Jerry Falwell, Should We Warn or Praise?
Was the late Jerry Falwell’s (1933-2007) overall influence to the Independent Baptist movement good or bad?
Falwell’s spiritual compromise and error was not late in coming and was not small by any measure. It was evident even by the 1970s that the man had made a 180 degree turn from his earlier stand and that he was determined to conduct a broadly ecumenical ministry. He was doubtless sincere in his desire to “bring America back to God,” but sincerity didn’t keep Moses from being judged by God when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Timothy 2:5).
In 1999 I issued a warning report entitled “Jerry Falwell: The Billy Graham of Independent Baptists.”
Though Falwell claimed to be a fundamental Baptist, in reality he was a groundbreaking ecumenist who helped pave the way for the end-time harlot “church.” He happily worked alongside Roman Catholics, Charismatics, unregenerate Jews, Mormons, and religionists of many stripes who are staunchly opposed to the doctrine that he professed to hold in his Baptist church.
In a sermon preached in Evansville, Indiana, on December 12, 1978, Falwell said, “I believe God has called us in this last quarter of the 20th century to bring respectability to fundamentalism” (cited from Don Jasmin, Why Do Fundamental Schools Go Apostate, 2007, p. 171).
That was the same unscriptural objective that was announced at the founding of the New Evangelical movement in the late 1940s. When Christianity becomes respectable in the sight of this sin-cursed world, it has left its Biblical moorings. The Lord Jesus Christ is Almighty God, but He wasn’t respected when He came into the world 2,000 years ago, and He is not respected by the world today. Christ’s apostles were certainly not respected by the religious crowd or by the world at large. They were mocked, hounded, persecuted, and killed.
One of Falwell’s first concrete steps toward compromise was in the late 1970s when he decided that he needed to influence politics, and toward that end he formed the Moral Majority.
This was a dramatic change of his doctrine. In the 1960s Falwell had said, “Nowhere are we commissioned to reform the externals. We are not told to wage wars against bootleggers, liquor stores, gamblers, murderers, prostitutes, racketeers, prejudiced persons or institutions, or any other existing evil as such. I feel that we need to get off the streets and back into the pulpits and into our prayer rooms” (“TV Evangelist Jerry Falwell Dies at 73,” USA Today, May 15, 2007).
By the late 1970s Falwell had made an 180 degree change in doctrine with the formation of the Moral Majority. By 1986 the organization had 500,000 active contributors and a mailing list of six million people. At that time, Falwell said that Catholics made up the largest constituency (30%) (Christianity Today, February 21, 1986).
In his autobiography Strength for the Journey, Falwell referred to the “Catholic brothers and sisters in the Moral Majority” (p. 371).
Christianity Today, Nov. 2, 1979, recorded an ecumenical gathering Falwell attended that year. “Seated with Falwell on the platform were ministers of varying racial, ethnic, and denominational backgrounds, including traditionalist Catholic theologian, William H. Marshner.” A “traditionalist” Catholic theologian, of course, is one who teaches that salvation is by grace plus sacrament and works, that infants are born again through baptism, that the Pope sits in the seat of Peter and is the legitimate head of all churches, that the mass is the unbloody re-sacrifice of Christ in which Jesus Himself appears on the Catholic altar in the form of a wafer and is to be worshipped under that form, that Mary is the immaculate Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, etc.
Falwell was one of the speakers at the April 1980 “Washington for Jesus” rally. On that occasion he joined hands with Catholic priests John Bertolucci, John Randall, and Michael Scanlon, as well as modernist Robert Schuller, and a host of radical, doctrinally goofy Charismatics, including Jim Bakker of PTL, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, and Demos Shakarian of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register published in the May 9, 1982, issue, Falwell said that Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II are “the greatest men in my lifetime.” Falwell did not give any warnings about the pope’s false sacramental gospel that is cursed of God. While admitting that there are differences between Roman Catholics and “conservative Protestants,” Falwell made the amazing statement that Roman Catholics accept “the new birth experience.” Surely the man knows that the Roman Catholic Church equates the new birth with baptism and that in no sense do Catholics believe in “the new birth experience” in a scriptural manner. While attending the St. Louis 2000 ecumenical conference with press credentials, I asked many “conservative charismatic Roman Catholics” who work for various Catholic ministries when they were born again, and not one of them gave a scriptural answer. Many of them did not even know what I was talking about. One replied, “That isn’t a Catholic term, is it?”
