Time For Some Spring Cleaning In the Church

Peter informed us 2000 years ago that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). His admonition holds just as true today as back then – maybe even more so. The church of Jesus Christ has been so tarnished and damaged by scandals, sins and schisms that it is often its own worst enemy.

The job of the Christian pastor or prophet is to do two things: comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. It seems today we are in need of a whole lot of afflicting, rebuking, challenging and admonishing. Church discipline seems to be almost non-existent in so much of the church, and we are dragging the name of our Lord in the mud with increasing regularity.

Sure, there are plenty of great exceptions, but the sad reality is, much of the church needs a major spring cleaning. Indeed, much of it needs radical surgery. Of course when I point out such truths I am more often than not accused of being judgmental, negative, unloving and un-Christlike.

Somehow these critics seem to have missed such episodes as the deliberate formation of a whip which Jesus used with great effect to cleanse a moribund and messed up temple. That is not what most believers have in mind when they push the WWJD mantra.

But I don’t mind being ignored or maligned here. I have come to expect it. But other believers more worthy than I are also saying exactly the same things. So I defer to my spiritual betters. One such person who is well placed in the charismatic world and has spoken much on such matters is J. Lee Grady.

The former editor of Charisma has spoken much about a problem-plagued and scandal-ridden church. His 2010 book The Holy Spirit is Not for Sale was fantastic, and I reviewed it here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/07/02/a-review-of-the-holy-spirit-is-not-for-sale-by-j-lee-grady/

But he has just penned a new piece which is so good I simply want to reprint it here. He deals with the recent death of the TBN head, and the need to get our act together in terms of Christian television especially. So without further comment, here is his article:

It’s Time to Reboot Christian Television

Among the legendary pioneers of Christian broadcasting—a list that includes Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts and Jim Bakker—no one worked harder to establish Christian TV stations around the world than Paul Crouch Sr. In spite of constant controversies over his network’s content and finances, the Trinity Broadcasting Network that Crouch founded in 1973 has grown to be the largest and most profitable religious television enterprise in the world.

But Crouch died last weekend, and all is not well at TBN. Crouch’s oldest son, Paul Jr., who at one time was the heir apparent of the network, abruptly departed in 2011 and went to work for the Word Network, a predominantly African-American ministry. The Crouch’s granddaughter, Brittany Koper, in a lawsuit filed against TBN last year, claimed that millions of dollars of donor funds were misused. The Crouch’s grandson, Brandon Crouch, has lamented on a blog that the family is now split apart because his sister was fired for blowing the whistle on what she considered fraud.

And as Christian friends and colleagues mourn Crouch’s passing (there will be no public funeral, but TBN plans to air a tribute on Dec. 8 and 9), the wider Christian public is asking a lot of questions about TBN—and about Christian broadcasting in general: Why is televangelism so prone to scandal? Why have so many Christian broadcasters insisted on living lavishly? Why is our most visible outreach to the world so embarrassing?

Some people might say this is not the time to have this discussion. But I think Paul Crouch’s passing signals the end of an era—and it is time for a reformation. Crouch’s generation built monolithic organizations with autocratic leadership, and broadcasters who began their networks in the 1970s created a showy, bigger-is-better style that included endless telethons, sensational preaching and celebrities in spotlights.

That may have worked in 1975—and it still appeals to a segment of the market. But my generation and my children’s generation tuned out long ago because Christian TV came off as fake, campy and spiritually out of touch.

If I were asked to suggest ways to improve Christian television in this new era, I would list the following:

1. Support it with advertising, not donations. Who said Christian programming has to be donor-funded? I’d rather watch ads for steak knives or dietary supplements than endure two hours of begging—especially when the slick-haired evangelist running the telethon reminds you of a used-car salesman.
2. Prosperity preaching shouldn’t be allowed. Networks need to declare a moratorium on sermons that promise magical monetary benefits to people who “call now” to give a credit card donation. This type of merchandising of the anointing of the Holy Spirit grieves God and drags Christian TV down to the level of scam artists.
3. Preachers—and their doctrines—should be more carefully screened. Christian networks should not air programs by ministers who have questionable morals. If we wouldn’t allow that person in our church’s pulpit, why would we let them preach in front of millions on the air?
4. Donors should never be manipulated. If there is an appeal for donations, there should be no hanky-panky allowed. Don’t tell people that if they give tonight, God will give them a house. Don’t promise that God will heal their bodies if they sow a “$1,000 seed.” And don’t tell viewers that if they give in this special “Day of Atonement offering,” God will forgive their sins. This is witchcraft! Shame on any broadcaster who has allowed this garbage to deceive audiences.
5. Money should never be misused. TBN makes millions in donations every year—and the network has donated some of the funds to charitable causes. But why is it that broadcasters like Paul and Jan Crouch had to purchase lavish homes, a private jet and an enormous trailer for their dogs? Donors should demand more accountability for financial contributions.
6. It should be relevant to today’s culture. Young Christians today care about justice, world poverty and community transformation. They also want teaching on relationships, sexuality and practical discipleship. Christian TV must move beyond the talking-head style of the 1980s. If we want to appeal to young viewers, the false eyelashes, pink fright wigs and “Granny hootenanny” music will have to go.
7. Network owners should not set up broadcasting kingdoms. Some leaders in the past generation believed that ministries are like dynasties—that God expects the founder’s son to run it when he dies. But there is nothing in Scripture that even hints at ministries being passed down through family lines. God entrusts His work to faithful people—and He expects us to manage ministries with integrity, humility and accountability. Many of the disasters we have seen in American televangelism occurred because men thought they could take ownership of the work of God.

