The Charismatic Delusion and Discernment Dilemma
Jim Bakker. The name says it all.
Getting a start on Pat Robertson’s Trinity Broadcasting Network in 1966, Jim Bakker started hosting his own show with wife, Tammy. He showed promise as the producer of a religious variety show, and soon ran off to California to star on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, ran by his former youth “pastors,” Paul and Jan Crouch. They then started the Praise the Lord (PTL) Club and then their own network, the Praise the Lord Network. From the earliest of stages, Bakker’s PTL ministries gained notoriety for accepting and affirming anyone, regardless of their denomination or even their sexual orientation.
Success followed Bakker, as he and Tami started a Christian-themed theme park in South Carolina, Heritage Park USA. Their “ministry” was known for its opulence and high-spending attitudes, making Bakker and his wife glamorous and diamond-crusted. It turns out, some of that luxurious lifestyle was at the expense of integrity and the law. Bakker sold thousand dollar “lifetime memberships” to his “ministry club” which entitled members to time share properties. The problem was, the time shares were bogus, twice as much money was raised than was necessary to build an adequate hotel, but an adequate hotel was never built. The money went towards the PTL luxurious lifestyle and millions of dollars in “bonuses” to Bakker.
Eventually, Bakker would be prosecuted and convicted of eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. He was then sentenced to 45 years in the pen, albeit through a series of legal maneuvers he was out in five.
The story is more tragic than financial mismanagement, in that investigations revealed PTL payed off a woman to the tune of 279k to keep quiet her accusations that Bakker and another evangelist had taken turns raping her. The Assemblies of God then defrocked him. The IRS still holds Bakker liable for personal income taxes for the period during which they revoked the PTL’s tax-exempt status, a total of 6 million dollars which Bakker still pays on. Bakker admits to having read the Bible for the first time through only while in prison; he claimed he only used “proof texts” for the prosperity gospel during his entire time at PTL prior to his incarceration (no kidding, you don’t say).
Bakker is now remarried (to a long-time televangelist) and broadcasts The Jim Bakker Show from Branson, Missouri.
The Present Scandal
What’s Jim Bakker been doing lately? Well, for the last few years Bakker has been fear mongering upon the good folks of the Ozarks, playing upon their fears of civil unrest and selling them “survival supplies.” Yes, that’s right. Bakker has turned in the prosperity gospel for the apocalypse gospel – and it’s just as lucrative.
It works like this – Bakker has “experts” on his program to discuss why society is going to collapse from one impending thing to another (Shemitah, Four Blood Moons, starvation, Bird Flu, ebola, EMP, etc) and then runs an infomercial for his survival food and water filters. Here’s the thing, though…people aren’t “buying” his goods. No, they’re “love offerings.” The buyers avoid taxes and Bakker undercuts the competition on price. And if the buyer doesn’t like the goods? So – no returns. That was just a gift we sent you for helping to support our ministry. Puke.
In the last few months, Bakker has warned his
customers ministry partners of…
- Financial collapse because of the Shemitah
- Financial collapse because of Four Blood Moons
- Starvation and impending cannibalism
- Civil unrest because of the Bird Flu
- Civil unrest because of Ebola
- Total anarchy because of an EMP (which God will send to punish gay marriage, of course)
- A really ugly scenario similar to what you see in the Walking Dead, he says (zombie apocalypse – got it)
This guy is finding signs of impending doom because a calf had a birthmark that resembled the number seven (I kid you not). I think you get the point. Oh, and by the way, according to
customer ministry partner reviews, the food’s a total scam. The “year supply” is just enough to starve a person. But hey, it’s tax free. No returns.
The Charismatic Delusion
Charisma News ran an article today, written by Steve Strang. It’s title, “Jim Bakker’s Powerful Story Embodies God’s Powerful Redemptive and Merciful Love.”
Although Strang recalls briefly, in a terribly truncated fashion, the scandalous past of Jim Bakker, he includes in great detail the current greatness of this apocalyptic snake oil salesman. He writes…
While in prison, the job of the man who had met with U.S. presidents and had run one of the largest non-profit ministries in the nation was to clean toilets. But, he used whatever spare time he had to diligently study the Word. That’s what really changed him.
That’s the claim – the Scripture changed Jim Bakker.
Bakker’s crime, that landed him in prison, was swindling people. Bakker is still swindling people – and like last time, he’s doing it in the name of Jesus.
Bakker’s crime, which he is still paying restitution for, is using a charitable tax status afforded to actual ministries in order to dabble in tax-free commercial enterprise. Bakker is still using a charitable tax status in order to dabble in tax-free commercial enterprise.
Bakker was guilty of capitalizing on naive people’s covetous desires to separate them from their money. Bakker is now capitalizing on naive people’s fears to separate them from their money.
How, in the name of Charismania, has Jim Bakker changed? Strang seems to attempt to validate his assertion by how nice and first-class Bakker’s latest tourist attraction in Jesus’ name seems to be.
