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Interview with Steven Hill, by Steve Beard

Steven Hill

Steven Hill was the evangelist in Pensacola at Brownsville Assembly of God in Florida, America, where revival has continued from Father’s Day, 18 June 1995 with over 100,000 people making commitments to Christ there. Steve Beard wrote this interview for his internet page.

 

What prepared you for this revival?

 I was saved out of the drug culture. My background has helped me with the soul-winning aspect.

Early in my Christian life, back in 1977, I got around David Wilkerson’s ministry. He had an academy in Texas called Twin Oaks, a two-year leadership academy. Leonard Ravenhill taught on prayer. Nicky Cruz taught evangelism. It was a school where you were held responsible for what you learned. And if you did not learn, they would kick you out.

They would teach us on evangelism and then put us in a van, drive us to the streets of Dallas to a dope party, dump us out and say, “Go into that dope party. We’ll pick you up at four in the morning.” It was just hard-core evangelism. Instead of teaching the Four Spiritual Laws, they’d say, “Get out there, learn from experience.” When we came back, we’d talk about some of the hindrances we’d had, the bad experiences, and what we would change about our approach. Then they’d send us out again. You know very quickly whether you’re called to evangelism.

I graduated from that school, and went into church ministry. Then it was when I took a group of young people to Mexico God called me to the mission field. I went to Argentina, and the very first meeting I went to was a Carlos Annacondia meeting out in the middle of a soccer field. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I saw fifteen to twenty-thousand people craving God. I mean, going after God.

I had Carlos lay hands on me one night, and I feel that from him came a real evangelistic anointing. I’ve had the evangelism desire all my life, but I watched him – he’s led over two million people to Jesus. At one o’clock in the morning he’s still praying with people. At two o’clock in the morning, he’s still laying hands on people. He’ll go night after night. He’s so common, so loving. All he cares about is that one little boy, that one grandpa, that one uncle that’s coming to Jesus.

I hung around that for seven years, and you absorb it.

How did you end up at Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican Church in London?

I read in Time magazine how God was moving. I had been to London several times, and 1 thought, “I’ve got to see this. I’ve got to see God moving in the Anglican Church because I can’t imagine it.” The article said they were laughing, they were falling, and I had a very critical spirit about it.

I went to the bed and breakfast that we stay at when I’m in London; it’s owned by a Christian couple. I asked them where God was moving, and they said, “It’s in our church.” They went to Holy Trinity Brompton.

I said, “I need to make an appointment with the pastor.”

They said, “Steve, he’s the busiest man in Europe. All of Europe comes here to get prayed for by him.”

I said, “Call him up and ask if he has time to pray for a Texan.” I wanted a little private visit with this guy (Sandy Miller) to see what was going on.

I went there at two o’clock that afternoon and there was a conference going on. I walked into the stately Anglican church in downtown London right by Harrod’s, the richest area of town, and stepped over about 500 bodies, people shaking all over the place. I had seen things like that before, but I’m an evangelist, so I’m after souls. If I can’t see hundreds and hundreds of people getting saved, then I’ll leave.

The Lord spoke to my heart and said, “You don’t need to talk to Sandy Miller. Just have him pray for you.” I walked up to him and said, “My name is Steve.” He says, “Oh my, we have an appointment at three o’clock, but look what’s happened in my church.”

I went up to him, he laid his hands on my head and it was over. I mean, I went down under the power of the Holy Spirit.

How do you channel revival fire?

That’s the most frustrating part to pastors because you can only live so long in this renewal. The first week after this broke out, I spoke a message on how to benefit from a divine refreshing.

  • The first point was get all you can get.
  • The second one was mix vegetables with the honey. Make sure you keep your feet on the ground.
  • And the third one was let your stall get dirty. Where there are no oxen, the stall is clean. Get out there. You’re bubbly, you’re all on fire with the Christians, but let that happen at the workplace.

And that’s what they started to do. And people started pouring in.

What is the relevance of it beginning Father’s Day?

