Hobart Freeman - Teaching and Preaching

Teaching and Preaching

According to John Davis, Freeman came to be deeply influenced by Kenneth E. Hagin, John Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, T.L. Osborn and E.W. Kenyon, who were leaders of the Word of Faith Movement. However Freeman explicitly rejected their Doctrine of Identification, which asserted that Jesus died spiritually, and he also repeatedly warned his congregation about the leaders and their teachings.

Freeman's opposition to that doctrine was confirmed by Daniel McConnell. However McConnell also described Freeman as a "renegade preacher of the Faith movement" who "eventually broke with the other Faith teachers".

While the exact details continue to be debated, it is not unreasonable to include Freeman within the orbit of the Word of Faith Movement, as he also taught that healing was "promised in the atonement", and in Faith for Healing, where he also taught that "Confession brings possession, for what you confess is your faith speaking." These latter ideas aroused much opposition within the Seminary, and Freeman was asked to leave in 1963.

Freeman established his own congregation, subsequently known as Faith Assembly, with Melvin Greider in 1963 in his own home at Winona Lake in nearby Kosciusko County. And for many years, worked 15–16 hours a day, seven days a week with seemingly indeflatable energy, and at one point visited Israel.

Within a few years, Freeman established a house church at Claypool in a “pink house next to the water tower”, where the meetings followed a simple format:

"After much singing and what sounded like people quoting the Bible, a tall lanky man, who looked remarkably like Billy Graham, walked stiffly to the front with an obvious limp. He was the pastor, Dr. Hobart Freeman, and he commanded everyone’s attention. He had a Ph.D. in theology, and he was teaching the last in a series of messages on the book of Revelation. He spoke for an hour or more about the end of the world and the new heavens and the new earth. He spoke with the conviction that all these things were going to happen just like the Bible said. ... That night ... singing was even livelier than early that morning, and the message was about faith. This church believed that God would really answer their prayers if they just believed. The pastor told stories of people being healed of sickness and being protected in storms by commanding the winds to stop. He believed that his leg would be healed from the polio he had had years before. ... At the end of the service, we went to the front for prayers ...."

From there the church moved to a three-car garage, then on to an old sheep barn near North Webster where they had been holding a coffeehouse ministry on Friday nights. The barn was owned by a burly, whiskery biker, Melvin Greider nicknamed Mack, a former alcoholic who had become a Christian, and was named the ”Glory Barn” by Freeman. This ministry attracted hundreds of people, including some misfits but most were normal, serious-minded young adults. The local people referred to the Glory Barn in derision and spread exaggerated rumours about what was done there.

This was not the opinion of those who sat under this ministry:

"As we sat under Dr. Freeman’s ministry, we saw his genius as a teacher. His theology was as solid as a Baptist minister, but he had the fire of a Pentecostal maverick like Smith Wigglesworth or William Branham. And he had the guts of the early martyrs. His manner was bookish, but he was such a skilled teacher that he kept our attention long enough to teach us biblical theology in terms we could understand. We eventually heard him teach on every passage in the Bible, and he backed up his positions, putting them in the context of church history and current events. All the reasoning was so logical it appealed to our minds as well as our hearts."

Eventually both the upper and lower levels of the Glory Barn were filled to overflowing. The floorboards bent and shook dangerously as the congregation danced “charismatic jigs” to the praise songs. They would travel long distances and stand in long lines early each Sunday morning to ensure a good seat. The many young assistant pastors had reserved seats up front. These young pastors travelled and spoke at meetings over a wide area. There was a worldwide following through his tapes and books. There were some 15,000 in daughter congregations elsewhere in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida, as well as in England, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Freeman also began teaching college-level classes on Saturday mornings covering Old and New Testament theology, Christian ethics, church history and even Hebrew.

In 1978 after conflict with the owner, Freeman took the congregation to a large circus tent just north of Warsaw and then on to another near Goshen throughout that summer and autumn. There was little protection from the wind and rain or the heat and cold. The nursery was a row of vans for the mothers and babies. Portable toilets were the only facilities. By winter a meeting hall had been built near North Webster in a cornfield donated by one of the congregation. There were large bathrooms, a nursery for the mothers and babies, and a meeting room large enough to hold 2,000 people which was often overflowing. It wasn’t fancy for the floors were cement, and the walls were bare. At the end of the summer of 1980 there was an epidemic of whooping cough that seems to go through all the families of the congregation.

Like many charismatic congregations, the work of the Holy Spirit was emphasized - with claims of prophesy, miraculous healings, testimonies, speaking in tongues and believers being slain in the Spirit. Freeman's teaching emphasized the deeper life in the Spirit, overcoming all things, separation from the world and its ways, trusting only in God for all things, the crucified life, and the true meaning of discipleship, as seen in the topics covered by his teaching tapes and literature.

Freeman's teaching also generated a social dimension. A sense of community care, cohesion, exclusiveness, superiority and persecution grew with the breadth, authority and enthusiasm of his teaching. Those with divergent doctrines, beliefs or practices either conformed or were excluded. Outside interactions grew less and were sometimes severed over these issues. Evangelical outreach shrivelled. So while legalism was denounced from the pulpit, it was practiced amongst the congregation to the extent that it has been described as "cultist tendencies". These teachings were comprehensive and logical, including the roles of women, music, jobs, medical science, government, the military, education, birth control, sports and holidays. Christmas was condemned as a pagan festival. A woman’s role in the home as a wife and mother was seen to be the most noble and worthiest of callings. Children were regarded as a blessing from God and birth control was actively discouraged.

This led to a certain degree of uniformity within the congregation:

"People outside Faith Assembly joked that we all looked alike. A typical Faith Assembly family on their way to church consisted of a man, who was probably a construction worker, carrying a notebook and Bible under one arm and a diaper bag over his shoulder. He would be walking with his wife, who would be wearing a denim skirt and carrying a baby, with several other kids in tow. They would drive a van."

Christianity Today was uncharitable and simplistic, saying that "According to Freeman's faith-formula theology, God is obligated to heal every sickness if a believer's faith is genuine. Faith must be accompanied by positive confession, meaning that believers must claim the healing by acknowledging that it has taken place." This understanding was more or less accepted by the pastorate, with the wife of one recalling that "Dr. Freeman taught that it was always God’s will to heal in response to our faith, and that God would do it without the aid of doctors or medicine." In consequence, doctors and medicine came to be disparaged and reviled.

Hobart Freeman did write that "... we must practice thought control. We must deliberately empty our minds of everything negative concerning the person, problem, or situation confronting us ..." And he continued writing that "Sickness often can only be overcome by maintaining a positive confession of God's promises in the face of all apparent evidence to the contrary."

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