By Mike Willis
In recent years, the electronic church has come into its own. In most major metropolitan areas and in those areas which have cable television service, a religious broadcasting channel is available to many television viewers. Occasionally, I have watched such programs as the 700 Club and PTL. Though I have not watched one of these programs in a good while, I suspect that I can describe what today’s program was like.
After coming on the air, some music was presented which would rival any country-western or easy-listening program on the air. After that, some personality was introduced who came on the air to give his testimony. His testimony probably related what an awful state his life was in before he found the Lord. He might have described how he was on the verge of bankruptcy, his marriage was on the rocks, his childrens’ lives were in shambles, he was on pills to cope with his problems, and perhaps even his health was failing. Then, he found the Lord. [Of course, the people on these programs never “find the Lord” in quite the same manner as did those on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-13), the Ethiopian nobleman (Acts 8:26-40), Saul (Acts 9, 22, 26), Cornelius (Acts 10), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:25-34), or the Corinthians (Acts 18:8). Each of these Bible cases of conversion relate how a person heard the gospel preached, believed it, repented of his sins, confessed his faith in Christ, and was baptized for the remission of his sins. The guests of the 700 Club and the PTL program generally related praying the “sinner’s prayer,” calling upon the name of the Lord, having some kind of experience, or some other means of “finding the Lord” (as if the Lord was lost!).]
When these guests “found the Lord,” everything in their lives turned around. Many have related how some fantastic business deal came their way immediately after being saved, their troubled marriages changed into a haven of bliss, their children became straight “A” students and were the epitome of righteousness, they threw away their pills, and frequently related how their sick bodies have experienced a “miracle” of healing.
The message which these programs are communicating to the world is false. They are communicating these false ideas: (1) Turning to the Lord will deliver a person from every kind of problem; (2) A person who is a Christian does not live in the valley, but on the mountain top; (3) Piety pays, perversity punishes.
Could Job Appear On PTV
As I have watched several of these programs aired by the 700 Club and PTL, I have asked myself, “I wonder if Job would be allowed to give his testimony on PTL?” Can you imagine the cameras zooming in on Job as he is sitting in the city dump with a potsherd in his hand scraping off the oozing pus? The microphone is handed to him and he says, “I have been a perfect and upright man who has feared the Lord and eschewed evil (Job 1:1) for many years. Things used to go well for me. I was very prosperous. I had seven godly sons, three daughters, a lovely wife and good health. I gave thanks to God regularly for the bounty of His blessings toward me and even offered sacrifice to God just in case one of us might have sinned. Then, one day the bottom fell out of everything. The Sabeans raided our land and stole my oxen and asses. Fire from the Lord burned up my sheep and the servants who were watching them. The Chaldeans invaded the land, stole my camels and killed my servants who were watching them. A great wind, perhaps a tornado, struck the house in which all of my children were and all of them were killed in an instant. Just a little later, this horrible disease afflicted me. As a result of this, my skin itches terribly (2:8); my skin is cracked and worms are in it (7:5). I have foul breath (19:17) which makes me offensive even to my wife. My skin has darkened (30:30). I ache in all of my limbs (30:17, 30). I have restless nights because I cannot sleep (7:4, 13-15).1 am a social outcast, avoided by all of my former friends (19:13-19). On top of this, my wife recently encouraged me to `curse God and die.’ Close friends came to visit me and repeatedly have accused me of being a great sinner. Nevertheless, I love the Lord and am resolved to, persevere in my faith.” With that the camera moves away, giving a panoramic view of Job sitting in the garbage dump.
Why does PTL and the 700 Club never have any guests like this on their program? The reason seems obvious: this is not the message which they desire to communicate. This raises the questions, “What message are these programs trying to communicate?” and “is their message true to the word of God?”
In answer to the first question, “What message are these programs trying to communicate?”, I think that an accurate assessment would be: Turning to the Lord will deliver a person from every sort of problem – from the guilt of sin, from sickness, from financial woe, from family problems, etc. The message which is also communicated is that turning to the Lord enables one to have a positive, mental attitude. Every one of the men on the program have a spirit filled with the positive, mental attitude approach to life. Though this is not intended to say that Christianity demands negative mental attitude, one should be objective enough to know that one cannot live on the mountain tops all of the time, which is the impression left by these programs.
Their Message Is Not True To The Book
The gospel of PTL and the 700 Club is not a true gospel in many respects, beginning with what it teaches that a person must do to, be saved. Here are some other things to which we must object:
1. “If one is not on the mountain top, he is not saved.” This message may not ever be directly expressed in words, but the implication is that one is not right with God if he is not floating around on cloud nine. One of the reasons some Christians do not have an assurance of salvation is the effect which these programs are having on their thinking. One is told, “I feel so good because I am saved.” Here is a man who does not feel so good so he questions, “Am I saved?”
Brethren, life is not just one mountain peak after another. There are valleys in between. Sometimes one manifests a greater degree of faith when he is walking in the “valley of the shadow of death” than when he is on the mountain tops. Learning how to be abased is sometimes more difficult than learning how to abound (Phil. 4:12).
2. “Piety pays, perversity punishes. ” The book of Job wrestles with the problem of evil throughout the book. Though Job was a righteous man, his friends accused him of being a great sinner because they accepted this philosophy: “The ungodly suffer and the righteous prosper.” Since they saw Job suffering, they concluded and charged that he was a great sinner. Zophar told Job that prosperity would come to him and he would forget his sufferings, if he would repent and turn to God (Job 11:13-19). This is basically the message of the 700 Club and PTL. When one comes to God, he will enjoy prosperity and all of the good blessings which this life has to offer. It is the message of Oral Roberts and most other faith healers.
The book of Job is designed to prove that this message is a false message. The truth of the matter is that the righteous sometimes are called upon to suffer. When Jesus endured the agonies of Calvary, He was still a righteous man; He had no sin from which to turn, yet He suffered. The godly, apostle Paul suffered many things for the sake of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-28) and preached that all who live godly will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Hence, the philosophy which underlies the 700 Club and PTL is false to its core.
We simply must come to understand that prosperity does not always come to the righteous and suffering is not a proof of ungodliness. Those who are faithful Christians will go through the valleys and shadows even as they may enjoy the mountain tops. Furthermore, Christians are not exempt from the time and chance which happen to us all. Although we might wish it were otherwise, we must understand that time and chance are a part of temporal existence. The wise man wrote,
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them (Eccl. 9:11-12).
We may never even understand why some things happen to us. The wise man continued:
When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it (Eccl. 8:16-17).
We do not and cannot understand all of the considerations which God takes into view in His providential government of the world. Though we wish that we could know, we cannot know; like Job, we must trust Him despite the fact that we must cope with things which we do not understand. Though Job could not be invited to be a guest on the 700 Club and PTL, I expect to see him in heaven.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 386, 388-389
July 7, 1983