News Articles

Southern Baptists voice views on spiritual renewal weekends

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Tres Dias” is not a secret organization, nor is it a “charismatic” ministry, even though some participants experience “charismatic” manifestations ranging from laughter to healing, according to leaders of Tennessee’s Tres Dias movement.

“Tres Dias is not charismatic,” said Wilson Burton Jr., of Brentwood, Tenn., a member of Tres Dias’ international board. “It is an encounter with the Holy Spirit. The ministry is ecumenical in nature and actively seeks the participation of persons from all Christian denominations.”

Burton, who is a member of a Church of Christ congregation, was referring to the North American Mission Board’s advisory discouraging Southern Baptist participation on Tres Dias as well as other spiritual renewal weekends. That advisory, reported in a Dec. 29 Baptist Press story on how the Tres Dias movement was causing some concerns in Southern Baptist churches, has generated nationwide response within the SBC.

Despite Burton’s affirmations, the North American Mission Board stands by its words of caution. “We want to reiterate that these weekend retreats often create more problems for a church than they resolve,” said Tal Davis of NAMB’s interfaith witness team. “There are plenty of Southern Baptist programs that can provide solid discipleship ministries.”

Tres Dias is one of several spiritual renewal weekends based originally on the Roman Catholic Cursillo movement. Cursillo is a three-day learning, sharing experience in Christian community, or a short course in Christianity. The United Methodist Church sponsors two of the more well-known Cursillo-type renewal weekends, “Chrysalis,” and “The Emmaus Walk.”

Davis said over the past 10 years his office has fielded a number of complaints from pastors and laypeople about the spiritual renewal weekends, including Tres Dias.

“In some cases, it almost split churches. Are we supposed to say those churches are overacting? When you see a pattern like that, there needs to be a concern,” Davis said.

However, some Southern Baptists strongly support the Tres Dias movement, such as Mike Pennington, a former missionary and currently a director of missions in middle Tennessee.

“I have never felt more affirmed and appreciated as a pastor than I was on my Tres Dias weekend,” Pennington said. “Rarely have I ever seen men and women serve others with such enthusiasm, fulfillment and joy as they do on a weekend. They are all encouraged to go and do likewise in their local churches.”

Pennington acknowledged there have been moments on the weekend when some participants’ charismatic tendencies have made him uncomfortable. Those moments, however, were not a part of corporate worship, he stressed.

“I am still involved in Tres Dias because it touched several of my ‘hot buttons,'” he said. “Evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and the centrality of the local church are all major emphases on Tres Dias weekends.”

Concerning the question of secrecy on Tres Dias weekends, both Pennington and Burton stressed that the weekends entail more “serendipity moments” than secret moments.

“There are some wonderful things that happen during the weekend, and to know them in advance would soften the impact,” Burton said. “There are no secrets, just gifts of love that add to the joy, depth and meaning of the weekend.”

Unlike the United Methodist Church Cursillo, Tres Dias is interdenominational. Baptist, Lutheran, Church of God or Catholics, among others, may be represented on any given weekend. Burton said the movement does not preach one theology. “We stress only those things which the Christian denominations have in common and respect those things which are different.”

Davis, on the other hand, said some of the doctrine used during the renewal weekends differs from Southern Baptists, particularly the issue of charismatic manifestations. “I think we need to uphold the integrity of our own theology,” Davis said. “I am a Southern Baptist because I believe in Baptist theology. While I’m not being derogatory towards other denominations, I believe what I believe.”

Billy Hill, pastor of Richland Baptist Church, Nashville, and head spiritual director for Tres Dias in middle Tennessee, said he believes the Tres Dias movement has changed his life and the life of his church. “The church people who have gone on the weekends have come back with servants’ hearts. You can see the difference in their service to the church,” Hill said.

Burton acknowledged that Tres Dias “is not for all church members. The ideal person to sponsor is one who is a potential leader, someone with qualities and/or desire to become a shepherd. Tres Dias is not a quick fix for deeply wounded people, however those who attend may experience release from guilt, past sins and abuse that frees them to be the leaders God created them to be.”

Burton said Tres Dias is “simply a tool to better enable Christians to move back into their home churches as stronger leaders, more supportive of their pastors and more committed to the mission of the church.”

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes