baptized by the Holy Spirit in the present day.”49 Demonstrating the British denomination’s characteristic common sense literalism, another article argues that it is simply “nonsense” to suggest that the Spirit speaks audibly in contem- porary times.50Such discussions in Britain and the colonies took place against a wave of revivalism in Wales, Ulster, Glasgow, and Edinburgh in 1859 and the 1856 publication of British Methodist minister William Arthur’sThe Tongue of Fire, which argued that pentecostal phenomena such as speaking in tongues did not cease with the Apostles but continued in the present day. Both the book and the revivals spread to the Australian colonies via advertisements and reporting in the press.51Through the rational arguments outlined in theBritish Millennial Harbinger, Disciples in Britain and Australia were equipped to with- stand the disorder and emotionalism of revivalism that seemingly threatened the orderly observance of Christian worship after the New Testament pattern.

Questions about Holy Spirit baptism had implications for critical issues relating to the Disciples’ belief and practice, as an 1861 letter to the British Mil- lennial Harbingerreveals. A regular reader in England asks if Christians receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and exhibit “evidence of their reception by mirac- ulous powers” (original emphasis) as in Acts, when “they spake with tongues and prophesied.” In posing the question, the reader challenges the Disciples on core issues: the consistent application of the New Testament pattern; the strict




50 51

W.H. Burford, “The Spirituality of ChristianWorship,”British Millennial Harbinger, Decem- ber 2, 1860, 594.

Review of David Wardlaw Scott’s “Water and the Spirit,” British Millennial Harbinger, March 1, 1860, 142.

Robert Dillon, “Open Council—Letter,” British Millennial Harbinger, December 2, 1861, 608.

G.G., “The One Baptism,”British Millennial Harbinger, December 2, 1861, 615. Piggin,Spirit of a Nation, 43; Arthur’sTheTongue of Firewas advertised in Australia’s main- stream press: e.g.,Goulburn Herald, January 18, 1860; news of revival was reported in local Australian newspapers: e.g., “Wonderful Revival of Religion in the North of Ireland,”Kiama Examiner (NSW), September 24, 1859.

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adherence to one form of baptism if the spiritual effect was the same as other methods; the exclusion of “godly persons” from membership if the baptism offered was not substantively different; the intention to expand as a movement while limiting membership in the church’s present “weak state”; and, by impli- cation, whether the movement was truly rational or merely scared of emotion- alism. In response, D.K. (presumably David King, incoming editor) argues that baptism by immersion is not a “meaningless and useless form” and, citing Scrip- ture, that the Holy Spirit is not received at baptism. Defending the Disciples’ adherence to the New Testament pattern as utterly consistent, King says that contemporary Christians are not called “to do the work of apostles” (that is, establish New Testament patterns), so no changes can be made to the form of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Later he claims that those baptized according to incorrect forms are not Christians and hence cannot be members.52A range of views is evident in the British Millennial Harbinger but, increasingly, the most persuasive voice was that of British evangelist David King. Known for his fierce argument, exclusivist tendencies, and unwavering rationality, he took over the editorship in 1862.53In the absence of bishops, editors had great influence.54

5 Victoria’s First Full-Time Evangelist and His Letter on Baptism

The December 1861 issue of the British Millennial Harbinger in which King’s views appeared would have arrived in Melbourne in early 1862 and circulated among church members. Later that year Mermelstein wrote his tract, A Let- ter on Baptism by a Believing Jew.55 It appears to mark his departure from the denomination. There is no known record of Mermelstein’s involvement after this time, and his tract was not published by the denominationally influential editors but was instead self-published from a residential address in the poor and flood-prone Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. Arguing against the prac- tice of infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling (aspersion), the tract outlines evidences for immersion as the only scriptural method of water baptism. How- ever, Mermelstein allows that there is an instance in which pouring is appro- priate for “the promise for the Baptism of the spirit [sic] was, ‘I will pour out



54 55

E.P., “Unto What Were Ye Baptized?” and D.K., “In Reply,” British Millennial Harbinger, December 2, 1861, 616–617 and 619.

