Sunday, September 17, 2017

Rex Humbard, Premier Televangelist Who Blessed Millions

Rex Humbard, Premier Televangelist Who Blessed Millions

By Julio Severo
The first time Rex Humbard met Elvis Presley, “the King of Rock and Roll” asked the televangelist a pointed question:
Rex Humbard
“The Lord’s coming soon, isn’t he?”
Maude Aimee Humbard, Rex’s wife, said to Presley, “I’ve been praying that you would dedicate your life to Jesus Christ.”
“Elvis went to pieces,” Humbard wrote. “He cried so hard he began to tremble.”
Humbard wrote that he and his wife joined hands with Presley and prayed for him. Then, at the end of the meeting, Presley said, “You and Maude Aimee coming here today and praying with me is the most wonderful Christmas present that Elvis Presley has ever received, and I want to thank you.”
The relationship between the televangelist and the late music icon is explained in Humbard’s book, The Soul Winning Century, The Humbard Family Legacy… 100 Years of Ministry 1906-2006, published in 2006 by Clarion Call Marketing of Dallas.
Humbard preached a sermon at Presley’s funeral in 1977 in Memphis.
According to the New York Times, “Elvis Presley was a loyal viewer” and admirer of Humbard.
Even though coming from a background as a gospel singer in the Assemblies of God, Presley draft away from the Gospel. He began to get interested again in the Gospel only through the simple message of Humbard, a charismatic televangelist.
Presley attended no church and Humbard’s program became his weekly service. Just as Presley, millions of people did not attend any church, or because they were not Christian or any other eventuality.
“The vast majority of people do not go to church and the only way we can reach them is through TV,” Humbard wrote in his autobiography, “Miracles in My Life.”
“We must go into their homes — into their hearts — to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The special slogan of his program was “You Are Loved!”
His program became an important service even in Brazil. There was a time when my mother had no church near to go, and Humbard’s program was our only church service and encouraged us as nothing else did.
Rex Humbard was the first evangelist to have a weekly national television program in America. His program combined some elements of popular entertainment with evangelism, an approach also followed by Billy Graham. They were pioneers in combining preaching and music.
In spite of the modern approach, he said to his audience, “What America needs is an old-fashioned, Holy Ghost, God-sent, soul-savin’, devil-hatin’ revival!”
Humbard’s grandchildren singing in his TV program
His program was very pro-family: Humbard, his wife, children and grandchildren sang Christian songs in each program.
Humbard began his career in broadcasting at age 13, singing gospel songs on radio. He was ordained during the 1940s and in 1949 he began airing his sermons from a CBS-TV affiliate in Indianapolis, when the visual medium was largely untapped by evangelists. In 1952, weekly Sunday messages began broadcasting from his nondenominational Cathedral of Tomorrow, a renovated theater that seated 5,400 people, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Later, his program, carried by more than 2,000 TV stations and broadcast in some 77 languages, featured revival preaching mixed with lively musical numbers, including folksy guitar music and songs performed by Humbard, a choir, and guest performers such as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
In the last 1970s, B.J. Thomas, a popular singer, appeared in Humbard’s show, telling his testimony of conversion to Jesus Christ and singing Christian songs. After Elvis Presley, B.J. Thomas was probably the most famous American singer in that generation.
At its peak of popularity in the 1970s, Humbard’s program attracted some 20 million viewers.
His ministry eventually extended to Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Far East, Australia, Latin America and Africa, giving it a worldwide reach of 8 million viewers, greater than any of his contemporaries by the late 1970s. In Brazil, he attracted large crowds at the giant soccer stadium in São Paulo for weeks.
Critics of televangelists often accuse: “Why are not televangelists going to preach the Gospel in faraway poor nations?” Rex Humbard did it. He spent millions of dollars, of the donations from his U.S. supporters, to have a Christian program reaching Africa, Brazil and Latin America.
Poor nations could not afford his program. Even so, U.S. supporters donated to helped Humbard to reach these nations.
