Disclaimer: I do not endorse Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (JSM). I offer this posting strictly as a summary of my recent observations.
Back when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in the early 1980’s, (c)hristian television was pretty bad, just like today with all of the shenanigans going on at TBN. The biggest name in (c)hristian television back then was Jim Bakker, who preached a nascent prosperity gospel with his flamboyant wife, Tammy Faye, on their PTL network. Another big-name televangelist at the time was Jimmy Swaggart. It was Swaggart who helped bring down his fellow-Pentecostal, Bakker, when financial improprieties and sexual scandals began coming to light in 1987. But Swaggart wasn’t immune from scandal himself. Just a year later, in 1988, he was caught with a prostitute, and again in 1991. Swaggart should have resigned, but he had a mini-empire down there in Baton Rouge and kept the wheels rolling. Defrocked by the Assemblies of God, Swaggart faded into semi-obscurity.
Flash forward to 2018. My wife and I just purchased a new mattress with an adjustable base. Wowza! It’s a fine thing to recline in bed with my head and feet raised up. Ahhh! I usually wind down my day by aimlessly channel surfing in bed until I turn out the lights, but lately I’ve been pausing on Jimmy Swaggart’s SonLife Network (SLN) cable channel. Jimmy Swaggart? Is he still around? Yes, brother Swaggart is now 83-years-old, and has actually revived his once very-troubled ministry with the help of his son, Donnie, and grandson, Gabriel.
I’ve watched the SLN channel irregularly for about a month and I do have a few observations:
- Pretty much forgotten after his scandals, Swaggart’s ministry was deep in the dumps – Sunday attendance at his 7000-seat Family Worship Center was only a couple of hundred in the early aughts – until he improbably revived the enterpri$e through his SLN cable network. Read the amazing story here.
- Swaggart is a Pentecostal and I am a cessationist in regards to the apostolic gifts of the Spirit. Jimmy and his associates refer to glossolalia and healings quite a bit, but I take all of that with a grain of salt, no offense intended to my Pentecostal and charismatic brethren.
- Swaggart does preach the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, but he delivers it packaged as “The Message of the Cross,” a slogan he uses repeatedly. A viewer gets the impression that he’s had the phrase trademarked, he uses it so often. For every time Jesus’ name is mentioned by Swaggart, “the cross” is mentioned ten or fifteen times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not saying we should never mention what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, it’s just that the cross is given a strange preeminence at JSM.
- Swaggart constantly hawks his “Expositor’s Study Bible,” in which his commentary in red lettering is intermixed with Scripture instead of being placed as footnotes. That’s just wrong.
- Speaking of hawking, during the program breaks, JSM materials are constantly promoted by Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe. It also seems like there’s a never-ending plethora of telethons for the support of JSM and SLN.
- To his credit, Swaggart indirectly refers to his past failings with remorse.
- The prosperity gospel is not pushed hard by the Swaggarts compared to televangelists like Copeland, Dollar, or Meyer, but it’s still a part of the message. A young Donnie Swaggart notoriously rebuked prosperity preachers twenty years ago (see video here), but he’s now saying financial prosperity is part of the believer’s inheritance in Christ.
- Speaking of financial prosperity, the Swaggarts do not divulge any of JSM’s financial records. If you’re sending your money to JSM, you have no idea if it’s going towards ministry or Donnie’s new Rolex. The Lord commands us to be good stewards. If a ministry refuses to allow its financial records to be scrutinized, we shouldn’t contribute one red cent.
- The other night, I was listening to Donnie praising the work of the Holy Spirit in regards to the proliferation of the manifestations of the Pentecostal gifts of the spirit throughout the world. He specifically mentioned the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) movement as an example. Donnie makes my point for me. One-hundred and sixty-million Catholics, including tens of thousands of priests, belong to CCR. They still strongly believe in Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit, yet Pentecostals and charismatics embrace them as believers because they manifest the requisite gifts. To be fair, many cessationist evangelicals also embrace Rome.
- The music/worship segments that are broadcast are generally very enjoyable. Swaggart employs some talented singers and musicians and ol’ Jimmy can still tickle the ivories. You won’t hear any Hillsong music during one of Swaggart’s worship segments. I imagine many Christians who otherwise would not devote any time to Swaggart tune in for the music segments.
- All of the shows on SLN are slick. There’s nothing amateurish about the production quality. The operative word here is slick. Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe are exceptional communicators and entertainers. If they were selling cars, they would have the most profitable dealership in Louisiana.
Final thoughts: I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get their teaching from Jimmy or the other Swaggarts. As I mentioned previously, Jimmy should have resigned from the ministry following his scandals. However, there is “some” good information that does comes through SLN. I imagine some people have genuinely accepted Christ after listening to the Swaggarts give out the Gospel. But a believer definitely needs to be cautious and discerning while watching SBN and must be constantly engaged in “chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones.”
Postscript: A couple of months after writing the above post, I happened to catch a telecast of a “classic” (pre-scandal) telecast from the Family Worship Center and I was amazed to see a mammoth balcony stretching across the auditorium filled with people. The balcony is still there but current telecasts of services at the FWC purposely limit the camera angle so as not to expose the empty balcony.