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Interview with: Earl Banning
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava/David Courtwright
Date: September 17, 1975
Archive Number: OH 006
DC: 00:05 Interview with Pastor Banning, September 17, 1975. To begin the interview, we’d like to ask you one or two questions about your background. First of all, where did you grow up?
EB: I was born in Santa Monica, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and moved from there at age four to South Texas, where I was raised on a ranch. At 17, I entered the United States Regular Army during the Korean Conflict. Actually, I entered before the conflict and then was caught up in the conflict. After discharge from the Army I returned to South Texas for a few months and then entered college for training as a minister. My intent basically was to be a surgeon. My feeling was I wanted to be a doctor, and surgery was my forte of interest. And I entered medical school but then received a divine call into the ministry from there and then went to Bible school. And it was a rather lengthy process from there, actually, through Bible school theological training, then into graduate training in the field of psychology.
DC: Would you describe that call for us.
EB: The divine call that I referred to?
EB: As I said, I was in the Medical Corps during the Army days—three and a half years—and had a good orientation into the medical phase of the medical profession, so I really felt this was what I wanted and entered medical school, University of Texas at John Sealy in Galveston, for preliminary premed training. And during this period of time I was undergoing an in-depth study of my own faith and my own relationship with God that had been rather loose during my earlier years. In this process of reevaluation there was a stirring in my own conscience in terms of serving people under God’s mandate. And of course I didn’t want to be a minister. I had no interest in being a minister. I was raised in a minister’s home, and I had a good experience as a PK—preacher’s kid. So it was nothing detrimental in terms of my training, because I had good parents and they taught me well and they were a good influence, as opposed to others that may not have had. But I did not want to be a minister because I knew some of the trauma, some of the difficulties, of that in-depth interpersonal type profession. I wanted no part of it. But God had other interests. And I struggled with this for about a year because I really did not want to be. I can remember conversations with my mother and father about the ministry, arguing with myself in their presence, and they would never encourage me to be a minister. They’d always say, “Well, be a doctor then. You don’t have to be a minister. Continue your studies as a doctor. Who said you had to be a minister?” So I was really arguing with myself until eventually I said as sort of a confession, I suppose, “You know I have to be a minister if I’m going to be satisfied and be fulfilled in my life.” And then they said, “Well, then, be a minister.” (laughs) So essentially, it was this kind of interaction that took place.
DC: 03:46 How did you pick up an interest in psychology in this process?
EB: I think that my interest in psychology emanated from my basic interest in people. I have a philosophy that people are innately brought into this world with two basic interests. They’re either thing oriented or people oriented, basically. Now, I know there’s a lot of broad breakdowns within each of those two categories but, basically, there are people that are thing oriented and people that are people oriented. I was a people-oriented person, as my mother and father were. So I was raised in sort of this environment. And of course with surgery, I was interested in in-depth anatomical interest in people, and then as far as my ministry is concerned, an in-depth spiritual interest in people. And to me, psychology is a natural process of interest. Basically, I was interested in the total person. And theologically speaking, I believe in the trichotomy—the body, soul and spirit. I’m not opposed to dichotomy—body and soul, putting spirit and soul together—but I believe I would probably fall into the category of the trichotomist—body, soul and spirit. And this is what my studies took me into. For instance, I took an AB split major in my bachelor’s degree. I took a major in psychology and a major in sociology in my first AB and a minor in theology. My basic reason, I wanted to know where man came from, I wanted to know the involvement of man in his society, in his culture, I wanted to know the impact of his culture on the man, and I wanted to know his interest in his future in terms of eternity. So I brought the three sciences together—body, soul and spirit—sociology, psychology and theology, and my basic studies have been in those three fields.
DC: Others we have interviewed who have had similar training, say theology and sociology or psychology, have sometimes commented that there is a tension between the branches of their training, the psychology or the sociology being more secular. Have you experienced that?
EB: 06:20 Yes, I did. In fact, almost to a point of it being a pitfall or a trap. There are avocational professional traps, as you’re well aware. So I did graduate work in the field of psychology and in the process of my internship— Prior to that, I was doing social group work. I was doing this as a means of raising money to promote my graduate study in psychology because I had the sociology background, so doing group work in a clinic and doing my psychology graduate work. After I finished that I started doing therapy work in the field of psychology and actually was involved in establishing and directing a therapy center for delinquent youth in San Francisco through United Bay Area Crusade under the canopy of the Mission Neighborhood Centers, Incorporated. And through this process I became involved in psychology at the same time I was pastoring. I had an associate pastor to assist because I was drawn away from the pastoral ministry so often, so many hours a day. So then I went from there to the Public Health and Welfare Department in San Mateo County, which is just an adjoining county to San Francisco, and directed a therapy center there for multiple disability people that were primarily in social welfare programs. But we brought people outside in also. It was under the San Mateo County General Hospital auspices, Public Health and Welfare. And I became more and more involved. I was full time involved in directing this therapy center, full time involved in pastoring a church as the executive administrator, the pastor of the church. And I became more and more involved in psychology, drawing me away from theology. And of course this program that I was involved in was subsidized by federal, state and county monies—total separation of church and state. You couldn’t go in and pray for your clients and read the Bible and that sort of thing. It was a complete separation. And I honored that, obviously. So there was a pulling away from theology, I might say, and it became detrimental to my own orientation till it came to a crossroads and again took about a year. I tell people sometimes I’m a slow learner when it comes to the Heavenly Father because I don’t respond as quickly as perhaps others. I want to be sure, absolutely sure. So again, about a year struggle here in leaving psychology and moving toward theology. I felt impressed to leave the clinical environment and move into theology completely. And so it was a year’s process of this transition, and it was a rather traumatic transition, and it moved me from San Francisco actually to Houston in this process.
DC: Where was your first ministry in Houston?
EB: In Houston was here at this church. In 1966 I actually moved from San Francisco to Cleveland, Texas, which is about 45 miles due north of here, a small town in East Texas, at the edge of East Texas. And then I was there four years. And that was a tremendous transition for me because I was moving from a large, metropolitan city where I pastored ten years, involved in a therapeutic, clinical environment, to a small, rural community of 5,000 in Cleveland, Texas, a small church. And I was there four years and then moving back into the city again, pastoring this church. That was a traumatic experience because from my whole environment being metropolitan, moving into a small community was a tremendous transition in my own personal life. But I needed one because moving from one field of great intensive love and involvement—psychology—into the field of theology, which I think is related, but nevertheless, you can’t carry that many professions with total involvement. You just can’t do it. You become neither fish nor fowl. And so I think that God, knowing my need to break that transition, moved me completely out of the scene, where had I remained in San Francisco pastoring the church I was pastoring, as totally involved as full-time pastor, I would have constantly been drawn aside into the field of psychology as an advisor or as a program advisor setting up programs, because this suggestion had already been offered. In fact, they wanted to establish a therapy center about two miles from my church location and wanted me to administer the program on a part-time basis with a full-time salary. This had been offered to me as a suggestion when I was going to leave, which meant I would be spending three to four hours as an administrator of this auxiliary program and pastoring my church full time with a full-time salary from both. That was interesting. (laughs) But it was not feasible because I knew I’d be drawn away very subtly into the total involvement in psychology again.
DC: 11:47 I’d like to pursue this matter of psychology and theology a little further. Now that you’re on your own and you’re independent, if someone comes to you for counseling, how do you merge the techniques of theology and psychology, say someone sitting in this room talking to you?
EB: To me it’s quite a natural process. I think the Bible, as far as the teachings of Christ are concerned, is one of the greatest manuals of psychology and psychological counseling I’ve ever seen. Now, it depends on what theory of psychological counseling you are leaned toward. If you’re talking about Freudian, the intense Freudian theory, then the biblical orientation is less oriented. If you’re talking about Rogerian nondirective therapy, you’re more in line with the teachings of Christ, actually. But I am an eclectic when it comes to my theory of counseling. I’m eclectic. I sort of select what I feel is the best from each of the theories and use them as they are applicable to the clients, to the clients’ needs. I’m pragmatic. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If I have to manufacture my own theoretical approach to a person’s needs, I do it by using various techniques. And so, frankly, I find no problem between my theological orientation and my psychological orientation. To me it’s an intermerging and a meshing of the two. Maybe that makes my psychology a unique psychology, but it’s a workable psychology, and that’s what’s important to me.
DC: 13:24 Do you find psychological constructs and even psychological terms sometimes surfacing in your preaching?
EB: Yes, I think naturally so. I try not to use psychological terms that the parishioners would not understand. Obviously, I am communicating theological concept, but the flowing and the interaction, and I will even use a clinical parabolic interpretation occasionally. I’ll use an illustration from a clinical setting to emphasize and magnify a theological concept, and there are so many that it becomes quite natural.
DC: The reason I mentioned that is my own perception of evangelical preaching is one which would tend to shun such words.
