The Emporer's Clothes

I have been reading Jonathan's Walton's fantastic social critique: "Watch this: the ethics and aesthetics of Black televangelists". The book is a socio-historical look at the rise of the African American religious broadcasters. Its an interesting look at faith, tradition, and more importantly, the syncretic melding of American values over and above theological traditions.

This book is worth reading because it helps to explain the ministry paradigms of some of the most famous African American televangelists, such as Bishop T.D. Jakes, Pastor Creflo Dollar, and Bishop Eddie Long. These leaders did not suddenly appear, but are the end of a long continuim of African American ministers who used media to proclaim their message.

After reflection, I guess what makes me tremble is that these ministers wield incredible influence, not only on their followers, but upon the our concept of ministry health and ministry outcome. I am not trying to say that all televangelists or pastors of large churches are heretical or misguided, because many are innovative and creative ministers of the gospel. However, I am saying that there is a large proportion of televangelist/telepastors with destructive and confused messages.

Specifically, I see three issues that have had a horrible influence within evangelicalism that can be traced to the megapastor and televangelist.

1. Prosperity as a sign of authority and annointing: Its interesting that Jesus ministered among the poor and marginalized and that he himself was poor. It was important to him that he literally identify with the poor. The book of James equates the distribution of wealth with justice (James 5:3), but many of the televangelist flount excessive (millions of dollars) in personal hoarding while people all over the world die. The focus of wealth for personal use is not consisent with Jesus' teachings (Lk 12:16-20). Wealth is not sin, but can be easily misused.

2. The Divination of the person of God: The televangelists are often thought of by their followers to have "superhuman" qualities. We use Biblical words to describe this. "Her annointing" or "His spiritual blessings" are terms that attribute superhuman qualities upon the ministers. The structure of their churches are often not ecclesiologies as they are corporations where the CEO has the final say. When this occurs, their "word" and "lifestyles" become sacred and their teachings are rarely questioned and their authority is not challenged when it comes to elaborate spending and explotiation of their followers.

3. God as a tool for personal blessing: The televangelists often focus on personal weath and empowerment as opposed to intimacy and honoring of God. God becomes the tool for wealth as opposed to wealth being a tool for God. This leads to idolatry.

Take some time and consider the 3 concepts above and consider how commonplace they have become. I spend very little time criticizing another's ministry but feel that it is time for people of God to reclaim the real good news from the popular misuse of the precioius name of Jesus. The next time you are ready to buy another book, attend another conference, or watch another show, ask yourself about the message that is being presented.

May God bless you all,

Pastor M Traylor
Dr. M TraylorComment