By David Cloud at Way of Life Literature
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).
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”
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 knew 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).
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.
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.
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.
‘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.” (Spurgeon)