Orcs

Once a wall has been breached, it rarely can be taken back again. At least not without a complete overhaul from leadership down. For the Christian, that means from Christ alone.  Whether we like it or not, we are in a battle of an epic scale, and our job is to follow Christ and keep His commands.

But when walls are breached, what is a Christian to do? Engage? Flee?

Last week we shared one such breach of Liberty University (Benny Hinn announces Liberty University partnership; Liberty says “not so fast.”) on the part of Word of Faith “healer” Benny Hinn, who claimed a partnership with the Christian organization that Liberty quickly denied.  In this excellent follow up by Susan Stilley, we see how the components are in play.

Liberty University, Benny Hinn and The New Battle of Lynchburg      By Susan Stilley  (Originally published at Life’s Script and reprinted here with permission)

During the Civil War, Lynchburg was a strategic city for the South.  It served as a supply and hospital base and due to the railroad and canal, was an important connection for supplying the rest of the Confederate Army.  For this reason, Maj. General David Hunter of the Union Army sought to capture it.  He was unsuccessful.  Though the confederates at one point fell back, they managed to hold off the assaults until the Union army’s ammunition was diminished.  Convinced his Union troops were outnumbered by Lt. General Jubal Early’s forces, Hunter retreated across the Shenandoah Valley.

Today, Lynchburg is the home of Liberty University which is the largest Christian University in the world.  It is a strategic base which serves to equip believers who go on to serve in their churches and the broader culture. Proclaiming it’s mission to be the advance of the gospel, Liberty has been spiritually targeted.  Like a savvy general, Satan has identified an important supply line and has sought to capture it.  He has attempted to do so by means of rallying criticism from the secular world as well as tempting those within.  The result has been a series of controversies and poor choices.  There is a new battle of Lynchburg today and Satan shows no sign of retreat.

Enter Benny Hinn.  For several decades now, sober minded Christians have kept a careful and lengthy distance from Faith Healer Benny Hinn and the imitators he has spawned.  The intellectual rigor, Scriptural integrity and passion for truth that has characterized so much of the evangelical movement was ensconced on one side of a great ideological wall, while Hinn’s brand of televangelist hucksterism resided on the other.  Yet in recent years, that landscape has changed.  An increasing number of spiritual charlatans have jumped the wall, not to grow in the knowledge of Christ, but to infiltrate.  To spread a false gospel.  Regrettably, men who should know better have invited such breaches.  Recently, the provost and VP of Academic Affairs at Liberty University, Dr. Ronald Godwin, appeared on Benny Hinn’s television show.  Not only did he invite Hinn to jump the wall, he provided the ladder.

There is much I find disturbing about this video clip, starting with the very beginning in which Hinn holds up a framed diploma and asks his audience, “How would you like your name to be on a diploma that says ‘Liberty University’ and you have your name here?  And get this and put it on your wall?  Now…that is a very powerful question I just asked.”

Powerful indeed.  So powerful, in fact that Benny Hinn and his guests, Dan Reber – Director of Liberty Home Bible Institute and Dr. Ronald Godwin – Liberty University Provost and Senior VP for Academic Affairs, spend the next ten minutes trying to convince Hinn’s audience they should purchase a Bible survey kit which includes a book, study guide, quizzes, and 10 hour instructional DVD for…gulp… fifteen hundred dollars.

That’s right, two zeros.  Fifteen HUNDRED dollars!  Of course like all good infomercials, the price tag isn’t revealed in the ‘on air’ sales pitch.  Don’t want to scare off any customers.   Once you probe further on the Benny Hinn Ministries website, you get the final tally.  The sticker shock is somewhat ameliorated by the fact you can break up the cost into three easy payments of five hundred dollars each.  Whew!  So they don’t have to have ALL the money up front.  That’s a relief.  We wouldn’t want to think anyone was greedy here, would we?

The Bible study materials were written by Dr. Ed Hindson, Dean of the School of Religion and Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty and an esteemed leader.  I don’t doubt the material is well done and helpful.  But that is not the ‘selling point’.  The first selling point is the ‘credentials’ obtained via a diploma from Liberty, which Hinn raises tantalizingly before the camera in an impressive frame.  The second selling point is the offer by Benny Hinn himself of licensing and ordination through his World Healing Fellowship.  A discussion ensues about pastors in other countries who are losing their churches and property as a result of not having ‘proper credentials’.  My question for Reber and Godwin would be this:  If you are aware of such incidents, do you think sending them to Benny Hinn for ordination is the best way to remedy the situation?   If Liberty University is the largest Christian University in the world with vast connections to churches and reputable para-church organizations all over the globe, are you really saying that the best solution to their problems is Benny Hinn?

Furthermore, shouldn’t ordination take place within one’s denomination and local church?  The consecration or ‘setting one apart’ for the pastorate is most appropriate in a setting by which a man is evaluated and qualified by those who know him, know his character, and have heard him teach the Scripture.  Are you seriously suggesting that such a process can be fast-tracked for a price by a shady faith healer from afar?  God forbid.

