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Necro-Evangelism-When Dead Men Do Tell Tales
There is an incident in evangelism that strikes me as quite strange. I call this necro-evangelism and it is where local or even national radio evangelical and fundamentalist churches continue to play the sermons of long dead founders to convert the masses. There are at least three major churches in my area and one that I know of nationally that practices necro-evangelism and I would like to explore the harms of it if I could.
I find it amusing in an eerie way to hear, usually the surviving son of a now-deceased preacher, invite listeners to tune in for a message from my now-long-dead father and pastor. Some of these evangelical types have been dead for only a few years, and so we can attribute his ongoing ministry to the shock that the man died on behalf of the family who had no idea how to continue the business. Others have been dead for decades and I suspect that as long as the tapes can be played and re-copied, they will continue to circulate until the Second Coming and possibly beyond! There is usually a college or “work” that the family of the now-deceased missionary has inherited to maintain, and, although current family members may do the work, the founder likes to hear that he is alive and well. In the air. Others, to me, seem like the type who will never be able to do what Dad did with evangelism themselves, but can’t let go of the programming Dad put on their heads or the money he might still make. This is an observation about method, not sincerity.
People hate change and it delays reality for many who grew up on the words of the evangelist, now dead. A local college where I live continues to play the sermons of the long-dead founder even though two or three generations since his death have taken over the family business of evangelism. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a sermon on the air by a son, all identically named after the founder, with the exception of II, III or IV behind the name. Some Christian evangelists might be happy to have the glory back, but you’d never know it because the family always tries to keep things the same as they were before they became necro-evangelists. Why do we do it and what message does it send? You don’t see necro-evangelists on TV, only on the radio. TV would be a bit much to take in and obviously in poor taste.
First, it doesn’t matter if it’s the right or wrong thing to do. I’m sure the argument is “If we had Jesus or Paul on tape, wouldn’t we play it?” Well yes it will, although that is not going to happen. We have them in books and we are not sure whether they really said and wrote what some have said. All we need is a bunch of fake Jesus tape floating around and here we go again! An entire industry will begin to verify or reject the “Jesus tape.” So as I understand the point, these men are not Jesus or Paul, and besides, if you really know theology, you can suspect that the real Jesus would not have really admired the real Paul, so now we have the conflict of the tape. Then we have to deal with James tape and what a mess! There would be a whole market of underground tapes and pseudotaperefs and we would never be much further ahead with our understanding than we are today.
So while necro-evangelism may keep the family church, college or business going for a few more generations, is it really the thing to do and what message does it send? An advantage is that, in fact, it gives inefficient or founder-beating children time to regroup and figure out what to do now that dad is gone. All their lives they preached that the second coming was definitely going to happen in their lifetime but now what? Usually the first generation finds something, the second keeps it and the third loses it all. Necro-Evangelism Necro-Evangelist “Who?” Perhaps a generation later. But the messages sent back may not be good.
1. Necro-evangelism tells the audience that boys don’t have the conviction or skills that dads can have but don’t want to do things like dad but we don’t want to do. So we play Baba’s advice and don’t have to come up with our own, “alive”. In my town, a family member like this definitely doesn’t have the voice of conviction or quality of voice his dad has, so I can see why he wants dad to carry on with everything. He limits himself to introducing himself as “my dead father, Dr…” and sells his tapes and even library books that his father cherishes, which he does not. But from what I understand he has another job, so he doesn’t depend on his necro-evangelist father for his only income.
2. Necro-evangelism sends the message that survivors are spiritually lazy, but again, can’t just give up on the possibility of following or keep it all going. The second generation enters the world of evangelism, usually more involved in politics than the father because deep down they know that what the father prophesied or said did not really happen, and they are not convicted in the same way that the father was. Dad keeps them out of “the world”, and damn it, they’re going to see it before they become Necro-Second-Generation-Evangelists. Because Dad has influenced their lives with his own worldview, and often not in a very good way, they don’t have the same need to pass it on with the same fervor as their dad’s necro-evangelist. Actually, they can’t. So they are busy making dad’s tapes and books and don’t have to do much that shows their own creativity. They can run all they want for public office or speeches, but keeping a ball rolling is a lot easier than starting one. Anyone can be the next president of a necro-evangelical college or pastor of a necro-evangelistic church. Starting to suck is the hard part. It might be a challenge to keep going but if we keep dear dad in the picture it sure is easier. Some we filter out the fact that necro-evangelists are long dead and perhaps evangelizing is a profession for the living convicted.
3. Necro-evangelism sends the message that the necro-evangelist knew what he knew about the Bible and all related subjects. There is nothing new to learn or unlearn, since Baba did not make any theological mistakes, which is not true. Since we all like to hear the “old, old story, let Father explain it over and over again. This is one thing that is wrong with religion in general. It assumes that it had the right to begin with all its spokesmen. If they could read the Bible, some good Tell the story, keep you interested and convince you that the reading was the same yesterday, today and forever, BINGO!…Why change a winning game? The problem is that for every tape played, there can’t be many because they are either sermons. The timing is dated by comments made or even the family realizes how or what Dad said that day isn’t true or isn’t appropriate today and let’s just not play it. So you’re not really getting the whole person, you’re the chosen “necro-evangelist” by the next generation. “Greatest Hits of All Time”. It’s not fair to me!
4. Most of those who were inspired by Necro-Evangelists are now Necro-Christians themselves so they don’t even listen to the Father. They were all about the same age and had long since passed on to another heavenly realm. The children of those who now love the Necro-Evangelist will not be inspired by a dead man. Sorry, they just don’t. They will feel the above three points even if they don’t voice it. Kids aren’t stupid and they will see what generation II and III can be and how crippled it is. These kids tend to find church saying “for me and my house, we’ll serve a living evangelist” and not just memories of the good old days when parents thought now the necro-evangelist could do no wrong or say anything. I pastored a church that on many occasions sent taped sermons from living apostles and the occasional evangelist along the way. It was hard enough when they were alive, don’t make me listen when they died!
Well I think we get the point. Is it right or wrong to run a necro-evangelical-focused ministry? I don’t know if it’s anything but lame and an evangelical dead end.
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