EB: It’s true, as a matter of fact, in the strong evangelical orientation. In fact, in our own denomination, the concept of psychology has been slowly accepted. We have 11 schools in our denomination—well, I really shouldn’t say denomination, and I will correct that at this point because I think it’s important to this interview. The Assemblies of God is not a denomination. It is a fellowship of believers. This is very important because the whole inception of this organization is not a denominational basis. It’s a fellowship. I understand we just had a General Council in Denver, Colorado, just in August, which is a gathering of all of the Assembly of God churches in the United States, in the 50 states. At this council, the stat that was presented to us is that this is the fastest growing evangelical fellowship in the world in terms of stat members with over 5 million adherents in the world—not the United States but the world. In fact, we have a faster growing organization in Brazil than we have in the United States, and we have a larger constituency in some foreign countries than we have in the United States, with a strong missionary program. But it is not a denomination per se. There’s no creed, for instance.
EB: It is a fellowship of believers, and the believers come from every conceivable religious structure you can think of. It’s true of this church, and it’s true of the denomination as a whole.
DC: So you would go so far as to describe your church then as independent?
EB: No. It is not independent because a fellowship has an association with other believers and other churches. We have what we call an affiliation, and we affiliate by fellowship and by adopting certain doctrinal truths. It’s not a creed per se, but it is a statement of fundamental truth. By the way, going back to a former statement, I think we’re moving away slightly from a question you asked regarding psychology and the fundamentalists. I think I can answer it in just a few words, with one basic illustration. I remember a council—and you have to realize that a council involves not only professional people but laypeople, some with little education even—and I can remember 20 years ago, the subject of bringing a department of psychology into one of our colleges—we have 11 colleges and we have some graduate schools too now, but at that time we just had undergraduate work—and the particular president of the school was advocating that we bring in a department of psychology. And I remember one of the laity asking for the floor, one of the church delegates, and said, “One thing we don’t need in our Bible school is departments of psychology.” And to him it was demonic, it was completely out of order, no place for it. That was his view and that was his opinion, which was honored, but not necessarily the view of the group. And as it was, a department was established and we have a department of psychology in all of our colleges now. But this is true of many fundamental churches. They were afraid of psychology as though this was something that would pervert theology. Well, obviously, some psychology just does not agree with theology, but it doesn’t mean that all psychology is bad, just like there’s nothing that’s all bad.
DC: 18:13 Would you attribute this growing acceptance of psychology in your own church as perhaps a manifestation of the growing maturity of the entire Charismatic Movement?
EB: I think the growth of the acceptance of psychology is basically the growth of awareness, not necessarily having anything to do with the Charismatic Movement, as far as I’m concerned, because I see this— Of course I’ve been in the Charismatic Movement all my life, so when you say Charismatic Movement, you have to identify with classical charismatics and neo-charismatics. You can’t just say charismatics.
DC: Right. I was thinking more of neo-charismatics.
EB: Okay, new charismatics. So no, I don’t think so, because I believe it’s—let’s call it an enlightenment, let’s call it an awareness of self. People are becoming more aware of self needs. We have to also agree that our whole populace is becoming more aware of psychology and psychological principles. For instance, the whole stigma attached to mental illness is being wiped away, whereas a few years ago if you went to a mental institution, people would shy away from you. They’d be afraid of you, afraid you might do something very bizarre or harmful. But nowadays people go to institutions and come back into our churches. For instance, we had a lady in our church Sunday who is schizophrenic. Of course, I guess having a psychological orientation, there is more people gathering where a pastor has this orientation. But anyway, this woman is not a member of our church; she’s a member of another denomination, but she worships here. She has been in one of our local institutions here. She’s a classical schizophrenic, and she committed herself, so she released herself. Having no control, they had to release her. She came to service Sunday morning just kind of floating as far as her control of self. She didn’t do anything bizarre or anything out of order. She did stand up in the middle of the service two or three times to gain attention, and of course our officiating ministers wouldn’t recognize her, so she’d sit back down and so forth, because we knew of the problem. The body, the church, accepts this. And so Sunday night she wasn’t there, so I explained to the body that a body this size—1,000 people gathered here to worship on a Sunday morning—there will be people occasionally coming here that are mentally ill, that either are going to the hospital or are coming back from the hospital that still need help and understanding and love and acceptance, and we as a body must accept these people with understanding and love. And I said, “Trust your pastor to be able to handle these things so as not to embarrass or to hurt the person who is mentally ill and not to bring offense to the body.” And they understood. The whole body accepts this, because every family has somebody that either has had mental illness or is having problems. So the empathy, once it’s explained and they understand this is not just some strange person, this is a person who is ill, they accept this. And to me this is just part of just plain enlightenment, just human reason. And I hope to think we’re living in an age of enlightenment.
DC: 21:49 So do I. It is logical that a person suffering from a mental or physical ailment, though, would be drawn to your church or others like it because of the emphasis on healing.
DC: Do you think that’s what brought this woman to your church?
EB: Perhaps. Another thing, you see, our church—and I believe it’s really true of most Christian churches—we encompass a doctrine of healing for body, soul and spirit—the trichotomy of man. We feel that anything that God can put together, he can keep together. In other words, concept: if I could build a house, I can maintain the house. So we teach this principle. We also teach that God, in the process of healing, can use and may choose to use psychiatrists, surgeons, general practitioners, etc. He chooses to use sciences. These sciences are helping sciences. So we don’t just emphasize divine healing and reject all the others; we bring the whole package together. We do emphasize give God a chance, because in our present age of insurance, etc, we can give all the healing sciences a chance and ignore God. So we’re saying give God the Father at least the first crack at the situation, the first chance. That’s faith in God. If you don’t have faith in God, then have faith in the sciences. Get help. In other words, don’t just sit there and suffer because God’s not helping you or your faith is not adequate to believe in God. Go to the sciences for help. God has no pleasure in suffering. So our doctrine is a broad, well-rounded doctrine that encompasses the healing process. But let me answer your question perhaps even more pointedly. I think maybe I’m going around Kelly’s barn there. I think people come to this church basically because they find love. It’s not the finesse of the doctrine, because they come here and they don’t know the doctrine. And you can’t go to a church one service and really find out very much about that body of believers. You either have a feel, you have a charisma, “I like it,” or, “I don’t like it.” It’s right or it’s wrong. You’ll have a feeling for them. But the feeling people get when they come here most often initially—and I’m not saying this from a biased point of view; this is the input I get from outside—is they feel love, they feel acceptance, they feel a part of the worship, a participant. And that’s good.
DC: 24:38 So you would say that most new members in your church hear about the church by word of mouth. They talk to their friends and relatives and then decide to come.
EB: Yes. We do advertise. We have a public relations man in the church, and he handles all of our public relations. We handle it on a dignified basis. We use the Chronicle, we use the Post—their Saturday religious section—we use occasionally spot announcements on radio. We haven’t used TV; it’s out of our budget range at this point. But other periodicals and so forth we use—local periodicals—to advertise church. So we do have some coming by virtue of that. But I would say the bulk of them, probably word of mouth, which is the best advertising.
DC: Right. I’m curious. In your advertisements, do you stress the idea of love?
EB: Yes. For instance, I don’t have anything to do really with the format of these advertisements because we have a PR man. He’s trained and we turn it over to him and we trust him. If he does anything wrong, I’ll admonish him, but as long as everything is all right… He’ll use phrases. There’s a chorus we sing in our church and it’s sung in Christian churches: “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.” It’s a chorus in honor of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Occasionally in his ad he’ll put some music notes in there and he’ll say, “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.” Or he will use the phrase, “A congregation known around town as people who care.” He uses phrases like this that really says to people that are hungry for affection or concern or for someone to care, “Here is a group of people who care.” You read something but you still don’t know. You have to experience it.
DC: 26:42 Is there a sizable body of people in the city who are searching for a congregation where they can feel at home, who will go on different Sundays to various churches testing, sort of feeling the water, to see if they like it?
EB: Yes, this is true, I think, of every metropolitan city. It’s what I call a weakness in the human fiber in terms of the theological hunger. It’s an immature manifestation. A people who go from church to church seeking spiritual satisfaction without finding a home church or a shepherd or pastor are immature souls—distorted, disturbed spirits, I say—and they’ve always been with us and they shall always be with us. Occasionally, one will find the church, the pastor and they’ll settle down. But as a rule, these people never settle down. A cliché within the clergy is, “These are people looking for the spout where the glory is poured out.” (all laugh)
DC: That’s very good.
EB: And this is not just fundamental ministers. All ministers recognize this. It doesn’t matter what denomination you speak of, if they have more than four churches in a city, they have some people who just romp from church to church. If they’re Presbyterian, they may never go to anything but Presbyterian churches or Lutheran or Methodist or Assembly.
EB: But they sort of migrate. They’re gypsies.
DC: Is this a tiny minority?
EB: I think so. I’d hate to put a statistical value on it, but I would say if I did put a statistical value on it, it wouldn’t be more than two or three or four percent of the church population. By the way, I heard some statistics the other day—I don’t know whether they’re true or not but they’re alarming—that in the city of Houston on any given Lord’s Day—Sunday, let’s say—there are no more than ten percent of the people in this city in church or that attend church.
LM: Yes, I heard that somewhere also.
EB: Like a statistic. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know whether there’s any validity in it or not, but it’s alarming if it is valid.
DC: 29:03 It doesn’t seem credible. Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is.
EB: It would be interesting. Maybe someone will come up with some proven statistics. It would be easy to prove, actually. Just poll the churches. (chuckles)
DC: Concerning the membership of your church, you mentioned that you draw people from various denominations. Have you ever done any kind of a formal study or a survey of where your congregation is coming from?