Chapman, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 48; James Wallis, “Concluding Address,” British Millennial Harbinger, December 2, 1861, 624.

Chapman,One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 17.

Mermelstein, Letter on Baptism.

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my spirit’” (original emphasis).56 He implies that there are two baptisms valid in this age just as in New Testament times: water and the Holy Spirit.

As debate in the British Millennial Harbinger has shown, Churches of Christ in Britain and colonial Australian Disciples could accept only one baptism beyond the time of Acts. But Mermelstein states, “I always acknowledge that I don’t understand the ‘one baptism’ of Eph. [4] v.5.”57 The verse is critical in the life of the Disciples, as it is quoted in the foundational appeal for Chris- tian unity based on New Testament patterns, Declaration and Address written by Alexander Campbell’s father, Thomas, in 1809.58In announcing his inability to reconcile Ephesians 4:5 with other New Testament evidences, Mermelstein also signals his divergence from the Disciples. His use of the word always sug- gests that his point has been well rehearsed in debate with Disciples members in Melbourne and perhaps also in Adelaide, South Australia, when he trav- eled there to evangelize in October and November 1861.59 After the publicity associated with Mermelstein’s mission in Adelaide, the denomination did not mention his name again for some eighty years, presumably preferring to forget their earlier celebration of his evangelism.

In A Letter on Baptism Mermelstein makes explicit his disagreement with the Disciples’ position on baptism in the Holy Spirit:

I cannot agree with Alexander Campbell, that there is only the water baptism, and that the baptism of the Spirit was confined to the Apos- tles, if this were true, then the promise in Matt 3:11, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” must have been made to the Apostles exclusively, whilst it is clearly stated in verse 7, that the hearers were the Pharisees and Sadducees, and again Peter saith that this promise is to the hearers and their descendents.60

There is no evidence of Mermelstein’s having personally experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit or his leading of evangelistic missions involving charismatic phenomena. In the context of the British Churches of Christ and their abhor- rence of all that could not be explained by reason, simple acceptance of the possibility of Holy Spirit baptism was enough to warrant a parting of ways. In

56 57 58

59 60

Mermelstein, Letter on Baptism, 2.

Mermelstein, Letter on Baptism, 6.

Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington (Washington,PA: 1809).

See, e.g.,South Australian Register, November 23, 1861.

Mermelstein, Letter on Baptism, 6.

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the light of later views among Churches of Christ in Australia, it is significant that their first evangelist departed over the theology of the Holy Spirit.

6 Developments in Australian Responses to Holy Spirit Baptism

In the following decades, the Disciples in Australia, now known as Churches of Christ, maintained their adherence to common sense and their emotional reserve when it came to the Holy Spirit. When an ecumenical pentecostal con- ventionwasheld in Melbourne in 1898 to“dealwith and reflectupon the oldbut ever wondrous theme of Pentecost,” the Churches of Christ watched with char- acteristic caution. The convention was held at the Collins Street Independent (Congregational) Church with participation by preachers from various denom- inations.61 Notable among them was the Methodist Reverend John Watsford who, by this time, had been preaching revival for over forty years.The Churches of Christ responded in their periodical, The Australian Christian, with a brief comment by the editor, American evangelist in Melbourne Aaron Burr Maston. He implied that those who ignored the imperative to repent and be baptized prior to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) were not truly Chris- tians.62 Concern at the mood of the age grew among the Churches of Christ and, when another convention was held later that year in Sydney, Maston’s defence of the denomination’s position was more extensive and vigorous, tak- ing up most of the front page of the Australian Christian. Maston argued that those claiming to be baptized in the Spirit supplied no proof by “the perfor- mance of miracles,” an argument often made in the 1860s. He also put that the convention did not grasp the “difference between ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit,’” whose proof might be seen in the fruit of the spirit, the last of which is self-control (Gal 5:22–23).63 He also emphasized the birth of the church at Pentecost, a historical reality that was core to the Churches of Christ’s identity.