My prayer for TBN—and every other Christian television network in this country—is that ministry leaders will take their hands off of God’s work and let Him use broadcast technology in new and creative ways to reach the world for Christ.


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7 Replies to “Time For Some Spring Cleaning In the Church”

  1. Wow! Thank you Bill for this timely article. This won’t go down well with a lot of Christians out there, but this needs to be said. Having worked in and on the fringes of Christian media for along time I’ve been ashamed at what goes on in the name of Christ. And TBN is not the only major Christian network with suspect programming and suspect operations. It really is no different than those temple merchants that Christ vigorously chastised & booted out.

    I love your list – I truly believe that if one is going to call it a Christian organisation then it should be run as a principally non-profit basis with a carefully selected board. Otherwise it should be simply called a business – and thus should be run on business principles, which does NOT include begging for donations. Nothing wrong with letting people know that there is a need for finances every so often and then relying on God to move people to provide, but truly, I question any ‘ministry’ that constantly has it’s hand out – God provides for his work and his people and the ministries I’ve seen that have changed their world have been on the backs of faith-fulled reliance on His divine provision, not on begging/prosperity messages. If there’s real fruit then good people everywhere will give into it without manipulation or coercion.

    Garth Penglase

  2. Bill, I heartily agree with everything written here, but I do have one question regarding one of your statements:
    “Some leaders in the past generation believed that ministries are like dynasties—that God expects the founder’s son to run it when he dies. But there is nothing in Scripture that even hints at ministries being passed down through family lines.”
    Are you just referring to the New Testament? Do the Levites not count as a dynastic lineage chosen for ministry? I agree that there is nothing like that now, but your statement seemed inclusive of all of Scripture and I just wanted to make sure that I understood you properly.

    Bonnie Oskvarek

  3. Thanks Bill,
    A few comments on Christian TV:
    1. Your Point 4 is well taken. It is in principle no different from John Tetzel and his indulgence hawking in 1517, as in his jingle,
    “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings,
    A soul freed from Purgatory springs”
    And just as the gullible then went in droves to buy these fraudulent pardons, so the gullible today buy these equally fraudulent prosperity plums!
    2. Relevance. One needs to be careful here. I remember the “relevance” cries in the 1960s and 1970s, when all it meant in the end was conformity to the world and making the world acceptable in the church. “Justice” and “world poverty” are all very well (and I for one am concerned about helping the poor and unfortunates, esp. in Third World countries, which I with my wife do through CBM, Water for Life, etc), but justice in Scripture is always connected with righteousness (e.g. Psalm 33:5), and the latter is measured against God’s revealed standards, but that is what our present world, and religious liberals too, will not have under any circumstances. What we have peddled so often in this type of context is “social justice” (whatever that is) – basically a Marxist concept – instead of Christ-based and Christ-centred compassion for those in need.
    3. Your Point 7 is again well taken. Indeed, it is not only Christian TV, but Christian organisations generally which suffer here. For example, Focus on the Family is currently going through difficulties in this respect, as son does not necessarily take after father. L’Abri Fellowship foundered after the death of Francis Schaeffer, when son Franky veered off into Eastern Orthodoxy with all its quite un- and even anti-evangelical stances. Paul had his Timothy, “his child in the faith” (1 Tim.1:2); John had his Polycarp; Alexander had his Athanasius, and so on: all children in the faith, but not blood relations.

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  4. Thanks Bonnie. Of course those seven points were Grady’s, not mine. But I would basically agree with him. It is one thing if God ordains a father-son succession, eg David and Solomon. But in much of the church today we tend to have rank nepotism.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. I`m asking my own church to be “Under New Management” and return to regarding The Scriptures to be the written authority of God and to drop the opinion preaching, freestyle singing that goes up to 2 hours, and condoning political correctness. Why churches feel they have to entertain and make everyone happy at the expense of Biblical teaching astounds me.

    Johannes Archer

  6. Thanks for your comments Bill, because they have posed some fundamental questions for me. Firstly,what should I be preaching about Jesus today and secondly, in what way/s do I tell the world about Him through the kind of life I lead? I shall be asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in this, just as He guided the apostles at Pentecost.

    John Ferwerda

  7. Rather than “rebooting” Christian TV, perhaps it would be better to just give it the “boot”!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

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