EB: No, not formal. However, having a good feel for it because we do in our membership applications or letters of transfer and know exactly where people come from because we ask. For instance, for a letter of transfer, you have to communicate with that church. All churches will give us letters of transfer except Southern Baptist. Southern Baptist will not transfer membership to any church unless it’s another Southern Baptist church. It’s a closed fellowship. They have closed communion. Well, we’re not here to talk about Southern Baptist doctrine, and I’m not in any way contradicting or challenging them. That’s their doctrine. I honor it, I respect it. But I’m saying we do not receive membership from them. However, we will always send a letter of transfer to the Southern Baptist pastors, and they will write back and say, “I’m sorry. We cannot transfer membership. However…” And then they will proceed to give us a beautiful letter of introduction, which essentially is a letter of transfer. So it effects the same result, and we have a good liaison with all denominations. If a person writes us a letter, one of our members, and wants to transfer to the First Presbyterian Church, we use a form, or they will use a form and we cooperate. People have a right and a will. So knowing this data, we know where our members are coming from. But we have not done a formal stat on this. But my feeling in answer to your question is that it is a broad cross section of all denominations. And of course the more well-represented the denomination is in the city, the greater number of people that are coming here. And this is just a matter of value statistics, numbers of people. But you can’t mention a denomination that people don’t come to us, because they come from all denominations.
LM: I wonder if you could explain a little bit more about the closed fellowship that you just mentioned. Perhaps you could contrast it with your own church.
EB: All right. Yes, I can. I’m hesitant to interpret the Southern Baptist doctrine, and you must realize that by interpreting it, I could be incorrect. But I do feel—this is a feeling I have, and it comes to me both from experience in the Southern Baptist churches worshiping with them as well as their members coming to us. So I don’t mean to be official in my interpretation of their doctrine because obviously I’m not.
LM: Well, you’ve qualified your statements.
EB: All right. In the Southern Baptist Church, let’s say they have the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Communion is being served this morning. The only people that can partake of that Holy Communion in that service are members of that local body. You must be a member of that church. Let’s say it’s the First Baptist Church in Anytown, USA. You must be a member of that congregation to partake of Holy Communion. If you’re a member of the Second Baptist Church down the street and you’re in that service, you cannot partake of Holy Communion in that body. That’s what we mean by closed communion. You have to be in your church to partake of Holy Communion, and there are no exceptions and there’s no offense. It’s just an understood doctrine. This is true of other churches. For instance, in the Lutheran Church, the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, it’s also closed communion. You must be a member of the Lutheran Church. You don’t have to be a member of that local body, but you must be a member of the Lutheran Church to partake of Holy Communion. Me being Assembly of God—and this summer I was visiting at a Lutheran Church when they had communion, and the pastor lets it be known so there’s no embarrassment. You have to come forward anyway, so he lets it be known that unless you are a Lutheran member of the Missouri Synod body, you are not to come forward. And then he explains. So it’s not offensive, it’s just a fact. In our church when we have Holy Communion, we express to the whole congregation, to all the communicants, that it doesn’t matter what church you belong to, it doesn’t matter whether you belong to any church or not. If you are a member of the body of Christ, the invisible church, the spiritual body of Christ through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, having confessed your sins and believing upon the Lord and living your life according to his teachings, you are welcome to come and partake of the body and the blood of the Lord, for this is the Lord’s table. We open it to all the body, and we explain it in just that way so that every man must interpret for himself, every person must interpret for themselves. And then we also explain—and this is in the scripture; the 11th chapter of 1st Corinthians explains this and we read this frequently—that if you eat of the body of the Lord or drink of the blood of the Lord symbolically in the elements and you do so unworthily, you drink and eat condemnation to yourself. In other words, God will judge you—not man; God will judge you. And so the whole responsibility is put on the individual communicant. And then we have preparatory prayer before communion. “Let each man examine himself,” the scripture says, “in the spirit whether you be in Christ or not.” So then we have prayer of preparation for Holy Communion. So everyone is invited, everyone is prepared, and then when communion is served— And we serve communion many different ways. We may have people come to the altar to receive individually, or we may serve them in the pews. There’s any number of liturgies that may be used. And so it’s up to the individual to receive. If they’re in the pews and the emblems are passed, you can just pass it up if you want to, or you can take. That’s what we mean by open communion as opposed to closed communion.
LM: 35:52 Then what constitutes formal membership in your church?
EB: In our church, one may become a member by two basic ways: number one, a letter of transfer. If they are a member of any organized church body, we will send a form to them and they in turn fill out the form and send it back to us, officially transferring membership from that body to this one, of any denomination that will cooperate. In addition to that, we have a form that is called church application form, which is a form that gives us statistical and personal data regarding the individual believer’s faith in God and when these experiences of faith took place and where they took place—salvation, baptism in water, baptism in the Holy Spirit or any other experience we wish to ask questions about. Then this application or letter of transfer goes before the executive body, the board of deacons. They interview these applications. If there is any question, they will interview the applicant personally. Once they endorse that membership, then we receive them. Oh, by the way, there’s four classes that they also go to. There’s a new members class. It’s an orientation class in the church that they attend prior to receiving into membership. It’s basically telling them about the doctrine, the format of worship and the whole orientation process. Then on a Sunday morning or Sunday night, the applicants will be informed to be present at a given service to be received into membership. They will be brought before the body publicly, physically, and their names will be read off. They will be given a pledge of faith in terms of their relationship to God and the body. We will explain the invisible church versus the physical church and basically some dialogue around this. Then we have them turn around. This time they’re facing the altar. Then we have them turn around, facing the congregation, and we name them by name. And as we name them, they step forward one step so the congregation can identify with a name and a face. And then after that’s done, the pastor and the board of deacons will welcome them with a handshake of friendship and a word of greeting. Then we urge the congregation at the first opportunity, “You greet them as your brothers and sisters in faith.”
DC: 38:21 Are many applicants rejected?
EB: No, sir. I cannot tell you in 24 years of pastoral ministry of an applicant whom we have rejected. There are applicants that will withdraw. In other words, they may file an application and in the process of orientation or the process of question and answers, they may withdraw themselves as feeling, “I’m not yet ready,” or, “I don’t want to at this time. Maybe later.” But this is not rejection. They withdraw themselves. I can’t recall a rejection.
DC: So this process is pretty much pro forma.
EB: Yes, sir.
DC: Do you receive any criticism from the Catholic hierarchy? I know that many Catholics are active in the new Charismatic Movement. Is there any friction between churches such as yours and the Catholic hierarchy?
EB: I’m not aware of any friction whatsoever. As a matter of fact, we have Catholic priests come to our pulpit and Episcopal priests, etc. Normally, they are charismatics, because it would be awkward for a non-charismatic Catholic priest to come and minister to our body. They’d be welcome, but normally, they’re not that interested in doing so because they don’t have that much in common. But charismatic priests did. In fact, we had a bishop just recently with us. He didn’t officiate, but he did offer prayer. We had another minister that evening.
DC: What does it mean when a Catholic or an Episcopalian priest or minister declares himself to be charismatic? Is this a great and difficult decision in his life?
EB: 40:26 I think it could be and in most cases it is. It depends upon how long he’s been in his organization, what his prestigious position is. It depends on a lot of things how difficult it would be, for obvious reasons. If he is a pastor of a large cathedral or a bishop or a person who has received a certain amount of acclaim in his denomination, it’s going to be more difficult, obviously, just because of human factors. And in some denominations he may lose his status. Now, this is less true of the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church as it is of Southern Baptist or some of the fundamental churches. A bishop, for instance, in the Catholic Church or Episcopal Church, that’s an eternal bishop rectory, unless they offend the doctrine by heresy. And heresy is the only thing. You recall the story of Bishop Pike. I knew him well because I was in San Francisco at the time of his greatest trauma. In fact, his world sort of fell apart while we were there. It really culminated after ’66 when we left, but it was happening. And a priest in Corte Madera, Father Ewald in Corte Madera parish, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, was charismatic. He had had a beautiful experience in the Charismatic Movement and had initiated this to his body, and they had accepted. Most of his body had become charismatic, and Bishop Pike didn’t like this a bit. Not to speak of the deceased, but this is a historical fact. He issued a bishop letter to all the churches, and I read it—Father Ewald shared it with me—where he denounced any gathering of believers in an Episcopal Church for purposes of promoting the charismatic faith or doctrine. And Ewald was doing that every Friday night. So it was sort of a direct slam at him and others to stop this. So Ewald honored his bishop and ceased having those services. They moved into the homes. They sort of changed—
DC: They went underground.
EB: Yeah, in a sense, and continued within the framework of the letter. He honored the letter and the bishop and so forth, but they did not cease totally, but outside of the church they did, which was what the letter referred to. And there was a real conflict there, but Ewald continued pastoring his church because the body accepted him, and this was within the structure of the Episcopal Church. The bishop couldn’t remove him because there was no heresy there. Shortly after this, the Northern California Diocese brought Bishop Pike up on the charge of heresy, if you’ll recall in the history of the case, because he had denied the virgin birth of Jesus Christ publicly—well, not really denied; he questioned it openly, which is a form of denial. They brought him up before the body for heresy but it never stuck. They never followed through on it.