I believe that was just a real special divine appointment. We didn’t really think about that. It was just totally spontaneous. The Father, he showed up on Father’s Day the way he did, and just loved on us. And you know, everybody got back to work. They got back to work in the fields and going after God, because they felt the nearness of the Lord.

What is the most important thing God has taught you through this revival?

What I’m convinced of more than anything else is the urgency of the hour – the urgency of the hour and the necessity of right now.

This is not a coliseum; this is not a secular place. This is night after night sinners are coming to a church. Why? They’re hungry. People are hungry and God has sent the famine. The Bible says in Amos, that God will send the famine. The famine for truth. So he’s going to do his part; we’re the feeding station. We’re the ones with tractor-trailer rigs full of food. We’re laden down with everything these people need but they come into our churches and what do they get? Nothing. They don’t get fed. They need to hear about hell. They need to hear the full gospel. But they don’t get it. God is doing his part, we need to do our part.

How do you keep track of what is taking place at the altar?

We’re seeing a thousand people saved a week, but we are very conservative with the figures. To me, when someone comes up and has backslidden, that’s a salvation. They are a prodigal. They’ve been living in sin. He came back, crawled on his face and he said, “I’m not worthy. I can’t even be under your roof.” And the Father received him. That’s why Charles Finney and Jonathan Edwards preached about backslidden conditions. Our country was back-slidden.

When we give that altar call, there are a lot of people that are saved for the first time. A lot of people that come down that have never known the Lord, but there are also a lot of people that are backsliders and prodigals that are coining back to the Lord.

After they come to the altar, what happens to them? How do you follow up with so many people?

There are a lot of people that are coming from out of state. I had never seen anything like this. We have fathers and mothers bringing their unsaved children from Minnesota. They bring in van loads from Birmingham and have four or five unsaved people in the van to be prayed for healing. They come down here and they get saved, and so we encourage them to get involved in the local church.

We do our very best to link them with people who have brought them, or we tell them about local Methodist churches and Baptist churches. Several pastors have gleaned people from this revival. But its an unusual type of situation because so many people are coining in from other areas that it is literally impossible for us to keep tabs on everybody that is coming. But another beauty of this is that a lot of people who get saved keep coming back because this is not a one week thing. So this is also like a discipleship process.

What do you make of the physical manifestations?

The Lord is welcome in this place to do anything he wants. But there is a balance here. They receive the gospel, they receive the cross, the blood. When the manifestations come, I welcome the manifestations, but I don’t major on the minors.

This last days awakening – mark these words, I’m not a prophet, this is not a prophecy, but this is what is going to happen. This awakening is going to shake this country, the power is going to come down.

I’m also a youth evangelist, and we are dealing with a culture that may not be demon-possessed, but they are possessed by demons. They are consumed with demonic warfare twenty-four hours a day. They have seen the power of Satan at work. You watch any rock concert: the frenzy, the fire, the pull, the enthusiasm that’s there. We talk about our God, and the power of God. We sing, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” and they’re going, “Where is it?”

They want to believe, but they see mom and dad are limp, weak, and they respond, “Where is the power? Mom, you’re popping valium and prozac and everything else and you’re talking about the power of God? Give me a break, Momma.” And so they come into this meeting. The punkers come in here. Every age, every kind of person in the world comes into this meeting and they are hit by the power of God. Undeniably swept off their feet by the power of God and by the hundreds they basically say, “What must I do to be saved?”

Does everyone respond so positively?

There will be folks here tonight, who are skeptical and critical – they hate this revival. They don’t want anything to do with it, but they are out there tonight, and they are going to get saved. They are going to fall to the ground under the power of God, they’re going to be back next week with their friends. Why? They’re out here because they’re curious, they’re out here because Aunt Mabel was healed of cancer, they’re here for a million different reasons.

Are you overwhelmed by the historic nature of this revival?

What is phenomenal about this is the fact that when I look upon the people I see all the hunger. They come from the corners of the globe. They don’t come for the beaches. They come for this meeting and yeah, that blows me away. And I’m beginning to see how this could affect the nation. People are attracted to the fire.