In 1983 Cal Thomas, Moral Majority’s director of communications, said that the group was composed of Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Protestants, and some “non-religious” members. He noted that they do not pray in their meetings. How could they! Jerry Falwell told a meeting of the Religious Newswriters Association that “if we ever opened a Moral Majority meeting with prayer, we would disintegrate” (The Flaming Torch, Jan.-Feb, 1983, p. 14).
That same year Gary Habermas, a professor at Falwell’s school, co-authored a book which, according to an advertisement in Charisma magazine, reached an amazing conclusion: “The Shroud [of Turin] [which the Catholic church claims to be Christ’s burial shroud] is almost certainly authentic. Through its revelation about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it helps build faith in an unbelieving age” (The Flaming Torch, Jan.-Feb. 1983). Habermas would have us believe that a bogus Catholic relic can actually build faith in an unbelieving generation, an amazing conclusion for a supposed fundamentalist to reach. There are many biblical reasons for rejecting the Shroud of Turin. For one, the image on the Shroud depicts a longhaired man. This could not possibly be the Lord Jesus Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 11:14, which says it is a shame for a man to have long hair.
In the December 1984 issue of Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal, a Roman Catholic cardinal was given a forum to tell biblical fundamentalists what he felt they needed to hear. This is like asking the Devil what he thinks of fundamental Baptists! Journal editor Edward Dobson said:
“‘What would you say to a fundamentalist if given the opportunity?’ This was the question we recently asked a Jewish rabbi, a Roman Catholic cardinal, an evangelical leader, and an articulate voice for liberal Christianity ... For too many years, we fundamentalists have existed in our hermetically sealed world and promoted the attitude that we do not care what anyone else thinks about anything. In this issue of the Journal, we venture into new territory and listen to what others say and think about fundamentalism. The article by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin is especially interesting. It reflects many of the changes that have occurred in the Roman Catholic church in recent decades. We view much of that change in a positive light. ... To Cardinal Bernardin’s unique insight into the American Catholic church we say, ‘gratias’” (Fundamentalist Journal, Dec. 1984).
God has not called His people to listen to heretics; He has commanded that we mark and reject them (Romans 16:17-18)! The apostle Paul didn’t ask the Pharisees and Judaizers to critique his and Timothy’s ministry. And for a supposed fundamentalist to call the changes in Rome “positive” is evidence of overwhelming ignorance and spiritual blindness.
In his 1984 biography about Falwell, Dinesh D’Souza, quoted Falwell as saying, “I know many Catholic priests who are born again and who preach the same message I do” (p. 169). D’Souza added: “To the chagrin and horror of fundamentalists, [Falwell] is frequently seen at prayer meetings with Catholics and Jews. ... He has become more gracious--he is more accepting of Roman Catholics and orthodox Jews” (Falwell Before the Millennium, pp. 180-181).
It is not graciousness in any biblical fashion to join hands with heretics and unsaved religionists in ministry and to have an “accepting” attitude.
Well does the Bible warn, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Falwell ignored this warning to his own spiritual downfall.
The March 1985 issue of Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal contained the following statement on page 14:
“Extremists who declare that the Papacy is anti-Christ, or who dehumanize others with emotive declarations of their own bigotry, are insensitive to others and lack the love of Christ.”
Ever since the founding of the Roman Catholic Church, Bible believers have labeled it anti-christ. In our 331-page book Rome and the Bible we provided many such quotations from Albigenses, Waldenses, Anabaptists, and Protestants. Falwell slandered all of these persecuted brethren of the past for his foolish statement mis-characterizing their zeal for the truth and love for the Lord as bigotry and hatred.
In was also in 1985 that Falwell gathered with thirty-two Catholics, Protestants, and Jews at Indiana University for discussions sponsored by Rabbi Leon Klenicki (Australian Beacon, Nov. 1985).
That same year Falwell invited radical, immoral Catholic Senator Edward Kennedy to speak at Liberty Baptist College and Thomas Road Baptist Church, thus providing this confused, immoral man a platform from which to influence not only Falwell’s church members and students but also those who watched the televised event.
“The Senator announced to the audience of 5,000, ‘I am an American and a Catholic.’ He then lectured them on Pope John XXIII’s renewal of the gospel call and the voice of Catholic bishops in the U.S.A. He opened his speech with these words. ‘I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance, and truth in America. ... I love my country and I treasure my faith.’ ... In spite of Kennedy’s travesty of historical facts, open defiance of Biblical standards (‘I utterly reject any such standards,’ he said), his obvious scorn of Biblical truth and defense of his Roman faith, the Senator was given two standing ovations and was interrupted a dozen times by applause. Cal Thomas’ impression as Moral Majority spokesman was that this is a step towards ‘disarming ideologues on both sides’” (The Flaming Torch, Jan.-Mar. 1985).