DC: That’s an interesting story. Do you meet regularly with other ministers and priests in the Houston area who deem themselves charismatic? Is there any kind of a self-conscious group of charismatic ministers in Houston outside of the Assembly of God?
EB: 44:13 No, sir, I don’t believe so. There certainly is not an allegiance of clergy. There’s no formal organization, or informal, that I’m aware of. There are some organizations that sort of foster this gathering. Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, which is a lay organization, they’re sort of gathering people from all denominations here. Here you will find ministers that have declared themselves charismatic who will worship with that group, and I guess this is as formal an opportunity as we have. Occasionally you’ll find a church—there’s a church over on the north side of town that’s a Baptist Church where the pastor is charismatic. I think he’s Independent Baptist now. His name is escaping me. I’m sorry. But anyway, occasionally he will have a gathering of charismatics and invite everybody, but again, it’s an invitational order. It’s not a formal situation. So there’s no formal organization of charismatics interdenominationally that I know of or not a ministerial alliance, for instance.
DC: At least not in Houston.
EB: Not that I know of.
LM: Is that Greenville Baptist Church?
EB: No, I think that’s another one, but it’s not the one I’m referring to. I’m sorry. I want to say Pastor Estes, but I could be wrong. It’s just too remote at this point.
DC: Earlier in the interview when we were discussing healing, you hit upon a phrase: “Give God the first crack.”
DC: Does that imply that you have a separate healing service here?
EB: We have opportunities at each service for people to declare themselves and their needs for divine healing. We call this body ministry. Body doesn’t refer to this physical body; it refers to the body of Christ. You could have a dual interpretation, I suppose, but when we say body in terms of body ministry, for instance, I might refer to this church as a body ministry church. Well, the scriptures teach that every believer in Christ, regardless of denomination—in fact, we don’t teach that God recognizes denominations; we teach that God is a heart-oriented God, that he looks upon the heart. The Bible says man looks on the outward appearance but God looks upon the heart. So we say that God the Father looks at all humanity as his children. Some are redeemed and some are unredeemed, but it’s his will that all be redeemed that is brought to the spiritual body—here’s the physical body, here’s the spiritual body—and that being a father, he looks upon the heart. He loves us all equally, so he looks upon the heart. He doesn’t ask, “Hey, are you Baptist or Methodist or Assembly of God? What are you?” He looks upon the heart and judges us according to the deeds of our life. So we teach that Christ is the head of the body and all the members make up the body. That is, all believers in Christ, regardless of denomination, make up the body of believers, Christ being the head. And there’s multiple teachings in the Bible that promotes this in detail, in St. Paul’s teachings especially. So we teach that God the Father calls the body together in worship, and at that time of worship if there are those that have needs encompassing body, soul, or spirit, if they will present themselves to the altar in faith, that the deacons and the ministers of the church and the elders of the church can pray for them and, praying a prayer of faith, God will heal them, will minister to their needs. And he does. Not everybody. It’s not 100 percent. What are your averages? If you have one healed, it’s worth it. And it happens. So what we do in our worship service, at a given part of the liturgy of worship we will call the whole congregation of faith—the elders and the deacons and the ministers will take their stations of faith at the altar—and everybody is invited to come and present themselves for prayer unto Christ. We don’t teach we have any healing power or man has any healing power at all. We just have faith in God and we therefore offer that prayer of faith for Christ, the Son of God, the Great Physician to heal. And people come and we again say, “You don’t have to be a member of this church, you don’t have to be a member of any church. Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever been in a church. You’re welcome.” And they come.
DC: 48:43 To use your own words, then, God is people oriented.
EB: Oh, indeed. He’s our father. Fathers should be children oriented.
DC: I almost hate to ask this question, but I’d like to interject an ugly word. I’m sure you’re familiar with it in your psychological training, and that is psychosomatic.
DC: When a person is healed, would you take exception to someone analyzing it in those terms?
EB: 49:16 No, not at all, because a person with a psychodynamic disorder is as ill as a person with a physiological disorder. So a healing, whether it be of mind or of body, is still a healing.
DC: Do you interact much with the Christian Scientists in this regard?
EB: No. I know of their doctrine. I know of their practices. As a matter of fact, I ran into an interesting concept as a psychologist working with the Public Health and Welfare Office. We had Medicare and all the various concepts of welfare payments for medical services. We also had a payment for readers in the Christian Science Church, Christian practitioners in the Christian Science Church. As we would pay a doctor for his services, we could also pay for a reader’s services, and I had personally had a client who had transferred or had moved from Los Angeles to California and had established residency in California and was on the welfare rolls, and I authorized payments to a reader in Seattle who read over the phone to the client. I don’t know of any welfare program that would pay for the services of a physician rendering services over the phone. Do you understand? I’m talking about a medical doctor. But we did honor a Christian Science practitioner reader—counselor is what essentially it is, a Christian counselor—and they have a charge. They charged. We honored it through public funds. That would make somebody’s hair really stand on end, but we recognized that that counselor was rendering a service to that client that was beneficial.
DC: I think that’s realistic.
EB: I think so. It’s pragmatic. It works. I may not understand it, I may not even agree with it, but it works.
DC: There are other characteristics associated with the Neo-Charismatic Movement besides healing, such as the gift of tongues.
DC: Is this a common experience in your church?
EB: Yes. The gift of tongues— Theologically, you have to understand that just the word gift of tongues can mean two or three things. And because there is a baptism in the Holy Spirit, that has an accompanying evidence of another language which can be deemed theologically either a heavenly language or an earthly language, a language of men or angels as interpreted by St. Paul. So it could be a language that God through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the unction of the Holy Spirit, may give to a person who’s receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and this has been documented and I have evidenced this myself. Not often. It doesn’t happen often, but in my 20-some years, I have seen this 3 or 4 times and it’s been documented. In fact, I have a book of documented cases where persons having at the point of receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit actually spoken in languages they had no knowledge of fluently. Of course this is biblical in terms of the early Pentecost, the Upper Room experience where there was 18 different dialogues and languages interpreted by Gentiles, and these were Hebrews speaking. That was the amazing thing. This was Jews speaking Gentile languages, which was offensive to their very nature. I was in Guatemala recently, and one of our missionaries that’s retiring in November that’s been over there 36 years in the Mayan Indian highlands of Guatemala, we spent 8 days with the Indians there and it was exciting. I could talk for weeks about that. But anyway, one of the most difficult problems of the missionaries is the Mayan dialects because each village, even though they’re Mayan, has their own dialect. And it’s extremely difficult to interpret, to learn, for the American. So their only real inroad is for a Mayan Indian in a given village to be converted and taken to a Bible school—having a call of God on his life, being trained theologically—and go back. And while I was there, I was there as a guest speaker, and we ordained six Mayan Indians plus others. They were very excited about it. But what I’m saying is this. This missionary said that on several occasions in their services when Mayan Indians received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they spoke in fluent English. They couldn’t say one word in English but spoke in fluent English, magnifying and praising and edifying God and the son, Jesus Christ. And he says, “This will just blow your mind.” And he said in one case, this old grandma Mayan Indian woman that couldn’t speak a word or syllable in English spoke the most beautiful prayer in Elizabethan English he’d ever heard. He said it was Elizabethan, the most beautiful flowing English he had ever heard. And he said if he had ever had any question about the charismatic involvement of other languages, this wiped it all out. I’ve had only, as I said, two or three experiences in 20-some years of this. But Paul said, “We speak in the tongue of men and of angels.” When a person speaks in a language known on earth and spoken on earth, that’s the language of men. When they speak in a language that is not known on earth, that’s the language of heaven or language of angels, a language not earthly. I’ve heard people say they hear people speak in tongues and they say, “Well, I don’t recognize that language. Therefore, it’s phony. It’s just gibberish.” Well, how many dialects and languages are there on this earth? I think statistically there’s something like 1,200 or something like that. I’ve heard a number of something like 1,200 languages and/or dialects. How many does the average linguist know or has heard? Even the linguist knows a very limited number. So the odds are I could hear languages all day and not be able to identify them with a particular tribe or group of people. That’s beside the point. This is the baptism in the Holy Spirit, baptism with the accompanying evidence of a language not known to the speaker. Okay, now you move from that to the gift of tongues, which is the phrase you used. The gift of tongues is a gift that God gives to the church to minister to the church for purposes of edification, exhortation, or comfort of the body of believers. This is a person who has already been converted, who has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, that God may select to use in a body for purposes of sending a message to the body. In order for this gift to be brought forward, there must be a message in tongues given in a corporal worship service, a corporate body gathering. There will be a message given audibly, and it must be interpreted in the language of the worshipers under the same anointing of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the worshipers wouldn’t know what was spoken, right?
DC: 57:03 Right.
EB: So a message will be given in an orderly fashion in the service, then someone will interpret so the body can be edified or exhorted or comforted. That’s the gift of tongues. The other experience is called the gift of the Holy Ghost—
[end of OH 006_D1] 57:27
EB: [beginning of OH 006_D2] 00:11 —or the Holy Spirit. And to answer your question, yes, these gifts do operate in our body.
DC: Do you recall any vivid instances? Are there any instances that especially stick in your mind of this happening?
EB: Of someone speaking a language?
