Elmer Gantry is novel written in 1927 by Sinclair Lewis. It is about a con man evangelist and a female evangelist selling religion to small town America. The novel was adapted into a film in 1960 starring Burt Lancaster. Gantry is an ordained as a minister, and preaches as a New Way evangelist. He is an alcoholic; he is greedy, lustful, does not practice what he preaches and causes other to fall around him. In short he is a hypocritical minister and Christian. In this hypocrisy, his life, sermons, and his relationship with the Body of Christ are all a sham.
In our recent history we have seen this played out, not in fiction or on the movie screen, but in real life. The Christian world has been rocked by the scandals of famous ministers. The media has ravaged the Christian faith and the Body of Christ by feeding on the revelations of the affairs of Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker, just to name a few.
All the media attention given to the sins of these fallen men of God has led many in the world to say, “see I told you so”, implying that all Christians, church leaders and preachers are hypocrites and crooked.
I saw this in real life when the mega- church I was working at as a youth pastor, Calvary Temple in Denver Colorado as rocked by scandal. The late Dr Charles Blair, who was the senior pastor, was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and was convicted on seventeen counts of security fraud.
In all these events newspapers, television, magazines, and the internet fed on the sins of these ministries portraying all ministers as those they prey upon the innocent. When great men fall the media loves to give great coverage to these events, with every TV show, newscast, radio, internet, newspaper and magazines filling their pages and broadcast with the same “I told you so” philosophy that was portrayed in the fictional life of Elmer Gantry.
What the media doesn’t do however is portray or cover with the same enthusiasm the lives of great men of God such as Billy Graham and Tommy Barnett. These men have both served the Body of Christ for over 50 years apiece. They have served with dignity, humility, integrity and honesty. Each of these great men has lead to millions of people coming to know Christ as their personal Savior. Each of their lives has never been a contradiction to their ministry, their own words, or the Word of God.
Billy Graham once said that he was fearful of ever doing anything that would dishonor the Lord. My good friend and former employer Tommy Barnett always told me that the honor of being a minister means being a servant. Tommy says that you are first a servant in the Body of Christ that comes before your own wants and needs.
I remember one Friday night; we were having a youth service at the church. We would bus in young people and we would have hundreds of kids attend Life center on Friday. As the buses were arriving, I was trying to get everything ready when I went into a restroom and saw Pastor Barnett on his hands and knees, cleaning up the floor around the toilet. Someone had thrown up and made quite a mess. I was somewhat taken back seeing the pastor of the largest Assembly of God on his hands and knees cleaning up someone else’s throw-up. I immediately said to him, “Pastor you should not be doing that, we have people here to do that. He immediately stood up and commenced to correct me by explaining that as a man of God, and a pastor it was our privilege and duty to first be a servant. If that means cleaning up throw-up, we should consider it an honor to do so. Tommy Barnett also many times exclaimed to me that a minister should fear God and live a life above reproach, always putting others before yourself, and remembering that only a true servant can be a leader in the Body of Christ.
I will admit that I have not seen this attitude in all ministries, but I believe that Pastor Barnett’s and Billy Graham’s lives have exemplified this philosophy and given those around them an example of a guide to ministry to the Body of Christ. There are many, many ministries in which this example is followed, but you hardly ever see them in the media as it is not their agenda to show those who have been faithful.
Peter warned us in God’s Word in 2 Peter 2:1
1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you.
Satan is always working overtime by using the media to show the sins of those in ministry. He wants to project to the world that all preachers are like Elmer Gantry, this is simply not true. Nothing is more precious in God’s sight that a godly person. God is pleased when we strive to live a righteous life that brings glory to Him and not ourselves. I believe that God holds those dear who live their lives in righteousness and servitude and they are always kept before Him, and he responds to them when they call upon His name. These are the example that we should look at. We should examine the live and ministries of our leaders and be sure that they line up with the Word of God. Every minister, in fact every believer should be a servant. Our Lord commanded as much.
When looking at this Christian life we need to look to Christ, and the message of the Cross. Unlike man, Jesus will never fail you. He is the way, and the truth. In Him is our being and our life. We should look upon, and listen to the ministries of those who preach Christ and Him crucified. We should listen to men of God whose lives mirror that of Christ the servant. As Pastor Barnett put it, “there is no greater honor than being a servant”.
We need to keep our eyes upon Christ and not man. Peter instructs us in 2 Peter 3:17
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The world will always look for the Elmer Gantry in the church. It will find every way it can to exploit the sins of our fallen leaders. There will always be the occasional Elmer Gantry in the Body of Christ, but there are far more men and women of God whose ministries reflect the teaching, and the words and live of our Lord. When examining ministers and ministries we should always see what is preached and projected. Whose needs are they meeting, that of the Body of Christ or their own? Christ is the example by which they and we as believers must follow…first and foremost a servant.