Hobart Freeman, founder of a controversial faith-healing sect called Faith Assembly, died nearly two years ago (CT, Jan. 18, 1985, p. 48). But his Indiana-based sect has continued under the guidance of a few of Freeman’s handpicked leaders. One of those leaders, Jack Farrell, resigned last year. He served directly under Freeman as a full-time associate pastor for 10 of the 11 years he was with Faith Assembly.
Farrell declined to comment on his resignation until earlier this year when he was interviewed by the Warsaw (Ind.) Times Union. He has called Faith Assembly a “cult” and a “cancer to the rest of the church.” He also has accused Freeman of using deceptive tactics to build Faith Assembly into a thriving organization, with a 2,000-member congregation near Wilmot, Indiana, and smaller satellite groups in a number of states and a few foreign countries.
Faith Assembly has received national attention because its faith-healing practices have been linked to nearly 100 deaths. Freeman, whose teachings included the shunning of all medications, died in 1984 from untreated diabetes and other complications. At the time of his death, he had been indicted in the death of a youth whose parents attended Faith Assembly (CT, Nov. 23, 1984, p. 38). The indictment charged that Freeman, through his teachings, contributed to the death of Pamela Menne. The 15-year-old girl died of chronic kidney failure after her parents failed to seek medical treatment for her illness. The parents, James and Ione Menne, later received suspended sentences and were ordered to obtain semiannual physicals for their remaining two minor children. The Mennes have since left Faith Assembly.
“God’s people must be warned,” said Farrell, who talked with CHRISTIANITY TODAY about his departure from the sect. “Death follows the message of Faith Assembly.” He said Freeman taught that Faith Assembly was a unique church raised up for a special end-time ministry. At first that teaching appealed to Farrell, who was searching for a deeper spiritual experience. He left his Church of the Brethren pastorate in 1974 to join Faith Assembly.
According to Farrell, Freeman believed he had received a special commission from a “prophetess” named Anna Shrader to “raise a monument of faith.” Freeman’s teachings changed and often superseded biblical doctrines and teachings, Farrell said. In the early days, Freeman “would tell us to check out his teachings in the Bible. Later on, he said, ‘If you don’t believe the teachings, then you have no business being here.’ ”
Faith Assembly was established in the mid-1960s, and in its early years members were told to seek medical care if they did not have the faith for supernatural healing. But by the early 1980s, Freeman’s teachings on faith healing, which stressed the doctrine of making a “positive confession,” emphasized that medications were actually demonic in nature.
“We were going through what Dr. Freeman called ‘the deeper deliverance,’ ” Farrell said. “Everybody had to go through demonic deliverance for any medication they had used. He was teaching that the names of medicines were the names of demons. We had to name the medication to receive deliverance. We actually had people who were calling their out-of-state parents to find out what medications they had taken when they were small children.”
According to Farrell, Freeman’s strong influence over his congregation has continued even after his death because of the fear he built into his ministry. “There are people who would like to leave,” Farrell said, “but they can’t because they believe they would lose their salvation.”
Freeman was quick to use his educational background to impress people, Farrell said. Freeman earned a doctorate in Old Testament and Hebrew from Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He taught there from 1961 to 1963, when he was dismissed because of doctrinal differences with the school.
Farrell said a sermon preached by another Faith Assembly pastor convinced him and his wife that the sect was not a part of the true church. “The message … dealt with the sin of pride,” Farrell said. “… Many of the things that were said applied to my life. I had used the sword of the Spirit not on the enemy, but to cut up the lives of people, even Christians. That’s when my wife and I began to see that things were wrong with Faith Assembly. The ministry there was harsh, not loving.”
Now working as a night watchman and attending two Church of the Brethem congregations, Farrell said he wants to warn Christians about the dangers of Faith Assembly and similar groups. “When you’re confronted with something that you’ve never heard before, don’t believe it until you can prove from the Bible that it is true.”
In recent weeks, Faith Assembly has experienced at least three deaths among its members. No lawsuits or indictments have been filed in any of those deaths. A civil suit filed against Faith Assembly by David and Nigal Oleson of Genoa, Illinois, is still awaiting trial. The Olesons claim that Faith Assembly’s teachings contributed to the death of a relative and nearly destroyed their marriage.
By Chris Lutes.
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