“One of the distinctions of Rex Humbard’s ministry is the popularity maintained in South American countries, especially Brazil, where during a recent crusade appearance in Rio de Janeiro, more than 180,000 people filled a soccer stadium to hear the word of God,” according to Fort Worth Star Telegram.
“Seek the Savior,” Humbard would urge, “and all other moral problems will solve themselves.”
Humbard’s Sunday television program premiered in Brazil in the old Tupi Network, currently SBT, in 1975. This program, which was the first major charismatic influence in Brazil and began when there was no charismatic (neo-Pentecostal) church in Brazil, drew soon the attention of evangelicals from different denominations, and when Humbard visited Brazil for the first time in 1978, 80,000 people filled the Pacaembu stadium, in São Paulo, and 100,000 filled the Maracanã stadium, no Rio de Janeiro.
Humbard family in Brasília, Brazil
Subsequently it was broadcast by Manchete TV until 1984, when it went offline because of lack of financial resources.
In one service alone, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, more than 180,000 Brazilians attended the one televised crusade meeting and over 100,000 came forward to dedicate their lives to Christ. In the South American crusades, over one million people attended in person to hear the family sing and Rex bring the word.
In his crusades, he would ask: “How many of you here believe in Jesus Christ? Let’s see your hands.” A sea of hands would rise.
Last month, my Portuguese blog received this message from a reader:
“Today, August 8, 2017, as a 57-year old man reviewing my papers and an old picture of him [Humbard] and wife and children dated February 1978, I had the curiosity to see (know) on internet news about my spiritual father wondering if he still was in this our material world, but I learnt about his passing 10 years after. On October 1977, I was a teenager when I began to watch on TV Pastor Rex Humbard, and I fell in love with his messages. I was extremely Catholic in that time, but one day on October 1977 I was watching him in a very small TV set that my father had received as a gift from his boss, a kindhearted bank clerk. In this point the Holy Spirit touched me powerfully and I spent some three days silently and discreetly crying, so that my family would not perceive it. Afterwards, a Baptist minister explained to me that it was a conversion and, to sum up, from that point on my life experienced only victory.” — Deli, in Ibirataia, Bahia, Brazil.
Humbard’s reach was incredible. He had a major role in the expansion of the evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic (neo-Pentecostal) movement in Brazil.
In 1977, 500 million heard or saw Humbard’s one-hour radio/TV gospel service broadcast from Jerusalem on Christmas Eve in seven languages simultaneously.
He was termed one of the “Top 25 Principal Architects of the American Century” by U.S. News & World Report on December 27, 1999.
Humbard grandchildren praising Jesus
Humbard not only witnessed a century of Pentecostal expansion, he contributed significantly to the growth of the worldwide Pentecostal and charismatic movement. It is doubtful whether Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity would have spread as wide and as fast as they have during the past half century without the work of televangelists.
Televangelists, 1979. Left to right  Demos Shakarian, Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, and Pat Robertson.
Humbard paved the way for generations of televangelists, not only using television to spread his message but also building his own studio broadcasting facilities along with his church. And he kept up with advances in aviation, flying his staff to televised rallies all over the United States and Canada; by 1971 he had bought his third plane, a Lockheed Electra turboprop.
In the late 1960’s, Time Magazine came to Akron, Ohio, to meet with Rex Humbard in preparation for a feature story. The magazine’s editor-in-chief himself flew to Akron to write the story.
After meeting with Rex and his family for many days, he explained to Rex that he did not know what to call Rex and his ministry. As far as the editor-in-chief understood, Rex was a pastor, evangelist and a television preacher. When the article came out in print, the editor had chosen a unique phrase to describe Rex, referring to him as simply “the Tele-Evangelist.”
This was a totally new phrase, never before used to describe a television pastor.
Time magazine said, “Today, Rex Humbard has come closer than any other human being in history… to preaching the Gospel in all of the world… more than any other evangelist, he has taken up the challenge.”
