The improbable “return” of Jimmy Swaggart

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.

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48 thoughts on “The improbable “return” of Jimmy Swaggart

      1. Fully agree.
        The thing is he is interrupting while God is speaking. In addition he is finding fault in the Holy Spirit moved translators of the KJV. And we have to believe what he Swaggart is incorrectly claiming in his exposition?. I found “his KJV” bible online. The best Teacher of explaining His Word is God Himself.
        Let the Bible interpret the Bible by comparing Scripture with Scripture “here a little and there a little”
        Isaiah 28:10

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks, Jackie. I believe commentaries from faithful Bible scholars can be helpful to a degree, but commentary should not be intermixed with Scripture as Swaggart does.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. “I imagine many Christians who otherwise would not devote any time to Swaggart tune in for the music segments.” Yes, this was me. Then I had a vivid dream that I was committing spiritual adultery on my Beloved no different than when he was looking but not touching.

    “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.’” Unfortunately, babes in Christ, like myself once, tend to swallow the bones… 😦

    Have a wonderfully blessed day, Tom! \o/

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for the good comments, Sherry! Yes, SLN/JSM is a spiritual minefield much like the vast majority of shows on TBN as well as the majority of offerings at today’s (c)hristian bookstores. While there is some good there, a young believer is not going to have the discernment to sort the good from the bad.

      Thank you, Sherry, and have a wonderfully blessed day as well!

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Yeah! I did, too! But what finally got to me was all the Biblethons and money raising going on! I wasn’t being “fed” anymore and in a way they look as though they are prosperity preachers, too.The music is enticing! I understand what Sherry is saying!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yes, they hold those Bible-thons and other “thons” quite often! Donnie rattles off the contributors, “Bob in Chicago, $100, prayer request. Mary in New York City, $500, prayer request. Ted in Memphis, $50, prayer request. Etc., etc., etc.” I’m very skeptical whether anyone is actually praying for those requests?

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Many years ago I visited Louisiana to see some of the guys I served in Iraq with in the Marines. This one guy promised to take me to a nice church on a Friday. We got there and I was surprised at the fact that it was Jimmy Saggart’s church! His son was preaching. There was a half way constructed building that others told me was originally their plan for a school but wasn’t finished because of the scandals that arose. Back in 2003 it had the feeling of a dying mega church though you can see the media saaviness of film crews and brochures they hand out. Sometimes it is surprising it doesn’t die out…Good post.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks! During the broadcasts they often include a quick tour of the ministry campus and remark on each of the particular buildings. The Jimmy Swaggart Bible College is squished in with several other ministries into one building, which fits with your experience. There actually now seems to be some near-capacity crowds at some of the services but as you witnessed and the article states, they were on the brink of folding.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Swaggart has done a lot of damage to the Christian cause in general and not just Charismatics. I hear atheists and even Muslims speaking badly of Christianity because of Swaggart. Of course I grieve every time the faith is blasphemed

        Liked by 5 people

      2. While watching SLN this past month, I have heard the Swaggarts cite David several times as a leader who fell to sin, but repented and continued on. The connection they’re trying to make is obvious. But the New Testament requires a pastor to be above public reproach. Yes, Swaggart has greatly hindered the Gospel witness.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Probably very lost. By the way that one friday night I was there I felt there were some people (not all) that dressed like they were clubbing more than going to church…

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I’ve seen a few services where the congregation get pumped up to an amazing degree. Men were running at full speed through the auditorium. It was dangerous.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Maria. Yes, I do remember it causing quite a public stir when both Bakker and Swaggart fell one after the other. I remember hearing some people say afterwards that all ministers are phonies, etc.

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  3. I have one word for these productions: STAGED. They are so dishonoring to God. But personally, I wouldnt “eat the meat and spit out the bones”. Truth mixed with deception is the devil’s strategy – I say stay away! Good post, always look forward to them!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. RE: Truth mixed with deception is the devil’s strategy – I say stay away!

