Jim Bakker, founder-president of the PTL Network, has been warning viewers that his North Carolina-based international Christian television enterprise is in danger of going under.

PTL has accumulated more than $13 million in debts, and about $6 million of its accounts were past due last month, according to a network official in Charlotte. Hundreds of calls have poured in from creditors, said the source, and some suppliers of books, Bibles, and other goods served notice that they will send no more shipments until they are paid.

In early November, the management was a weekend late in scraping together enough money to meet the biweekly payroll of $250,000 for some 800 employees, the first such delay in the five-year history of PTL. (Workers got their second paycheck of the month on time, but cash flow reportedly was still tight.)

A contractor has stopped work on PTL’s proposed $100 million headquarters and educational complex known as the Total Living Center: The contractor was owed $2.5 million—$500,000 of it long overdue.

So far, only a camp and conference center have been completed on the 1,400-acre site, which is located just across the state line in Fort Hill, South Carolina. The site was purchased for $1.6 million last year amid clashes between PTL and state and local officials over taxes and fund-solicitation registration.

New studios, a university campus, and a retirement village are among the planned facilities. In the meantime, the 300 students in the entering class of PTL’s Heritage University, along with the 300 students from another PTL school for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade, are meeting in temporary quarters in Charlotte. (The university presently offers a two-year undergraduate program in communications and theology.)

A serious crisis occurred recently when NET Television of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the firm that duplicates tapes of PTL shows for nationwide distribution, threatened to stop its tape reproduction. NET and PTL officials finally worked out a payment schedule aimed at reducing the more than $1 million owed by PTL.

The network also fell behind in payments to RCA, which supplied PTL with more than $2 million in camera and studio equipment. Air time costs PTL more than $1 million per month, and these bills have also been accumulating. Meanwhile, the network is unable to fulfill some offers it made for free material and other orders for goods.

Staff unrest has come with the finance crunch. Bakker (pronounced Baker) fired 60 of 690 employees last June, explaining the move would save the company $500,000 a year and stave off bankruptcy. But complaints surfaced that people were being asked to work many hours of overtime without pay and that the layoffs were intended to prod or punish those who balked.

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Bakker denied the charges, but he did complain about a poor turnout of volunteers for workdays at the camp center. “We’re missionaries,” Bakker told a reporter. “You don’t serve God for eight hours a day and then punch out.” Half of those dismissed were rehired later, and scores of new people were added to the work force.

Bakker embarked on an around-the-world missions tour in October, and he says he found that PTL was behind in its obligations in some of its foreign ministries. Upon his return home, he discovered a huge backlog in unprocessed mail. Contributions had been banked, but acknowledgments, gift offers, and follow-up offering envelopes had not been sent to thousands of viewers, according to a spokesman. A computer foul-up had misprocessed much of the mail that did go through the system, Bakker also explained later. The result: Money pledges that once averaged $1.5 million per week had dipped sharply. Workers were mobilized around the clock to clear the backlog.

Meanwhile, a clash developed between Bakker, 39, and PTL executive vice-president Robert Manzano. The dispute ended with the resignation of the 36-year-old Manzano, but both men insisted that their parting was amicable and without animosity.

Bakker discussed the financial difficulties of the network last month during a fund-raising telethon that is aired semiannually on the popular “PTL Club” talk-and-variety show. (Most of the 203 stations and 3,000 cable hookups that carry the “PTL Club” broadcast shows that were taped two or three weeks earlier. The PTL telephone number is flashed frequently on the screen, and viewers can call in prayer requests, money pledges, and testimonies to Charlotte, where operators around the clock attend a bank of phones.)

Appealing for “immediate” help, Bakker encouraged viewers to charge their pledges to their credit cards. PTL officials had negotiated with the North Carolina National Bank of Charlotte to receive cash for pledges charged to the callers’ credit cards without signed authorization. By agreement, PTL promised to make refunds to the bank if any callers reneged. About $70,000 in credit-card pledges arrived during the first week of the campaign, and only $6,000 had to be refunded, according to a PTL official.

