By C.G. “Colly” Caldwell
Some fascinating conclusions were reached recently by a team of professors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications who used the results of a poll by the Gallup organization to study the effect of television’s religious programming on local church growth. George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School, declared first that extended television viewing of secular broadcasts causes people to be less likely to attend worship services, read the Bible, or identify themselves as “evangelicals. ” Viewing religious broadcasting, on the other hand, tends to activate religious behavior generally associated with church-going people.
Individuals who watch religious programming are, for the most part, already identified with a church and believe in the message being presented. The religious audience is predominantly female, older, less educated, and concerned about the moral climate in society as a whole. Each of the principal religious “stars” on the air-waves attracts a somewhat different following depending upon the focus of his message, the nature of his personality, and the particular needs of those who tune in his program. Many affirm that the television contributes more than the congregation to their spiritual life; while others complain that they receive no sense of fellowship with other Christians nor communion in worship and sacred things through the electric church (see Christian Century, November 20, 1985, pp. 1057-58; Christianity Today, January 13, 1984, p. 66).
These observations focus our attention upon the fact that religious Americans have needs which are being unanswered by both the denominational churches and television preachers. Some of these needs some preachers sense and some they do not. Others God has revealed in His wonderful Book of salvation and only New Testament Christians realize because they are seen within the framework of a true understanding of God’s will. Not every cable preacher is guilty on every count, but the following identifies some of the major reasons why true religious needs are being left unanswered:
The need for fully converted Christians who engage in truly spiritual worship. The denominational television preachers talk much about the insincere, half-hearted state of worship in many churches and call for a greater dedication to Christ but they interpret “heart-felt religion” as emotional display and define spiritual worship in terms of the outward, subjective evidence of feeling. Many who claim to be Christians are hypocrites, but the evidence of being fully converted is not to be found in the person’s constantly saying, “Praise the Lord.” Rather it is in consistently doing what Christ taught (Matt. 7:21-23). Many who worship regularly may be dead spiritually, but the test of that is in their hearts, not in the clapping of hands, shouting out in the worship, or otherwise making a display of their emotion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:20-40).
The need for strong preaching against immorality. The television preachers are appalled by flagrant abuse in our society of accepted standards of right and wrong. Abortion, drunkenness, drug abuse, fornication, etc., are the subjects of many of their lessons. Some of these are presented, however, from the positive perspective of. . ., “Tell them what good living is and they will see what is bad.” That kind of soft preaching is often not applied because it puts no bedrock foundation under the thinking of the listener. It is too easy to consider oneself the exception if it seems “good” to do otherwise. By others, the lessons are presented from the standpoint of socially accepted standards rather than by the unpopular application of biblical principles and passages which convict even the religious. Still others by inconsistency in their own lives and softness on some subjects destroy the effectiveness of otherwise good preaching on moral issues. The need is to preach morality on the basis of God’s right to rule our fives (1 Cor. 6:12-20). To do otherwise only fosters secularization. “Secularization” is religious decline resulting from long-time changes in religious expression to accommodate social changes. Television preachers use that word with disdain, but the desire to have large audiences and appeal to the masses compromises their effort.
The need to develop proper attitudes about God, others, and oneself Too often even these messages are misguided:
Attitudes toward God: God is frequently pictured as soft, sentimentally loving, limited in judgment, and forgiving when true repentance is not present. Such is obviously untrue. It is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:27-31). Men must appreciate God’s mercy, grace, and love, but not fail to appreciate also His discipline, chastisement, and judgment in the face of unrepented sins.
Attitudes toward others: Much modern preaching appeals to present psychological theory and philosophy, but is not Bible based. Much of it calls for good toward the appeasement of others without the true love which warns of the dangers of sinful activity. Too often the appeal is motivated by a social gospel approach calling for the betterment of secular relationships rather than correcting ungodly attitudes for spiritual purposes with heaven as the reward.
Attitudes toward oneself: The dangerous aspects of the “positive mental attitude” philosophy promoting self-love, selfesteem, no guilt, etc., are strong here where the emphasis is upon one’s feeling good about himself without changing to conform to the true gospel. Such does not correct God’s view of him, only his own.
The need for hope. So often in the television preaching, the hope addressed is the earthly hope for wealth, health, and enjoyment of the good things of life. Even when future things are discussed it is primarily in the context of a premillennial rapture and revelation of Christ. The Bible teaches a spiritual hope of spiritual life in the spiritual realm with God. While I believe that one’s inward life is better as a Christian, the promises of miraculous welfare and the “seed-faith” concept are empty and if one is anticipating feeling better, having more money, and Christ’s returning to the earth to rule in a physical kingdom, his religion is superficial and worldly!
The need for doctrinal understanding. The messages of most television religionists stress social, political, and moral issues which affect the here-and-now lives of the listeners. Most steer clear of the doctrinal teachings of the Bible because those teachings cross denominational boundaries. Most television preachers do not preach doctrine because they do not really feel that doctrinal issues are significant if persons are “committed to the person of Christ.” The truth is that one’s commitment to Christ involves his acceptance of Christ’s teaching . . . what He says is as important as who He is (see John 12:48)!
The need for true evangelism, preaching the true gospel plan of salvation. One major complaint through the decades with Billy Graham has been that when it comes down to the issue of what one must do to be saved, he hedges and stops with the generalization that one must believe. Billy Graham is not alone! You will notice that I have not used the word “evangelists” to describe these teachers. That is not an oversight. While they may present a part of the good news about Jesus’ person, they do not present the “good news” which reveals the will of God concerning what brings one into fellowship with Christ. What does believing in Christ involve? What action on the part of the believer brings him into covenant relationship with God? The Bible teaches that one must “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 16:15-16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; Acts 8:36-40; et. al.). A true “evangelist” (gospelizer, bringer of good news) tells all the good news!
I fear that too many of our own brethren are watching these programs and being influenced by their superficial appeals to the human needs of men which often overshadow the spiritual needs. I fear, too, that some of our preaching brethren are watching to observe the techniques and tactics used by these false teachers so that we can implement “successful methods” into our efforts and so that the “look” of churches of Christ will be appealing and up-to-date. When we are naive, it is easy to be influenced by what appears to be adaptable. Do not be fooled. The denominations and cults are no more answering the real needs of men for salvation in Christ from the tube than they are in their pulpits.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 12, pp. 354, 390
June 18, 1987