This “ideologue,” for one, refuses to be “disarmed.
The Fundamentalist Journal for December 1986 ran a photo of Falwell addressing the students at Notre Dame University, a major Roman Catholic school. Not only is Notre Dame University, which is named after the Catholic Mary, a hotbed of Catholic dogma; it is a hotbed of theological modernism. The professors teach that the Bible is a mixture of truth and myth, that Adam and Eve were not historic figures, that the world evolved, that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale, etc.
In an editorial in the January 15, 1988, issue of Christianity Today, author Terry Muck described Falwell’s radical, ground-breaking ecumenism as a wonderful thing.
“Perhaps Falwell’s greatest accomplishment, however, was getting Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to work together on common causes. The Moral Majority is a coalition of groups that heretofore had let theological differences stand in the way of coordinated activity on shared concerns like abortion and pornography. It stands as a model of ecumenicity of the best sort—an agreement to work together on issues without trying simply to gloss over theological differences” (Christianity Today, Jan. 15, 1988).
Falwell spoke highly of the pope on several occasions. In his January 1985 Moral Majority Report, Falwell called the pope and Billy Graham great moral and religious leaders.
In 1988 Falwell mailed a letter to bookstores advertising a film about Pope John Paul II. Falwell made the following amazing statement about this Mary-worshiping pope:
“Dear Christian Bookstore Owner: Pope John Paul II will never become a Baptist, and it is for sure that I will never convert to Roman Catholicism. However, I have stated often that I believe this Pope is a man of unique character and courage. His consistent stand on moral and social issues has provided the world leadership so desperately needed at this hour. Robert Evans is the Cecil B. deMille of this generation. It should be, then, no marvel that Mr. Evans has so perfectly captured the innermost person and principles of John Paul II. When I first watched the ‘Power of Faith,’ I was deeply moved. While the Pope and I have broad doctrinal and theological differences, this man’s commitment to the dignity of human life and his strong opposition to tyranny and bigotry provide a shining light for the people of our generation who need such reinforcement. ... I think people from all faiths and walks of life will appreciate this film” (Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority Report, Jan. 1985).
Why would a Baptist leader promote a video about a religious leader who preaches a false gospel and thereby leads multitudes to eternal Hell? The Bible says the pope is thereby under God’s curse (Galatians 1). Did Falwell not fear that someone reading his recommendation of the pope might be encouraged to listen to him and thereby be deceived into following Catholicism? The Bible says we are not even to bid “God speed” to those who deny the doctrine of Christ (2 John 8-11), because those who assist false teachers become partakers of their evil deeds. In praising the pope and recommending his video, Falwell did much more than bid him “God speed.”
Billy Graham, the veritable prince of ecumenism, was the commencement speaker at Falwell’s Liberty University in 1997, and in the October 1995 issue of the National Liberty Journal Falwell praised Graham for his “long and faithful ministry.” Billy Graham, who accepts degrees from Catholic colleges and says the Catholic gospel is the same as his own; who has turned thousands of converts over to apostate churches; who thinks John Paul II was a great evangelist; who thinks there is special power in infant baptism; who doubts that Hell is a place of literal fiery torment; who invites Catholic bishops onto his platform to bless those who come forward at his invitations; who praises Christ-denying modernists; who has promoted practically every perverted Bible version to appear in the last five decades--Billy Graham has had a faithful ministry? Such a statement was clear evidence of incredible spiritual blindness on the part of Dr. Falwell. (For documentation of Graham’s wretched spiritual compromise see “Billy Graham’s Sad Disobedience” at the Way of Life web site.)
When New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor died on May 3, 2000, Falwell praised him. O’Connor was was one of the most prominent Catholic leaders in America. In his news fax on May 4, Jerry Falwell said:
“The Cardinal and I differed on a few theological and social issues, but my respect for him was unwavering because of his ministerial kindness and unconditional willingness to help those in need. . . . Every pastor in America can learn a great lesson from this man. We should never permit our political or social differences to hamper our God-given instruction to minister to our fellow man. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I cannot expect people to take this message seriously if I am unwilling, as a representative of Christ, to meet them where they are. Change in people’s lives comes after a relationship with Christ begins, so we must be frequently disposed to taking the Gospel to unfriendly environments. Cardinal O’Connor embodied this mandate. I am grateful that John O’Connor -- a man of courageous faith -- had such a profound influence on the Catholic Church through his fifty-five years of ministry. I pray that another pro-life, pro-family minister can be found to fill his significant and substantial shoes.”