Going back to the first selling point, that of the diploma itself, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of target audience were most apt to fall for this pitch.   I propose there are three main categories:

1.  The person who wants to go to seminary but can’t afford it.

In this case, it is especially grievous that Hinn, Reber, and Godwin are playing (perhaps unwittingly) on someone’s vulnerability.  This person earnestly wants to study theology formally but doesn’t have the resources to do so.  Perhaps he is married with children.  So here is a person who is already financially strapped and he is encouraged  to spend fifteen hundred dollars on an overpriced study set?

And suppose he takes the bait and forks over the big bucks?  What then?  After all, listening to ten, hour long lectures does not a pastor make.  Good grief, I listen to that many lectures in a typical week on my i-phone while grocery shopping and waiting for my kids to get out of Little League practice.

A better counsel for this person would be to find a spiritual mentor, his own pastor perhaps, and learn from him as Timothy learned from Paul.  Take advantage of the numerous classes, lectures, chapel sermons from universities and seminaries that are available online for FREE.  We don’t live in the 1970’s.  There are a vast amount of resources online, even if you don’t have access to a brick and mortar school.

2.  The layman who wants to study and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

I can’t quibble with either of those motivations and if he has the money to spend, he can spend five thousand dollars if he so chooses.  But I have to wonder, shouldn’t the material in a basic Old Testament and New Testament survey course be the same material that is standard fare at a Bible teaching church?  If there is a need to beef up the lessons in a particular area, perhaps that money would be better invested in the local church to add another weekday class.  The average church in America has about 150 members.  Many fall well below that with bi-vocational pastors who hold full time jobs as well as their teaching/pastoral responsibilities.  I submit that money is best utilized to serve the local congregation, rather than be siphoned off to the likes of Benny Hinn or his associates.

3.  The person with ministry aspirations who wants a shortcut. 

Considering that this person is already a fan of Benny Hinn, I assume that his model of a ‘man of God’ is of the ‘Word of Faith – Name It and Claim It’ variety.  Is it prudent for Liberty University to promote a diploma/certificate plan specifically toward this demographic?  Does Liberty University really want a new cadre of heretical Benny Hinn apostles running to and fro in churches and across the cable channels, proudly boasting of their diploma with a golden seal from Liberty University?  Is it fair to Liberty students past and present who put in the hard, scholastic work or the solid professors who were probably embarrassed by this video clip, to see the school where they learn and serve potentially gain the reputation as a ‘diploma mill’?

The manner in which Reber and Godwin make their pitch seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  Much is made of the fact that this study kit is so ‘easy’.  The instructional lesson is only thirty minutes a day.  You can listen to it when you are getting ready in the morning, or on your break. Simple quizzes.   Honestly, this approach sounded more like an infomercial for a ‘Thigh Master’ than an encouragement to study the Scriptures.  And if someone has aspirations to be a pastor and ‘struggles’ with thirty minutes of Bible study, then maybe he should rethink his calling.

The Aftermath

In the wake of criticism, Liberty University issued a quick response on April 3rd, titled, “Liberty Not Partnering With Hinn”, despite the fact that Dan Reber stated on the program that he was partnering with Hinn (even hand slapping ‘bro-style’ on the deal struck) and Ronald Godwin’s appearance as Provost and VP of Academic Affairs would also seem to imply as much.

Further clarifications were added which you can read here.  Much confusion arose from the distinctions between Liberty University, the Liberty Institute of Biblical Studies, and the Liberty University’s Liberty Home Bible Institute, the latter having been transferred to Dan Reber a number of years ago.  He has a company which markets certain courses for the LHBI and the IBS.  Questions regarding licensing rights, stipulations on marketing, and whether such courses could be transferred for credit or not, muddle things further.

Frankly, all the details on the legalities and relationships of the various entities are somewhat ‘in the weeds’.  The average viewer of  Benny Hinn’s program is not likely following up on any objections Liberty University is now having to Hinn’s pronouncements.  They heard one message loud and clear:  Liberty University stamps their seal of approval upon Benny Hinn.  It’s kind of hard to unring that bell.  And when you try to talk to friends, relatives, co-workers who sincerely believe that Hinn and his ilk are doing the Lord’s work, it is hard to persuade them otherwise.  Why should they believe ‘little old you’ when their spiritual hero is in cooperation with the largest Christian University in the world?

Breaching The Wall

I want to give Dan Reber and Ron Godwin the benefit of the doubt.  In his statement, Godwin explains that he went on the program because he was chiefly concerned “that small church pastors in multiple countries are facing government takeovers” and that “Reber’s motivation was to provide Bible education to pastors in desperate need of such education.”

