The Cult of Personality Is Crumbling

20 02 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – February 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 2 – The Cult of Personality Is Crumbing – by Rev. Bob Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Cult of Personality Is Crumbling

By Rev. Bob Liichow

The following article is written by Gillian Flaccus – Associated Press Writer on 2/1/2009. The highlighting italics and underlining were added by DMI for emphasis.

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – Once one of the nation’s most popular televangelists, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is watching his life’s work crumble. His son and recent successor, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, has abruptly resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. The shimmering, glass-walled mega church is home to the “Hour of Power” broadcast, an evangelism staple that’s been on the air for more than three decades.

The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County Property to pay off debts. Revenue dropped by nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle’s Club members – who supply 30 percent of the church’s revenue – for donation and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support.

“The final months of 2008 were devastating for our ministry,” the 82-year old pastor wrote.

The Crystal Cathedral blames the recession for its woes. But it’s clear that the elder Schuller’s carefully orchestrated leadership transition, planned over a decade, has stumbled badly. It’s a problem common to personality driven ministries. Most have collapsed or been greatly diminished after their founders pulpit or died.

Members often tie their donations to the pastor, not the institution, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University. Schuller, with a style that blends pop psychology and theology, has a particularly devoted following, she said. “Viewers are probably much less likely to give when it’s not their preacher they’re giving to,” she said. “There’s something about these televised programs where people develop a certain loyalty.”

Today’s increasingly fragmented media landscape is also to blame, said Quentin Schultze, a Calvin College professor who specializes in Christian media. Church-based televangelism led by powerful personalities filled TV in the 1980s, but now only a handful of shows remain, he said. Among the struggling ministries are those of Oral Roberts and the late D. James Kennedy of “The Coral Ridge Hour” TV show. “I don’t see a scenario for maintaining a TV-based mega church anymore. The days of doing that in the models of Schuller and Jimmy Swaggart and Oral Roberts are over,” Schultze said. “It’s amazing to me that the ‘Hour of Power’ was able to keep going as long as it did.”

Through a spokesman Schuller Sr., his family members and other cathedral officials declined to comment. The younger Schuller, 54, did not respond to an e-mail requesting an interview. The elder Schuller, who called his weekly show “America’s Television Church,” founded his ministry in a drive-in-theater after moving to Southern California in 1955.

He studied marketing strategies to attract worshippers and preached a feel-good Christianity, describing himself as a “possibility thinker” and spinning his upbeat style into a 10,000-member church and a broadcast watched by millions worldwide. The church’s main sanctuary, the Crystal Cathedral, is a landmark designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, with a spire visible from afar amid Orange County’s suburban sprawl. Thousands make the pilgrimage to see where the broadcast is filmed before a live congregation. The Schullers consider the church a family business and the younger Schuller’s 2006 appointment was sanctioned by the Crystal Cathedral’s parent denomination, the Reformed Church in America.

But the church announced on Nov. 29, that Schuller Jr. had resigned as senior pastor, just a month after he was removed from the church’s syndicated broadcasts. In a news release, Schuller Sr. said: “Robert and I have been struggling as we each have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry.” The church since instituted a rotating roaster of high-profile guest preachers, including Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago-area mega church, and evangelist Luis Palau.

Schuller Sr.’s daughter and sons-in-law remain involved in the church, some in key roles. But Juan Carlos Ortiz, the interim senior pastor, hopes to appoint a senior pastor with no ties to the Schuller family within two years.

On the church Web site, concerned members and TV fans have posted hundreds of comments protesting the upheaval, with some indicating they have stopped giving or will leave altogether.

Several angry viewers have launched petitions to get the younger Schuller back. Melody Mook, a 58-year-old medical transcriptionist from El Paso, Texas, said she stopped her $25 monthly donation and is looking elsewhere for her spiritual needs. She said she dislikes the guest pastors. “I feel hurt and confused and I’m not sure that I want to sit and watch when I know there’s problems beneath the surface,” she said. “You feel like you’re in somebody else’s church every Sunday.” Others said they felt betrayed that the Schullers couldn’t put God before their family spat. “They have not been forthcoming at all,” said John Dewart, an insurance agent from New Jersey who’s watched for 30 years. “Why can’t a father and son work together for the glory of God.? That’s my big question.”

