Recently, my New Jersey-based family took a trip to North Carolina for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday. We flew into Charlotte, rented a car, and traveled about an hour and a half west to our destination. My son, having visited Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina several months prior while visiting colleges, wanted to play our favorite highway game in the South – “count the Jesus signs.” The rules are simple: merely spot an overtly Christian billboard or other sign not part of a church campus.
We saw several more signs our first evening of driving, including a series of white wooden crosses with a different message on either side and elaborately floodlit so that they were visible at night. Apparently, these crosses are the work of Henry “Hank” Vegter, a Saluda, NC based Baptist pastor.
Here are some of the messages:
Jesus Paid It All
Blood Secured Redemption
Jesus Saves From Sin
Jesus Died For Sinners
Jesus’ Incorruptible Blood
My family thought it was funny when I told them that “Jesus Paid It All” is a common hymn, and I sang it for them. As my husband and kids have rarely ever attended an evangelical church service, they are always amazed at my wealth of knowledge regarding hymns, evangelical Christian messages and doctrines, and those doctrines’ implications for current politics.
My son was excited to spot the small yellow “Thank You Jesus” sign in a yard, as he recalled seeing dozens of them in North Carolina several months ago. One morning, we counted a dozen of these signs within a 30-minute time period. These signs were the brainchild of a North Carolina teen who wanted to spread the gospel. (Please see Thank You Jesus Signs.) These signs may be purchased to fund the 503(c)3 organization whose mission is to spread the gospel. In addition to the signs, one may purchase magnets, bracelets, and garden flags.
At the end of our trip, on our drive back to the airport in Charlotte, we saw more Christian signs. One from Gospel Billboards spurred a discussion. “The Bible: Wisdom, Correction, Truth” was the message, and I pointed out that the creators of the billboard probably wanted to say “Discipline” instead of “Correction” but most likely realized that “Discipline” might be off-putting to potential converts. I asked my husband and completely nonreligious kids what they thought when they saw that sign, and their reactions included ambivalence and rejection. We saw two billboards listing John 3:16 in full, but because the verse is so long and the font was difficult to read, my son had trouble catching the whole message, thus negating the purpose of the advertisement. Fortunately for all involved, my years of early childhood indoctrination ensured that I was able to recite the verse in its entirety.
At the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, we saw several signs that encouraged people to visit the Billy Graham Library. My daughter asked, “Who is Billy Graham, and why should I visit his library?” I explained that Billy Graham was a Christian evangelist who spent decades touring the world spreading the message of Christianity. My husband mentioned that Billy Graham was fairly free from scandal, unlike Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and a host of other evangelists who quite publicly used their ministries for personal gain. My kids were fairly unimpressed.
If my mother or grandparents were still alive, they would be horrified that my kids know very little of Evangelical Christianity or its vaunted icon Billy Graham. My mom was “saved” at a Billy Graham crusade in Nashville in the mid-1950s. My grandmother rarely watched television, but she ALWAYS watched the televised Billy Graham crusades. I have a very vague recollection of attending a Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville in the 1970s, as a group from our church rode our church bus to the downtown Municipal Auditorium for the grand event. I wasn’t “saved” there as I resisted “going down front” for altar calls as long as I was able to avoid doing so.
Whenever I visit the South, I am reminded of the familiarity of Evangelical culture but am very much put off by it. My kids find the culture curious, and we are all bothered by the “Blue Laws” that affect us as malls and stores aren’t open until after church hours. And that was another question from my kids – how long does church last on Sunday? My response was that it depends. The truly devout attend hour-long Sunday School, followed by a worship service, and some churches have a coffee hour or some other “fellowship” after the service. They were both glad that they were not required to attend church services, and instead able to enjoy other activities.
Do you live in an area where there are a lot of religious road-side signs? Do you live in an area with blue laws? Are you nonreligious or casually religious but living in a religiously saturated area?
During much of the 1970s, Evangelical crusades were all the rage. As a young teenager, I attended crusades conducted by Billy Graham, Bill Glass, Jack Van Impe (twice), and Bob Harrington. In the early 1970s, Jack Van Impe came to Findlay, Ohio, for a crusade held at Findlay High School. Thousands of people flocked to hear The Walking Bible preach on the soon-return of Jesus Christ. Van Impe even went so far as to predict that the Russian flag would be flying over the U.S. Capitol by 1976. He was right about the Russian flag flying over the White House. He just missed the date by forty years. Van Impe was/is what I call a newspaper preacher. He looked at the headlines and crafted his sermons to correspond with them. According to the Bible, false prophets are to be stoned to death. If that be the case, Van Impe would have died long before his wife Rexella had her first facial plastic surgery procedure. Van Impe has made countless predictions (prophecies) that have spectacularly failed to materialize. That said, as a recently saved, called-of-God preacher boy, I found Van Impe’s preaching thrilling and motivational, a call to win more souls for Christ before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords returned to earth.