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North Carolina National, however, canceled the arrangement when Bakker announced on TV that PTL might be “within days of … closing.” Bakker promptly switched PTL business to another bank, and he told reporters that he believes the past-due accounts will be cleared up by the end of next month.

Another controversy cropped up last month—this one involving Bakker’s personal affairs. It was disclosed that Bakker and his family soon would move into a $195,000 house in an exclusive Charlotte neighborhood. As it turned out, the home was purchased for the Bakkers by Kentucky businessman Harry Ranier.

Bakker said he had failed in persuading Ranier to donate the money instead to Heritage University. Already the owner of an $80,000 home in suburban Charlotte, Bakker said he and his wife will live in the house rent-free but will not accept the title to it.

Bakker, a former Assemblies of God evangelist from Michigan, got the idea for PTL while working at the Virginia-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). In 1965, he pioneered the talk-and-variety show format for Christian television with a show known today as “The 700 Club.”

When Bakker launched PTL, its initials stood for “Praise the Lord.” He later changed the meaning to “People That Love.” The network’s $5 million studio is considered one of the best-equipped in North America, and it is part of a twenty-five-acre headquarters complex patterned after colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

More than 50,000 persons have called PTL over the past two years to testify that they were born again after watching the “PTL Club,” according to network officials. New converts are offered Bible correspondence courses, and more than 2,000 pastors of various denominations have been recruited from across the country to assist with follow-up, officials say. Support comes from “partners” who number in the hundreds of thousands.

A Spanish version of the “PTL Club,” featuring a Spanish-speaking host, is aired in eighteen countries, and the English-language version is broadcast in several African countries, the Philippines, and some Caribbean areas. There are plans for a Japanese version, as well.

Melodyland Lingers: Is The Song Ended?

After two weeks of meetings, emotion, and tension, many of the teachers and administrators of Melodyland School of Theology (MST) discontinued their employment with the school in mid-November. They charged that their employment contracts and agreements had been breached in significant ways by Chancellor Ralph Wilkerson and his board of directors.

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Those who withdrew from the Anaheim, California, school were eight full-time faculty, four part-time faculty (two of whom served in other staff positions as well), and four full-time staff members. These, plus four who had previously resigned, formed the teaching and administrative core of MST. They included the vice-presidents for administration and finance, and for academic and student affairs, the dean of students, the registrar, the public relations director, the head librarian, the coordinator of student services, and the director of the social work program.

Following the mass exodus, only one full-time faculty member, John Rea, remained at MST along with J. Rodman Williams, president of the school. Wilkerson stated that there were still twenty other MST teachers, but as of late last month all were part-time.

After laboring for months with his faculty on the proposed reorganization program of the school (see the December 1 issue, page 46), which required Ralph Wilkerson to relinquish his control over the school, Williams apparently reversed himself and chose to continue as president on Wilkerson’s terms. When asked to comment, Williams said, “I feel that I should not make any statements at this time.”

Winter quarter classes will be held, though the new class schedule offers only about half of the normally scheduled classes. There are almost no electives, and at least one required class has been dropped. Some classes are being taught by students. The schedule indicates that classes for the Master of Social Work Program “will be announced.”

Accredited Christian institutions in the Southern California area are assisting Melodyland students by reviewing and discussing the transfer of their credits.

Throughout the confrontation period, Wilkerson refused to accept any part of the four-point program submitted by the faculty. “God gave me the vision. I am now the chancellor, and I’ll continue to be the chancellor,” he said.

A spokesman for the faculty stated, “One thing should be kept in mind. We have acted together as a corporate body in unity. No one person drafted the reorganization proposal, but the entire group participated as a whole. Integrity was the key factor in all of our decisions. In the end we realized that we could not stay at MST and keep our integrity intact.”

