Before we begin with the 3 Questions, let me be clear and say there is good Christian TV out there where godly ministers are delivering the true Word of God. It is my prayer that this kind of TV would grow in its support and influence. That having been said, I have put the word “Christian” in quotation marks to speak of “ministries” that are unbiblical and have little or nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is quite unfortunate and grievous that the airwaves associated with our faith are much more dominated by “Christian” programs instead of genuinely Christian ones.
Question 1—Is It Really Christian?…Imagine that you bought tickets to see your favorite singing group in concert. And let’s say that group was the Gaither Vocal Band (which I know is very safe to say!). The program was billed to start at 7:00 pm and sure enough right at that very hour a man approaches the stage. However, the man isn’t Bill Gaither or any other member of the group; it’s the promoter who organized the concert. His name had been in small print on the posters advertising the event but you didn’t know that he would be taking the platform. You wished the Vocal Band had come out immediately but you’re not too concerned; you’ve been at other concerts where an announcer or an opening act comes out for a few minutes before the headliner. However, as you sit there this man goes on and on about himself, gives a standup comedy routine (or two), sings a few numbers of his own, and gives his full life story (or at least it could have been his full life story judging by how long it took him to deliver it)! Instead of four or five minutes of opening material, this man has been on stage four to five hours! Finally, he looks at his watch (you’ve already been looking at yours most of the night!), and says something to the effect of, “well I guess we ought to bring out our artist for the evening.” And then, much to your surprise, rather than having the Gaither Vocal Band there in person, the promoter instructs the sound man to play “He Touched Me” from one of their CD’s. He then closes out the “concert” by saying a little more about himself and sending you out with the words “y’all be sure to come out next month when the Gaither Vocal Band will once again be joining us for a lovely event!” You leave the venue enraged (as much as a Christian is allowed to be enraged). No one, including you, would have come out, paid money, or even given up an evening to hear this unknown fellow do whatever you call what he just did. The only reason you were there was because the Gaither Vocal Band had been advertised…AND THEY WERE NEVER EVEN IN THE BUILDING! This promoter did a classic “bait and switch.” You will never go back to see a concert that man is promoting ever again!
Most of what calls itself “Christian” TV today isn’t Christian at all. They advertise Jesus, market the gospel, and show pictures of the Bible and the cross (though the cross is an image they are increasingly getting away from because it’s offensive) but as you watch their program little if any of their 30 or 60 minutes are devoted to what they would say they’re about. The content of their show (and much of what passes for “Christian” TV would be rightly classified as “ a show”) is likely to have lots of personal stories, quite a bit of humor, much music which looks and sounds more like a rock concert than a worship service, advice for achieving worldly success, and of course several pleas for money with extravagant promises to those who give that would make even the most gimmicky infomercial conman blush! Ministry that is genuinely Christian should be based on good Bible teaching (2 Tim. 3:16 to 2 Tim. 4:4), focus on Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), and should be at odds with the wisdom and ways of this world (1 Cor. 1:18; James 4:4). So TV that hardly mentions the Bible or takes a verse here and there out of context, TV that focuses on someone or something other than Jesus and a message other than the gospel, and TV that attempts to align itself with the fads, fashions, and manipulations of this world’s system may call itself “Christian” but it is not. Like the concert promoter in our illustration, they use the name of Jesus to draw a crowd but then push Him to the sidelines while they take the spotlight. Before you watch the next “Christian” TV show, ask yourself if it’s really Christian!
Question 2—Does It Hurt The Local Church?…There have been a proliferation of crime solving programs in recent years. In one hour’s time (actually about 45 minutes or so when you subtract commercials), the keenest and most sinister of law breakers commit their misdeed, are found out, tracked down, and brought to justice. And the police authorities get the whole next week to rest until their next episode, I mean their next case, comes along! These kind of television shows make it hard on real life law enforcement. When a crime is committed the public, and especially those most affected by the criminal activity, have the expectation that the police can quickly locate the perpetrator by finding and analyzing a fragment of a leaf that happened to fall to the ground and touch the shoelace of the criminal while he was on his way to the getaway car! When it takes investigators days, weeks, and even months to solve the crime, if they can solve it at all, the public is disappointed and the police get a bad rap. I don’t watch this show, but I have heard news reporters and law enforcement officials refer to this unrealistic expectation as “the CSI effect”, after the series of shows by the same name.
The median (the 50th percentile mark) church size in America is 75 people and the mean (the average) church size in our country is 184 (with 90% of churches having attendances of less than 350). And yes, those calculations include the modern day phenomena of megachurches which may have as many as 3,000 to 20,000 attendees. Watch a “Christian” TV show and you’ll see many screen shots of a crowd that rivals the attendance of a major sporting event. The sermon never starts early or runs late, the preacher never stumbles or stutters, the singers never forget a lyric or hit a wrong note, the congregation is so attentive that they never stare at their watch or even go to the bathroom, and there are certainly never conflicts or problems in the church. It’s amazing how things sound so good and appear so seamless when you have a huge budget to work with, a good editing team, and hundreds of miles between your location and that of your viewer! Now, please don’t get me wrong, even though I have ministered in small churches up to this point in my life, I don’t begrudge large ministries their attendance or budgets or abilities. If they are genuinely preaching the Word of God and holding true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, may the Lord bless them with more and more resources and tools to further the Kingdom of God. That being said, even good television ministries can help produce in people the unrealistic expectation that their local church should be pretty near perfect in its presentation. Most Christian TV programs don’t regularly instruct their viewers to attend and be committed to a local, Bible believing church. They tend to be more concerned about their ratings and market share than they are about promoting true biblical discipleship and developing genuine Christian community. Rather than seeking to build the Body of Christ under mutual submission to Jesus, the majority of these media productions promote Superstar Ministers to Lone Ranger Believers. Before you watch the next “Christian” TV show, ask yourself if it hurts the local church by setting unrealistic expectations and not regularly stressing to their viewers the importance of being a committed part of a local congregation!
Question 3—Is It Setting A Good Witness?…My wonderful wife and I like to eat at Moe’s when we get down towards South Ft. Myers. They serve fresh and fast Southwest/Mexican food. You enter the store and they greet you with a loud and hearty “Welcome To Moe’s.” You proceed to the line where you tell them what toppings you want on your tacos (you even get a $1.00 quantity discount if you buy three tacos—or so I hear!). You come to the register where you not only pay for and receive your order but you also get the first installment of FREE all you can eat tortilla chips (yes, FREE makes anything taste better!). It’s a great dining experience! Not long ago we noticed that a Chipotle Restaurant was coming to town. We had heard good things about it and decided to give it a try since they reportedly served food similar to the Moe’s which we love so much. However, we walked through the door and no one yelled out “Welcome to Chipotle!”. The line didn’t seem to have as many topping choices as we were accustomed to seeing. When we got to the cashier we not only paid a little more for our order (I don’t even think they had the $1.00 quantity discount for buying three tacos!) but we also did NOT receive FREE all you can eat tortilla chips! We tasted the food and, although it was okay, it didn’t match up to the standards we were used to joyously savoring at our beloved Moe’s. We decided then and there that we would not be frequenting Chipotle. Several months later the popular restaurant we decided to stay away from got some bad press on a national level. There was an outbreak of salmonella and then E. Coli linked to some Chipotle stores. Their stock prices and revenues went down, some restaurants closed, and several new franchises that were to open got placed on hold. Does eating at every Chipotle put you at risk of food poisoning and bacteria? No. (Though in my humble opinion you’d be better served at Moe’s!). Still, the bad press of a few stores has caused much dismay for the entire Chipotle chain.
Polls taken today asking folks of the respect and honesty levels of various professions find preachers in the same general vicinity of politicians and lawyers! Why is this the case? There may be many factors involved, but the main reason for the diminishing view of the Christian minister is undoubtedly the proliferation of profligate TV preachers. Many of these professing ministers would better be categorized as mercenaries. Let me give three personal testimonies. I recall being at seminary and hearing there was going to be a surprise guest at a nearby Bible conference. I went and heard the man who had been a prominent TV preacher give his first message after being let out of prison. He had been accused of everything from fraud and adultery to constructing air conditioned dog houses for his pets. That night he admitted many of his transgressions and seemed to have further evidence of repentance in a subsequent book he wrote with the simple title of “I Was Wrong.” Yet now he again hosts a “Christian” TV show where he markets fear and food that will last for decades at a premium price. Secondly, about 20 years ago I attended a taping of another well-known, custom-suited (usually white-coated) “minister” associated primarily with healing and watched as he invited people down for prayer who would give at least $5,000. Before giving the people permission to approach him (maybe “permission” is a strong word, but he was surrounded by bodyguards), he made it known in no uncertain terms that if they were not going to give that amount of money then they were not to dare to come down front. I guess his policy was “No Pay, No Pray”! Finally, I remember being on a road trip in 2006 with a friend when national news broke that a high profile pastor of a megachurch had just admitted to using drugs and engaging in what this world calls an alternative lifestyle. My friend’s dad whom we happened to be visiting was not a believer and was turned farther away from faith by this terrible testimony. I could go on and on speaking of adulteries and embezzlements, of promiscuity and theft, of fraud and foolishness that have been perpetrated by TV preachers. Is every minister like that? No. Is every TV minister like that? No. But, like Chipotle from the illustration above, the bad press of these impostors turn people off from the genuine minister preaching the true gospel. Before you watch the next “Christian” TV show, ask yourself if it sets a good witness in its conduct and finances.