EB: Yes. In California in a church there, there was a lady who gave a message in tongues in the service. She spoke. She didn’t interrupt. It was between certain formats. She stood and spoke in this language. And it was not interpreted, so this disturbs the body a little bit because normally in a public worship service, if anyone speaks in another tongue it must be interpreted or they’re considered out of order because the people just don’t understand, and it’s out of order, it interrupts. And there was no interpretation of this message. Well, rather than make an issue of it and embarrass a lot of people, the officiating minister then, after appropriate pause for an interpretation, went on with the service. After the service there was a Chinese man who came to this woman and began to speak to her in the Mandarin dialect. And she said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand Chinese.” And he also spoke English because he was a resident there in the city. And he says, “But you just spoke in fluent Mandarin just a moment ago in the service, praising God and honoring God in a prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he said, “Why can’t you talk to me now? You just a few minutes ago spoke in a beautiful, flawless Mandarin dialect.”
DC: 02:08 It’s a shame, then, that the man did not interpret during the service.
EB: He wasn’t a believer in Christ. See, he was not a believer in Christ at all. He received the message, he knew what it was, but he didn’t know what to do with it.
DC: Don’t you find that a little anomalous that the one dialect she would speak in would be that of the nonbeliever?
EB: Not necessarily. It’s unusual, true, and it’s not the usual occasion. But one of the reasons for the gift of tongues is a sign to the unbeliever, the scripture says.
DC: Oh, okay. That makes sense.
EB: Right. But again, this is rare. Still it’s rare because what happened to this man, it was a witness to him that Jesus Christ was the Lord and that Christ was his messiah, his savior, etc, etc. So maybe this was God’s way of reaching him where a sermon or something else may not have been able to do it, God’s extreme desire to reach every person. I don’t know whether I could tell you the man eventually became a Christian and now is a great preacher somewhere. I can’t say that because I actually don’t know. But I do know that in nearly every case where this occurred that I’m aware of—and I have a book that has really documented a number of such cases and with clear documentation where all parties were interviewed—in every case this experience had a dynamic impression on the person who was the respondent.
DC: I’m sure it would.
EB: So God was reaching out, I think.
DC: You mentioned something that I want to pursue a little bit: the idea of an interruption. Another characteristic at least I associate with the charismatic service is spontaneity. Do you have much of a format?
EB: 04:02 You mean a liturgy of worship?
EB: Yes. And I think all churches do. I think there are many charismatics and fundamentals that like to leave the impression that they sort of walk up to the pulpit and everything happens, sort of open your mouth and God will fill it. I don’t frankly agree with that, because I think anyone who is orderly in their own spirit, if they know they’re going to order a worship service, has some concept in their mind of where they’re going from A to Z in that hour or two hours of worship—whatever. They may be fluid, and I think it’s good to be fluid in worship. If God is the author of worship and if he is structuring worship, we should certainly be willing to yield to God if he wants to change the order. But I frankly feel everybody has some idea. Now, they may not write it out or print out a bulletin of worship in detail, but normally the pastor or the evangelist, the song leader, the musicians, the soloists, the choir or whoever is involved in that worship obviously has to know to prepare something. If you’ve got a 40-voice choir, they can’t just walk in there wondering, “What are we going to sing today?” They have to rehearse, they have to be a part of preparation. Your soloists, they have to prepare what they’re going to sing. Somebody has to know what they’re going to sing at a given time. So even though it may appear to be loosely structured, there is structure in all worship services—or there’s chaos, I can assure you.
DC: Do you tend to organize your service around a sermon?
EB: The word of God is the center of our worship. The word of God is the basic reason for our gathering—to learn of God, to receive from God. That is as far as the giving order of worship is concerned from the pulpit or from the platform team, let’s say. As far as the congregation is concerned, we teach the congregation that our basic reason for gathering here in worship is to bless God. May I say something here? In the first 10 or 12 years of my pastoral training and ministry, I did not have this concept. It was my feeling that I went to church to be blessed. I went to church to receive from God, I went to church to obtain from God, and I went with that idea. But something happened in my whole thinking process, and it wasn’t like a bomb; it was something gradual but very distinct when I came to the conclusion that actually I could bless God—me, little old mortal being that I am, actually could bless God. And when I came to the conclusion I could bless him, this changed the whole structure of my worship and enhanced and brought a more personal involvement in. Instead of a “gimme” religion, it was an “I want to give you” religion. And this has changed, by the way, the concept of much Christian worship where people are being taught, “You can bless God.” And this teaching came primarily from the psalmists, the psalms. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” See? So the ability to bless God brought joy and great satisfaction to worship. And of course, obviously, when you bless the Father, what does he do to you? He blesses you right back. But instead of just sitting there getting and getting and getting and never giving, the Father gets a little tight, too, with selfish kids, with egocentric kids that a father may have. And they’re always coming to get without loving and without giving to the Father. Pretty soon the well dries up. One person said—I don’t agree with this theologically—“After all, God is human.” (laughs) Obviously he isn’t. Thank God he isn’t. He’s divine. But I think sometimes we tend to think of him as human. And maybe we should. Maybe that helps our concept of God.
DC: 08:38 Right.
EB: Could I just say one thing? I think it would be of interest to you as far as the Assemblies are concerned, and if it isn’t, cut me short. And that is how we came into existence, how the Assemblies happened to be, because we’re not an old denomination. Again, I use that word denomination. We’re not an old fellowship, because we’re not a denomination. But in the turn of the century, 1903-1906, there was a charismatic revival in America, and it was a great outpouring, similar to what we have today, except not the dimension, and perhaps because we didn’t have the population then we have today. Or I think, better, we didn’t have the communication then that we have today, and communication—mass media, radio, television, etc—is a means of spreading a truth or an experience, true or not. But in the turn of the century we didn’t have that media, so it was a little slower to occur. But it was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, charismatic, covering all denominations, and this is a historical fact in the Christian annals, covering the world actually but predominantly in the United States, coast to coast. My folks were very involved in this because they were in Los Angeles at that time—not actually in 1906; they went there in 1912. This revival lasted for 20, 25 years. During this period of time, people received the charismatic experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in the tongue of angels or the tongue of men. This occurred in the lives of ministers across denominational lines, in the lives of laity. My mother and father received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Quaker Church in the early 1900s. My father was Methodist; my mother was Quaker. Actually, it wasn’t called the Quaker Church, it was the Friends Church. The word Quaker is a slang term that actually came from people quaking in the spirit during the Charismatic Movement, and it stuck as sort of a slang title. But the official name of the church is Friends Church. They didn’t know what was happening. Actually, theologically, they did not know what was happening. My mother refers to—she died about six months ago, and she was 87 years old—she refers to as a child going to Quaker prayer meetings and people falling prostrate on the floor. And they called it a trance, a holy trance. They knew it was of God, but they didn’t know what was happening. And occasionally she said they heard them mumbling, but they didn’t understand what they were saying. There was an itinerant preacher who came to the community and began to teach them from the Bible what was happening. This was a charismatic, divine experience born of God, spoken of in the early church, occurring in the early church, and therefore, a reviving renewal of the gifts in the church today—the same thing they’re teaching today, except that was at the turn of the century. And so then they knew what it was and began to teach it and others began to receive it. As a result of this, there were pastors and priests turned out of their churches by their officiary. Their credentials were taken away from them (snaps fingers) that quick. Laity would receive this experience and go to church Sunday morning, and the elders would meet them at the front door and say, “I’m sorry. You no longer worship here.” It was happening like that in churches across the United States. Here were people without a church, right? Here were ministers without bodies, here were laity without bodies. So a minister named Parham in Kansas City started a periodical and started developing a mailing list of people who were in this category—ministers primarily, communicating with ministers. He was a Methodist minister that had been turned out of the Methodist Church. So he started developing this mailing list and started this periodical called Evangel, a magazine, a monthly. It grew and grew and grew and grew until there were thousands of people receiving it. And they started getting letters about people wanting to know why they didn’t develop a fellowship or some kind of affiliate of these people who had been turned out of their churches that had this common experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit from all denominations. So they called a convocation in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, November the 6th, I think, 1914. And there were something like 2,500 ministers and laity gathered there on their own because of a common interest. And there they organized the organization of the Assemblies of God. They developed a doctrine that was common to all of them, very fundamental, very basic doctrine approaching the Bible as the basic text of life. The Bible is the all-sufficient rule of faith and conduct for the living, etc, with some statements regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And these ministers developed a fellowship called the Assemblies of God, and that’s where the birth of this organization occurred in 1914. And from 1914 to this day—61 years—over 5 million adherents in the world. It’s why they call it the fastest growing fellowship in the world. And it’s understandable why. It’s a fellowship, and it’s still the same. This is why people can come to this church from all denominations and feel welcome and feel at home without a feeling that they have breached any particular denominational creed or doctrine.
DC: 14:34 Earlier in the interview you used the phrase neo-charismatic. And I think I know what you mean by that, but would you elaborate on that a little?
EB: Classical charismatics or classical Pentecostal people are people that have been in Pentecost either all their life, like myself—after 61 years of any organization, you’re going to have some people born into the organization, right? So people that came into it at the turn of the century or people who were born into it are considered classical, whereas neos are those that have come into it just since this present revival, beginning, say, 1960. So people that have come into Pentecost since 1960 are called neo-Pentecostals, classical Pentecostals. Those that have been born in it or have been in—of course, obviously, we’re talking about very old or older people if we’re talking about the turn of the century.
DC: By coming in, you mean something a little bit stronger than formally joining your church. You mean a conversion experience.
EB: Not a conversion experience, because we believe people are converted in all denominations. No, the conversion has nothing to do with charismatics. Well, obviously it does. They must be converted. You see, conversion is a prerequisite to the charismatic experience. The charismatic experience is subsequent to conversion. So we believe that people can be converted in all Christian churches. There are Christians in all Christian churches. But it’s the baptism in the Holy Spirit that distinguishes a charismatic from a non-charismatic. You must understand that when a person receives a baptism in the Holy Spirit, they are no more a Christian than they were before. It doesn’t make them a better Christian or a higher echelon Christian. The baptism in the Holy Spirit doesn’t make you more a Christian than you were before. You either are or you aren’t a Christian. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience of enablements to assist you in performing the works of righteousness and living the life of Christ in a more distinguished manner—the word distinguished is perhaps not the right word—in a more effective manner.
DC: Let me put the question this way: Is there a dramatic moment associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit in the person? That’s what I meant when I used the word conversion.
EB: 17:17 All right. Yes. I think this is true of conversion. I think it’s true of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. However, it differs with individuals. This experience is not something that is the same with all people, for obvious reasons. We differ in our responses, in our emotions, in our intellect, in our lives, period. So God deals with every individual differently. So the manner of conversion—going back to conversion—will differ with individuals. I have known people that when they come to Jesus Christ, confessing their sins, they’re extremely emotional. They may weep. They have an emotional rapport, whereas other people come and it’s a very factual dissertation of allegiance: “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore confess my sins, accepting him as my Lord and Savior, and will submit my life to his teachings, etc,” as factually as I just said it. That’s all. It’s done. And I often tell the congregation, “Whether you weep or whether you don’t weep isn’t important to me or God. What you do after the fact is important.” Follow through, right? You could pledge allegiance to the United States and be a devout Communist. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s the follow-through that means something with me and God. But I won’t take away from that person’s need to be emotional nor that person’s need to be very factual. It doesn’t matter to me. It only matters to God, particularly. However, there are denominations that if you don’t weep when you’re saved, you aren’t saved. I just don’t agree with that, no more than the doctor would say, “When I stitch you up, if you don’t cry, you’re not stitched up.” It’s an experience. As far as the baptism is concerned, the same thing is true. I’ve seen people receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit as unemotional as I am right now and speak just distinctly as I’m speaking in another language. And when they’re through speaking, it’s over and that’s the experience, whereas I have seen other people cry and talk all at once. People are people. As far as the baptism is concerned, a person doesn’t have to be in church to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I’ve known of people who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit driving in their car down the road or washing dishes. You see, salvation is not a way of thinking; it’s a way of living. And the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a way of thinking; it’s an experience with God. And you can have an experience with God anywhere you are. God’s not limited to a personal liturgy or a place or time. He has no orientation in terms of chronology or space or time. It’s wherever you are, whenever you are. Let me say this, though, and you asked a difficult question when you asked for some kind of interpretation of emotion with a spiritual experience. It’s a difficult thing to talk about because there are so many differences involved. But there are some accompanying evidences of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, just as there are accompanying evidences of salvation. When a person is saved, basically a guilt is gone. The guilt of sin is removed, the pressure of sin, the remorse of sin is gone. There is a joy, there is a tranquility, there is a feeling of having everything all right with God, the same feeling you would have with a friend if you had a quarrel with a friend and had bad words and had a bad relationship with a friend and you carried the weight of this; it was hurtful. And one day you got together with that friend and said, “Hey, will you forgive me? Let’s bury the hatchet.” The joy that would come out of that would be great, right? The same is true with our relationship with God. In the baptism in the Holy Spirit there are many evidences that accompany the baptism in the Holy Spirit that are more important than the tongues. As a matter of fact, the tongues are one of the lesser important manifestations. It’s one of the most overt, being audible. And being one of the most tangible, being audible, it’s one that we identify with most quickly. We’re just human beings looking for things to grab on to, and a voice or a language is naturally a very tangible evidence, and therefore, it is overemphasized by most charismatics. It’s overemphasized as far as the doctrine is concerned. As a matter of fact, of all of the gifts of the Spirit, tongues is the lesser of the gifts. It’s the least of the gifts—but important. The fact that it’s least doesn’t make it unimportant. One person said, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G—the alphabet is extremely important, but you don’t learn A, B, C, D, E, F, G through your graduate program in your PhD.” You don’t have a special class on the alphabet when you’re doing your doctorate and yet you are using A, B, C, D, E, F, G all the time. So even though it’s one of the lesser gifts, it’s important in the whole plan and process of God’s relationship with man. One of the more blessed manifestations of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is, for instance, joy, a tremendous infusion of joy. To me that’s far more important than a voice because that’s power. You talk about joy. That’s a powerful emotion. Peace is another emotion. Patience is another manifestation. And all of these emotions are base to my nature and my response to the whole of life. My feeling is if we’re really going to emphasize the real manifestation of the Holy Spirit, let’s emphasize joy and peace and patience and longsuffering, because a person may speak in tongues and not perfect joy and peace and longsuffering and patience. And speaking in tongues does not mean that person is a super saint. They may even have sin in their lives and be able to speak in tongues. It’s not a manifestation of sainthood; it’s a manifestation of a work God is doing in the life of that believer.
DC: 23:53 Would you describe guilt as the block to those emotions—joy, patience, etc—and that the removal of this guilt is the prerequisite for these other things to follow?
EB: I think this is certainly true. It’s true psychologically. Psychologically, guilt or any emotion that blocks the flow of productivity must be removed before that flow can continue. Whether it’s grief or guilt or hatred or malice, animosity, anxiety, it has to be removed before there can be a flow. It may not block totally the flow of other good emotions, but it certainly will retard, depending on the strength of that negative element. Same is true of religion, of course. You see, the field of psychology is the field of the science of the mind or the process of thinking. The word psyche itself came from a Greek word which means soul. So a psychologist is one who studies the soul (chuckles) in a sense or the spirit—better interpreted, the spirit of man. This is why I don’t feel any offensive elements between the science of psychology and theology or sociology, because it’s all a study of God’s ultimate creation, the human being.
DC: 25:22 Do you stress atonement in your services?
EB: Yes. Do you mean the atonement of Christ?
DC: Well, and in the more conventional sense, the atonement of man for his sins.
EB: Okay. We teach the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. He atoned for our sins, that his death on the cross of Calvary is the atoning ministry of Christ. Through the shedding of the blood of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is atonement, there is the covering of our sins. Christ atoned for our sins. We must accept that. That’s an act of faith. We must accept the provision God has made for our sins. Now, faith and acceptance and allegiance and a submission to Christ is atonement. That’s the part that man plays in the atonement of God. In other words, Christ provided the gift of salvation; we receive the gift of salvation through faith. And faith is not a mental concept. It includes the concept of the thought. God never circumvents the mind of man. It’s the greatest organ God gave man. It’s an organ of communication, the conscience, the mind, the thought process of man. He never circumvents that. There are some people, I think, that they teach people theologically in such a way that you should check your mind at the door when you come into the church. And I don’t agree with that. I believe in dealing with the rational mind and the concept of man. But man’s part of atonement is his faith in that work that God has provided through his son and submission to the teachings of Christ in allegiance, in obedience. That’s atonement. Now, going a point further, I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean by atonement. Are you speaking also of restitution and a penance?
DC: Not so much the doctrine of original sin for which Christ atoned but the more immediate sense of it.
EB: All right. Are you speaking of penance, for instance, or restitution?
DC: Yes. Uh-hunh (affirmative).
EB: 27:33 Yes. We do not teach penance per se but we teach restitution, which is the same thing, I suppose. In the Catholic Church, for instance, penance on the part of the director or the priest to the confessor may be to say X number of prayers or do certain things as an exercise of your faith. We do not practice that type of penance. However, we do teach restitution, which is a type of penance. For instance, the Bible teaches if when you come to pray you remember that your brother has aught against you, get up from the altar—in other words, leave your prayers—go to that brother and make it right. Ask him to forgive you. Make restitution. This could include anything else. If you’ve stolen something, return it or go back to that person and confess the fact you stole it and pay for it or do whatever is needed to make recompense. And God said, “Until you do that, forget praying because I’m not going to listen to you.” That’s a strong doctrine of restitution, and that’s a type of penance, isn’t it? You see, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is vertical and horizontal, right? The atonement is vertical—God providing it for man. Restitution is horizontal. It’s also vertical, our instruction, but it’s interpersonal relationship, man to man. It’s human relations. It’s horizontal. But it’s so we can have a vertical relationship. We don’t just have a relationship with God, we have a relationship with each other. Take penance, going a point further. The word penance is not part of our theology, not part of our dialogue, but we have other words we use. For instance, St. Paul said to a church, believers, in his writings, he said, “If you Christians sin, remember you have an advocate with the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.” What he’s saying is as a Christian if you sin, you must confess that sin. You must go back to the Lord Jesus Christ, you must say, “Lord, I have sinned against you. I have sinned against the Father. Forgive me of my sins.” Even a Christian. Well, the Roman Catholic Church teaches the same thing—the confession. It’s the same thing in the Christian Church except in the Christian Church we go to God through Christ, where in the Catholic Church they go to God through the priest.