When it came to pure entertainment, however, no evangelist could match the wit, humor, and oratory of the smooth-talking Chaplain of Bourbon, Bob Harrington. I was able to locate a quality recording of Harrington on YouTube. The following sermon was preached in 1966 at Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the time, Landmark, pastored by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher John Rawlings, and was one of the largest churches in the country. Harrington, a Southern Baptist, frequently preached at large IFB churches, including Jerry Falwell’s church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.
I owned many of Harrington’s recorded sermon albums. I played them over and over and over again. I loved how he effortlessly mixed humor into sermons. My favorite Harrington quote comes from a sermon of his on the second coming of Jesus. Harrington said, I’m not looking for the undertaker, I’m looking for the upper-taker. I remember telling my youth director, Bruce Turner, at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, about my fondness for Harrington. Bruce tried to steer me away from Harrington, warning that his kind of preaching wasn’t Biblical and that Harrington was a fad that would soon pass away. If you listened to the recording above, you know that Harrington played loose with the “facts” of his life. For Harrington, preaching was all about telling a good story, even if he exaggerated or fibbed a bit. During college, I remember Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, saying during a sermon, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.” Malone was joking, but after preaching thousands of sermons and listening to hundreds more, I have concluded that Malone was right; that preaching is often an admixture of truth and exaggeration, especially when it comes to sermon illustrations. I remember reading that David Foster Wallace, when questioned about his penchant for exaggeration, said that as long as the basic facts were correct there was no harm in exaggerating a bit to tell a better story. Remember that the next time you hear a preacher use this or that sermon illustration, and if you’re thinking, this story seems to be exaggerated or too good to be true — it probably is. (Another big-name preacher who loved to tell fanciful, exaggerated illustrations was Jack Hyles.)
In the 1960s, Harrington moved to New Orleans to start a street ministry. Armed with a Bible and a microphone, Harrington preached at people as they passed by. According to the Baptist Standard, after several months of street preaching:
….deacons at First Baptist Church in New Orleans loaned him enough money for a few months’ rent to open a chapel on Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter. Harrington began witnessing and preaching in the bars and strip clubs of Bourbon Street.
In 1962, Mayor Victor Schiro proclaimed him “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”
Harrington’s street ministry message was bold and simple: “God loves you just as you are. He knows you are a sinner and wants to save you. Don’t figure it out. Faith it out!”
In 1968, he held a revival at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio. During the revival, the owners of a burlesque club attended an evening service and became Christians. Guy and Evelyn Linton immediately closed the club and posted a sign: “Closed forever. See you in church.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Harrington was one of the most popular preachers in America. People thronged to his crusades. As a young teenager, I heard Harrington at a crusade in Pontiac, Michigan. I can still remember the excitement that filled the football stadium. Every seat was occupied, and come invitation time, scores of people came forward to be saved. It seemed to me, as a young teenager, that God was pouring out his spirit on Harrington and using him to saved thousands of people. In the late 70s, Harrington traveled the country with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, holding meetings that were purportedly a debate between an atheist and a Christian about the existence of God. What it turned into was a much-rehearsed circus sideshow that made a lot of money for both Harrington and O’Hair. Harrington said of the atheist, “Yes, many may say Madalyn knows the Scriptures better than I do, but I know the author.”
Here’s a low-quality video of Harrington’s and O’Hair’s appearance on the Phil Donahue Show:
Much as my youth pastor predicted, Harrington proved to be a fad. In the late 1970s Harrington spectacularly crashed and burned, admitting he had committed adultery. He later said, “the devil threw me a pass, and I caught it and ran for defeat.” Harrington would divorce his first and second wives, marrying three times. In a 2000 SBC Life article, Harrington describes his moral failures this way:
Three things got me: fame, finance, and frolic. I was going strong with my little radio program there. Then after the mayor named me Chaplain of Bourbon Street the Governor of Louisiana named me Ambassador of Goodwill to America.
Early on I had trouble paying $500 a week rent for the office on Bourbon Street. But the next thing you know, $500 a week income was changing into $5,000 a week. The “kingdom of thing-dom” started getting more of my attention than the Kingdom of God. I was on nationwide television in four hundred and seventy cities. Everything was going good. Then, Phil Donahue had me on his pilot show. The other guest that day was Madeline O’Hare. That show took Donahue into nationwide syndication. He had us back eighteen times after that. She became a springboard toward my own national recognition, but also a witnessing tool for the Lord. Once people saw the condition of an atheist they wanted to become believers.
