The Stage is Set

by on April 22nd, 2010

Maslow’s doctrine of “peak experience” as the way to evaluate truth was becoming as much a part of the church as it was the culture in general. The high walls of denominational separation which had served to protect fundamental doctrines of the faith weren’t taken down to a reasonable height where the various denominations could work together in a variety of areas but rather would be functionally obliterated with the advent of the “Renewal Movement” and knowing truth through the “peak experience” of, and “my story about” the “Holy Spirit” in 1960. Vinson Synan gives a brief history of the birth and growth of Pentecostalism and he outlines a three step process of which:

The final phase was the penetration of Pentecostalism into the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as “charismatic renewal” movements… 1

This phase proved to be enormously effective in its influence:

Strangely enough, these newer “waves” also originated largely in the United States. These included the Protestant “Neo-pentecostal” movement which began in 1960 in Van Nuys, California, under the ministry of Dennis Bennett, Rector of St. Marks Episcopal (Anglican) Church. Within a decade, this movement had spread to all the 150 major Protestant families of the world reaching a total of 55,000,000 people by 1990.2

It should also be noted that at an earlier time the Episcopalians had attempted to integrate psychology with their faith:

Shortly after the turn of the century there was a direct attempt to bring psychological principles together with Christianity. This was the Emmanuel Movement, which was started by Episcopalians. They were eclectic and drew from a variety of sources, including Freud, Janet and James. Their methodology seemed to vacillate between attempting to work directly through the subconscious and to appeal directly to the will through reasoned discourse.3

Our interest here is not really in the debate over whether or not the sign gifts are extant in the Church today nor that one denomination was necessarily better or worse or more responsible than any others. All believers share this history, for better or worse. There are many fine believers on both sides of the issue of the continuation of the sign gifts but that discussion doesn’t really deal with the core issues of the faith. Rather, this topic falls in to, like so many other issues, important but secondary doctrines of the faith. What we might call the mechanics of the faith (how God does something) versus the essentials of the faith (deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the physical resurrection, etc). The big question we are asking is, was this an outpouring of the Holy Spirit or simply Maslow’s “self actualization” and a resultant spiritual emotionalism? The widespread acceptance of the “charismatic renewal” brought with it something that no one really anticipated which had both positive and negative aspects of influence in the Church.

On the positive end a new sense of unity came about as believers crossed denominational lines to fellowship with one another. They would pray together and jointly share the experience of the Holy Spirit. The desire on the lay level to share the gospel and see new believers get involved in churches, regardless of denominational affiliation seemed to be fostered. Being “doctrinaire” (elevating denominational positions over a relationship with God and other body members) began to fall in disrepute. The progressive slide away from sound teaching and toward determining truth by one’s feelings would further prepare the way for the age of church fads, of which there would be many.

1960 also saw the advent of Christian television. Christian media began to establish itself though organizations such as CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network):

Forty years ago, one could have reasonably suggested that Pat Robertson was stretching his imagination when he named his broadcasting organization, located in a defunct Portsmouth, Virginia, TV station, The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Not only was CBN the first Christian television station in Virginia, it was also the first in the nation. Forty years later, no one can dispute that CBN is one of the largest television ministries in the world. Moreover, with its many subsidiary and affiliate organizations, CBN goes beyond the bounds of broadcasting in its mission to reach the world with a message of hope from the Bible.

The story of CBN’s birth and early years is documented in Pat Robertson’s autobiography, Shout It From The Housetops. Founded on January 11, 1960, CBN first went on the air on October 1, 1961, on WYAH-TV (from Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God), a UHF television station with barely enough power to reach across the Portsmouth city limits. With a modest income from a few local supporters, CBN began broadcasting live half-hour programs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every night. Gradually, the broadcast day was expanded to 5:00 p.m. to midnight. Because Robertson refused to accept commercial advertisements, paying for programming was out of the question. A few free travelogue films were used to fill in the blank spots.

In the fall of 1963, CBN conducted its first telethon to raise the $7,000 per month needed for the following year’s budget. Robertson told viewers that a “club” of 700 contributors, each giving $10 a month, would enable CBN to meet its expenses. As guests appeared to sing and share their religious experiences, Robertson invited the audience to pray for the 700 supporters who would help keep CBN going. Though its financial struggles continued, CBN had taken an important step in building community support for the ministry.

A year later, the “700 Club” telethon was an important turning point for CBN. This telethon generated more contributions than the previous year’s but not enough to meet CBN’s growing budget. Then, in the final minutes of the broadcast, a remarkable outpouring of spiritual revival began to sweep through the viewing audience. Throughout the next several days, callers flooded CBN with prayer requests and pledges of financial support to CBN. A year later, Robertson added a program to the end of his station’s broadcast day that followed the telethon format¾ prayer and ministry coupled with telephone response. He named it The 700 Club, hoping to build on the audience that had become familiar with CBN’s telethons. The program’s audience grew as other stations began carrying the show.

