Tag Archive: Jack Van Impe

Evangelist Bob Harrington: It’s Fun Being Saved

its fun being saved bob harringtonDuring much of the 1970s, Evangelical crusades were all the rage. As  a young teenager, I attended crusades conducted by Billy GrahamBill GlassJack 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.

Video Link

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:

Video Link

bob harrington marriage repair kit

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.

bob harrington 2

Harrington describes his return to the ministry this way:

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Jesus is Coming Soon: The Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast

jack chick tract the beast

From Jack Chick tract, The Beast

Growing up in the Evangelical church, I was exposed to eschatological preaching which purported to divine the future. Based on a literalistic interpretation of the book of Revelation, Evangelical preachers tell of a day when Jesus will come to rapture (remove) Christians from the earth. After the rapture, God will, for seven years, pour out his wrath on the earth.  This period of divine slaughter and judgment is called the Great Tribulation.

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, a powerful figure who wages war against God, will rise up and exert dominion over the earth. While Evangelicals have multiple interpretations of who and what the Antichrist is, all agree that he is one of the central figures of the Tribulation drama. According to the book of Revelation, the Antichrist will ultimately be defeated by Jesus and cast into the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is a real person. This belief has led to speculation about this or that person being the Antichrist. Some Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is alive today and could be someone such as Barack Obama or Pope Francis. What is interesting about these predictions about who the Antichrist might be is that the potential Antichrist always has political views opposed by Evangelicals. This is why some Evangelicals find it quite easy to label President Obama as the Antichrist, even more so of late since it has been reported that Obama might head the United Nations after he leaves office. (Many Evangelicals believe the United Nations will be used by the Antichrist to take over the world.)

According to many Evangelicals, during the Tribulation the Antichrist will take control of the world’s economy. No one will be able to buy or sell anything without having the mark of the Beast. The Biblical basis for this belief is found in Revelation 13:16-18:

 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Prior to the modern technological era, many Evangelicals believed that the mark of the Beast was a tattoo of the number 666 on the hands or foreheads of the followers of the Antichrist. In recent decades, Evangelicals have suggested that the mark of the Beast could be some sort of bar code, a mark that can only be read by using a certain type of light, or an embedded chip. I remember one preacher who was certain that supermarket scanners were paving the way for the Antichrist and the mark of the Beast.

While the character of  the mark has changed over the years, the importance of it has not. Anyone receiving the mark of the Beast will be doomed forever. Revelation 14:9-11 states:

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

According to these verses, anyone who takes the mark of the Beast will face the fury of the wrath of God. Suffering and painful death await all who take the mark.

The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday for literalistic interpretations of the book of Revelation. Evangelical pastors regularly preached sermons on the end-times, featuring subjects such as the rapture, the Great Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the millennial reign of Christ, and the great white throne judgment. Filled with illustrations from newspapers, these sermons inflamed the passions of Evangelical church goers. As the headlines changed, so did the sermons, but the focal point remained the same: Jesus is coming soon.

end of the world

After the 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 debacle, Evangelical passion for future events cooled. I am of the opinion that the rise of the religious right, a political movement with plans to take over America for Jesus, turned Evangelical attention from the future to the present. Instead of seeking after the kingdom of heaven, Evangelicals began to focus on building God’s kingdom on earth. Gone, for the most part, are prophecy conferences and literalistic sermons from Revelation and Daniel. Instead, pastors focus on felt-needs and personal fulfillment. There are certainly Evangelicals pastors who continue to preach newspaper headline sermons, but such preachers are on the fringes of Evangelicalism (most often found in charismatic, Pentecostal, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches).

As I came of age in the 1970s, I heard frequent end-time sermons. Preachers warned that we were the last generation, those who would see the second coming of Jesus Christ. Men such as Jack Van Impe predicted Russia would invade and take over the United States, thereby ushering in the Great Tribulation. Many preachers believed that the rapture and the second coming of Christ would take place sometime between 1984 and 1988. The thinking went something like this: Israel became a nation in 1948, a generation is 40 years long, thus, at the very latest, Jesus would return to earth in 1988.