DC: Let me ask one specific question in this area. Do people in the course of the service often confess their sins in public—or not sins—confess any wrongdoing or something they feel bad about?
EB: We do not encourage that and therefore it doesn’t occur. I wouldn’t say it never occurs, because I can recall a few occasions where it did occur. But it’s not encouraged, for obvious reasons. It can bring great embarrassment to an individual and can bring harm to the innocent. So it’s not encouraged and it therefore doesn’t happen. I remember something. This is a humorous situation that occurred to me. During the transition of my calling, as I spoke of that year’s transition, I was in this church and they were having a renewal service, a revival service, with this evangelist. There was sort of a spirit of confession generated for some reason—I don’t know why—but this man got up and confessed to the body that he had been doing some things that he said were offensive to the body. I don’t remember whether it was drinking or smoking or lying or what he was doing, but he told what it was. He didn’t mention any names; it was just his relationship to the body. He said, “And I feel I’ve offended the body, and I want you all to forgive me, because I’ve asked God to forgive me and he has.” Well, that was great. Everybody forgave him. He sat down. And then someone else got up and said something, and so it was sort of a spirit of confession that gripped the service. And I was a 20-year-old sitting there in all my glory, and there was an elderly woman sitting behind me, and she tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and looked at her and she said, “Brother Banning, don’t you have anything to say?” (laughter) That’s sort of a forced confessional.
DC: 32:01 Yeah. You were under the gun.
EB: I was under the gun. Apparently, she thought I obviously must have something to say. She wanted to know what was it. (laughter) So I said to her, I said, “No, ma’am, I don’t have anything to say, and if I did, I would say it to my Lord and not to you.” I wasn’t unkind; I just said it the way I felt it.
LM: So you have, in a sense, carried this forward into your own ministry.
LM: This very concept that you told of and explained.
EB: Exactly. This is the way I feel it. Now, not altogether. We need human confessors too, and God has placed human confessors in every church—pastors, elders, deacons, ministers, teachers, Christian friends. These are all confessors. But I teach the people, “When you feel a need to confess your sins to an individual, make sure they are a mature Christian, they are a person that can handle confidential material, and you do not confess your sins just to everybody.” In other words, I teach them the proper method of confession, but I do teach human confessors are necessary, because the Bible says, “Confess your faults one to another.” But we must use caution.
DC: I was about to say that as a counselor you must experience some of this, people coming in and using you almost as a confessor figure.
EB: 33:27 Every pastor does, every minister does, same as a Catholic priest would. People come in here and confess intimate sins. And of course what we do is we accept that confession and lead them and direct them to faith in God for the true forgiveness, which I cannot give. I can’t forgive their sins. I can forgive them as an individual, even if they sin against me—and will. I can forgive them if they sin against the body. But as far as their sin against God, they must go to him, and I will help them. That’s what the priest does too.
EB: Actually, the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and the doctrine of our church is not so distant as far as the true theology is concerned. The real distance is in the practice or application. I’ve had occasion to have intimate, deep, personal dialogue with Roman Catholic priests and Episcopal priests comparing doctrines, and I have found that their doctrines—well, I guess really if you talk about the Christian faith, the doctrines are minute in difference. For instance, the doctrine between our church and the Southern Baptist Church is basically two things. We believe in the experience, the charismatic experience, with the audible evidence of speaking in a heavenly language. They do not. But they believe in the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit’s ministry. We believe in eternal security a little differently than they believe it. They believe once in grace, always in grace, unconditionally. We believe once in grace, always in grace in the mind and spirit and will of God, but the will of man is honored by God, and we may sin and offend the very truth and nature of God and therefore be separated by virtue of sin if we rebel and refuse to confess it. We’re Armenian basically in our doctrine, whereas the Baptists are Calvinistic. There are some minor differences there that some people think are very great. I frankly don’t.
DC: Louis, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the building of this beautiful church that we’re now in.
LM: I was going to get around to that myself, the organization that it took to perform this work. Perhaps we could go off in that direction. How did you go about doing it, where did you get the support, and so on?
EB: I guess the only thing I can say is this is a miracle, a modern day miracle. In introduction I’ll say this, and you’ll say, “Sure, everybody says that.” But I’ll explain what I mean. When we came here in 1970, we were worshiping in a church at South Braeswood and Chimney Rock, an approximate acre and a fourth of land, a nice little building. There were 85 people in the first worship service I conducted. Unfortunately, that was Labor Day Sunday, so that was a bad Sunday to start anything, but there were 85 people there. And I think we had an average attendance that year of about 150. So that was the body we came to. The church was approximately 26 years old, had been in three different locations with one pastor. This church has only had two pastors. I’m the second. The retiring minister I replaced was benevolently retired. He’s an officiary in our district, a fine pulpiteer, one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever heard. He’s a fine, very sharp gentleman to this very day, lives in Bellaire. The church parsonage was given to he and his wife to live in as long as they live. It’s still church property, but they have absolute, total use of it as long as they wish, maintenance-free and utility-free, as part of that retirement, plus other benefits. That’s the church’s love for their pastor and their care for their pastor. And that honored me, a new pastor coming, because I feel any congregation that will treat their former pastor like that, they’re going to take care of me. So that blessed me.
37:37 We began work here, and my ministry is basically a person-oriented ministry. It’s a body ministry, as I’ve described it. It’s reaching out to people, loving people, not making an issue of the church. I’m not trying to build a Braeswood Assembly of God Church, I am not trying to build a Braeswood Fellowship; I am trying to build a body of Christ and I don’t care what church you go to. I really don’t. People from all denominations come here for ministry, and I minister to them. They go home. I may never see them again, but they feel free to come. They come for counseling, they come for worship. They’re not intimidated. Nobody’s on their back to join the church or become Assembly of God or anything else but a child of God. That’s all we want. I don’t care where they worship. So this is our basic philosophy. When we visit, we don’t promote our church. In fact, one of our teams may visit a family and visit with them, sharing Christ and the blessing of the Lord, and leave there and they won’t even know what church they belong to unless they ask. It’s just not a point with us in that we have stopped trying to build. Now, that has not always been my philosophy. There was a time when I was a company man, I was a corporation man. I was out to build my church and my denomination, and every other denomination could go sit on a tack, as far as I was concerned. I was really an in man, and I was building, I was growing, but I was struggling. When I ceased that and came to the conclusion that the body of Christ was not just the Assemblies of God (chuckles) and realized it was universal, then the church started growing, and it really did grow. We outgrew that facility very quickly, and we had to move. We were having two services a day. We were using the shopping center parking. We had our own parking, but the shopping center which was adjacent to our property allowed us to use their parking as well on Sunday. We were gradually taking it all, and it was a real problem of getting that number of people into a small building of 10,500 square feet total. So it was a problem. We knew we had to move to continue to grow, so we developed a committee of research. We studied all the land availability within a five-mile radius of our location, five acres or more. How much would it cost? We only had $35,000 in the bank for building purposes which, if you know the price of land, is nothing. That’s all we had. And we were building to it. As we had money available, we’d put it in there. We found spots here and there, and one was over on Gasmer, adjacent to the Westbury High School, 85 cents a square foot; one down on Fondren down here on the railroad tracks for 95 a square foot, neither of which locations we wanted. It was out of the way, inaccessible, and so forth. We just continued to pray until this land became available here, this new subdivision by Mitchner Corporation. Fondren Southwest was developed. And we approached them, and they sold us eight and a half acres here for a dollar a square foot, which was great. They knocked 50 cents a square foot off for the church. They were selling it for a dollar and a half. So that was the answer. We bought eight and a half acres.
41:00 Just going a point ahead at this point, just two weeks ago we bought five more acres, but we have to pay $1.25 for it. That’s the inflation over a three-year period. So we have thirteen and a half acres now. The reason we knew our need for five more acres was when we built this building, our parking and the growth of the church is such that in order to build more buildings and have recreation, we had to buy more land. And we want to buy five more. If God allows us, we will, on the south of that. But still, here you’ve got the land availability, and there’s 43,500 square foot in an acre and a dollar a foot. That’s a lot of money. Eight acres. So that’s several hundred thousand dollars, and we have $34,000 in the bank. This is still preliminary. See, we’re studying now. This is three years ago.
So one watch night service—you know what a watch night service is. This is welcoming in the New Year through religious services, which includes fellowship, meal, and a lot of things. It’s about a three-hour program. It’s the Christians’ answer to welcoming in the New Year, instead of bugles and horns and whiskey. (interviewers laugh) We were having this service, and a man came up to me and handed me a check, just a regular personal size check. And he said, “Pastor, would you put this in the offering for me Sunday?” I said, “Yes, sir.” I folded it and stuck it in my shirt. This is not an uncommon request, because we have a stewardship program here with envelope systems to each family, and sometimes if a family is out of town, they’ll ask somebody else to put their offering in for them, so this is not uncommon. So later in the service, when we had our fellowship dinner, I came into the office at the old church to put it in an envelope to mark the man’s name. Of course it was on the check, but for the tellers to be able to handle it, I wrote his name on the front. In the process of putting the check into the envelope, I looked at the check face. Four hundred and fifty-nine thousand dollars. Well, they had to come in and scrape me off the ceiling. (interviewer chuckles) Not literally, but just a pastor with all of this trauma of move pressing you and having $35,000 to $40,000 in the bank and looking at a check for $459,000 and knowing it’s good, knowing the man, knowing it’s not a joke, is quite an experience—a once in a lifetime experience. This was the man’s tithes off the selling of a business. This man so loves God and so believes in the tithing concept that when he sold a business, off of the initial income of that sale he tithed that like a man would tithe ten dollars on a hundred.
