An Extra Dimension

Christian Life Magazine article on Rev. Gary K. Clark, August 1985

Historic Churches in Renewal: American Baptist

When a young Baptist pastor felt the need for greater spiritual power, he did what the Bible teaches: he asked Jesus to baptize him in the Holy Spirit. That was 20 years ago. From that moment began a spiritual journey that is changing lives around the world. by Gary K. Clark

Gary & Dorothy Clark - Christian Life Magazine Aug 1985.jpg

"There must be more to the Christian life than this, or I can't stay in the ministry," I told myself.  After five years as a pastor in New England, I felt frustrated and helpless. Men and women with sick bodies, shattered marriages and wounded spirits cried out for help. They expected far more from me than I was able to give, even though I was a Bible-preaching evangelical.  Something was missing.  But what?

Morning after morning I read in my Bible how Jesus healed the sick, cast our evil spirits, gave forgiveness to the guilt-ridden, and brought God's peace to the people of His world. I thought, As an extension of His ministry today, shouldn't I be doing the same? Jesus' words kept ringing in my ear; "He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also" (John 14:12).

Nor was I alone in my feelings of frustration. Wherever I went, other pastors echoed the same feelings. I was a graduate of a Bible institute, a Christian college, and an evangelical seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. I spent three years in a gospel-team ministry conducting services in 300 churches. I spent another six years pastoring in three New England churches. I knew God must have a greater power available for His church today.

An agnostic man, dying of cancer, challenged me. While I was sharing the Gospel with him in a local hospital, he cut me short: "Why can't your God heal me now instead of just offering me pie in the sky by and by?" Indeed, why not?

His question drove me to a new search in the Bible.  I began to underline throughout the New Testament every teaching I could find on the Holy Spirit. Before long, the answer became abundantly clear: Jesus told His disciples they would be "baptized in the Holy Spirit" and would receive power after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:5,8).

There was only one thing left for me to do.  I knew I needed that extra dimension of power in my life and ministry.  I wanted that more than anything else in the world.  So I asked Jesus to baptize me in the Holy Spirit for the power to witness in His name. What I experienced was a total immersion in God's Spirit.  It changed my life and the life of our church.  It led me on a mission to spread the Gospel to the "uttermost parts of the earth."

We See Miraculous Healings

Along with that new surge of power from the Holy Spirit came an added dimension to my witnessing, preaching, and praying.  I now knew that God still heals today. Now I could pray for the sick to be healed, with far greater faith than before.

A senior aged woman came for prayer. Deacons and the pastor laid on hands, anointed with oil and prayed the prayer of faith. A cataract due for surgical remover disappeared. I wrote her doctor and he confirmed in a letter, saying it was unusual for a cataract to vanish this way. After she was healed, she taught first grade Sunday School children for ten years. The cataract never returned. And she praised God continually for His healing power.

 

That was only the beginning. God was going to show us far greater and mightier works through the power of the Holy Spirit. We saw cancerous tumors shrivel up and disappear, rheumatoid arthritis healed, fevers leave, broken bones mend, kidney diseases vanish, and infections and other problems overcome in the name of Jesus.  Our ongoing ministry included delivering people from evil spirits,  breaking bondage to the occult and witchcraft, and releasing people from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

All during that period our church experienced steady growth with new believers in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. From a tiny, struggling New England Baptist church of 50 elderly widows, the church mushroomed with the influx of 500 new converts. These members continually saw God's power at work in their worship, in their witness to the lost, and in signs and wonders.

It's always gratifying to see new believers immediately apply faith Christ's teaching. A newly baptized believer, named Ann, is a registered nurse with 30 years of experience who works in a local hospital.  Ann's sister, Beatrice, was 53 years old and dying of leukemia. One Sunday morning, as I made my way to the pulpit to preach, Ann stopped me.

"Pastor, would you pray for my sister?" she asked. "She's been in a coma for 14 weeks. The doctors say she has acute leukemia.  Pray that Jesus will heal her."

Now that's a tall order. Surely she could see that, being a nurse herself.  Somewhat reluctantly, I asked the congregation that morning to pray that Ann's sister would be healed.

That afternoon Ann visited Beatrice at Massachusetts General Hospital in
Boston. Very simply, she laid her hand on her sister and prayed, "Jesus, heal my sister." That was all. Immediately Beatrice opened her eyes.

"Ann, I've been sick for a long time, haven't I?" Beatrice said. Before the week was over, she had persuaded the doctors to let her eat a steak dinner! Soon afterward, the medical staff and Beatrice's doctor concluded, after taking numerous tests, that she was indeed free of any trace of leukemia. They discharged her from the hospital.

The following Sunday both sisters came to our church to tell the congregation how God had answered prayer, and how Jesus' healing power is at work today.  At the close of the service, when I gave the invitation, Beatrice came forward to put her trust in Jesus Christ. She already knew Jesus as the healer of her body. Now she wanted Jesus as her Savior and Lord.

It also was amazing to see the divine appointments the Lord arranged. I remember an insurance salesman who was driving to our 7 a.m. men's Bible study when he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker turned out to be a homosexual looking for a relationship, but he agreed to come to the Bible study. He sat through the entire session and the prayer time which followed, then stayed to talk to me.

That was no ordinary session. It was an encounter with spiritual warfare. Discerning the strong spiritual battle going on, I took authority in the name of Jesus and broke the demonic control over the man's life, leading him to renounce his sins.