In the twentieth century the Churches of Christ in Australia, following the example of conservative nineteenth-century American leader Tolbert Fanning, continued to claim to have been founded not in the early 1800s but nearly two

61 62


“A Protestant Convention: Addresses on Pentecostal Christianity,”The Age, July 5, 1898. “Pentecostal Christianity,”The Australian Christian, July 21, 1898, 231. The article is largely reprinted from the Sydney newspaper Australian Christian World (formerly Christian ColonistandWoman’s Voice) with the addition of comment from Maston.

“A Pentecostal Convention,” “A Pentecostal Baptism,” and “The Gift of the Spirit,” Aus- tralian Christian, November 3, 1898.

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millennia prior—at Pentecost.64 Traveling evangelists preached this regularly and, to the amusement and derision of other denominations, the plaque on one Victorian chapel read “Church of Christ founded A.D.33, Established in Wan- garatta 1927.”65 While insisting on the practical recoverability of the New Tes- tament past, Enlightenment rationality demanded that supernatural elements of New Testament experience could not happen now. They were instead inter- preted as part of an extraordinary past, a moment of transcendence that could not be repeated. Now the church relied upon the Word, read with common sense and faithfully re-enacted in orderly worship. Memory replaced mysti- cal presence in Lord’s Supper theology with the insistence on a theology of remembrance.66 In the same way, the mysterious events of Pentecost were confined to that singular moment in history when the Church of Christ was founded. In insisting on the ongoing priority of the Word and denying the in-breaking of the Spirit in the modern day, the Churches of Christ institution- alized a “reasonable and manageable” view of its extraordinary and miraculous origins.67

By the mid-twentieth century, confidence in the historical fixedness of Pen- tecost and the historical plea of Churches of Christ had begun to erode as the denomination moved to the evangelical mainstream.68In 1955 Gordon Stirling, then minister at the Church of Christ in Canberra, Australia’s Capital Territory, wrote an article on Walter Scott’s “Five Finger Exercise” to call the church back to its distinctive plea (even as he argued against Campbell’s regenerationist view of baptism). In adapting Scott’s markedly unemotional process-oriented approach to salvation,69Stirling reminds readers of the denomination’s histor- ical distaste for “emotionalism” and obviates any discussion of the gift of the





68 69

Tolbert Fanning, “The Origin of the Church of Christ Is Not Modern,” Christian Review 2 (January 1845): 5–6.

Photograph of teaching chart belonging to evangelist E.C. Hinrichsen showing the time- line of Churches of Christ, private collection. Photograph of Wangaratta plaque, private collection. For an American example see Richard T. Hughes, “Why Restorationists Don’t Fit the Evangelical Mold; Why Churches of Christ Increasingly Do,” inRe-forming the Cen- ter: American Protestantism, 1900 to the Present, ed. Douglas Jacobsen and William Vance Trollinger Jr. (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 195.

Kerrie Handasyde, “Remember Me: A Liturgical, Theological and Social History Surround- ing Two Nineteenth-Century Chalices from Churches of Christ in Australia,” Australian Journal of Liturgy12, no. 3 (2011): 116–126.

Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630–1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 121.

Ward and Humphreys, Religious Bodies in Australia, 152.

Roland Wessels, “The Spirit Baptism, Nineteenth Century Roots,” Pneuma 14, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 129–130.