Jim has now built a new ministry near Branson called Morningside. It has a hotel and condominiums, campgrounds, a media school, television studios and many other amenities. Everything is done with excellence and Bakker has assembled a top-notch team.
Strang’s (and by extension, Charisma Mag’s) delusion is more evident than a cessationist at a Pentecostal camp meeting…
Historians will spend decades dissecting the life of Jim Bakker. He is a very complex man, yet he’s also a great man. Maybe he went too far at PTL. Maybe he wasn’t accountable. Obviously, he made some big mistakes. Yet in my opinion he did no more wrong (and a whole lot less) than hundreds of other leaders who either didn’t get caught or had only a minor setback.
First, I doubt Bakker will seem that interesting to the historians. There’s no shortage of charlatans in charismania – literally, TBN and other charismatic communication organizations make a living (and a darn good one) broadcasting them 24/7. But beyond that overstatement, consider Strang’s gross understatement. Maybe he went too far at PTL? Yeah, maybe. Maybe he wasn’t accountable? Yeah, maybe. He did no more wrong (and a whole lot less) than hundreds of others? The toleration of sin demonstrated by charismatics truly is overwhelming. Then again, what do you expect from a theological camp that “restores” someone the likes of Todd Bentley? There’s a holiness problem in charismania.
Charismatic christianity is inherently no different from the survival food buckets being pitched by Jim Bakker – it’s a false bill of goods. It sounds like a good deal, but it’s an imitation.
The Holy Spirit, by and large, is not at work in charismatic christianity. This is the irony for a theological corner that thinks it has corralled the third person of the Holy Trinity. What they offer – chiefly, a first-class experience with God the Holy Ghost – is the last thing that they have to offer.
The Holy Spirit has come to convict the world of sin (John 16:18). Charismatic christianity is a festering pool of unrepentant, spiritually toxic goo. We see it from Todd Bentley’s healing choke slams and drugging kids so he can miraculously “resurrect” them to Benny Hinn and Paula White’s extramarital affair to Bakker’s continued abuse of the tax system to the lifestyles of Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis. The sin there is patently overwhelming, and in case you haven’t noticed, the folks on TBN aren’t exactly talking about sin much (or ever). Where there is not talk of sin, there is not the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit continues the work he starts in us (Philippians 1:6), and we’re led by Him to Christian maturity. Let’s face it – spiritually mature believers are not sitting in the audience at TBN studios. Spiritually mature people are not believing the (always wrong) New Year prophecies of Pat Robertson. Spiritually mature people are not being knocked over by Benny’s coat. Spiritually mature people are not believing that obviously drugged kid with the hung-over face was actually raised from the dead by Todd Bentley. Spiritually mature people are not attending a Joyce Meyer crusade. Spiritually mature people do not think that Joel Osteen could be accused of preaching the Gospel. Spiritually mature people do not interpret omens like blood moons. Spiritually mature people are not looking at Israel’s abrogated ceremonial feast as signs for America. Spiritually mature people are not babbling nonsense words to themselves down at the Pentecostal Holiness Church of Prophecy. Spiritually discerning people are not reading Charisma News unless it’s for the chuckle. There is a systemic lack of spiritual maturity among charismatics, so much so, as we can argue all common sense would lead us to believe the Holy Spirit is not striving with them.
The Holy Spirit leads us to the knowledge of truth (John 16:13). The second largest Pentecostal denomination – the United Pentecostal Church – can’t even qualify as Christian, denying the Holy Trinity. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not at work there. Charismatics, even non-heretical ones, are slow to rebuke their charismatic “brothers” like TD Jakes, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and the worst of the worst charismatic offenders. Another huge segment of the charismatic corner are those who teach Word-Faith or Prosperity heresy. And yet, they all share the same stage at TBN. They’re all spiritually yoked the late Paul Crouch. These are individuals that either profess unorthodoxy or embrace those that profess unorthodoxy. If the Holy Spirit were at work among them, they would be separate from the fiends that share the charismatic pulpit.
The Holy Spirit produces in us spiritual discernment (Hebrews 5:14). The charismatic camp is almost entirely lacking discernment, as this article by Strang demonstrates. Charismania is full of omen interpretation and judaized ceremonial laws, hooks and swindlers, cheats and liars. As they pretend that uttering jibberjabber syllables and nonsense vowels is a spiritual gift, charismatic christians seem altogether unable to discern the most simple spiritual matters. In any segment of supposed Christianity where Sid Roth is a celebrity and not a tarred and feathered example of what will not be tolerated, it’s safe to say that discernment has died a depressing death. Charismatics have never seen a Heaven tourism story they don’t believe, a supposed secret in Scripture that don’t want to unlock, a single miracle or wonder they don’t confess to be true, or a prosperity teaching they won’t embrace. Discernment is dead in charismania, and if the Holy Spirit was among them, that would not be the case.
Jim Bakker has “fraud” stamped in red on his forehead, for anyone but the most spiritually gullible to perceive. There is a systemic problem in Charismania, and like with all continuationism, it begins by a practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture through leaving the continuationist window to any thief and liar that wants to come through the doors.
[Contributed by JD Hall]