Rex Humbard, Premier Televangelist Who Blessed Millions
The first time Rex Humbard met Elvis Presley, “the King of Rock and Roll” asked the televangelist a pointed question:
“The Lord’s coming soon, isn’t he?”
Maude Aimee Humbard, Rex’s wife, said to Presley, “I’ve been praying that you would dedicate your life to Jesus Christ.”
“Elvis went to pieces,” Humbard wrote. “He cried so hard he began to tremble.”
Humbard wrote that he and his wife joined hands with Presley and prayed for him. Then, at the end of the meeting, Presley said, “You and Maude Aimee coming here today and praying with me is the most wonderful Christmas present that Elvis Presley has ever received, and I want to thank you.”
The relationship between the televangelist and the late music icon is explained in Humbard’s book, The Soul Winning Century, The Humbard Family Legacy… 100 Years of Ministry 1906-2006, published in 2006 by Clarion Call Marketing of Dallas.
Humbard preached a sermon at Presley’s funeral in 1977 in Memphis.
According to the New York Times, “Elvis Presley was a loyal viewer” and admirer of Humbard.
Even though coming from a background as a gospel singer in the Assemblies of God, Presley draft away from the Gospel. He began to get interested again in the Gospel only through the simple message of Humbard, a charismatic televangelist.
Presley attended no church and Humbard’s program became his weekly service. Just as Presley, millions of people did not attend any church, or because they were not Christian or any other eventuality.
“The vast majority of people do not go to church and the only way we can reach them is through TV,” Humbard wrote in his autobiography, “Miracles in My Life.”
“We must go into their homes — into their hearts — to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The special slogan of his program was “You Are Loved!”
His program became an important service even in Brazil. There was a time when my mother had no church near to go, and Humbard’s program was our only church service and encouraged us as nothing else did.
Rex Humbard was the first evangelist to have a weekly national television program in America. His program combined some elements of popular entertainment with evangelism, an approach also followed by Billy Graham. They were pioneers in combining preaching and music.
In spite of the modern approach, he said to his audience, “What America needs is an old-fashioned, Holy Ghost, God-sent, soul-savin’, devil-hatin’ revival!”
His program was very pro-family: Humbard, his wife, children and grandchildren sang Christian songs in each program.
Humbard began his career in broadcasting at age 13, singing gospel songs on radio. He was ordained during the 1940s and in 1949 he began airing his sermons from a CBS-TV affiliate in Indianapolis, when the visual medium was largely untapped by evangelists. In 1952, weekly Sunday messages began broadcasting from his nondenominational Cathedral of Tomorrow, a renovated theater that seated 5,400 people, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Later, his program, carried by more than 2,000 TV stations and broadcast in some 77 languages, featured revival preaching mixed with lively musical numbers, including folksy guitar music and songs performed by Humbard, a choir, and guest performers such as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
In the last 1970s, B.J. Thomas, a popular singer, appeared in Humbard’s show, telling his testimony of conversion to Jesus Christ and singing Christian songs. After Elvis Presley, B.J. Thomas was probably the most famous American singer in that generation.
At its peak of popularity in the 1970s, Humbard’s program attracted some 20 million viewers.
His ministry eventually extended to Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Far East, Australia, Latin America and Africa, giving it a worldwide reach of 8 million viewers, greater than any of his contemporaries by the late 1970s. In Brazil, he attracted large crowds at the giant soccer stadium in São Paulo for weeks.
Critics of televangelists often accuse: “Why are not televangelists going to preach the Gospel in faraway poor nations?” Rex Humbard did it. He spent millions of dollars, of the donations from his U.S. supporters, to have a Christian program reaching Africa, Brazil and Latin America.
Poor nations could not afford his program. Even so, U.S. supporters donated to helped Humbard to reach these nations.
“One of the distinctions of Rex Humbard’s ministry is the popularity maintained in South American countries, especially Brazil, where during a recent crusade appearance in Rio de Janeiro, more than 180,000 people filled a soccer stadium to hear the word of God,” according to Fort Worth Star Telegram.
“Seek the Savior,” Humbard would urge, “and all other moral problems will solve themselves.”
Humbard’s Sunday television program premiered in Brazil in the old Tupi Network, currently SBT, in 1975. This program, which was the first major charismatic influence in Brazil and began when there was no charismatic (neo-Pentecostal) church in Brazil, drew soon the attention of evangelicals from different denominations, and when Humbard visited Brazil for the first time in 1978, 80,000 people filled the Pacaembu stadium, in São Paulo, and 100,000 filled the Maracanã stadium, no Rio de Janeiro.
Subsequently it was broadcast by Manchete TV until 1984, when it went offline because of lack of financial resources.
In one service alone, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, more than 180,000 Brazilians attended the one televised crusade meeting and over 100,000 came forward to dedicate their lives to Christ. In the South American crusades, over one million people attended in person to hear the family sing and Rex bring the word.
In his crusades, he would ask: “How many of you here believe in Jesus Christ? Let’s see your hands.” A sea of hands would rise.
Last month, my Portuguese blog received this message from a reader:
“Today, August 8, 2017, as a 57-year old man reviewing my papers and an old picture of him [Humbard] and wife and children dated February 1978, I had the curiosity to see (know) on internet news about my spiritual father wondering if he still was in this our material world, but I learnt about his passing 10 years after. On October 1977, I was a teenager when I began to watch on TV Pastor Rex Humbard, and I fell in love with his messages. I was extremely Catholic in that time, but one day on October 1977 I was watching him in a very small TV set that my father had received as a gift from his boss, a kindhearted bank clerk. In this point the Holy Spirit touched me powerfully and I spent some three days silently and discreetly crying, so that my family would not perceive it. Afterwards, a Baptist minister explained to me that it was a conversion and, to sum up, from that point on my life experienced only victory.” — Deli, in Ibirataia, Bahia, Brazil.
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