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Holy Spirit by focusing on baptism by immersion as “the wonderful spiritual experience of sharing in symbol the experiences of the death, burial and res- urrection of Christ.”70The years to follow witnessed the rising authority of per- sonal “spiritual experience” not only in the Churches of Christ, but across many facets of life in Western society.71In 1960 Bruce McIntosh, minister in the post- war housing commission estate at Jordanville, Victoria, penned an article on “The Experience of Salvation through Baptism” in which he argued that “Bap- tism is a mystical experience which will affect us intellectually, morally, and emotionally.”72 McIntosh prioritized intellect in accordance with the denom- ination’s historic plea, but also acknowledged emotion as part of the “experi- ence.” The incorporation of the mystical may be attributed to the influence of British Churches of Christ theologian and ecumenist William Robinson (1888– 1963) and of the ecumenical movement generally.73

Unity was one of Alexander Campbell’s driving concerns, but when the opportunity to unite with other churches came (at the formation of the Unit- ing Church in Australia, 1977), the Churches of Christ did not join. The decision caused many in Churches of Christ to question their reason for being.74 They had been founded on the ideals of unity and restoration of the New Testament church. Now their claim to unity was diminished. Their adherence to their par- ticular interpretation of New Testament Christianity was also in question, as the influence of the charismatic movement challenged the “identity and cohe- sion of Churches of Christ.”75 The breakdown of denominationalism around this time also contributed to loss of identity as people moved among churches, prioritizing worship experience over the church’s historical reasons for being.76





74 75 76

Gordon Stirling, “Five Fingers: An Examination of CertainTrends in the Restoration Move- ment in Australia Today,”Provocative Pamphlets1 (Melbourne: Federal Literature Commit- tee of Churches of Christ in Australia, 1955), popularly reprinted as Provocative Pamphlet 126 (September 1965). As Stirling explains in Churches of Christ: Reinterpreting Ourselves for the New Century(Melbourne: Vital, 1999), 9–11, he did not believe that baptism was for the remission of sins, so he changes Scott’s “Five Finger Exercise” (omitting “remission of sins” and inserting “confession” before “baptism”).

Gerald Rose, “Churches of Christ in Australia,” inThe Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia, ed. James Jupp (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 296.

Bruce McIntosh, “The Experience of Salvation through Baptism,”Provocative Pamphlet61– 62 (January–February 1960), 11.

Paul M. Blowers and Byron C. Lambert, “Lord’s Supper, The,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 494.

Chapman,One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 166, 174.

Foster, “Waves of the Spirit,” 101.

Rose, “Churches of Christ in Australia,” 297.

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New members brought new theologies, and noncreedal churches struggled to maintain their historically distinctive beliefs in the late twentieth century.77

In the 1970s, as the charismatic movement grew internationally, articles on charismatic phenomena (especially speaking in tongues) increased just as they had during the British revivals of the 1860s. Three essays written by prominent Churches of Christ ministers illustrated the range of responses to changing views of charismatic phenomena. Writing on “Spiritual Gifts,” Richard Lawton, minister at Magill in South Australia, acknowledged the experiential validity of speaking in tongues while pleading for order in the church, and for tolerance leading to “unity within the congregation” as an extension of “the vision of our forefathers” of unity between the churches.78 With Scripture and not experi- ence as his authority, retired minister Allan B. Clark argued that the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was “the experience of the event at that time, in that place, of those people.” It was a historical reality. He concluded by asserting that today we ought to be focused on the fruit of the Spirit because Christians “undervalue” the Spirit and “He is not happy.”79Clark’s response harked back to those of the 1890s.

In contrast to the reservations of Lawton and Clark, who, between them, arguably represented a majority within the denomination, Ken Clinton argued in favour of contemporary “renewal in the Spirit.” As lecturer in Greek and Old Testament at the Federal College of the Bible, and chair of both the Fed- eral Literature Department and the Historical Society, he was well-known and respected.80 Given his roles and the established rhetoric of theological debate within the denomination, he made his arguments from Scripture and the denomination’s history. Rather than citing Alexander Campbell, as most argu- ments based on the founders’ thinking did in Australia, Clinton turned to Bar- tonStone.HerecalledtherevivalatCaneRidgeandusedStone’swordstoaffirm the intervention of the Spirit and the charismatic phenomena: “it was a good work—the work of God.”81 Most daringly, Clinton also argued from his own

77 78


80 81

Chapman,One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, 166–170.