I challenged her to meet me in different cities. There were thirty-eight different cities where we would meet in the civic auditorium or the municipal auditorium, and have confrontations on the stage. It became quite popular. We were on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.
I had fame, but when you get famous you start thinking, “Look at what I’m doing.” After I got saved, I grew too fast — I didn’t have a good, stable foundation. It’s nobody’s fault but mine, but when you get invitations to come give your testimony, you start adding more dates to it. I had to drop out of seminary because I was preaching two revivals a month. I was so caught up in being an evangelist. Money gets to flowing and you find yourself riding in a big customized bus, you find yourself flying in a Lear jet, and you find your staff members picking up your briefcases. Unless you’ve got a solid base, you can really fall into this. I started believing all my cockiness and all my press releases — and that precedes the fall.
Fame did that. And finance — you get money in your hand, and you’re the president and the treasurer. Signatures are pretty easy to come by. The folks were just giving and giving.
Frolic — after a while you got those Bathsheba’s, [sic] Delilah’s, [sic] and Jezebel’s [sic] out there in the church world – not the Bourbon Street world — that kind of temptation didn’t bother me because I knew they were notoriously wicked. But these were sweet, little ol’ church members. They start telling you how nice and neat you are, and how big and strong you are. Your wife isn’t telling you that any more because she knows what you’re turning into.
All those things — fame, finance, and frolic — led me to catch a pass that Satan threw at the peak of my success. And that pass — I caught that sucker, and ran for defeat. When you break that pass down, P. A. S. S., it’s pride, arrogance, self-centeredness, and stubbornness. That stole my first love away from me, and that’s when I fell.
After his “fall,” Harrington was out of the ministry for seventeen years. He credits Cathedral of Tomorrow pastor Rex Humbard for encouraging him to re-enter the ministry. During his time away from the Lord, Harrington was a salesman and a motivational speaker. Harrington was a once-saved, always-saved Baptist. This meant, regardless of what Harrington did during his time away from Jesus, he was still a born-again Christian.
After having served God for many years as Chaplain of Bourbon Street, I began to leave my “First Love” for the Lord. Fame, fortune and frolic got me off the track. I had been on all the major talk shows such as Donahue and Oprah, as well as having my own syndicated TV show across the country. Money got to be no object as the dollars flowed in, and the making of money began to be my focus. I began listening to the young women who bragged on how good I was and looked, and became addicted to their ego boosts. I finally left preaching altogether and went strictly into very successful years as a motivational speaker–finally leaving God completely out of my life. I was miserable; living (existing) on fun and thrills. Little happiness, no joy.
One night while in Los Angeles, CA, I was considering jumping out of a window, when the phone rang and my friend Rex Humbard asked me, “Bro. Bob, aren’t you ready to come back?” I cried, “Yes, I’m so ready!” He then lead [sic] me in reading the 51st Psalm and praying David’s prayer of restoration. Suddenly the burden of guilt was lifted and I knew that God had other plans for my life. These years since then have been a growing and rebuilding time for me, and I’m thrilled to say: “I’m back and It’s Still Fun Being Saved!”
December of 1998 was a particularly wonderful time in my life when God gave to my life a wonderful lady named Becky. We had been acquaintances for nearly 30 years, but when we found each other in August of 1997 after many years, we were both excited as God seemed to draw us together. We were married on December 5, 1998 at the Grand Palace in Branson, MO. Now we headquarter on her miniature horse ranch just south of Ft. Worth, TX, from which we continue to travel across the country doing what God called me to do in 1958…preach the Word.
Harrington died on July 4, 2017. He was eighty-nine years old. He, indeed, had fun being saved.
Did you ever attend a crusade back in the day? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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[Billy Graham] is a hundred percent devoted. The Lord sees his heart, gives him a tremendous ministry, and who do you think is sitting in the background going, ‘I have to do something about this, this guy is sold out, I have to do something’? Who do you think is sitting in the background doing that? The devil, right?
So, in 1942, that is when Billy Graham’s ministry really takes off, and who do you think was born in 1942? Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking comes from a long line of atheists—his father and all these people—so I believe the devil said, ‘OK, this guy was just born and I’m going to use this guy. This guy is already primed to accept my message that there is no God. He is already primed for it, he is going to be awash, immersed in atheism all his years as a child, I’m going to take over this guy’s life.
I believe Stephen Hawking was kept alive by demonic forces. I believe that it was the demonic realm that kept this man alive as a virtual vegetable his entire life just so he could spread this message that there is no God.
Many people have noticed the worst they’ve ever been treated is by people who claim to love the Lord. These same people notice that those who profess to be atheists appear to be much kinder than Christians.
The Bible says the world shall know us by our fruit, but what happens when that fruit isn’t blooming?
One reader had a similar question for evangelist Billy Graham.