His full name was Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard and he was a son of an itinerant preacher, Alpha E. Humbard, and Martha Bell Childers Humbard. When he was 2 days old, he said, his mother consecrated him to God’s service.
His father was born in 1890 near Little Rock, Arkansas, and he had a rough childhood. Poverty, fights, liquor, and hard work dominated the world in which young Alpha was reared. However, he sensed God’s calling at a young age and overcame the odds to answer this call. Alpha was a practical, direct, no-nonsense kind of preacher whose compassion for people overcame any deficit created by his lack of formal education. Perhaps it was this lack of high culture — combined with a dependence upon God — that allowed him to touch the masses where they were at.
Alpha once recalled that a seminary-trained minister bitterly complained that, while he was a learned man with good diction and degrees, he could not draw the crowds like Alpha, whom he described as “an old farm boy, a clodhopper who can’t talk good English.” Alpha recalled that he recommended that the minister throw away his cigar, which he was smoking while complaining, and get on his knees and pray. Alpha was not alone — his innovative, sometimes rough-and-tumble ways reflected a whole generation of early Pentecostal preachers.
He attended the Assemblies of God in 1914, but never joined that church. Alpha built up a thriving church, orphanage, and publishing house near Hot Springs.
Alpha’s group seemed not to espouse strange tongues as the initial evidence of the Holy Spirit, as taught by the Assemblies of God. This view would put him in par with modern charismatics, who do not see the gift tongues as the first evidence. It attracted independent-minded Pentecostals from across the nation.
It was into this Pentecostal entrepreneurial preacher’s family that Rex Humbard was born in 1919. In the summer of 1932, young Rex watched a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus tent fill with crowds in Hot Springs. While he was not allowed to attend such “worldly” diversions, he did draw some heavenly inspiration from the event. He promised himself that he would “spend [his] life trying to put God on Main Street.” As he grew up, he saw how gospel music attracted crowds.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Rex met his wife, Maude Aimee, while singing gospel music. Rex not only impressed Maude Aimee, but also her pastor, Albert Ott of Bethel Temple Assembly of God. Ott brought the Humbards on staff at his Dallas church. Rex and Maude Aimee married in 1942 and traveled with the Humbard family ministry for the next ten years. Following a successful meeting in Akron, Ohio, Rex decided to leave the family ministry and to pastor a local church in 1953. The Akron congregation, Calvary Temple, was renamed Cathedral of Tomorrow when a large round building was erected in 1958. Seating 5,400 people, it became one of the largest churches in the United States.
Rex, like his father, did not teach initial evidence doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and emphasized evangelism rather than Pentecostal doctrines. This caused some confusion among some evangelicals and Pentecostals, who were uncertain which camp he was in.
Rex Humbard praying for prayer requests from viewers. Each program had room to pray for healing, salvation, deliverance and prosperity.
Humbard had not formal theological training, but this was no barrier for his powerful ministry. Although he lacked a theological degree, Humbard was ordained in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family had run a revival meeting, and received credentials from an organization of independent Pentecostal ministers.
Unlike Pat Robertson, Rev. Jerry Falwell and other televangelists, Humbard, as Billy Graham, avoided the political messages of the religious right. “For me to preach about the Vietnam War,” he said in the early ’70s, “would be like going to a blacksmith to get a tooth pulled.” If Jesus were preaching today, he said a decade later, “He would never get into politics.”
His television programs were essentially praise and preaching programs that highlighted God’s love and forgiveness and avoided controversial political or doctrinal debates.
Humbard family in Brasilia, Brazil
In spite of not declaring openly his conservative, Pentecostal stances, he was attacked for his conservatism. On November 12, 1978, “Fantástico,” the largest-audience TV show in Brazil, criticized Humbard, Billy Graham and Pat Robertson through the lips of Rev. William Sloane Coffin (1924-2006), a liberal and pro-sodomy Presbyterian minister, who was interviewed by “Fantástico” to portray U.S. televangelists in a bad light.