I can understand how Falwell could say he was thankful for Cardinal John O’Connor’s efforts against abortion and homosexual “rights,” but in praising him so profusely and in failing so completely to warn that the cardinal preached a false gospel, Falwell was grossly misleading his listeners and doing them a terrible mis-service. Yes, he did mention in passing that he and O’Connor “differed on a few theological and social issues.” A FEW! Cardinal O’Connor believed that salvation is through the sacraments of Rome, that the pope is the Holy Father and Vicar of Christ, that the Catholic priesthood mediates between God and man, that Mary is the sinless Queen of Heaven, that dead “saints” can answer prayer, that the mass transforms wine and a wafer into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ, that Christians go to purgatory, etc. Are those simply “a few” theological matters? In truth, they are the difference between Heaven and Hell! Yet Jerry Falwell--addressing his vast listening audience composed of people from all sorts of denominations, including Catholic--left them with the impression that he believed Cardinal O’Connor was a true Christian minister. Furthermore, according to 2 John 9-11, we are not even to bid false teachers like John O’Connor “godspeed.” We are not even to greet them, let alone praise them!
We see just how cozy Falwell became with Roman Catholicism in a scene described by Keith Fournier in his book Evangelical Catholics. Fournier, Dean of Evangelism at Roman Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville, verified Falwell’s shifting position concerning the Roman Catholic Church. Speaking about a meeting he attended of the “American Congress of Christian Citizens,” Fournier stated:
“In our meeting room were major evangelical leaders I’ve admired for years—Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and many others. I found not only a tremendous openness to my presence, but also a growing respect for my church and a thawing in what had been hard ice in the past. Perhaps the comments by Dr. Falwell were most illustrative. He told the whole group not even to consider trying to affect public policy with only a narrow evangelical Protestant church coalition. He said that from its inception any such effort must include Catholics and consultation with great churchmen such as Cardinal Law and Cardinal O’Connor. Clearly not backing off one bit from his self-described ‘narrowness of doctrine,’ Dr. Falwell showed a refreshing openness” (Evangelical Catholics, p. 172).
The root of societal ills is religious or spiritual in nature. The root problem of America’s social ills is the apostasy, compromise, and cowardice in the pulpits and the churches. Roman Catholicism, because of its apostasy from the Word of God and its corruption of the New Testament faith, is at the heart of American’s problem (as is theological modernism and every other anti-scriptural ism). It is foolish in the extreme to think that Romanism could somehow be part of the solution. How can Roman Catholicism, which has never produced true biblical morality even in its own priests, be an effective accomplice in a coalition to bring back morality to America? Wherever Roman Catholicism holds sway over men’s lives (visit Italy or Mexico or Ireland, for example), you will find rampant immorality (adultery, fornication, pornography, child molestation), divorce, annulments, gambling, lascivious dancing, immodest dress, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, idolatry, occultism, superstition, hypocrisy, agnosticism, and outright atheism. It is with no sense of joy that I say these things, but this is a fact that I have observed with my own eyes. I realize that not every Catholic priest is a moral reprobate, but huge numbers of them are; and I realize that not every Catholic man or woman practices the things I have listed, but large numbers of them do. Roman Catholicism simply does not have the spiritual life and power to produce genuine righteousness. The Devil is the author of false religions like Roman Catholicism (2 Corinthians 11; 1 Timothy 4), and it is a strange sight to see men like Jerry Falwell clamor for unity with false religions for the purpose of defeating the Devil’s works!
And it is a strange sight to see men like Paul Chappell praise him as a hero of the faith.
Falwell endorsed Chuck Colson’s 1992 book, The Body, which urged evangelicals to join forces with Catholics and Charismatics and which looked upon the Catholic Church as a part of the “body of Christ.” Colson said, “...the body of Christ, in all its diversity, is created with Baptist feet, charismatic hands, and Catholic ears--all with their eyes on Jesus” (World, Nov. 14, 1992).
It was reported in 2000 that the coach of Liberty University’s football team was a Roman Catholic (Frontline, May-June 2000, p. 6).
In September 2004 Falwell yoked together with Rick Warren for a second “Super Conference.” Speakers included Ed Young, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Elmer Towns, charismatic Jim Cymbala, and others. It was held at Falwell’s Liberty University. Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church in southern California, holds the unscriptural “judge not” New Evangelical philosophy and uses “Christian” rock to draw big crowds. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Warren says, “God warns us over and over not to criticize, compare, or judge each other.” In fact, while God’s Word warns against judging hypocritically or judging by our fallible human traditions it plainly instructs us to judge “all things” by God’s Word, especially doctrine and church practice (Acts 17:11; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Warren uncritically quotes Catholic universalists such as John of the Cross and Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, is a charismatic and is radically ecumenical. The Brooklyn Tabernacle’s statement of faith says, “We believe the baptism of the Holy Spirit is for all believers as a definite endowment of power for service and is subsequent to, and separate from, conversion.” They also say that all “the gifts of the Spirit” are for today.
