Televangelicalism (Book Release)
How We Lost the Gospel and How to Get it Back
Robert Wurtz II
Our text offers precious insight into the message of Paul the Apostle. Luke records Paul’s clear declaration that he was not “disobedient to the heavenly vision,” implying that Christ has given him a mandate to preach a certain message. By implication, he is simply obeying the Lord. For those familiar with the New Testament, you will recognize the message that all men should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. This is the same Paul that wrote the book of Romans and Galatians. In fact, this event before Agrippa was roughly two-thirds through Paul’s ministry. He was on his way to Rome; nevertheless, Luke is careful to give us this last detail, lest we spend 2000 years in confusion. The careful observer of Lucan thealogy will observe that his writings are book ended with references to John the Baptist. From Jerusalem, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world the first word of the Gospel remains; “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30, 31 ESV)
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Paul stood before Agrippa or on Mar’s Hill. He lived before God as a shining light reflecting upon this world’s ever worsening corruption. The man and the message were not popular then–nor are they popular today. The word of repentance will arouse the conscience of people as a scorpion in their mind and heart. The knee-jerk reaction is to put the light out, immediately. Hence, it takes a special breed of man to preach the Gospel. It takes a person like John the Baptist, Peter or Paul, who has one Master alone; Not money or popularity, or anything else. At the risk of ones own life they shine forth the light of truth in a violent and wicked world. Truly, preaching the true Gospel is not for the faint of heart.
Men search in vain for proof texts to nullify the plain reading of passages such as we find in Acts 26 and Acts 17, but that has not stopped them from looking. As a dear friend once said, “‘Hope,’ says the proverb, ‘springs eternal’ and our race has an amazing capacity to believe what it wants to believe in spite of any evidence to the contrary.” This is never truer than in the preaching of the Gospel. Nevertheless, there has always been a remnant that desired to follow God’s programmatic passages to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, in modern times, mass media has made it possible to “heap to themselves” teachers who will tickle the ears; a condition that Paul warned of just before his death in 2 Timothy 4:3. How can the remnant survive the onslaught; the perpetual deluge of compromise and false teachings that are flooding into the visible church?
There is no new thing under the sun. The pattern in Israel was much the same, almost like a broken record that skips the looping pattern over and over again. The problem? God nails it through the prophet Hosea, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me (Hosea 4:6a). Israel was called to be a kingdom of Priests and so are the New Covenant saints. The risk we have is again, from Paul’s pen, For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:21-23 ESV) For all of our boasting, we are no better than Israel if we fail in the grace of God. There are no privileged characters in God’s kingdom.
Unfortunately, men over the centuries have not feared the Lord as did Paul and Peter. Knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord, they persuaded men…but not today. I tremble to say it, but we have lost the Gospel in mainstream Christianity. We lost it because of men who proclaimed God’s Word to be the final authority and then labored against the plain teachings that even plow boys can understand. For reasons known only to God and themselves, they stripped the Gospel of its primary teachings and afterwards put forward substitutes that have been around so long they have obtained the force of law. When was the last time you heard a preacher tell the people that God is demanding that they repent and turn from all of their sin to him? When was the last time you heard it preached that men should renounce questionable practices, forsake evil associations, and come out of this present evil world? How did we come to this?
Between the Reformation (ca 1500s) and Billy Sunday (ca early 1900s), the visible church made great strides towards recovering “book of Acts” style Gospel preaching. In fact, the United States was founded by people that believed in genuine conversion and right Christian living. New measures became popular just prior to Charles Finney, and he expanded them as did D.L. Moody. Finney believed the anxious bench took the place of water baptism. Unfortunately, all the well-known mainstream evangelists have followed this pattern. However, something radically changed when Billy Sunday came upon the scene. He no longer believed that there needed to be a “struggle of faith” in order to come to Christ; but that men and women can get saved “without all the fuss.” his influence is so dramatic, that we have to break evangelism down to pre-Billy Sunday and post-Billy Sunday evangelism. Salvation became as simple as walking the sawdust trail and making a handshake. No more praying through at an old-fashioned altar. He passed out a converts pledge card that contained the forerunner of what we commonly call “the sinners’ prayer.”
A perfect storm was brewing. The Gospel was compromised about the time radio, and television were invented, taking the Billy Sunday Gospel to the nations. Today salvation is simply coming forward and praying a prayer… a pattern totally foreign to the book of Acts. Then in the 1950’s a whole new level of compromise came into popularity. The Gospel of humanism was in full swing… evolving into a message of self-help, positive thinking, and prosperity. It was signaled by a well-known televangelist named Rex Humbard, who attempted to build a 600 ft tower outside Akron, Ohio and was never able to complete it. True to Jesus words, he did not count the cost and was not able to finish. It is the mocking stock of the area. From that time until this, the Gospel is preached without the mandate to “count the cost.” Sadly, it is a message tailored to appeal to sinful man with no power to bring change.
In my new book, Televangelicalism, I provide a sketch of how evangelism was done from the book of Acts until this very day. With some 340 pages, and with over 300 footnotes, we divide the book into two parts, “Part I, the pre-Billy sunday era” and “Part II, the post Billy Sunday era.” Available on Kindle in late September, 2013, Televangelicalism is sure to be an eye-opener for anyone concerned with how so many today name the name of Christ, but have no real heart for God. Here is our trailor for the Book: