Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
October 6th, 2021
“…If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing… The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.” Ezekiel 33:12
A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I saw a film that unnerved and disturbed me profoundly. It was “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, a dramatization of the televangelist couple the Bakkers, who built a Christian broadcasting empire throughout the seventies (becoming the 4th largest nationwide, with a viewership of some 20 million), only to have it come crashing down in the mid/late 1980s amidst financial and sexual scandals. In seeing the promotional ads, I knew I liked the actors playing them, the concept was gripping to me, but I knew I’d be made to feel queasy, since anything good I’d see in the first half would be undone (and more – great damage inflicted) in the second half. And boy, didn’t it! So much of what appeared genuine and endearing in the characters toward the beginning was gradually twisted in to a sickening manipulation in the end.
I have to admit I didn’t know 90% of what was portrayed in that movie: it simply occurred before my time: I was a kid on the playground as this empire of sorts collapsed. I’d long heard of disgraced televangelists and mega church pastors, but had never seen such a case detailed (or dramatized) so specifically. Frankly, I was shocked that it was so much worse than I had even imagined.
In the days after seeing the movie, I looked at documentaries and historical interviews on YouTube to round-out my understanding of what happened. It turns out there was much more than what could be fit into a two-hour dramatization! And it just sickened me to know that the Gospel had been used to such gain, and then to such twisted ends, during my lifetime.
I’ve long been curious as to why general society looks with such skepticism and suspicion upon Christianity, and this history I learned largely informed me as to why: As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 2:24: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of such as these.
The Gospel is powerful: it is incredibly good and life-changing, but some have used that power to their own advantage. Let that be a lesson. The original apostles were not elevated, they were humble, scraping by financially, sometimes having to have a day-job to make ends meet (see Acts 18:1-4 as an example). Similarly today: it is good when pastors and religious leaders can make their earning by doing the Lord’s work (1st Corinthians 9:13-14), but they should not be given lavish salaries, for money itself is described in scripture as a seducing power (1st Timothy 6:9-10, Matthew 6:24).
I’d say that a big cause of this and other scandals is that successful pastors and religious leaders are given pretty free reign: they are trusted, and unscrupulous ones can self-justify outlandish things. Pastors and religious leaders shouldn’t get too big: the Gospel isn’t meant to be centralized in individual people/messengers. The Pope is the epitome of what should not happen. Charisma is not what we follow. While administrative/organizational leadership is needed, Spiritual authority is spread broadly by the Spirit and the Word, as the sun sheds its light and heat broadly upon the earth. I for one found myself grateful that we have a system of oversight (both professional and financial), for checks-and-balances. It’s a shame these are needed among God’s workers, but due to the twisted nature of humanity, they surely are! King Solomon (who we’ve been reading about in this week’s ‘Read through the Bible’ chapters), is another big example of this.
So, I pray for the Lord to keep ministers (including myself) humble, in all respects. We are to be but servants, serving God’s children. As I was doing my readings for this week’s “read through the Bible” chapters, I came across the section quoted above from Ezekiel 33, about how one can’t bank on their ‘former righteousness’ to excuse and justify sin. That’s the beginning of what Jim Bakker and other defamed religious leaders have done: justified in their own minds cutting corners here or there, saying “haven’t I done so much more to justify having this little thing here?”. The answer is always, No. You haven’t. Anything good done before has been by God’s mercy and grace, and to continue to live under them, one must never step outside the bounds of His precepts.
I want to commend those of you older than me, those of you who remember the Bakker/PTL scandal of the early 80’s, for staying with your faith despite such a visible and public fall from grace of one of Christianity’s big representatives. Truly, you have your eyes on Jesus, rather than on people, who can fail and disappoint us.
Let us always keep our eyes on Jesus: the only one worth honoring and emulating and pedestalizing. He Himself lived very humbly (even homelessly – see Luke 9:58), and if we strive to ‘walk as he walked’ (1st John 2:6), we will avoid many pitfalls on our journey toward God’s eternal Kingdom. May He keep us on the ‘straight and narrow’ all our lives.
I pray a blessing from the Lord for you and your families the remainder of this week and beyond.
Pastor Mark Tatum