The reader asks: “The kindest person I know is my atheist friend who has no use for God. On the other hand, some of the most difficult and unpleasant people I know say they are Christians. How do you explain this?”
Wise as always, Graham answered:
Not every Christian is like this, of course—but admittedly some are, although they shouldn’t be. And not every atheist is like this either, of course—but some are, and in a world that’s often cruel and thoughtless, we ought to be thankful for every act of kindness.
Why is your atheist friend like this? By God’s grace, some people simply have been blessed with a sunny and kind personality, or they had parents who taught them to be kind. Perhaps this was her situation. But I do know this: Your friend isn’t this way because of her atheism, but in spite of it. A person who doesn’t believe in God has little reason to behave sacrificially toward others (although it may make them feel good inside if they are kind).
I also know this: If your friend ever opens her heart and life to Jesus Christ, she’ll become an even kinder and more loving person than she is right now. God will come to live within her by His Holy Spirit, and her life will begin to change. The Bible says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, meekness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Don’t let the bad example of a few weak Christians keep you from Christ. Instead, by faith commit your life to Jesus Christ and ask Him to change you into the person He wants you to be. Then pray for your friend, and ask God to make you an example to her of Christ’s life-changing power and love.
This is the one hundred and nineteenth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip produced by one Baptist (Peter Lumpkins) showing that two other Baptists (J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps) are one and the same when it comes to judging the salvation of others. Phelps says Baptist Billy Graham is headed for hell and Hall says Baptist Ergun Caner will soon split hell wide open too. Or just another day among the Baptists. Everyone knows Fred Phelps, the deceased leader of the Westboro Baptist Church cult. J.D. Hall? Hall, a Calvinistic wanker, pastors Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana and blogs at Pulpit & Pen.
Lumpkins, Hall, Phelps, Caner, and Graham all have one thing in common: they emphatically believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.
Note: Without ever mentioning Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, these Evangelical leaders use the culture war dog whistle to let Evangelicals know that Hillary Clinton must be defeated.
One vision includes a nation where free speech and religious liberty are constitutionally protected, bedrock principles. The other continues along a path where such principles are quickly jettisoned with the latest turn of the sexual revolution.
One vision aspires, as a first priority, to use our nation’s military as a fighting force to keep America and the world safe from bad actors. The other would continue using the armed forces as a social experimentation lab, where the LGBT agenda takes precedence over troop readiness and morale, and where placing women in ground combat roles supersedes obvious gender differences.
One vision would seek to build a federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, that interprets the Constitution as an enduring document for the nation, with timeless guiding principles for civil government. The other would appoint liberal-progressive judges to federal courts who believe the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” that bends with the times and with evolving moral standards.
America is not going to cease to exist as the land mass that it is. What is at stake is the republic as we know it, freedoms that we have enjoyed.
It’s been open [assault on religious freedom] It’s been frontal. It’s been unrelenting … The weight of the government is being used to quarantine faith within the four walls of the church, and that is not religious freedom.
It is the church— armed with the Gospel—that can fix hearts. It is the Gospel that transforms lives. It is the church through the witness of the Holy Spirit that can preserve a culture. But without the space to do that openly in public, it’s difficult. And elections in our country determine that.
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, Two Visions. Two Americas.
The sexual revolution weakened the exclusivity and commitment required for lifelong marriage. Spiritual apathy and apostasy have also been major contributors. America no longer lives by an eternal moral code given to us by the Word of God.”
Also, the radical feminist movement, based on hostility toward men, weakened the marital bond. Related to it was, and is, the legalization of abortion through nine months of pregnancy. Raising children is what this ancient institution is all about. And, finally, the judiciary has created politically correct interpretations of the law that are destroying the traditional family unit. Uppermost among them is same-sex ‘marriage’—imposed by five members of the Supreme Court on 50 million people who voted against it.
James Dobson, former President of Focus on the Family, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, Two Visions. Two Americas.
We live in a time when we have gone from living in a post-Christian nation to living in an anti-Christian nation. That is completely contrary to the founding principles of our country.
Penny Nance, Concerned Women of America, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, Two Visions. Two Americas.
We are sacrificing our children, nearly 60 million now, on the modern-day equivalent of the altar of Molech, which God called detestable on more than one occasion. We are mainstreaming same-sex marriage, transgender toilets. It just seems that the sewer cover has been removed and everything is now up in the streets.
Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, Two Visions. Two Americas.
The next president will select between two and four justices who will reign over the cultural issues of our nation for the next 30 years. The average Supreme Court judge serves 26 years. In the next 30 years, what happens in this election is going to have an incredible impact on my children and grandchildren. And the impact will be most likely felt more because of what happens in the Supreme Court than anything else that happens in the government.