DC: 43:55 Would it be indiscreet to ask who this benefactor was?
EB: Yes, it would be. This is confidential.
DC: I just thought we might credit the man.
EB: He would not want to be credited. As all stewardship is confidential, this is confidential as well. I would treat it the same if it was a dollar or ten million. It’s confidential.
DC: That’s perfectly understandable.
EB: Exactly. And all churches, I think, handle it the same way.
LM: We thought perhaps it was well known in the congregation. That’s why we—
EB: It probably is, but still, it’s confidential. So this was the beginning. This gave us a base. And from this there were other contributions and other resources until when we came into this building, when we moved into this building, we had almost a million dollars in cash assets in a two-year period, and this gave us the opportunity to borrow conventional monies, because you have this much assets, you can borrow conventional money. So we were able to get conventional money at a good rate of interest and move quickly and not to expend this, so we maintain in trust a certain amount of money for purposes of future building. And we have financial advisors in the church, attorneys, people that are handling money. That’s why I called it a miracle.
LM: It certainly is.
EB: 45:29 It certainly is not the common or the usual. It’s an unusual thing, which really is a mandate of God’s approval, as far as I’m concerned, because the body that initially started to build this church was only about 300 people. And this building has cost us approximately $2.5 million. And of course our indebtedness is only about $1,600,000, which means we have taken care of the rest in cash as we’ve moved along. And that is a rather unusual ability as well.
DC: It certainly is. Would you care to estimate the size of the regular churchgoers here now? I won’t refer to them as a formal congregation, because I know people come and go. But approximately how many people would you consider to be regulars?
EB: I would estimate it to be slightly in excess of a thousand. For instance, we had 900 in worship services here last Sunday morning, 800 in Christian education, and you figure X number absent. My estimate would be just in excess of a thousand.
LM: I want you to go on with the story of the building. I think you were going to add something more. But I wanted to ask you about the tithing. Is there a strict tithing?
EB: We teach tithing. Tithing is interpreted exactly the way it is in scripture. Tithing is ten percent of one’s income. We don’t interpret that gross or net; we leave that up to the individual to interpret. But we interpret it as a tenth. Most Christian churches do, I think. And the tithe, we teach, belongs to the Lord, and we teach that the people should bring their tithes to the church the first of each week or as their pay period occurs and that that money goes into a general store—we call it general treasury. We have a general budget. The budget of our church is officiated over each department. We start on our budget now. We have our fiscal year in January. We have a fiscal meeting in January. So we’re working on our budget now for next year. It’ll be groomed through the departments, through the executive committee. They’ll work up a budget to present to the body at our fiscal meeting in January. They can do anything they want with that budget. They can cut it, they can add to it, they can approve it as it is. But once that meeting is over, that budget becomes our directive for the year. That includes missionary giving, home, foreign missions—the whole budget. That budget can be changed if it’s necessary because of growth processes or underestimations, but it has to be changed through the executive committee—any alteration. And so the money that comes in goes into a general fund, out of which all this budget is met. That’s why we call it the storehouse plan, which is a biblical concept.
DC: Louis, I have no further questions. Anything else you wanted to pursue?
LM: 48:43 No. Did you have something else you wanted to add about the building of the church? You started to say something and I interrupted you.
EB: Only one other thing, I think, and that is where we go from here. My feeling regarding the future of this church— Well, frankly, in five years the growth from 85 or 150—whichever premise you wish to take—to 1,000 has occurred, I feel, because we have made Christ the Lord of our worship and the center of worship and his teachings paramount. We have not tried to build a church or a denomination but to teach the concept of a universal body of Christ. And our church is helping oriented. This whole congregation is directed toward helping people help themselves out of the hurt and out of the harm and the breakage and the carnage of human wreckage. Our whole program is designed to relieve human suffering. There is a lot of suffering in this world. People find this is true. They come. There are a lot of human hurts in this world, and people are looking for a genuine way to receive strength to live in this life, and that’s what our church is doing. I believe the church will continue to grow. I think the time will come, if the Lord wills, certainly, this congregation could be easily a congregation of 4,000. It’s growing. There’s no reason why it should stop. The people are here, the needs are here, and I believe God has put us here and he’s given us this base. Our next building is a three-story educational building which will be built as soon as God permits. We have already outgrown our parking. We’re using the medical center parking over here, and we’re going to be adding to our parking soon. Our building will seat 2,000 in worship when it’s totally opened and all the pews are in. It will seat 2,000 in worship. We can accommodate easily 2,500, including children’s ministries and nursery ministries and other things that take place at the same time.
LM: You say educational buildings. Are you thinking in terms of a school, a regular—
EB: Not at this point. This is for Christian education purposes and for departmental use. However, we are exploring right now—and we’re using the basic approach of educational psychology—the greatest need in terms of education. And right now we’re looking at kindergarten, first, second, and third grade, because the educational psychologists say that if a child gets a good start in those four grades, the chances of their having a good academic experience in public school are good. If they have a bad start in those three years, the chances of it being a bad scene all the way are very good. So our thinking is to meet a need in our community we may develop a real top-notch—and if we do it, it’ll be top-notch—educational program, a private school program, for kindergarten, first, second, and third grade. And we’re going to follow the concept of preparatory education. We have preparatory education for college. Why shouldn’t we have it for public school? So our director of Christian education is exploring this concept now. And it’s exciting to me. Why shouldn’t we have preparatory at a preparatory stage rather than have preparatory education beginning at grade nine or ten for college? To me we’ve got the cart before the horse. Let’s have that too; we need that. But let’s start it at kindergarten, first, second, and third grade.
LM: That makes sense.
DC: 52:32 The fact that you are buying up land around the church bespeaks your optimism that the congregation will continue to grow.
EB: Yes. I believe that. I believe that is true, whether it be under my administration or another.
LM: That offering certainly established the groundwork for it.
EB: It made it possible.
LM: Did you get involved with the land purchase before that or after?
EB: No. This was after that. Nearly everything was after that.
DC: Yeah, I can imagine.
EB: As a matter of fact, we didn’t have the funds to get involved in anything. Let me make this point clear. If this gift had not come, we’d still be here, but we would have taken another approach to get here. I believe this end result would have occurred no matter what, because I believe God was directing it. It’s just he chose that avenue. Had he wanted to choose another avenue such as floating a bond system or whatever other system, I think we still would have been here. But I think for whatever reasons, that was the avenue he chose and it was possible. Obviously, the potential was in the body or it never would have occurred. He knew it. I didn’t know it. I had no way of knowing it was going to happen. But it did. In this body this can reoccur. This is true of many churches. The economical potential within the body is such that it can reoccur, and it may have to reoccur. If God wants to use— The income of this church and the posture of this church maintenance is not in the hands of a wealthy few. The real basic structure of this church and its future is in the hands of all the people. I don’t want this to be misunderstood, because it could easily be misunderstood that this is an affluent church that a very few wealthy people are supporting and sponsoring it. This is not true. The income of this church is basically the tithing of all the people that attend here, whether it be teenagers or couples. It’s taught to all. It’s not compulsory; they don’t have to tithe. Nobody is going to be on anybody’s back for not tithing. We don’t dun or appropriate or proportion giving at all, as some churches do. I know some churches sort of look at your business and say, “You can give $10,000 this year,” so they write you a dun. I know one church in South Dakota, a small church, a Catholic church, that has proportionate allocations. It’s a farming community. Of course many of them are born and raised there all their lives, and in the foyer of the church they put a list of the proportionate allocation. The word they use is allowance that you are to pay that year. And they put down the amount you’ve paid, which obviously, you can deduct how much you have not paid. It’s an acceptable practice in the church and a very powerful influence. In Guatemala, in one of the churches we attended, one of the larger Mayan Indian churches—about 200 in the worship service—on a Sunday night the pastor read the financial statement publicly for the month of December. We were there in January, see? He read the names of everyone who tithed and how much they tithed. And when he came to a name like John Brown—obviously, it wouldn’t be because they were Mayans—but say John Brown, if he didn’t give anything he’d just say, “John Brown,” and then he’d go to Susie Brown or whoever. And if nothing was there, that meant he gave nothing. And then he placed it on a bulletin board in the foyer. The reason he read it is because they had so many people who couldn’t read. He read it audibly so they’d get the data. Then he posted it on the bulletin board. I told our missionary, “When I get back, I’m going to present this idea to my deacon board.” (laughter) He said, “Let me know what their reaction is.” It was interesting.
LM: 56:56 I certainly don’t have any more questions. Do you have any more, David?
DC: No. I think this has been an extremely valuable interview. You’ve been very generous with your time.
EB: Thank you.
DC: And so on behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I’d like to thank you very much.
EB: You’re very welcome.
[end of OH006_D2] 57:26