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Experiencing Life in the Spirit: an interview with Frank Billman

PneumaReview.com: In places where there is not openness what are the main issues?

Frank Billman: One would be theological liberalism/modernism. Where the pastor or church people come from a liberal/modernist theological perspective where they do not believe any of the miraculous or supernatural passages of the Bible ever happened, then of course they do not believe they happen today. My father-in-law was a Methodist preacher for over 50 years and people in one of his churches told him that they did not want to hear any more of “that Bible preaching.”

Another issue would be cessationism—the belief that the miracles and supernatural gifts of the Spirit did happen in Bible times but they “ceased” with the death of the last of the apostles or the completion of the New Testament. Any supposed miracles or supernatural gifts today are either fraudulent, imagined, or demonic. John Wesley wrote against this view, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t United Methodist pastors and lay people who support this view.

Then there would be the “practical cesssatonists” who believe that the miracles and gifts of the Spirit did happen in Bible times and that God can still do those things today, but, practically speaking, incidents of God doing these things are so rare that they cannot be anticipated, sought after, or depended upon. I think an example of this would be in times when prayer requests are taken and needs for healing prayer are voiced. The requests are written down and maybe not even prayed for. Or prayer is offered for the doctors and nurses who are attending that person, but no prayer is offered with the expectation that God the Holy Spirit will supernaturally intervene in that situation and heal the person. And if people are healed, God is not given the credit.

These were people who were hungry and desperate. Many of these were people who had been oppressed by the Nazis and then the Soviets. Now they are free and spiritually hungry.

Then there would be “labeling” where we attach a belief or practice to a non-Methodist group and then dismiss it as invalid for us. So we label healing through anointing with oil as “Catholic.” Or supernatural manifestations of the Spirit are “Charismatic.” Or speaking in tongues is “Pentecostal,” so we can ignore and dismiss these things. If any of these things shows up in a Methodist church we label it as non-Methodist and ban it. What many Methodists don’t know is that much of what we label as “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” today was being done by Methodists 150 years ago. The bottom line is if the practice has not been a part of my experience then it can’t be right!

And finally there is the problem of what I might call “professional church.” I was at my first church 15 years, my second church for 11 years and my third church 9 years before I went on staff of ARM full time. But for most United Methodist pastors the reality is they tend to move to a new church every 5-6 years. So after a while, a UM pastor (and others) can become “professional.” They can become good at what they do. They can learn how to do this “church thing.” They can have the worship bulletin shell on their laptop and plunk in hymns, they can use a Scripture and message or series of messages they used before and put that in, the choir will do their special music, the ushers will take up the offering, they will make the announcements and follow the schedule for that church’s year from the years before with the fundraising dinners, the bazaars, VBS, and all the other things that that church does. They will do their hospital visits and weddings and funerals and attend church meetings to plan the same things they planned last year. They can lead a church professionally and smoothly—without God! There is no asking God: “What do you want to do in the worship service next Sunday? What do you want us to do to accommodate that? What do you want us to do different this year?”

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Category: Ministry, Summer 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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