Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Articles in many magazines and newspapers have commented on the fund-raising efforts of Oral Roberts. Comic strips likewise have been employed to mock Roberts’s claims. This man who, a few years ago, claimed that Jesus appeared to him (900 feet tall), now insists that God has told Roberts that if he does not raise eight million dollars by a certain deadline, God will take his life by March 31 (or the end of the year, according to later claims). Even Las Vegas has noted the claim. There are some gamblers in that city who sought to make the claim a basis for their betting: does God get His money within the allotted time or does God take Roberts’s life?
Christianity Today had this to say in its Feb. 20, 1987 issue:
Thoughts about heaven are not new to Oral Roberts. In 1975, the Tulsa evangelist told a chapel audience at Oral Roberts University (ORU) that he had asked God to take him, but God did not answer.
This time, according to Roberts, God is taking the initiative. Roberts has stated in a fund-raising appeal letter and on television that unless he raises a total of $8 million above regular ministry expenses by next month, he will die.
“I desperately need you to come into agreement with me concerning my life being extended beyond March,” states a fund-raising letter signed by Roberts. “. . . God said, ‘I want you to use the ORU medical school to put My medical presence in the earth. I want you to get this going in one year or I will call you home!'” Roberts says he received this message last March.
The evangelist likens his situation to the apostle Paul who, in the New Testament Book of Philippians spoke of his desire to “depart and be with Christ,” but also of his responsibility to “abide with you in the flesh.” According to Roberts’s letter, “when it looked like Paul would go on to heaven, his partners flooded him with the necessary money, each one giving to God’s servant out of their own need.”
A follow-up letter signed by Roberts’s son, Richard, affirms that without the money needed to send out missionary healing teams, “God will not extend Dad’s life.” Oral and Richard Roberts made similar statements on their weekly television program. A public outcry led several television stations to drop programs containing the controversial appeal.
Those who had followed Roberts’s ministry say his recent announcement does not differ greatly from previous claims, such as his vision of, and conversation with, a 900-foot-tall Jesus a few years ago.
Historian David Harrell, author of the biography Oral Roberts: An American Life, said the evangelist in the 1970s “flirted with evangelical respectability,” by becoming a Methodist, developing a respectable university, and building friendships with mainstream Christian leaders. But in recent years, Harrell said, Roberts has returned to his Pentecostal roots, noting that “messages from God” are not uncommon in Pentecostal circles . . . .
. . . Critics say Roberts’s approach to raising funds, even if he is sincere, constitutes a type of emotional blackmail. Roberts often implies that a supporter must send him money in order to receive a blessing. In his latest fund-raising letter, for example, he wrote: “I know in my spirit if you neglect going into this agreement with the anointed prophet who is offering it to you, then what I can do to help you get your miracles will soon be over . . .”
Calvinist Contact, Feb. 6, 1987, reported on the reaction of some of the secular press:
On his Jan. 4 broadcast Roberts said God told him he wouldn’t live past March unless he raised the $4.5-million. Jan. 11 Roberts said the deadline had been changed. He said God told him, “If you don’t do it I’m going to call you home in one year.”
The change in deadline prompted Jim Klobuchar, popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, to write, “What this means, he seems to be saying, is that God has been talked into a second mortgage or accepting some kind of balloon payment. It also means that the public is facing 11 months in which Roberts will modestly cloak himself in martyrdom while the Samaritans are dunned every week to raise $4.5-million to save him from the heavenly bazooka aimed at his head . . . .”
Shocking though all of this is, it should remind us of two facts. First, when one does not behold Scripture as the only source of divine revelation, but rather believes in continuing revelations (as Pentecostals do), this sort of nonsense can be expected. If God continues to present special revelations to His people, who can deny that Roberts did not in fact receive such revelation? But secondly, one is reminded of Christ’s instruction concerning the signs of the end of the age when many come in His Name and claim: “Lo, here is Christ, lo He is there.”
Perhaps no illness has recently received greater attention than AIDS. Though man vehemently denies it, he is receiving concrete evidences of the consequences of his sin. A recent issue of Time, Feb. 16, 1987, recited some of the terrifying facts:
At first AIDS seems an affliction of drug addicts and especially of homosexuals, a “gay disease.” No longer. The numbers as yet are small, but AIDS is a growing threat to the heterosexual population. Straight men and women in some cases do not believe it, in some cases do not want to believe it. But barring the development of a vaccine, swingers of all persuasions may sooner or later be faced with the reality of a new era of sexual caution and restraint.
. . . More than any measures, however, health officials at every level are pleading for what is very nearly a social revolution. Says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen: “I can’t emphasize too strongly the necessity of changing lifestyles.”
. . . An Atlanta executive concludes, “We are paying for our sins of the ’60s, when one-night stands and sex without commitment used to be chic.” More than anything, the public wants guidelines, new rules for unprecedented circumstances . . .
The problem of bisexuality is especially poignant in the world of the arts and entertainment, where sexual exoticism in general is more tolerated than in society as a whole. Virtually every arts institution has suffered its losses, and the community is on guard . . . .
Coping with the specter of AIDS is particularly difficult for the heirs of the American sexual revolution . . . . Should AIDS spread in the most pessimistic proportions projected, there may finally sound a general alert, resulting in an increase in monogamy, in abstinence, in widespread acceptance of tough new rules of the game. But unless and until that point comes, the casualties may needlessly mount.
How serious is the AIDS threat? Time also commented on that:
. . . “If we can’t make progress, we face the dreadful prospect of a worldwide death toll in the tens of millions a decade from now,” warned Health and Human Services Secretary Otis Bowen at a recent gathering of the National Press Club. Such earlier epidemics as typhus, smallpox, and even the black death will “look very pale by comparison,” he continued. ‘You haven’t read or heard of anything yet.”
. . . In the U.S., more than 30,000 cases have been reported and another 1.5 million people are thought to be carriers. If the epidemic continues to spread at its current rate, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta predicts, the total number of cases will reach 270,000 over the next five years, while total AIDS deaths will rise to 179,000.
. . . In Africa, as many as 2 million to 5 million may already be infected, and in ten years, predicts Epidemiologist B. Frank Polk, of Johns Hopkins University, “some countries could lose 25% of their populations . . . .”
AIDS is posing an economic threat in the U.S. The cost of caring for victims of the disease, many of whom are denied health insurance, is already estimated to exceed a billion dollars a year. By 1991 AIDS medical bills could total as much as $14 billion annually . . . . . .
Vaccinemakers face several daunting obstacles. Perhaps the most formidable is the fact that the virus mutates and changes its outer coat so rapidly that no single vaccine is likely to be effective against all strains . . . .
. . . Slowly, as it touches more and more aspects of everyday life—the education of children, marriage rites, sexual habits, health care and insurance—AIDS will transform American society. “By 1991,” says Michael Gottlieb, the physician at the University of California, Los Angeles who identified some of the first cases of the disease, “most people in certain cities will know someone who has died of AIDS.” Indeed, the CDC announced last week that in 1985, AIDS jumped from 13th to eleventh place as a cause of premature mortality in the U.S. . . .
The report must strike terror in the hearts of many. And is it not truly remarkable that though there was thundered from thousands of pulpits, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, none would listen—indeed would scoff at such “puritanism”. Now secular press presents repeated calls to monogamy and a changed sexual life-style. The whole reminds one of the account found in Revelation 9:1-11. And though many would deny that AIDS is a punishment for specific sins, it is obvious to all that AIDS is the direct consequence of the “lifestyles” clearly condemned by God in Scripture.