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A Pentecostal Season: The Methodists in England and America, Part 2

While Rankin preached at one gathering in 1774, “it seemed as if the very house shook with the mighty power and glory of Sinai’s God. Many of the people were so overcome, that they were ready to faint and die under His almighty hand. For about 3 hours the gale of the Spirit thus continued to break upon the dry bones…As for myself, I scarce knew whether I was in the body or not and so it was with all my brethren.”[16]

Thomas Rankin was not initially comfortable with the emotions demonstrated by the early American Methodists in their meetings. Commenting on the emotional expressions of the American Methodists, Laurence Wood writes: “Some of Wesley’s assistants, such as Thomas Rankin who had gone to America as a Methodist missionary, had considerable difficulty containing the emotional responsiveness of their American hearers. It was normal for his American hearers to weep loudly and cry out with shouts of joy, despite the fact that he made deliberate attempts to keep them quiet. Emotional displays were a prominent feature of early American Methodism, and phenomenal conversions and sanctifications were reported in the tens of thousands which involved considerable emotional expression. These Pentecost-like meetings were regularly described by the early Methodists as “the demonstration and power of the Spirit” and “a great outpouring of the Spirit.” And there is no indication that Wesley ever tried to persuade Asbury or Coke to put a stop to the emotionalism which was typical of early American Methodism.”[17]

Rankin records in 1776: “Now when the power descended, hundreds fell to the ground, and the house seemed to shake with the presence of God.”[18]

 

Manifestations among the Evangelicals and United Brethren

Martin Boehm, one of the founders of the German speaking United Brethren, was removed as a bishop among the Mennonites because of his association with Methodists. He allowed the Methodists to form a class in his house. He invited preachers (including English-speaking Methodists) to preach on his property. Methodist lay preacher, Benjamin Abbott, described a meeting at Martin Boehm’s saying:

“Next morning, I set out with about twenty others for my appointment, where we found a large congregation. When I came to my application the power of the Lord came in such a manner, that the people fell all about the house, and their cries might be heard afar off. This alarmed the wicked, who sprang for the doors in such haste, that they fell one over another in heaps. The cry of mourners was so great, I thought to give out a hymn to drown the noise, and desired one of our English friends to raise it. But as soon as he began to sing, the power of the Lord struck him, and he pitched under the table, and there lay like a dead man. I gave it out again and asked another to raise it. As soon as he attempted, he fell also….Mr. Boehm, the owner of the house, and a preacher among the Germans, cried out, “I never saw God in this way before.” I replied, this is a pentecost, father. “Yes, be sure,” said he, clapping his hands, “a pentecost, be sure!”[19]

 

Henry Boehm

Henry Boehm, one of Francis Asbury’s long-time traveling companions and son of Martin Boehm, co-founder of the United Brethren Church, was convinced that informal small group gatherings in rural cabins or in village class meetings did more to advance Methodism than better-known public meetings. “It is not generally known, wrote Boehm, that the greatest displays of divine power and the most numerous conversions were in private houses, in prayer meetings.”[20]

Henry Boehm wrote about the response to his preaching in his journal for July 5, 1801: “My soul was filled with the powers of the upper work. Many felt the effects of the same: some fell to the floor, others leapt for joy, and mourners [were] crying for mercy….Some were enabled to shout redeeming love.”[21]

 

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Category: Church History, Fall 2018

About the Author: Frank H. Billman, B.A. (Houghton College), M.Div. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Th.M. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), D.Min. (Eastern Baptist [now Palmer] Theological Seminary), is an educator, pastor, author, and international speaker. He is currently leading the doctor of ministry program in supernatural ministry at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. While on the staff of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries for 12 years, he led workshops, local and regional renewal events, was supervisor for International Ministries, Methodist School of Supernatural Ministries, and Supernatural Ministry Intensives, and was a general session speaker at the national conferences. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Shepherding Renewal (Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, 2011), and The Supernatural Thread in Methodism: Signs and Wonders Among Methodists Then and Now (Creation House, 2013).

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