Today CBN is a multifaceted nonprofit organization that provides programming by cable, broadcast and satellite to approximately 180 countries, with a 24-hour telephone prayer line. Chief among CBN’s broadcasting components is The 700 Club, a daily television program featuring Pat Robertson, Terry Meeuswen, Lisa Ryan, Gordon Robertson, Kristi Watts and news anchor Lee Webb. On the air continuously since 1966, The 700 Club is one of the longest-running programs in broadcast history. Seen in 96% of the television markets across the United States, the show’s news/magazine format presents a lively mix of information, interviews, and inspiration to an average daily audience of one million viewers 4

Others, such as the late Kenneth Hagin, began radio ministries in the 1960s. About 12 years after the founding of CBN, TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) was born:

TBN began with a dream. A vision. To build a Christian television network that spans the whole world. From a humble beginning in 1973, the dream grew. And grew. And grew. More and more people caught the vision of TBN’s founders; Paul and Jan Crouch.
TBN is now the world’s largest Christian television network. Across America and around the world TBN is carried by TV stations and cable systems to millions of homes. As a matter of fact, TBN is seen on over 3171 television stations, 21 satellites, the Internet and thousands of cable systems around the world. And the number continues to grow! 5

Christian publishing and Christian bookstores gained a new momentum with a wider potential customer base which has turned into a “$4.3 billion retailing market.”6

In writing about televangelism, Quentin J. Schultze observes a correlation between the use and growth of television by Pentecostal and charismatics and the growth of Charismatic practice and its displacement of doctrine:

Christianity Today magazine commissioned a Gallup Poll in 1979 to determine how many charismatics and Pentecostals there were in the country. The magazine found that 19 percent of all American adults considered themselves to be Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians – an almost unbelievable figure. Moreover, the charismatic movement stretched across the spectrum of organized American Christianity, from Roman Catholic (18% charismatic) to Baptist (20%) to Methodist (18%) and to Lutherans (20%). However, only a small fraction (17%) of those who called themselves Pentecostal-charismatic actually spoke in tongues. In other words, the rapidly growing charismatic movement of the 1970s and 1980s was distinguished more by its style of religious expression than by its beliefs or doctrines, more by how it worshiped than whom or why it worshiped.7

With the growth of these Christian media markets, discernment and critical thinking continued shrinking in deference to experience.

In all its dimensions the charismatic movement seeks to turn loose the personality of the believer and the personality of God in the act of worship. In other words, this expression of faith has never been based primarily on traditional practices, scriptural interpretation, preaching or the sacraments. It was always centered on personal experience, with the song leader or pastor establishing the direction of the experience.8

The Christian public had been persuaded to believe that if something was on a Christian television station, Christian radio station, spoken by an all knowing televangelist or printed by a Christian publishing house and in a Christian bookstore; it was and remains to be regarded as Christian with a capital “C.” Unfortunately, it isn’t so. In fact, there are many Pentecostal and charismatic pastors and leaders who are as concerned as non-charismatics about the false doctrines and false teachers which populate the television and radio airwaves as well as publishing houses and bookstores. They just do not have as large and visible a platform. Their attempt as well as that of apologists to bring experience to conform to Scripture within the Body of Christ finds their message is falling on deaf ears for the most part.

1 Vinson Synan, PhD., “The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement,” The Holy Spirit Research Center, January 4, 2002, p. 12; http://www.oru.edu/university/library/holyspirit/pentorg1.html
2 ibid, p 13
3 Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Against “Biblical Counseling” For the Bible, EastGate Publishers, (Santa Barbara, CA; 1994) 40
4 http://cbn.org/about/
5 http://www.tbn.org/about/tbnstory/index.htm
6 http://www.familychristian.com/corporate/
7 Quentin J. Schultze, Televangelism and American Culture, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1991, 81
8 ibid, 82

3 responses to “The Stage is Set ”

  1. cgopher says:

    An interesting and insightful article! This would make a good series of articles in itself. As someone who has been in the charismatic/pentecostal movement for a number of years, I have seen the appalling lack of concern for biblical doctrine, and its effects on people and churches. Many times when you speak up on these issues, people think you’re anti-healing, anti-spiritual gifts, etc. We’re not–were pro-Bible!

  2. paul says:

    Thanks for your blog :)

  3. Bill says:

    Well said. I spent three years working within a large, charismatic ministry and it was disheartening how so many people there are all a-twitter about the “end times revival” but scoff at (or are ignorant of) the end times *apostasy* that I believe we see fulfilling scripture right before our very eyes.

    If the delusion is strong enough to deceive the very elect, it is certainly strong enough to deceive somebody whose knowledge of the things of the Lord is based on an Elijah List newsletter or a Benny Hinn telecast.

    More to the point, it is strong enough to deceive *me* if I do not put on the full armor of God. This is the sobering splash of water every believer needs to admit to himself.

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