      Thanks, Lisa Beth! Yes, I fully concur. In such an environment a believer would have to be constantly occupied filtering the information and some bones are eventually sure to be swallowed.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for the post Tom. I remember when my Catholic mother was watching PTL and would go around the house singing “I’m blessed, I’m blessed, I’m blessed…” along with Tammy Faye Baker. She watched that show regularly…and joy could be felt in our home though I was already a rebellious teenager. She was also going to daily mass at the Catholic Church. My mom calls her experience a “spiritual awakening”. I believe she was born again…but when Baker fell, she stopped watching and focused more intently on Catholicism. She says it’s praying the rosary that brought her to Jesus.
    For me it was all very confusing until I was 48 years old and wanted to take my own life and Jesus saved me. He used televangelist and Dave Ramsey and Gateway church to teach me of His love for me, His desire for me to understand the biblical principles of money management and to teach me His word.
    Today as I continue to seek Him I am finding Him and I am more and more cautious of who I listen to. I am determined to follow Him…and He is weeding out the false teachers as I learn to discern what the Bible actually says. I repent of itching ears and wanting Jesus to be my genie in a bottle. I am so grateful for the journey He has taken me on to be very discerning . Because of what I’m learning I am more and more aware of how easy it is to be deceived. People need good teachers to help them but they have to INDIVIDUALLY open their bible and let the word of God speak to them…if you don’t seek the truth you won’t find it! You’ll just get your ears tickled.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jackie, thanks for all of your good comments. There are many pastors and teachers out there and they range from godly and faithful shepherds to ravenous wolves and shysters. As you mention, we sheep are very prone to leadership idolatry so we should not put any man on a pedestal, even good preachers. I did that somewhat with the pastor at our first church, an independent Baptist church, and I was inevitably disappointed by him, which rocked my faith. After I returned to the Lord four years ago, he blessed me by bringing some solid Bible teachers into my life via books and videos/audios, men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, and from a couple of generations ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. These men are all Calvinists while I’m in the middle of the election-free will debate, but beyond that, their teachings have been a great blessing to me. It’s interesting to communicate with other believers who have different church backgrounds and different beliefs regarding the secondaries. There are some who believe so strongly about some particular secondary issues that fellowship is difficult and sometimes impossible. Of course, there are many evangelicals who don’t know a lot about Catholicism who believe it to be Christian at its core and do not look favorably on such things as a blog called “excatholic4christ.”

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Funny you should ask because I utilize J. Vernon’s 5-volume Thru-the-Bible Commentary as part of my daily Bible study along with a few other Bible study aids. Simple yet good insights and practical applications for Christian living.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Unfortunately there is a disturbing trend within Pentecostalism to revere the preacher to the extent that they are like “rock stars” within the denomination. The service is wrapped in spectacle so that it is very much of a concert atmosphere. So many, many things are forbidden that this charged church service becomes an emotional and–I’m sorry to say–sexual outlet for some of the members. This is not confined to Pentecostals only, but, from my research it is more prevalent in this denomination–at least during the time of Jimmy Swaggart’s reign. If you go onto to his ministries website, it is–unfortunately–a den of swag.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wow can’t believe all the negative comments about Jimmy Swaggart. You know he may have messed up in his life Like we all have.!Thank God for his amazing Grace.. I find that JSM is very anointed. He preaches the true gospel ! We all fall short including preachers! .cast the first stone !get your religious spirit out of the way and get a relationship with Jesus!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You say Jimmy Swaggart was disqualified from the ministry in 1988. Do you not believe that God forgives and restores? What about many examples in the Bible of those who fell and were restored? I think you need to repent of your judgemental spirit. It is not for you, or anyone, to judge Jimmy Swaggart. Is it was true repentance, then God knows. I pray you don’t ever need such forgiveness because it just may elude you. Perhaps you should pray for the man and leave judgement to God. How can the preaching of the Cross be wrong? Without it, we would have no chance, for it is through the cross that all may come freely for forgiveness and restoration to the Father. WOW!! You need a wake-up call. If you haven’t been in the services there, how can you make such claims? For you to do this in a public forum is disgusting. You will give account, my friend…

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    1. Roselea, Jimmy can certainly find forgiveness in Christ for his transgressions but according to God’s Word, Jimmy disqualified himself from the office of pastor:
      1 Timothy 3:1-7
      “1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You said your knowledge of Pentecostalism is limited….Maybe you should read the book of Acts and get your knowledge extended. To criticize the moving of the Holy Spirit, (as some of your commentators have done) is outright blasphemy. Running, jumping, shouting, crying, etc are all outward manifestations of the presence of the Holy Ghost in a believers life, so if you don’t understand it, it would be better to say nothing than to put yourself in such a dangerous position. Your knowledge is definitely limited and biased against something you don’t even understand…pitiful!! All the while, you are inciting others to follow YOUR view with no verifiable proof behind your ridiculous claims. I have experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit and let me tell you, it’s real. God will not force anyone to accept His free gift, so no worries for you there. I found the truth through honest prayer and seeking God for HIS truth, not mans. I do not worship nor idolize any man on this earth. One such man you promote is John McArthur who also does not believe. So, it doesn’t surprise me why you are making such false claims. I suggest one thing. Got sincere with God and ask Him to show you HIS truth and He will. When that happens, you will have to make some VERY pubic apologies for your slander against a man I believe has repented before God and man. He does not have to prove himself to any man or follow man’s rules. This is just like the Pharisees did and look where they ended up-GONE!!

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    1. Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement have opened the church to grievous errors. Read “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship” by John MacArthur

      Liked by 1 person

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