Time For Some Spring Cleaning In the Church


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

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 springcletoday 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: www.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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