In the late 1970s, I was a pastoral assistant to Jay Stuckey, pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church, a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Stuckey, as many preachers of his era, was obsessed with prophecy, the Illuminati, and numerous other conspiracies. Calls to evangelize were driven by Stuckey’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus; imminent meaning, at any moment. Forty years later, Stuckey and I are no longer in the ministry, Montpelier Baptist, a church that one time had over 500 in attendance, is closed, and those who were once obsessed with the soon-return of Jesus have turned to more earthly matters such as marriage, children, jobs, houses, and economic prosperity. While these people still tacitly believe that Jesus will someday return to earth, their lives are no longer dominated by eschatological thoughts. In other words, they grew up.

Were you once part of a church that was obsessed with the end-times? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Note

I am well aware of the fact that Evangelicals are not in agreement about how the books of Daniel and Revelation should be interpreted. That said, it is not hard to find Evangelical blogs, websites, and news services promoting the eschatological beliefs mentioned in this post.

You can read the complete text of 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 here.

Earth 6,000 Years Old, but Once in a 100,000 Years Solar Event Sign of God’s Judgment

elmer gantry 1960

Elmer Gantry, played by Burt Lancaster (1960), preaching on the evils of evolution

Worldnet Daily, home to a plethora of right-wing Evangelical writers and nut jobs, warns that an upcoming solar eclipse is a warning sign from God:

A solar eclipse coming on March 20 won’t just be an astronomical wonder – it will be an event that may be unprecedented in human history, according to biblical experts who say it is an unmistakable sign of judgment.

Root Source Ltd., which provides Christians access to Jewish teachings online, reports the eclipse will darken the sun just in time for the sunrise at the North Pole, where it will be visible for two minutes.

It will happen both on the first day of spring and on the first day of the Jewish religious calendar, the beginning of the month of Nisan.

Such an astronomical event only takes place once every 100,000 years, experts said.

In an exclusive interview with WND, Root Source co-founder Bob O’Dell pointed to the significance of an eclipse visible from the North Pole at this particular time.

“The North Pole can’t really be called the territory of any particular nation or people,” O’Dell said. “This is likely a message from God to the entire world.”

He also believes the path of the eclipse is significant.

“The total solar eclipse continuously hovers over water and ice. I’m reminded of Isaiah 11:9 – which tells us that ‘None will harm or destroy another on My entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is filled with water.’”

Root Source co-founder Gidon Ariel, an Orthodox Jew, is calling for people around the world to pray for two minutes starting at 10:18 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. Ariel will be praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem at a time of day that Jewish tradition reserves for prayer in the Temple.

In a written statement, Ariel commented, “While a worldwide call to prayer is not typical for Jews like myself, the concurrence and rarity of this natural event, together with the times in which we live, points to prayer as being the right response to such an amazing natural event that might indicate the finger of God in history.”

The solar eclipse is already causing concern even in the secular world. The vast majority of the sun’s rays will be blocked in Europe during the event, and experts are warning of possible power shortages in nations that rely heavily on solar power.

Pastor Mark Biltz, author of “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs,” sees a heavenly warning in the consequences of the eclipse, especially for the northern Europeans, who will be most affected.

In an exclusive interview with WND, Biltz explained, “In Jewish tradition, a total solar eclipse is a warning to the Gentiles and a sign of judgment on the nations. When we look at where the darkness will be, it will be in northern European countries like England and Sweden where we see the rise of Islam and anti-Israel sentiment. Europeans especially should take heed.”

Biltz also sees significance in the timing of the solar eclipse.

“An event of this magnitude at the very beginning of the religious new year demands attention. As the Bible tells us, there will be signs in the heavens on the feast days, and this is a very significant sign on a critical day.

“It’s the same day that there was the grand-opening ceremony of the tabernacle of Moses, with fire from heaven lighting the altar. Historically, this is a day of judgment.”

Biltz is the original discoverer of the four Blood Moons, a concept heavily promoted by pastor John Hagee. Biltz points out that the total solar eclipse comes in the midst of these Blood Moons and that there will be another heavenly sign only weeks after the eclipse.

“Only a few weeks after this total solar eclipse, there with be a blood moon over Passover,” he said. “If the total solar eclipse is a sign to the gentiles, this will be a sign to the Jewish people.