Fine.  I’ll take him at his word, but this does raise another question.  Were Reber and Godwin aware of the excessive cost that Benny Hinn Ministries is charging for this Bible survey kit?  Surely these pastors in desperate circumstances would not be expected to shell out $1,500.  Would a separate fund be established for the purpose of sending the material to pastors in foreign countries who are facing the loss of their churches?

Godwin laments, “And I further relied on Pastor Hinn’s personal assurance that no public pronouncements would be made without my approval – which approvals I never gave, orally or in writing.”

So did Benny Hinn ‘con’ Reber and Godwin in some way?  Not having been privy to the discussions, it’s hard to say.   As of today’s writing, April 6th, Hinn has not removed any of the promotional material featuring Liberty from his website.

If Hinn did manipulate the situation for his own benefit, is anyone at all surprised?  No.  Manipulation has been standard operating procedure for the extreme charismatic movement for decades.  That is why you don’t allow enemies of truth to cross over to your side of the wall.  They may offer peace and unity at first but beware of  the hidden weapon.  Satan’s weapon is deception.  His goal is to confuse the gospel message so he lies and flatters and does whatever it takes for people to let down their guard.  Then he strikes.

Despite the millions of dollars Benny Hinn has managed to extract from his followers, many of them poor and in desperate physical condition, there is one thing he has never possessed.  Academic respectability.  I believe he thought an association with Liberty University would help shed his image as a charlatan who preys on the crowd’s emotions.  He wants to broaden his scope and gain a hearing among the mainstream.  He thought Liberty would be his path out of the fringe element. Yet how can any theologian or serious Christian give one ounce of credibility to someone with such abberant theology?

Hinn is an admitted necromancer who claims he received his special annointing via the spirit of Kathryn Khulman and at the grave of Aimee Semple McPherson.  He teaches that the Biblical Adam was a literal ‘Superman’ who could fly to outer space, having been given dominion over the fowl of the air.  He has denied the Trinity and has ratcheted the number of persons within the Godhead to nine.  Hinn claims that God gives him divine revelation and that God has spoken to him more than he spoke to Moses.  Hinn teaches that at Jesus’ death, he shared in the nature of Satan.  He is a proponent of ‘positive confession’, the idea that words themselves have magical properties (he calls it faith) so that he can literally speak things into existence.  He teaches that we are all ‘little gods’, therefore we should never be sick.  Those who are not healed by Hinn’s special powers are themselves at fault for their illness because they apparently didn’t have enough faith.

Academics should run for the hills where Benny Hinn is concerned, yet apparently, Hinn’s angling for credibility from the other side of the wall is nothing new.  In his 2009 book, ‘Blood In The Sand‘, the bio of Hinn on the back cover reads in part:  “He is founder of Benny Hinn School of Ministry, now with more than 11,000 students, offering a cooperative relationship with Liberty University in college-level studies.”  Who authorized this ‘cooperation’ and what exactly does it entail?  I don’t recall ever opening Liberty University Alumnis material from my mailbox and ever reading one sentence explaining a relationship between the school and greedy, fake, crackpot faith healers.

This debacle runs much deeper than a simple, “Gee, I didn’t know who had the copyright and the authority to sell what to who”, mistake.  It strikes at the heart of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.  “Purge the evil person from among you.”  (1 Cor 5:9-12)

Paul is clear.  For those who claim to be a brother in Christ but who exhibit these wicked traits, we are to not even share a meal.  Even more, should we not share in a questionable infomercial broadcast to millions of people.  There is a redemptive purpose in Paul’s instruction, so that such a person might actually come to a place of repentance.  But also there is the matter of giving the appearance of approval of the sinful conduct and bringing reproach on the church and the gospel.

There may be differing opinions as to whether certain people in the church, particularly visible leaders, have fallen into idolatry, greed, heresy, or other sins.  In the case of Benny Hinn, demonstrable evidence over many years have proven him to be a swindler of the worst variety.  He preys on the most vulnerable, those plagued by illness, physical hardship and suffering and offers relief via his claim of a ‘special annointing’ by God.  He has bilked people out of millions of dollars and enriched himself, all at the expense of those whose faith is left shattered and their understanding of the gospel, thoroughly confused.

Empty Trains

The original Battle of Lynchburg lasted two days.  After the first day of fighting, trains could be heard throughout the night moving up and down the tracks.  The trains were empty but they gave a false impression to General Hunter and Union troops that the Confederates were receiving additional reinforcements.  Lynchburg citizens played their part in the charade by making much commotion with bugles, drums, and cheers.  After a second day of inconclusive fighting, Hunter was convinced that he was probably outnumbered and retreated at nightfall.

In the new Battle of Lynchburg, as well as the other various battles being fought across the spiritual landscape, we are in a much better position.  We don’t have to depend on charades and empty trains.  Our trains are full.  They are full of believers who grasp the truth, just as they are firmly held and empowered by Him which is The Truth.

The question each of us must ask himself is this – am I willing to climb aboard for the battle?