John Wesley said it: “I set myself on fire and the people come to watch me bum.”

Reproduced with permission

© Renewal Journal #13: Ministry
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Pentecostalism’s Global Language, interview with Walter Hollenweger

 Dr Walter Hollenweger was Professor of Mission at the University of Birmingham.  His books The Pentecostals (1972) and Pentecosalism (1997) are landmark volumes.

It’s not tongues but
a different way of being a Christian

 Why is Pentecostalism so popular? It is now over half a billion strong worldwide, and has been and continues to be the fastest growing Christian movement in the world. It has made inroads not only in third-world regions like Africa and Latin America, but it also continues to attract huge followings in the United States and Europe.

 Walter J. Hollenweger is the leading expert on worldwide Pentecostalism, which he has been studying for more than 40 years. Having grown up in the Pentecostal church, he later became ordained in the Reformed Church of Switzerland. From 1965 to 1971 he was executive secretary of the World Council of Churches, then served as professor of mission at England’s University of Birmingham for 18 years. His seminal book The Pentecostals (Hendrickson, 1972) was recently followed up by Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Hendrickson, 1997).

What is a Pentecostal?

Worldwide there is so much variety that about all one can say is that a Pentecostal is a Christian who calls himself a Pentecostal. Though Americans tend to focus on the gift of tongues, overall Pentecostals emphasize that God has given several gifts – not just speaking in tongues but also healing and the so-called rational gifts like organization or building a school. Diverse gifts to diverse people. It’s not a strictly theological definition but a phenomenological one.

Why is speaking in tongues the focus in America?

There are many reasons, of course, but one is that American and other middle-class cultures, as in Switzerland, find tongues an extraordinary phenomenon, so these experiences get a lot of attention. In Africa or Mexico, on the other hand, speaking in tongues and healings are not considered extraordinary – they can even be found in some indigenous pagan religions. (Speaking in tongues is not even “supernatural,” as many Pentecostals have found out.) Tongues aren’t even spoken in a lot of third-world Pentecostal churches. Instead, third-world Pentecostals focus on corporate worship, singing together, and Christian education. American Pentecostals don’t seek education as much as an experience of the supernatural.

What have been the key changes in Pentecostalism?

First, more and more young Pentecostals are becoming scholars through reputable universities. It’s true for Pentecostals in Europe, North America, and Latin America. It’s also true for Africa and for Asia.

There are now several hundred young Pentecostal scholars with doctorates, and that, of course, changes the breadth and depth of Pentecostalism. Most of them have maintained their roots in Pentecostalism, so they are now bilingual. They can speak in the university language, in the language of concepts and definitions, but they can also speak in the oral language of Pentecostalism, and I think that is an extremely important part of their success.

Second, this increase in education has led in many places to more ecumenical openness. In the past, nobody wanted to talk to the Pentecostals, and the Pentecostals didn’t want to talk to any of the other churches because they saw them as a lost cause. Now, for instance, there is a worldwide dialogue between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics that has been going on for 20 years. There have also been many contacts with the World Council of Churches, and the latest example is a global dialogue with the Presbyterian churches.

David du Plessis, a pioneer in ecumenism, has been instrumental in both these changes. He went to the Catholics. He went to the World Council of Churches. He went to all the universities. And the fact that he was a reasonable man and also a Pentecostal astonished many people. They thought Pentecostals were all a little crazy and could not think properly. But when they got to know him, they realized that it is possible to speak in tongues and be a critical scholar.

Another change, of course, is the worldwide explosive growth to nearly half a billion adherents.

Why is Pentecostalism so popular?

Some scholars think it has to do with its theology and doctrine. But Pentecostal theology is not homogeneous. Others think it’s because of Pentecostals’ aggressive evangelism. That is partly true because a real Pentecostal is by definition an evangelist, whose faith is as infectious as the flu.

