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TBN anything but traditional

The Orange County Register, USA
June 1, 1998
Carol McGraw and Kim Christensen, The Orange County Register
www.ocregister.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday June 1, 1998

The Costa Mesa-based ministry stands apart, even from its often-dramatic Pentecostal cousins.

COSTA MESA Dressed in black jeans and a white dress shirt, Paul Crouch praised the Lord, slipped out of his loafers and stepped waist deep into the cascading waters of his new, million-dollar Fountain of Life.

The crowd sang “Amazing Grace” as about 60 followers were baptized Saturday by the founder of the world’s largest Christian TV network, during the weeklong grand opening celebration for Trinity Broadcasting‘s multimillion-dollar headquarters.

TBN: The Gospel of Prosperity

PART 1: A worldwide television ministry prospers

Television has built TBN into a power
The Orange County-based network has grown in 25 years from one station to 750, largely thanks to gifts from viewers.

PART 2: The theology behind Trinity Broadcasting

TBN anything but traditional
The Costa Mesa-based ministry stands apart, even from its often-dramatic Pentecostal cousins.

Growth of a dynasty
They are among the most influential of modern-day evangelists, photographed with presidents and queens, traveling the world by private jet, a channel to God for 8 million saved souls.

PART 3: Millions for a new world headquarters

TBN’s headquarters built on grand scale
Supporters say the heavenly make- over is a tribute to a higher power. But it carries a lofty price.

Private suite is a sight to behold, carpenters say
But the public won’t see it. A TBN official describes it as ‘standard executive offices.’

The fountain in which the believers were fully immersed is not your traditional baptismal tank.

But then, TBN is anything but traditional even when compared with churches that fall under the Pentecostal wing of Christianity to which it adheres.

Trinity Broadcasting Network has been described as everything from the world’s biggest electronic church to entertainment evangelism to the vestiges of the tent revivalism of the Dust Bowl era.

“They are Pentecostals, but not the kind who don’t wear makeup or jewelry,” said Quentin Schultze, an expert on televangelism and professor of communications at Calvin College in Michigan. “They have conservative beliefs but justify fairly lavish lifestyles with prosperity gospel.”

Also known as the gospel of personal wealth, prosperity gospel teaches that those who give money for God’s work will be freed from their own financial burdens so they can give more to finance the Second Coming of Christ.

It’s a familiar theme on “Praise the Lord,” a Pentecostal version of “The Tonight Show” that airs live five times a week on TBN.

Hosted by Crouch and his wife, Jan, it features famous preachers and celebrities, praise music acts, prayer, Christian weight lifters, former sports figures, cooking programs, Bible readings, faith healing and biblical prophecy applied to current events.

Although TBN has several small chapels, including one at its Tustin office complex, “Praise the Lord” is its equivalent of other churches’ regularly scheduled services. A new studio at TBN’s world headquarters in Costa Mesa is even designed to look like the interior of a Gothic cathedral.

But unlike more traditional Christian churches, there are no communion rituals or liturgy, no denominational affiliation.

And Christian fellowship comes not in sitting elbow to elbow with others on Sunday, but in being part of a studio audience, attending seminars or calling the TBN prayer line to commune with volunteer “prayer partners,” who also accept monetary pledges.

Still, many find a sense of intimacy, even through the airwaves.

Maybe you are in jail, maybe your child is on the streets, maybe you are a drug addict, the Crouches say. Don’t despair. We’ll hold your hand, help you find God.

The network’s theme is “Come Home to TBN,” and many viewers say they have done just that.

“It’s like family,” says Shelley Meyer, 43, a Santa Ana office worker who has watched TBN since its fledgling beginnings. “When I’m down, I turn it on. It’s always there for me.”

Another of those drawn by TBN’s ministry is actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr., star of the 1960s hit series the “The FBI.”

“One night I was fiddling with the dial, and on came TBN. I found the people funny. But I kept watching,” he told viewers, adding that weeks later he dialed the prayer line. “I called in and a precious lady, a prayer partner, led me to the Lord.”

Today, Zimbalist has a five-minute show on TBN in which he reads the Bible.

Some others who respect the Crouches also say they at first were put off by Jan’s flamboyant dress and coiffure, and her teary-eyed emotionalism, and by Paul’s theology.

“There’s lots of people in the Christian community that don’t care for them … because they don’t like their style,” said the Rev. Jack Hayford, pastor of the 10,000-member Church on the Way in Van Nuys.

“I didn’t like the way Paul did his thing, and Jan, she gets wild on TV. She can be a strange lady,” Hayford said on a recent TBN program. But one day while Hayford was watching TBN, he said, God “hit me with a sledgehammer” and said, ” ‘You don’t approve of the way I created them, do you?’ ”

Hayford said he began to weep and realized he’d been too judgmental, that God had given the world many different ministerial styles. Soon afterward, he said, the Crouches called him and, out of the blue, asked him to do his own show on TBN because he had a “different style.”

He has been their personal minister for 20 years.

TBN shares some traditions with other churches, including baptizing those who have been born again.

But coming to Southern California or one of the other TBN studio sites is not an option for many viewers. Those who tell TBN they’ve been saved spiritually by the network are sent letters from the Crouches urging them to find a local church where they can be baptized.

TBN: The Blasphemy Network

Trintiy Broadcasting Network (TBN), led by founders Paul and Jan Crouch, is the world’s largest religious TV network. It claims to be a Christian ministry.

However, while some legitimate ministries and teachers (those who adhere to the orthodox teachings and practices of historical Christianity) appear on TBN, the network promotes such an incredible amount of heretical material – including extremist Word-Faith teachings – that it is often referred to as “The Blasphemy Network.”

George Wood, secretary-general of Missouri-based Assemblies of God, which the Crouches quit in 1975, says televangelism will never replace local church work but does complement it. It reaches those who never go to church, are housebound, or might “get saved” while channel surfing.

But for many viewers, the electronic church is their church of choice. They rely solely on TBN for their spiritual development. Figures released by TBN show that 43 percent have a “low” involvement with formal religion.

Jeffrey Hadden, a University of Virginia sociologist who has written extensively about televangelism, said the Crouches are a throwback to the early days of radio, when fundamentalist preachers had trouble getting air time.

They started their own stations, broadcasting from powerful ‘clear channel’ stations in Texas and elsewhere. They supported their stations by putting others on the air in exchange for a share of callers’ pledge money.

Hadden said the Crouches “appeal to the same people that Pentecostalism appealed to in the early part of this century, when the Dust Bowl drove tens of thousands of people from Kansas and Oklahoma across the deserts and the mountains into Southern California.”

While Hadden described the Crouches and many who appear on their show as “urban hillbillies of sorts,” he said no one has been better at reaching a mass audience.

“Paul has done it with greater zeal, and more effectively, than anyone else who has come along,” Hadden said. “He has an enormous amount of communications power there. He has an enormous capacity to influence.”

Read The Orange County Register online

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