In November 2004 Falwell announced that he was launching a new version of the Moral Majority called The Faith and Values Coalition (TFVC). The three-fold goal was to lobby for pro-life judges, to seek a federal amendment barring same-sex marriage, and to elect another conservative president in 2008. Falwell’s son Jonathan was executive director and Mathew Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, was vice-chairman. Tim LaHaye was the board chairman. That this new venture was set on the same ecumenical platform that characterized the Moral Majority was evident in a fundraising letter that Falwell published in Nov. 16, 2004. He called radical ecumenists and charismatics “courageous and brilliant evangelical mega-leaders.” He listed 18 of these, including Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and Rod Parsley. Franklin Graham has said that his father’s ecumenical alliance with the Catholic Church and all other denominations “was one of the smartest things his father ever did” (“Keeping it simple, safe keeps Graham on high,” The Indianapolis Star, Thurs., June 3, 1999, p. H2). Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 Club and Regent University, is an ardent ecumenicist who has long worked and fellowshipped with Romanists and exemplifies the deep compromise and disobedience that is rampant in evangelical-charismatic circles today. In 1985, Robertson revealed that during 25 years of broadcasting, he has “worked for harmony and reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics’ and ‘refrained from airing major theological differences” (Christian News, July 22, 1985). Rod Parsley, television preacher and pastor of World Harvest church in Columbus, Ohio, is a dangerous false teacher who preaches the unscriptural Word-Faith message. He teaches that believers can have whatsoever they desire by faith and confession with their mouths, promises healing as a part of salvation, etc.
In December 2004 Falwell said he believed America was on the verge of a spiritual awakening (Religion Today, Dec. 1). He wanted to build on this alleged awakening with the newly formed political action group The Faith and Values Coalition. Falwell believed “the church of Jesus Christ is now standing tall” and “if we will press the battle now--in the next four, eight, or twelve years, we can bring this nation back to the faith of our fathers.” He said America has been undergoing “a quiet spiritual awakening” during the past two decades, and points to the popularity of the Left Behind books, the rise of CCM, and the increase of those who describe themselves as evangelicals.
From where I sit, the only awakening discernible in America is one built upon spiritual compromise, heresy, and idolatry. CCM is not spiritual revival; it is worldliness. The growth of “evangelicalism” is of no consequence because the definition of evangelical has become meaningless. Today, the term “evangelical” describes a Roman Catholic praying to Mary or a Fuller Seminary president denying verbal inspiration or Wheaton College inviting a cultic Mormon professor to talk about heretical C.S. Lewis or Cornerstone College hosting a rock & roll dance party or someone falling on the floor and calling it a miracle or muttering nonsense and calling it tongues, or even a movie about Jesus based on the visions of a Catholic mystic. Seeing that this type of thing is not on the periphery of evangelicalism but at its very heart, on what biblical authority do we describe today’s evangelicalism as spiritual revival?
Jerry Falwell was the blind leading the blind.
Falwell’s compromise is evident in the changes that have occurred in Liberty University. It was originally established as Liberty Baptist College with the emphasis of training Christian workers, but in the quest to achieve certification and respectability and approval by the Southern Baptist Convention it has changed dramatically. Today the student application at Liberty University does not require a testimony of the new birth. There is no compulsory church attendance. There is no doctrinal statement that teachers must sign. Intramural sports is promoted as fervently as at secular institutions.
The following warning was given many years ago by former Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI) president Victor Sears:
“Dr. Falwell is not basically a fundamental Baptist. . . . [but] is a New Evangelical in the same compromising vein as Dr. Billy Graham. If we keep following the road paved by Falwellism, we of the (BBF) will lose our identity completely as old-fashioned, Bible-believing separatists” (Calvary Contender, June 15, 1987).
Sadly, most Baptist Bible Fellowship churches have followed the road paved by Falwell and have adopted the soft, non-separatist, contemporary approach and are well down the “emerging” path of error.
We agree with what Jerry Huffman of the Calvary Contender wrote in September 2003:
“Spurgeon preached separation from error and compromise. He said: ‘That I might not stultify my testimony I have cut myself clear of those who err from the faith, and even from those who associate with them.’ We do great harm to the cause of Christ by appearing to condone the disobedience of those unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
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