David Jeremiah, pastor, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, Two Visions. Two Americas.
In just 10 weeks, our nation will select a man or woman who will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Whomever we elect will take the helm of a nation that has grown increasingly hostile and intolerant of the very foundation and principles upon which it was so nobly founded—the Christian faith and Biblical values.
That’s why I believe this election is the most significant since Abraham Lincoln was chosen to guide a divided country through a bloody and protracted civil war.
For if the forces of evil that are allied against the free exercise of our faith succeed—and they have done severe damage already—then I have no doubt that the nation we love will devolve into moral anarchy more quickly than we can imagine. …. Same-sex marriage zealots have launched an all-out war on traditional marriage, which is defined in Scripture—and virtually every civilization in history—as a union between one man and one woman. Human sexuality itself is being completely redefined by elite sexual revolutionaries who seek to impose their warped views on society, resulting in fierce battles over such things as transgender bathrooms—supported by none other than the president himself.
The same anti-Christian forces are seeking to strip funding from Christian colleges to keep them from educating students with a Biblical worldview. Business owners across the nation have been forced to close their doors because they refused to participate in same-sex ceremonies due to their religious faith.
The skirmishes over moral standards have turned into pitched battles over the last decade and now have become an all-out war on religious liberty. Think of the moral degeneration that has transpired under our current president, who has helped lead the fight to promote ungodly sexual behavior while failing to protect basic religious liberties.
What if that depraved trajectory continues over the next few decades? Can you imagine what our great nation, whose foundation was laid by a moral and religious people, will look like? The next president will appoint several Supreme Court justices (three of the current eight are 77 or older), so this election will profoundly affect generations to come.
That’s why this fall we must take pains to examine where the candidates for our nation’s highest elected office stand on the critical issues that face our troubled nation.
Will they do everything they can to protect the life of the unborn child? Will they fight for the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the Constitution? Will they fully support the rights of men and women of faith to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs?
Will they defend our nation against Islamic terrorists who have slaughtered and killed innocents across our country in the name of their god? Will they call the enemy—radical Islam—by its name? Will they work to strengthen our military so the United States of America can continue to be the dependable guardian of the free world?
Will they defend the Biblical sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman, and do all they can to protect the family unit? Will they continue to lead us down the road of irresponsible socialism, where the Biblical injunction for hard, honest work is ignored? Or will we embrace a resurgence of vigorous entrepreneurship and industry that has been a hallmark of our nation since its founding?
Will they appoint judges to the Supreme Court and federal courts who respect and uphold the safeguards of the U.S. Constitution? Judges who refuse to interpret the law based on decadent ideology and liberal political agendas that are directly opposed to the fundamental tenets of religious freedom? Franklin Graham, Editor in Chief, September 2016, Decision: The Evangelical Voice of Today, The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime
When major disasters and tragedies occur, it is not uncommon for Franklin Graham’s Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams to be dispatched to the scene. While these teams certainly do a great job helping with the temporal needs of those who are suffering, make no mistake about it, their goal is to preach the Evangelical gospel, evangelize, and save lost sinners.
I view Franklin Graham’s Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams in the same light as I do Adolph Hitler and his love for dogs. Yes, Hitler loved dogs. Yea, Hitler! But, he also was a murderous psychopath who systematically killed six million Jews, gypsies, and others deemed inferior. So then, Hitler’s love of dogs doesn’t negate his genocidal behavior.
Yes, Franklin Graham’s Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams do — in very small ways — provide help to people who are affected by disasters and tragedies. But, these teams are operated by Franklin Graham, a man noted for his racist, homophobic bigotry. Their primary goal is evangelization, not meeting the needs of those who are hurting and suffering.
From the ashes of 9/11, the Rapid Response Team ministry was developed to share Christ in the midst of crisis and disasters. BGEA currently has chaplains in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. These volunteer chaplains are carefully selected and trained to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ and appropriately share God’s hope through the One who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
The suffering and heartache of others is just a means to an end — the salvation of sinners.
Yesterday, I received a fundraising letter from The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Our country is hurting. We’re in trouble racially, economically, politically, and spiritually—and day after day the news across our nation reminds us of that.
Dallas, Texas, recently endured the deadliest day for law enforcement officers in America since 9/11—a sniper ambushed and shot 12 police officers. Five of them died. The killings came soon after two widely publicized shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Protests—sometimes violent—erupted across the country.
These are just examples of how broken our nation and society have become. Government cannot fix this. Elections will not solve this. Our only hope is God, who changes hearts and nations. Pray for America.
A group of crisis-trained chaplains from our Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT), selected for this deployment because of their law enforcement backgrounds, headed to Dallas the morning after the attack to offer support, comfort, and emotional and spiritual care to people affected by the tragedy.
