printable version

Was the UPCI Wise in Saying NO to Televangelism?
By J.R. Ensey

The perception of progress and the reality of retreat went quarreling through my mind as I read and heard the reports of one of our ministers appearing on Trinity Broadcasting Network. Just a few years ago the brethren of the UPCI had taken the stand that our ministers would not utilize television as a medium of ministry. The stipulation currently reads: “No minister having television in his or her home shall be permitted to hold license or credentials with the UPCI. Furthermore, no United Pentecostal Church minister shall be permitted to advertise or minister on television. This does not preclude unsolicited representatives of the news media covering functions.”

Did we miss God’s will? Has this recent step signaled that this restriction is no longer in force?

For the UPCI to take its stand back then indicates that much consideration and prayer had gone into the decision. The discussion on the conference floor was spirited but clearly a strong majority opposed the idea. Were their reasons sound? Perhaps younger men who were not there wonder how could anyone oppose “reaching out to unsaved millions” through the medium of television? Accusations against the majority who voted to refrain suggested that they didn’t love souls, they had no vision, and they were nothing more than self-righteous sticks in the mud who were bound to a “hold the fort” mentality. Time has proven them wrong on all points.1

What has been the result of that decision? First, it is obvious that we have...

Avoided Significant Division and Confusion

Had the decision gone the other way, it certainly would have been very divisive. Hard choices would have been forced on a large number of brethren. It is a serious matter, especially for those who have seen the negative side of apostolic televangelism.

Division would have also resulted at the local level. When the image of a neighboring pastor—or one from a distant city—is splashed across the TV screens of the community (or world), he may or may not project a level of commitment to the apostolic message consistent with the UPCI Manual. For a pastor to hold differing views and contain them within his assembly is one thing, but to broadcast them on nationwide television is quite another. Confusion could easily result: “How can their folks look like that and still be called United Pentecostal?” A pastor’s answer would have to be framed just right or he could either come across as judgmental, narrow, jealous, or all three. Transfers could increase dramatically. This could easily lead to a breaking of the bonds of fellowship at every level of our organization. TV ministers often give their programs to agents who place it in markets all over the country. The minister may not even be aware of where his program is being watched.

It may be said that some have already left us in order to go on TV. True, but only a handful. And the immediate departure by most of them from the doctrines and holiness standards embraced by the UPCI revealed the truth of John’s statement: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19). A pastor can limit interaction with those assemblies and evangelists with whom he strongly disagrees now, but if they were on television, then theoretically they would have access to every family in his church where there is a television in the home.

Second, the stand gave pastors...

Needed Support In Managing the TV Issue In Their Churches

Pastors can point to this section of the Manual and say that their position is in line with the UPCI, and that this provision is the corporate will of the brethren. This has aided pastors in keeping TV out of many homes. It is a constant struggle but pastors know if television proliferates in the body of Christ, it can have no effect but spiritual harm. Having UPCI ministers on television invites those who are wanting to have a television to go ahead and get one. At that point, pastoral resistance can be made to appear as out of step, non-progressive, or anti-revival, or some similar label proponents enjoy using. It would be increasingly difficult to stand against the wearing of make-up should UPCI televangelists wear it, and virtually all TV personalities do in order to keep their noses and foreheads from appearing shiny and to minimize perspiration while “under the hot lights.” It is said that Richard Nixon lost the TV debate with John F. Kennedy partly because he refused to put on make-up.

Third, it has...

Kept some ministers from narcissistic pride which is common in that arena.

Television personalities tend to become stars. Celebrities. Larger than life. Often such status is only in one’s head, but perception can be reality. The temptation is certainly there and it has motivated others to feel elevated above their brethren, on some spiritual pinnacle, or in some way to “think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). Many televangelists have fallen into financial ruin, moral failure, or serious ethical violations. No doubt they never intended to do so, but when one gets into that sphere where these realities are common, he often finds himself trapped. Televangelism is a black hole financially, requiring massive amounts of money. New ways to attract sufficient income must always be in the minister’s mind. Wealth must be tapped and gained. Who would finance it? Another fund drive with pledges? Or would individual viewers have to be solicited—perhaps some from your own congregation?

How many televangelists have sold their soul in order to pay broadcast bills? Paul reminded Timothy that seekers after money “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (I Timothy 6:9-11). Flee these things! Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” While there is temptation to some degree almost everywhere, there seems to be an overabundance of it in the televangelism arena.2

Fourth, it has...

Helped Us Maintain Our Spiritual Identity

It is doubtful that any one thing has done more damage to the body of Christ than television. It has directly contributed to the fact that 75-80% of our young people do not continue in the faith when they become adults. It creates a false illusion of relationships and of life in general, and creates an inner hunger to get out there and get a piece of the action. A few “progressive” pastors have thought to bring the action into the church so they won’t have to go far to find it. Giant TVs are set up on Superbowl Sunday in the “Family Life” Center (what a misnomer when used for this purpose.) Youth classrooms are being turned into video arcades. Strobe lights are installed and artificial smoke is generated to give music presentations the appearance of a rock concert. Does it work? All one has to do is to visit some of those churches to see that it only “increases unto more ungodliness” (II Timothy 2:16).

Our apostolic identity was established through adherence to II Corinthians 6:17: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” Our Manual provisions were written in order to maintain that identity and our separation from the world. Televangelism by its very nature, would push us in another direction. The environment of the television industry is not conducive to apostolic principles.

Fifth, it probably would have been...

Regressive Rather Than Progressive

Wouldn’t it be progressive to put the gospel within reach of many people who may not ever darken the door of a church? That has a nice ring, and one has to appreciate the sincere burden that anyone may have to reach the lost; however, it is idealistic to merely fantasize about a powerful but faceless minister appearing on TV declaring the apostolic message. Reality is that ministers are not faceless, and it is quite likely that none of them would be all things to all men, acceptable to all Pentecostal pastors.

While televangelism sounds exciting, cooler heads recognize the implications for the body of Christ and know that it has more potential for regress than for progress. Just because something is labeled as “progressive” does not mean that it is. The effect has to earn and certify the label. No step is progress if it doesn’t take you in the direction of where you ought to go. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

The progressive aspect may be merely an illusion—a mirage, always in view but never reached. If progress is defined as simply doing something that we are not currently doing, then perhaps televangelism is progress. But by that simple definition, sporting an array of body piercings and becoming a regular at the casino might also be classified as progressive. The point is, there are limits to propriety.3 Recognizing this, our brethren inserted the stipulation in the Manual. It seemed good unto us and to the Holy Ghost.

The retreat, however, is not an illusion but a reality. If silence on this current infraction is seen as tacit approval or secret applause, thereby encouraging others to get involved, then we have retreated. We will have backed away from our position of not promoting our ministry on television. Which by-law or position is next to go? While the Manual is not sacred, it has served as a reliable compass to steer us safely away from the rocks of compromise and kept the old ship of Zion on an apostolic course. It is time to go forward, not retreat; to affirm, not deny; to go forward, not backward. Retreat is not essential for revival.

History has revealed that the UPCI was indeed wise in saying NO to televangelism. It was a positive step. May wisdom from above yet prevail in all our future deliberations.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).

That was good advice then, but it is great advice today.

back to top