The man told me he saw himself at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. While I was praying, he said, a light appeared at the top of the opening. He saw himself being lifted up from the bottom of the abyss. But it was not until he prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior that he found himself totally set free. He confessed he formerly had practiced witchcraft.  Now he had received the Holy Spirit.

The pattern we followed in our ministry was the one set by Jesus. When Jesus walked this earth, He had a threefold ministry. He proclaimed the Good News of salvation. He healed the sick and He cast out demons. All three phases of His ministry complemented each other.  The Holy Spirit demonstrated the same pattern in our church ministry over the years.

That was power evangelism. That was what Jesus commanded His 12 disciples, and later the 70, to do when He sent them out. That is the commandment we obeyed at the First Baptist Church in Salem, Hew Hampshire.

The Fires of Renewal Spread Through the Community.

When I first came into the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1963, I knew of no other American Baptists who shared my experience. 

Some of the local church members accused me of bringing "this Pentecostal stuff" into our Baptist church. They wanted no part of it. Yet it was Jesus Christ Himself who had baptized me in the Holy Spirit, at my request, and in accordance with the Scriptures.

For someone like me, who had been thoroughly indoctrinated in Dispensationalism and anti-charismatic beliefs, there was no way I could be easily led into having an "experience." Any spiritual experience had to be based on strong biblical grounds. I knew the Word and I knew the witness of the Holy Spirit.

I prayed for wisdom as I began to share the truth with my congregation. Then I watched the Lord immerse hundreds of believers in the Holy Spirit.

As the Holy Spirit was poured out on the First Baptist Church in Salem, New Hampshire, more than 1,000 new members entered the church. It became the largest American Baptist congregation in the state. Seventy-five percent of our new members came through Christian conversion and believer's baptism.  Most ranged between 20 and 40 years of age, although people of all ages were converted and joined the church.

We outgrew our 100 year-old meeting house. In 1973, we built a new sanctuary on ten acres in the geographical center of the town of Salem. We referred to the new church building location as "the church in the heart of Salem with a heart for Salem."

As the Holy Spirit worked actively through various members in our church, many new ministries developed: a weekend coffeehouse for reaching youth, after-school programs for girls and boys, premarital counseling, financial counseling, marriage enrichment weekends, a midweek adult institute offering five courses in the Bible and Christian growth.

Public education of children was secular and liberal. God instructed the nation of Israel to hear and obey His laws and to "Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deuteronomy 4:9). I earned the Master of Religious Education Degree at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in preparation for founding and serving as first principle of the Salem Christian School for children from kindergarten 4 through eighth grade. The enrollment rose to 200  students with highly qualified teachers and staff.  A new one-half-million-dollar educational building was completed which expanded the Christian day school and Sunday School ministries.

As I shared my experience in the Holy Spirit with other pastors in Salem, they too wanted to receive this empowering.  More than half of them also received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Salem Council of Churches sponsored a weeklong healing mission. Scores of people came to faith in Jesus Christ as the Word of truth was proclaimed, and many were healed of physical and emotional afflictions. When the local churches sponsored a Pentecost weekend, with the Rev. Everett "Terry" Fullam of Darien, Connecticut, as speaker, many more were baptized in the Holy Spirit with the manifestations that followed.

The Spirit brought together Baptists and Roman Catholics through prayer-healing services conducted at a local Catholic hospital. A Catholic Sister of the Bon Secours Order, was both a nurse and a supervisor of the Clinical Pastoral Education program. She invited me to conduct prayer-healing services on a regular schedule in the hospital chapel. The Catholic chaplain and I conducted the healing services in the chapel for patients brought in by nurses. The service was also broadcast by in-house television to each hospital room.

At the close of one chapel service, as we prayed for a woman patient in a wheelchair, her 75-year-old husband broke down and wept. With tears streaming down his face, he said, "This has been the most significant hour of my entire life."

To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth

The renewal in the Holy Spirit has been spreading through other American Baptist churches across the United States. At the 1981 American Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit in Green Lake, Wisconsin, the American "Baptist Charismatic Fellowship (ABCF) officially elected a national service committee to conduct its business. They adopted a constitution and elected officers. As the newly elected national chairman, I incorporated the American Baptist Charismatic Fellowship as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. 

The American Baptist Charismatic Fellowship grew and influenced Baptists throughout the United States. In 1984, more than 400 attended the annual conference on the Holy Spirit held at the American Baptist Assembly a Green Lake, Wisconsin.

The renewal continues to bring denominations together. American Baptist charismatics are members of the Parish Renewal Council, an ecumenical renewal group of Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist charismatics. The Baptist are represented on the National Charismatic Concerns Committee, made up of mainline Protestant denominations, Roman Catholic Pentecostals, independent charismatics, and traditional Pentecostals.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus said the empowering of the Holy Spirit would enable His witnesses to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and disciple every ethnic group. In October 1984, the First Baptist Church of Salem commissioned me to work toward world evangelization of the 2.5 billion people who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

My first step in this new faith mission venture was to spend the entire month of November in India, teaching hundreds of Telugu Christian pastors and evangelists about the empowering work of the Holy Spirit and how to do cross-cultural evangelism among the millions in India. Ninety percent of these national church leaders asked Jesus to baptize them in the Holy Spirit and to use them for greater works in God's kingdom. When I saw God's signs and wonders breaking forth from their lives, I realized that tens of thousands in their congregations and villages would be touched by the newly empowered ministries of these Telugu pastors.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the ministry I once considered leaving twenty years ago is being extended and multiplied to help reach the world for Christ. Now I know there is more to the Christian life.  Much more.

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