Only weeks before that, a chaplain team went to Orlando when the city suffered the most devastating terrorist-attack on American soil since 9/11. A Muslim gunman began shooting inside a gay nightclub during the early hours of a Sunday morning, massacring 49 people and injuring 53 more. He himself called 911 during the killings to proclaim his allegiance to ISIS.
Experienced Billy Graham chaplains (right) arrived there within hours and immediately started one-on-one ministry to family members, first responders, and others in the stunned community—listening, comforting, and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NKJV), and over a period of two weeks, 40 of our chaplains participated in caring for hurting hearts in Orlando, encouraging and praying individually with more than 1,600 people affected by this huge tragedy.
A young man who personally knew some of the victims came with his family to a memorial site. His distress over the shooting had caused him to think more carefully about God, and he engaged two of our chaplains with questions about sin and forgiveness and about faith. The chaplains used Scripture to help answer the questions, explaining what God’s Son did for him on the cross and how he could be confident of forgiveness and eternal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The young man then asked eagerly if he, his family, and the chaplains could gather next to the memorial and pray together. In his own words, he repented of sin, thanked God for loving him personally, and committed to live his life in faith with Jesus as his Savior.
During the deployment, the governor of Florida and the FBI agent in charge of the investigation each stopped to thank our Billy Graham chaplains for being there. Another FBI agent, a believer, came by our mobile ministry center and asked if he could pray for the chaplain team.
One day members of the team noticed a man at a memorial site who was taking deep breaths as if to calm himself. They quietly prayed for him before walking over to ask, “How are you holding up?” He immediately began to weep, saying how thankful he was that someone cared enough to ask. He was a professional photographer on assignment from a prominent media outlet, and the images of tragedy he was capturing had started to overwhelm him. Chaplains spent time with him, listening and encouraging. One of them asked if he would like to know how to find peace in his heart. He replied that he was a secular humanist and not interested in matters of faith.
Nevertheless, for the next 20 minutes he poured out questions about the Bible, church, God, and especially why the chaplains would so willingly invest themselves in other people’s troubles. The chaplains had the opportunity to share the Gospel clearly. The young man readily accepted prayer for himself and his family but was not ready to make a decision. Pray for him and the many others in Orlando who received comfort and heard the Good News, and ask God to nurture the seeds that were planted.
I wonder if the “sinners” mentioned in this letter knew that they were going to be used for fundraising purposes?
Franklin Graham’s Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams are human vultures who swoop down whenever there are major disasters or tragedies. While they might hand out bottled water, coffee, and food, their primary objective is to pick clean the carcasses of hurting people. Instead of offering hope, compassion, and kindness, they offer the bastardized Evangelical version of these things, one that has as its ultimate goal the salvation of sinners. This is, by the way, the modus operandi of most Evangelical “ministries.” Disasters and tragedies are just the means to an end — the evangelization of non-Christians.
Suppose a mother has a toddler who wants to play in the street. She know her son could be hit by a car if he does, but she wants to teach him a lesson, so she allow him to play in the street. Pretty soon a car comes down the street, hits her son, and he dies. Is she to blame for his death? After all, he is the one who wanted to play in the street. She just allowed/permitted him to do so. Yes, she could have stopped him, but she thought it important that he learn a lesson, so she let him have his way.
Does anyone think this mother is a good mother? Does anyone think, if this woman has any more children, that they should be removed from the home? Some Evangelicals think their God is just like this mother. According to fundamentalist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, because the United States turned its back on God, God is allowing terrorists to attack the U.S. Here’s what Lotz had to say on Jan Markell’s Understanding The Times radio program. (you can listen to broadcast here):
In the days of Noah, they were eating, drinking, getting married. There is nothing wrong with any of that. All of those are normal everyday activities. But in Noah’s day they did it all apart from God,” There was no acknowledgment of God. God was irrelevant to them. … I think that is where we are today.”
“I look at some of the things that we get preoccupied with, whether it’s an entertainer or whose baby they are having, or on the red carpet, or footballs being deflated by a quarterback. We zero in on those things and talk about them and we have no idea that we are on the edge of the whole world collapsing around us.That is the strongest similarity of the days of Noah and our day.”
“Today, we are consumed by superficial things. Some of the areas of the world they are not. If you go to Syria or Iraq, those Christians over there, I will guarantee you, are very focused. In America, we are just neglecting God and ignoring Him. I just saw a piece about the rise of atheism, people walking away from the church. In fact, the Christian church is declining, according to Pew Research.”