(End of Article)

For years, even when I was a raving charismatic one thing I always disagreed with was the practice of naming ministries, later I learned were really SINistries ) after the people who started them. When you put your name on something it points to you and if you are in ministry my advice is for you to always point to Jesus Christ the One who are supposed to be serving.

So the article by Flaccus should not come as any surprise. When various so-called works of God that are built upon fallen men or women will begin to crumble and fall when their founders begin to die off. I can promise you that any work that is bearing the name of a man will bear some of the marks of a cult of personality. I am referring to works men name after themselves, not names given by others posthumously.

For example, Oral Roberts reported that no less than God Himself told him never to touch the “three G’s.” The three g’s are (1) the gold, (2) the glory and (3) the girls. Well Oral seems to have been obedient with number 3, he is the husband of one wife with no hint of adultery. He failed with number one, he is phenomenally wealthy and number two he did name his university after himself, i.e. “Oral Roberts University,” and his SINistry is called “Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.” So is it any wonder with Oral and his deathbed that his son Richard is having trouble keeping the ORU ship afloat not to mention the television aspect of the work? After all, these things bear Oral’s name and not Richard’s. At best he stands in the shadow of his allegedly anointed father, a shadow Richard never could nor will outgrow.

Benny Hinn Media Ministries, is one of the “official” names of Mr. Hinn’s moneymaking machine. When he dies it will not continue. Why not? Because it is built around Mr. Hinn there is no “ministry.” The same can be said of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Jerry Savelle Ministries, Jesse Duplantis Ministries, Ed Dufresne Ministries, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, ad nauseam.

None of the above were created to live any longer than their flawed founders, apart from their specious books and tapes. None of them has any plans to really continue after the deaths of their namesakes. These leaders are not interested in raising up disciples because their operations are one-man shows. NEVER FORGET THIS FACT! It is all about Benny Hinn, Kenny Copeland, Joyce and Jesse.

Perhaps the one exception to the rule might be Marilyn Hickey Ministries. Marilyn is getting pretty long in the tooth so to speak and is not in the best of health. So a couple of years back she brought her daughter Sarah along side her. However, Sarah lacks the abilities her first-grade teacher mom has in communicating to audiences. She does try to use the same aphorisms and gestures as Marilyn but she ain’t Marilyn and when Marilyn dies that work will decrease to infecting people on a local church level as opposed to the current global level of infection.

I suppose in retrospect it is somewhat of a good thing that these SINisters thought only of themselves when they got started out. Because they have a built in self-destruct button in the form of their death (and I do not care how much faith you have, there is still one death per person).

In closing, I find it interesting that I cannot find one biblically sound television ministry that is named after a living person, man or woman. Names have meaning names indicate things and point people in certain directions. Biblically, names are important and often have prophetic meaning. Thus, I think the very act of consciously naming of a work (that is supposed to be about Jesus) after oneself speaks volumes abut the direction that work will take. Jesus’ words are as true today as they will be forever when He says “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” 

Copyright © 2009 Robert S. Liichow

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Why I like to Kneel In Church

28 08 2009

Truth Matters Newsletter – June 2006 – Vol. 11 Issue 6 – – Robert S. Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

Why I like to Kneel In Church

Today, many congregations and denominations are quickly jettisoning almost everything that could remotely be construed as “Traditional.” Some congregations have done completely away with singing the classic hymns and have replaced them with simple pietistic refrains that are repeated over and over. (1) Other church leaders have taken crosses out of their sanctuaries lest it offend the seeker they are attempting to reach with, I assume, the message of the very cross they have removed.