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The faculty cited instances of censorship by Wilkerson. One was his “urging” in writing that all academic papers be submitted for reading by his administration prior to publishing. Another was the taping of all classroom lectures, which, in some instances, allegedly were used as evidence for censorship. Faculty spokesmen said that it was this tension-creating, authoritarian style that triggered their reorganizational requests.

In addition to the enormous staffing and financial problems still dogging the school, MST faces the potential possibility of having its charter to confer degrees revoked by the Office of Private Post Secondary Education of the State of California. The school was given until the end of November to comply with the state requirements. The state vocational program, which certifies schools that veterans may attend and receive benefits for, is scheduled to review the MST status in March. In February, the school must also face an accreditation team, with its accreditation-candidacy status at stake.


The Seminaries: Glum Over ‘Gays’

Avowed homosexuals who want to enter the ministry create peculiar problems, as the presidents at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, are finding out.

At these United Methodist schools admitted homosexuals have asked to start or continue studies to prepare for a pastoral ministry. They were turned down.

Last May, Garrett refused to allow two homosexual students to continue in the three-year master of divinity (M.Div.) program, the one that prepares students for the pastorate. The students, Terry Colbert and James Mason, were told they could transfer to other Garrett programs—such as its joint doctoral program with adjacent Northwestern University. They decided not to. Each sought ordination within the United Methodist Church and completion of the M.Div. program.

Local boards of ministry decide whether to ordain a pastoral prospect. United Methodist seminaries only “prepare people and certify them as fit for ministry,” said Garrett president Merlyn Northfelt. Garrett does not admit or advance known homosexuals to its professional ministry (M.Div.) program.

The issue lay dormant until last month when a faculty committee at Northwestern threatened to end academic cooperation with Garrett unless the latter ended “exclusionary” policies against homosexuals. Northwestern was founded by Methodists, but now is independent; it shares library and certain recreational facilities with Garrett students.

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The policy-making Faculty Senate at Northwestern passed a resolution asking the General Faculty Committee to be less hasty; it instructed committee chairman Arthur Veis to organize a further discussion of the matter with Garrett faculty representatives.

Under contention is whether the M.Div. at Northwestern is only intended to lead to ordination. Northwestern says no; Garrett says yes. Faculty committeeman Veis said, “If the program leads directly to ordination, which I don’t think it does, then it’s reasonable for the church to have its standards. But if it’s an academic program,” he added, “then the issue is one of academic freedom—then it’s unjust to dismiss students because of their [sexual] preferences.”

Garrett president Northfelt last month had not reacted to the Northwestern faculty resolution. He said that the only news he had received of the threatened end to academic cooperation between the schools had come from the Northwestern student newspaper. “We (Garrett) will do nothing until we get an official request,” he said.

At Iliff school president Jameson Jones this fall refused (he preferred the word “returned”) the application of Lucius Allen Grooms of Washington, D.C. Grooms was a candidate for ministry in a gay denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church, and is not a United Methodist.

Jones, who is president of the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools—a group comprising chief executives from the thirteen United Methodist seminaries—based his decision on financial grounds. He wanted to know if Iliff’s admission of an admitted homosexual would result in a loss of funding from the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says that church funds cannot be given to “any ‘gay’ caucus or group” or be used for promoting “the acceptance of homosexuality.” Iliff receives $300,000 annually from the United Methodist Church, one-third of its educational and general budget, and school officials didn’t want to jeopardize that by admitting Grooms.

Jones asked for clarification of the funding matter from the Division of Ordained Ministry Task Force on Seminary Support. The group supervises distribution of the $6 million raised each year from the local churches for the seminaries.

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The task force has been working to “design a process by which the Division of Ordained Ministry can engage in a discussion of those issues (homosexual education and funding) during its next meeting,” which will take place in March. Task force chairman Virgil Bjork hopes that the seminary presidents, who have appointed their own study task force, and the Division of Ordained Ministry will study all aspects of the homosexual question—including admission to seminaries, advancement in degree programs, funding, and ordination.