Richard W. Lawton, “Spiritual Gifts,”Pamphlet Club(formerly Provocative Pamphlet/s) 259 (April 1977), 5–12. Gordon Stirling also pleads for tolerance in his role as editor of the Aus- tralian Christian: “Let’s Live in Love with Our ‘Charismatics,’”Australian Christian (1980), 37.

Allan B. Clark, “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts,”Pamphlet Club264 (September 1977), 4, 8.

Kenneth J. Clinton, “Renewal in the Spirit,”Pamphlet Club271 (May 1978), 2.

Barton Warren Stone, “A Voice in the Wilderness” (1847), in Voices from Cane Ridge, ed. Rhodes Thompson (St Louis, MO: Bethany Press, 1954), 65, cited by Clinton, “Renewal in the Spirit,” 15.

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experience, recounting in detail his own “renewal in the Holy Spirit” evidenced in “an increase in the fruit of the Spirit” and then the gifts of “tongues, prophecy, interpretation.”82Such personal revelations had potential to affect his ministry and teaching in a church divided over the issue. But circumstances were differ- ent and, unlike Mermelstein, who left Churches of Christ after disagreement, Clinton remained. He met with some opposition but also fostered a small net- work of like-minded ministers and ran an informal “School of Praise” attended by ministry students.83

As Pentecostalism in Australia continued to grow more strongly than older churches, Churches of Christ’s foundational debate around the necessity of observing the correct form of worship gave way to both tacit and explicit recognition of diverse religious experience.84 Churches of Christ congrega- tions maintaining a “cerebral style of worship” declined in membership and some congregations moved toward pentecostal worship styles, even leaving the denomination under a charismatic leader.85Though charismatic phenom- ena are not in the majority, the language of “renewal” and “connection to the Holy Spirit” is common.86As historian Ian Breward noted in the early 1990s, the Churches of Christ was a denomination that “learned from Pentecostals.”87

The church that once suppressed the story of an advocate of Holy Spirit baptism came to accommodate the language of renewal. Charismatic phenom- ena were long regarded with great suspicion within the Churches of Christ in Australia. Indeed, for the best part of a hundred years the denomination engaged its defenses in resisting outpourings of emotion and strange tongues, as these essentially conflicted with the denomination’s reasonable, common sense, Word-centered understanding of order and belief. Strongly influenced by Alexander Campbell’s theology filtered through the British Millennial Har- binger, Australian Churches of Christ had little room for the miraculous work-

82 83 84




Clinton, “Renewal in the Spirit,” 3.

Tribute to K.J. Clinton by H. Cuss, ca. 1990, private collection.

Rose, “Churches of Christ in Australia,” 297; Ruth Powell, M. Pepper, and S. Sterland, How Many Australians Attend Church in an Average Week?, National Church Life Sur- vey Research (2017), accessed March 1, 2019,‑attending ‑church.

Gary Bouma, Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-first Century (Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 66; Ward and Humphreys, Religious Bod- ies in Australia, 152.

For example: “Shared Values,” Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania, accessed March 1, 2019,‑movement/values; “Voices and Fire,” Discovery Church (Church of Christ in Mount Evelyn, Victoria), accessed March 1, 2019,‑fire/.

Breward, History of the Australian Churches, 179.

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ings of the Spirit. Nor was there room in the early history books, written to cel- ebrate the Australian church’s progress and faithfulness to the denominational cause, for Isaac Mermelstein and his advocacy of Holy Spirit baptism. More than a century after Mermelstein’s story was suppressed, the denomination has moved toward acceptance of charismatic phenomena. But remembering Mer- melsteinasthe firstfull-time evangelistdoesnot comeeasily inadenomination that has drifted so far from its origins that its early story no longer animates its identity.88


Ward and Humphreys, Religious Bodies in Australia, 152; Rose, “Churches of Christ in Aus- tralia,” 296.

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