Many Evangelical and Protestant groups no longer recite the Lord’s Prayer and fewer still ever declare the Nicene or Apostles creed in their services. Part of the philosophy behind striping away the elements of historic orthodox Christianity is because they are seen as an impediment to the targeted demographic. (2) These aspects of our common faith are viewed as being non relevant in today’s “have it your way culture.”

What the Church Growth Movement (aka “Seeker Sensitive”) does not comprehend is that worship service is about Jesus and not our comfort or making us feel good about ourselves. (3)

Another ancient practice that will not be found in this contemporary form of Christianity is that of Kneeling before The Ancient of Days and whole on our knees confessing our sins in unison. For twenty years in various church/denominational settings my wife and family never knelt and confessed our sins as part of the worship service. I am glad to be a part of a congregation that has not lost any of our historic Evangelical practices, including kneeling for confession, prayer and kneeling during the reception of the Holy Supper.

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. Psalm 95:6

And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven. Kings 8: 54

There is something that strikes me at a deep spiritual level when I kneel before the transcendent God of all creation. It reminds me that I am the creature, and He is the Creator. It is a posture of submission and humility. It is an attitude of supplication and an acknowledgment that I am poor in spirit and I am in continual need of God’s grace.

Perhaps some churches don’t kneel because it smacks of “Roman Catholicism” in their thinking. Possibly they think that they don’t have to kneel, after all God sees the heart so our posture is unimportant. Let me address these two misconceptions right now before we continue. First, the Church knelt before the Lord long before Roman Catholicism existed. Secondly, yes God does see our heart and if we could see it as He does we’d be on our faces and not just our knees!

When people encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry they often knelt before Him when making their requests:

And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. Matthew 17:14-15.

And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: Luke 8:41.

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed. Luke 22:41.

Kneeling before the Lord is the Biblical pattern. There are few examples of people simply walking up to Jesus and looking Him face-to-face petitioned Him for something. We see this pattern of humility in prayer modeled by both the Apostle Peter and Paul of Acts:

But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up. Acts 9:40

And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. Acts 20:36

Even throughout the Old Testament people usually knelt in prayer to God.

When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:3

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Daniel 6:10

So when I kneel I sense a deep connection to al the ancient people of God upon whose shoulders we all stand. If people knelt in prayer before the advent of Christ, then knelt to Him during, His earthly ministry, how much more so should we kneel today now that He has ascended back to the right hand of God the Father Almighty in all His glory?

Some might argue that kneeling can become a form of pietistic pride “see I kneel, so I am truly humble.” If that is anyone’s attitude then they are simply wasting their time. Any spiritual practice can be abused and turned into a form of works righteousness, but this need not be the case if one truly understands the reason behind what is being done or practiced.

One thing that can keep people away from feeling sanctimonious is the purpose behind our kneeling. In our congregation’s worship service we kneel initially to confess our sins before our Holy God. The pastor begins by inviting God’s people to kneel and confess our sins to God (the pastor kneels as well, knowing himself to be a sinner in need of God’s grace too). Here is what we confess as a people in unison:

Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination.

Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.

Congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen. (4)

Certainly this confession can become just so many words habitually spoken without any impact in some people’s lives, but as we would all agree, God knows our hearts. He knows who is sincere in their repentance and who is just going through the motions. People can be just as hypocritical standing a kneeling.

Trust me when I say after years of charismatic indiscrimination it was initially hard to verbally say out loud that I am by nature “sinful and unclean.” I had been wrongly taught and had taught others that yes once we were sinners, but now we are the very righteousness of God in Christ! Just try to get a Word of Faith cultist to confess they are sinners (good luck!). So, actually verbalizing those words brought some initial cognitive dissonance within me. However, I did confess that negative confession because it was true. The following quotation is an answer to this very issue of saying we are poor miserable sinners:

You are certainly correct in affirming the scriptural truth that believers are set free from sin through Christ and are no longer slaves to sin, and consequently are also free from its penalty, death. As St. Paul plainly says in Romans 6, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Yet this same apostle in the very next chapter of Romans writes of his struggle as a sinner/saint: “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched [the Greek word here means “miserable, wretched,” “distressed”–A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 9881 man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:23-25). On the basis of Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 Luther spoke of Christians as paradoxically at one and the same time “saint and sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). He wrote, “The saints in being righteous are at the same time sinners; they are righteous because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but they are sinners because they do not fulfill the law and are not without sinful desires. They are like sick people in the care of a physician: they are really sick, but healthy only in the hope and insofar as they begin to be better, healed, i.e. they will become health. Nothing can harm them so much as the presumption that they are in fact healthy, for it will cause a bad relapse.” It is altogether proper and fitting, therefore, for Christians to confess that they are poor miserable sinners, and with full seriousness, while at the same time they rejoice in the forgiving love of Christ who has taken away their guilt-the love which is announced and imparted to them in the absolution. (5)

Then once we have made our confession of sin something amazing (and greatly misunderstood by many people) happens in the service! The Pastor stands up and says:

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Chirst, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [John 20:19-23]. (6)

We are forgiven all of our sins! We are “absolved” of them based totally on the mercy of God and merit of Christ Jesus on the cross for us. What confuses some Christians is that they mistakenly think that The Evangelical Church believes that it is the pastor who upon hearing our confession of sin forgives our sins. This is simply not the case. Roman Catholicism believes that their priests have the authority to actually forgive sins, but that is not what the Bible or The Evangelical Church believes. To absolve simply means to set free from sin. By virtue of his office and in the name and stead of Christ a pastor absolves those who have confessed their sins. (7) So when we hear the words “I forgive you all your sins” in reality it is not the pastor speaking per se, it is no less than Jesus Christ Himself, for those are His words. Glad tidings indeed!! As long as we are on the subject of confession and absolution, one need not be a pastor to forgive another their sins —

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much. James 5:16

Every Christian is called upon (see Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13) to do this two-fold work: (1) confess their sins and (2) to forgive those who sin against them. In our formal worship setting we do this as a body together, but it can be done privately, and if you are anything like me, I am throughout the day asking my Lord’s forgiveness when I stray in word, thought or deed.

We also kneel at the altar rail to receive the body and blood of our Lord in communion. As we approach the altar we bow, then the pastor invites us to come forward, upon doing so we kneel and the elements are distributed. After everyone has partaken the pastor pronounces a blessing over us and we return to our seats. During this time hymns appropriate to the Lord’s Supper (an audible gasp is heard from a seeker Christian who surreptitiously sneaks a read of your issue) are sung by the congregation. After communion is received my family chooses to kneel again in thanks for the gift the father has given us in His Son and for the strength of joy granted to us by His Spirit.

Let me close by reiterating that I, Bob Liichow, enjoy kneeling before our Lord. This practice is seen from Genesis to The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It does not make me more spiritual to kneel nor does it make Christians who do not kneel less spiritual. It is simply part of our ancient Christian tradition (there I said that word again) and it is a tradition I fully appreciate. ♦

Copyright © 2006  Robert S. Liichow

1. I am not against contemporary Christian music. Based on over twenty years of singing “contemporary” songs I can unequivocally state that they lack the solid theological content of the traditional hymns of the Church. Admittedly the new music has a beat, you can clap and dance to it but that misses the point of the singing which is to focus on Christ, lift Him up and glorify Him.

2. Church Growth gurus believe that the major reason people do not attemd church is because it is too traditional, is not relevant to their daily lives, demands too much of its members. CGM gurus thus came up with a wide variety of marketing techniques to lure in the un-churched. They use everything from jugglers to clowns, stadium seating, tone down the message so it is no longer convicting and thus not a true presentation of the Gospel.

3. Naturally I am not saying that worship service does not meet our needs or that they are to be boring. The focus is to always be Christ centered and not man-centered.

4. Obtained from http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Worship/DS2.pdf

5. Obtained from http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=2624

6. ibid

7. Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, p. 684.