In 1998, Humbard told about the major influences in his life. He said:
In my more than 66 years of full-time ministry, four great religious leaders have had a profound impact on my life.
Dr. Billy Graham, who I have known for more than 50 years.
Oral Roberts, who in 1949 prayed the prayer of faith for the healing of our oldest son, Rex, Jr., who suffered from tuberculosis and was healed.
Kathryn Kuhlman, probably the closest friend my wife, Maude Aimee, and I have ever had, touched our lives in a wonderful and personal way.
Benny Hinn, who I have had the privilege of ministering with in his crusade meetings throughout the United States and Canada.
Humbard’s comment is a part of his introduction in the biography “Kathryn Kuhlman, Her Spiritual Legacy and Its Impact on My Life,” written by Benny Hinn. This Pentecostal biography was published by the originally Calvinist publishing house Thomas Nelson Publishers in 1998.
Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976) was no stranger to Calvinists. In the late 1940s, she held her healing services among Pentecostals and mainline Protestants, including at the First Presbyterian Church and at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
One of the major sources for this article on Humbard was the book “The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001,” written by Vinson Synan and published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Paradoxically, in 2013 Thomas Nelson Publishers published the book “Strange Fire,” by the radical Calvinist theologian John MacArthur, which misrepresented many experiences of Pentecostal televangelists as “demonic.”
Christians should avoid aggressive ministers who are busy attacking other Christians over petty issues. In the 1980s, I had several Humbard’s books, including on biblical prophecy and on how to be prosperous. I had received these books free of charge because, when I received them in the 1970s, I could not afford them. I kept them with me for years.
Among Humbard’s books there were: The Prayer Key New Testament, How to Live Life and Love It, Your Key to God’s Bank and many others. They were books encouraging supernatural experiences when there was no charismatic (neo-Pentecostal) church in Brazil.
Your Key to God's Bank: How to Cash Your Check for Spiritual Power, Physical Healing, Financial Success
Then came an Assemblies of God minister saying that Humbard was a “prosperity gospel” heretic and that his message was demonic and that I should burn his books. I did so, and today I am repentant from following his misguided advice. Two years after the radical advice, the Assemblies of God minister lost his ministry in a terrible scandal with a prostitute. In contrast, Humbard had never been involved in sexual scandals.
While anti-charismatic ministers accuse ministers like Humbard of exploiters and nothing else, the Rex Humbard ministry in Brazil had a wonderful policy that you could order books by paying whatever you could afford. If you could afford nothing, they would send you their books anyway. It is a generosity I never saw anti-charismatic ministers doing. It was through this generosity that I received Humbard’s books and I learnt.
Although Rex Humbard came from a Pentecostal background and sometimes he talked about prosperity, he did not emphasize such issue in his ministry. There was balance. The following statement was made by the director of public relations for his church: “The Cathedral of Tomorrow is not Pentecostal; neither is the pastor or any of the staff. Neither are we affiliated with any Pentecostal organization, and the magazine is not slanted at the Pentecostal message at any time. We are an interdenominational evangelistic church.”
The statement should not be interpreted to mean that the church was anti-charismatic, but rather that it was determined to avoid controversy. Prayer for the sick and anointing with oil were a regular part of the service, but the stress was always on the message of salvation. It was a formula that worked with a great deal of success.
Humbard (August 13, 1919 — September 21, 2007) was the most balanced charismatic preacher in his generation, and his ministry blessed millions.
With information from:
Catholic University of Pernambuco.
The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge Companions to Religion). Cambridge University Press.
New York Times.
Darrin J. Rodgers, in Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Britannica Encyclopedia.
Washington Post.
Christian Broadcasting Network.
Akron Beacon Journal.
George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World, Thomas Nelson.
The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition. Zondervan.
Encyclopedia of Religion, pages 7711-7712. © 2005 Thomson Gale, a part of The Thomson Corporation.
Christian Post.

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