“That is why God sends us wake-up calls. That’s why he allows the terrorists to strike or a tornado to rip through our city, because for whatever reason, we don’t seem to give Him our attention until we are desperate. If we don’t give Him our attention, then He is going to allow things to happen to make us more and more desperate until we do cry out.“…
…”We share the gospel because people whom we lead to Christ right now, it’s almost like we save them twice,” she said. “We save them from an earthly hell that is coming during the tribulation period, which I think we are very close to, and we save them from eternal hell, which is when you step into eternity. The second death is the worst of all when you are separated from God forever.”
9-11? Shooting in Charleston? Terrorist attack in Chattanooga? Tornadoes? Earthquakes? Tsunamis? All warnings from God. In Lotz’s Bible-saturated mind, since 2008 when the great usurper, Barack Obama, took office, there has been an unprecedented rise in sin and disobedience. Since we live in the Last Days®, it should come as no surprise that God is allowing all these things to happen. He is trying to get our attention. Time is short, repent and turn to Lotz’s God for salvation. Like the mother above, God is simply allowing these things to take place to teach us a lesson. And like the mother who is rightly held accountable for her son being killed, God also must be held accountable for what he allows.
Evangelicals, especially of the Calvinistic variety, think it is their duty to defend God’s honor. They rightly understand that saying God CAUSED these events makes God look bad, so they try to defend the Big Man’s honor by saying he passively allowed these things to happen; he didn’t cause them. Wait a minute. Isn’t God the first cause of EVERYTHING? With causality comes responsibility and culpability. Either God is in control of everything or he is not. If he’s not, then it is safe to conclude that this God is no God at all.
I could have taken another approach with this post. Lotz wrote that “In America, we are just neglecting God and ignoring Him.” I could have wrote about the petulant, infantile God who maims and murders innocents so Americans will pay attention to him. This God, the Evangelical God, he’s just a bad dude all the way around. Perhaps it is time to lock him up and throw away the key.
Do you need to be saved? Step out from where you are and come kneel at the altar. Cry out to God. He will save you. Don’t delay. Behold, NOW is the accepted time and NOW is the day of salvation.
Do you need to get right with God? Don’t delay. Don’t wait to another day. Step out from where you are and come kneel at an old-fashioned altar and do business with God.
Whatever it is God wants you to do, do it today.
As we sing the first verse of Just As I Am, you come. Don’t wait. You don’t have the promise of tomorrow.
Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I gave countless public invitations like the one above. The emphasis might have differed from week to week, but the focus was always on NOW, doing what God wants you to do NOW.
Sometimes I would tell a poignant illustration that I hoped would drive home the importance of making a decision. My philosophy was clear:
There is a God
The Bible is truth
God hates sin
Salvation is through the merit and work of Jesus Christ
There is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain
No one has the promise of tomorrow
Death is certain
Decisions affecting our eternal destiny should never be put off
The invitation was the point in the service where I (God) brought everything together. It was the climax, the point where God showed his mighty power by saving sinners and calling backsliders back to the faith.
Thousands of people responded to altar calls given by me. I was pretty good at it. I knew what to say and how to say it. I could read the emotions of those under the sound of my voice, and with a few well-placed words, get them to walk the aisle. What I called conviction back then is what I now call guilt. The Bible is a world-class book for making people feel guilty. When people feel guilty (under conviction) they are ripe for manipulation.
In one church I pastored for 11 years, we had over 600 public professions of faith. We baptized hundreds of people. Rare was the Sunday when no one came forward during the invitation. (For many years I gave invitations every time we had a service.)
On those rare weeks when no one stepped out for Jesus, I was often quite depressed. I thought, why didn’t anyone come forward? Maybe my sermon was poorly constructed or perhaps God was punishing me because of some unconfessed sin in my life? (In other words God might send someone to hell to get my attention.)
The number of people responding to the invitation, like the number of people attending the church, is a measure that pastors use to judge themselves successes or failures. Church members judge the success or failure of their pastor by whether God is using his preaching to save people and reclaim backsliders. They also judge him based on the numeric growth of the church. In many ways the church is no different from the corporate world, where corporations are judged a success or a failure based on economic output (stock price, revenue increase, increased productivity, bottom line profit).
Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. I was good for business. I knew I had good preaching skills. I knew I had “people” skills and that I was effective in reaching people with the gospel. I expected results. I expected God to work. I expected people to walk the aisle and do business with God. My modality in the church was similar to the manner in which I conducted myself in the business world. Over the years, I managed restaurants for Arthur Teachers, Long John Silvers, and Charley’s Steakery (along with a number of other management level jobs). As a general manager, I was driven to succeed. Success was measured by net profit (a secular version of souls saved and church attendance growth).
Toward the latter third of my time in the ministry, I came to see that the altar call was a tool used by pastors to manipulate emotions and give the illusion that God’s power was on them and that God was using them. I have no doubt that many pastors believe their own hype, I know I did. I came to see myself as a man used greatly by God. The proof was in the numbers.