The most important reason is that it is an oral religion. It is not defined by the abstract language that characterizes, for instance, Presbyterians or Catholics. Pentecostalism is communicated in stories, testimonies, and songs. Oral language is a much more global language than that of the universities or church declarations. Oral tradition is flexible and can adapt itself to a variety of circumstances.

Can’t oral tradition drift off into sub-Christian and even heretical beliefs?

Certainly, but overall there is a basic evangelical consensus among Pentecostals. They are similar to the early church in this respect. Early Christians didn’t have a formal, written confession of faith, as Presbyterians and others do today. They had the stories of Jesus. Even Jesus didn’t spell out doctrine; he gave his followers stories of miracles, and taught through proverbs and parables.

The earliest church was united, but not as much through their theology as through the Lord’s Prayer, Paul’s collection for Jerusalem (his theological “enemies”), baptism, and the Eucharist. Their statements of faith were simple, and the simplest was “Jesus is Lord.” It was a very different way of achieving togetherness, and it was achieved through these oral forms.

Ironically, when the ecumenical confessions came later, they did not unite the church. They divided it, as propositional theology always does. But across divided theology, it is possible to pray together, to sing together, and to act together. That’s what Pentecostals do at their best.

Is it fair to say that when you convert to Pentecostalism, you are converting not to a certain theology but to a new experience of faith?

Yes, and that has important evangelistic consequences for Pentecostals.

In many circles, when you become a Christian, you talk about gaining a new understanding of the Lord’s Supper and baptism (they are either more or less sacramental), but other people are not terribly interested in that. When you become a Pentecostal, you talk about how you’ve been healed or your very life has been changed. That’s something Pentecostals talk about over and over, partly because people are interested in hearing that sort of thing.

Pentecostalism today addresses the whole life, including the thinking part. More mainline forms of Christianity address the thinking part first and that often affects the rest of life, but not always.

Yet it seems most Pentecostals are far more right-brained and intuitive than left-brained and rational.

Indeed, the “orality” of Pentecostalism – the singing, the dancing, the speaking in tongues – accents the intuitive. But a mature Pentecostal will try to connect the intuitive and the rational. Always emphasizing the analytical will destroy faith. But only emphasizing the intuitive leads to chaos. A challenge of the Pentecostal movement is to combine rational thinking with its spontaneous emotional side.

This is the challenge for all Christians, really. The rationalist needs the Toronto Blessing and has to be slain in the Spirit to realize that. It sometimes seems silly to me, but you’ll notice that it is rationalists and intellectuals who fall down. People who have a balanced emotional and intuitive life don’t need that. True, some rationalists dance, sing, go walking in the mountains, or play a musical instrument, but then they go back to their science, to rational lives, and the two are not connected.

What most concerns you as you think about Pentecostalism in the coming century?

First, Pentecostalism must confront its tendency to segregate and separate into countless denominations. It’s happening all the time, and it really is a scandal.

The other challenge is common to all Christian churches: What do we do with the ecological threat to the world? What do we do with the threat of hunger and the plight of refugees? It’s a challenge that will hit Pentecostals harder than any other churches because their largest churches are on the poor side of the world. But as Christians, we have a contribution to make — not just in money but in prayer and in developing solutions that politicians cannot.

But Pentecostals are not known for their social activism.

That’s true in some ways, but it is a misconception in others. Many of Martin Luther King’s marchers were black Pentecostals. In Brazil there are many Pentecostals sitting in parliament. And in many third-world countries, Pentecostals are trying to develop new ways of gaining political influence without the game playing we have in the West. In Latin America, for example, they try to work with sectors of the Catholic church to get water or a school or a new street for a poor district. So there are quite a number of places where Pentecostals take up the structural issues, but they do not take them up by founding political parties. They start from the local needs and the local misery people experience every day.

Copyright 1998 by the author of Christianity Today, Inc./Christian History Magazine.

Spring 1998, Vol.XVII, No. 2, Page 42.  Used with permission.

(c) Renewal Journal 13: Ministry, 1998, 2012.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

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