“This comes at a time when American aid for Israel has become an important political issue in the United States. But Israelis know they cannot put their survival in the hands of one who wishes their demise.

“All throughout history, Israel has put their hopes in foreign help rather than trusting in the God of Israel. From King Ahaz to King Zedekiah and throughout history. While the U.S. needs to back Israel, Israel needs to rely on the God of Israel.”

Biltz also points to other upcoming signs that will take place on feast days. There will be another solar eclipse on The Feast of Trumpets, on Sept. 13, 2015.

The final blood moon, a “super blood moon,” will appear during the Festival of Tabernacles, which is also known as a period of judgment for all the nations. Biltz believes that this is a sign that momentous events are in motion.

“The last time there were four blood moons in a row, it was 1967 and Israel captured Jerusalem,” Biltz said. “The time before that occurred just after the re-establishment of Israel. Christians need to be aware of these facts in order to understand what is happening in the world today.”

The blood moons teaching is receiving increased attention in the Christian community. Root Source is launching its own online educational course and ebook to educate both Christians and Jews about the blood moons…

World Net Daily is a defender of young earth creationism. If they follow Bishop James Ussher’s chronology, the earth is 6,019 years old. How then, can an event that happens once every 100,000 years be a warning sign from God? According to the nutters and wing nuts at World Net, the universe is only 6,000 or so years old. This means that there has been NO solar eclipse like the upcoming one on March 20th.

And when God’s judgment fails to fall as these false prophets say it will? By then, they will be on to other warnings and signs from God.  They are never called upon to account for their false prophecies. They’ve made their money off the gullible, and a few years from now, they will cook up another prophetic scheme so they can bilk sincere, ignorant Christians out of their money.

88 reasons edgar whisenant

27 years ago, Edgar Whisenant published 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Almost five million copies of the book were given away or sold. Here we are, three decades later. Whisenant, repeatedly redid his “Biblical” calculations and said the rapture would occur in 1989, 1993, and 1994. He died in 2001 without ever seeing Jesus split the eastern sky.

Before him, crackpots like Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe  traveled the county preaching the soon return of Jesus. While I will still in high school, Van Impe, the walking Bible, came to Findlay, Ohio to hold a crusade. Thousands flocked to hear him preach. I remember hearing Van Impe emphatically state that the Russian flag would be flying over the US capitol in 1976. In the 1980’s Hal Lindsey warned that the 1980’s were going to be it. Then he said that it was doubtful that Christians would be on the earth after the year 2000. (remember the Y2K scare and religious fanaticism?) Both of these hucksters have been wrong over and over, yet their bank account balance continues to grow.

judgment day harold camping

And who can forget 2011, the year billboards appeared all over America warning that Jesus was coming again on May 21, 2011. Harold Camping, using the fund raising powers of his Family Radio empire, raised millions of dollars so he could warn the world of its soon to come demise. After May 21st came and went, Camping revised the date to October 21, 2011. Camping died in 2013 without ever seeing Jesus in the clouds coming to snatch him away.

Sites like World Net Daily and men like Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe prey on Christians who are fearful about the future. As they watch Christian America slide headlong into secularism and same-sex marriage, they find themselves wondering if the rapture could happen soon. No amount of common sense and reason will persuade them otherwise. Their trusted eschatological sources can’t be wrong! After all, their predictions are straight from the Bible. But, they are wrong. They have always been wrong. If these false prophets lived in Old Testament times they would have been long ago stoned to death.

Evangelicals, who are inherently fundamentalist, are conditioned to accept even the most ludicrous of ideas and beliefs. Taught to belief the Bible is an inerrant, infallible, and inspired book and taught that pastors and evangelists are the mouthpiece of God, they surrender their rational thinking skills and embrace the kinds of craziness found in the World Net Daily article. There is no hope for them until they realize that the Bible is not what their pastor says it is. Until they are willing to let go of inerrancy/infallibility/inspiration, they will continue to be easy marks for a 21st century version of Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry.

Note

Website that shows solar and lunar eclipses for the next ten years

While I think Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey are in it for the money, Edgar Whisenant and Harold Camping were sincere, well intentioned believers who became obsessed with prophecy.