When I stopped giving altar calls many people responded negatively and a few people even left the church. In their minds, an old-fashioned, bible-believing church has altar calls. People should have an opportunity to respond to the sermon. People should have an opportunity to respond to the Holy Ghost’s leading. One former friend , a pastor, told me that he would never attend a church that didn’t give an altar call. Never mind that there is not one instance of an altar call in the Bible. Never mind that the history of the altar call can be traced back to Pelagian Charles Finney. In his mind, a good church was a church that gave altar calls. A church without altar calls was a liberal church that didn’t love souls.
In the 1960s, evangelists such as Billy Graham popularized the altar call and brought it to the TV screen. Many of us remember seeing a Billy Graham Crusade on network TV. Who can forget the altar call, hundreds of people pouring out of the aisles making their way down to the front. What most people did not know is that MANY of the people responding to the invitation were actually Christian altar workers. They helped “prime the pump” with their movement forward, encouraging others to do the same. If you take the first step God will help you take the rest….
When we are part of a group, there is pressure to conform to the group standard. This dynamic is quite evident in church. Individuality is discouraged. Dissent is frowned upon. I see the same problem in the secular world. Most human beings don’t want to stand out from the crowd so they tend to embrace whatever the group standard is.
Personally, I try to fight such conformity. I will gladly sing the National Anthem and recite most of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I’ll be damned if I will bow my head and take off my hat in an act of worship as some knucklehead prays for God to bless the race car drivers or a singer sings God bless America during the 7th inning stretch at a baseball game. That said, I have no doubt I succumb to the group standard more than I care to admit.
Group conformity is not necessarily bad, but we must be careful we do not surrender our ability to reason and think for ourselves. The pressure to conform to a group standard in church often sucks the life, vitality, and joy from a person’s life. When the pastor gives an invitation and scores of people respond, the pressure to do likewise is very strong. Being right with God=walking the aisle. Standing in the pew and not walking the aisle=Not right with God.
Many years ago I attended a Sword of the Lord Conference in the Canton, Ohio area. Curtis Hutson was one of the main speakers. He preached onthe family, on fatherhood. At the close of his sermon he gave an altar call that basically said “if you want to be a better father, you need to come to the altar and profess your willingness to do so” Hundreds and hundreds of men responded. I didn’t. I thought Hutson was being quite manipulative, so I refused to walk the aisle. Of course, I stood out like a sore thumb. People thought, I am sure, Either that guy thinks he is a better Christian than the rest of us or he refuses to get right with God. Who doesn’t want to be a better father? Never mind that one prayer at an altar does not a good father make.
Pastors well-schooled in their craft and blessed with the ability to effectively communicate, can, if they are not careful, manipulate people. The altar call is just one of many tools that can be used for manipulation. What pastors call God is actually the pastor and his well-honed communication skills manipulating those listening to the sermon.
A public church service can be a dangerous place. Parents, with nary a thought, allow their children to be influenced by men expert in mental and emotional manipulation. Even adults, especially those who have “sin” problems in their lives, are susceptible to manipulation. Adults enter the church building burdened with the cares of life, and the pastor, with his well-chosen words, convinces them to respond to an altar call. Jesus is the answer! Hooked on drugs or booze? Jesus will set you free. Family a mess, headed for divorce court? Jesus will make things right. Come, don’t delay. And people, with lives burdened down by problems and adversity, rush to the altar thinking Jesus will fix everything for them. He doesn’t, and they are worse off than they were before. Why are they worse off? Because they will likely think or be told by the pastor that the lack of change is their fault. They didn’t pray hard enough, or perhaps they had some secret sin they are holding on to. God never gets the blame for failing to do what the pastor said he would do. It is ALWAYS the sinners fault, not God’s.
Let me ask you a question. Every head bowed, every eye closed.
Are you saved? Do you remember a definite time and place in your life where you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
If not, raise your hand. No one is looking. This is just between you and God. Raise your hand, I want to pray for you.
I see that hand. And that one. Thank you Ma’am. Thank you Sir.
Lord you see the hands that were raised. Save them Lord. In Jesus name, amen.
In a moment we are going to sing Just as I Am.
If you raised your hand, I want you to step out from your pew and come to the front. Someone will meet you and will share with you what the Bible says about being saved.
That’s right, keep coming.
Are there others?
Even if you didn’t raise your hand, is there something you need to confess to God?
Do it now.
Dinner will wait.
Your soul is worth more than all the money in the world.
We are going to sing the last verse one more time. That’s it. Don’t neglect so great a salvation.
God doesn’t promise to always strive with you. One day his Spirit may no longer call and it will be too late for you…