“If we do not take the initiative in clarifying these issues,” he said, “someone will press for it. Then the issues will not be clarified within the context of rationality and healthy dialogue.”

The problem probably won’t disappear. At Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ), an admitted homosexual was refused his degree in 1976 after completing coursework within a master of divinity program. This fall, a circuit court judge in Kentucky ordered the school to award the degree. The judge said that Lexington had not sufficiently forewarned students that homosexuals would not be awarded degrees. Now Lexington president Wayne H. Bell awaits an appellate court hearing regarding his appeal of that decision.

Methodist official Bjork summed up. “Historically, the church has had ordained homosexuals. It’s the coming out of the closet that generates difficulty.”

Wesleyan Tug-Of-War On Pentecostal Link

About 200 scholars, pastors, and students jammed into tiny Mt. Vernon, Ohio, last month for what some observers called the most significant meeting of the fourteen-year-old Wesleyan Theological Society (WTS). The conferees studied the often controversial Wesleyan-Holiness doctrine of “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

The openness of their dialogue may signify a theological turning point for the denominations represented within the WTS—most of which also belong to the Christian Holiness Association (CHA), a grouping of about fifteen church bodies that includes Nazarenes, Wesleyans, and Free Methodists.

At issue was what one speaker termed “an embarrassing divergence between John Wesley and his spiritual heirs.” (Wesley did not have a doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, at least in those terms, and he didn’t refer to Pentecost in his description of “entire sanctification” as did Holiness churches formed after his departure from the scene.)

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Also at stake for the conferees gathered on the Mt. Vernon Nazarene College campus was the relationship between Holiness theology and Pentecostalism. Many church historians say Pentecostalism emerged from the Holiness movement at the turn of the century, though some Holiness officials have tried to deny that link and strongly criticize Pentecostalism. Holiness churches historically regarded Pentecostalism as “Holiness heresy” since it tied baptism in the Holy Spirit to speaking in tongues. The Holiness doctrine of baptism in the Spirit involves “entire sanctification”—a second, but non-tongues, encounter with the Holy Spirit.

A variety of spirit baptism positions were heard by conferees. United Methodist Robert W. Lyon issued a sharp challenge to the traditional Holiness doctrine. He assumed a more Wesleyan stance. A New Testament scholar at Asbury seminary, Lyon said there is no biblical basis for a doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit as a “second blessing.” Instead, he said that “conversion is the truly sanctifying experience.”

After questioning, however, Lyon affirmed his commitment to the classical Wesleyan doctrine of “entire sanctification” as a “perfecting” of what was begun in conversion.

Alex Deasley, New Testament theologian from Nazarene Theological Seminary, surprised some of the conferees by accepting a great portion of Lyon’s exegesis. (Deasley’s Nazarene church is committed to the spirit baptism doctrine.) Deasley argued that the “purifying” theme in Pentecostal imagery could be applied to the whole of salvation experience—whether it was effected at conversion or realized in a post-conversion experience. Free Methodist theologian George A. Turner, however, defended the more conservative post-Wesley doctrinal position held by most Holiness churches.

Discussion was extended and intense. Evangelist Morton Dorsey, a president of the CHA two decades ago, objected from the floor to what he believed was the dialogue of revisionism, a denial of the “spiritual reality” preached in the Holiness movement for more than a century. Others disagreed, calling the shifts more semantic in character.

Melvin Dieter, WTS president and church historian at Asbury, said that, in any case, the dialogue at the conference was important. He wanted a “new forthrightness in theological dialogue” within the WTS. Dieter also called for “new aggressiveness” in conversation between related theological traditions, from Calvinistic evangelicalism to Pentecostalism.

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In his presidential address, Dieter recognized the historical and theological links between the Holiness tradition and Pentecostalism. He cautioned that a more classical exegesis should not be allowed to undercut the experiential depth of the Holiness movement.

Nazarene theologian Mildred Bangs Wynkoop aroused some “amens,” as well as some shocked looks when she declared the conference discussions were “provincial.” She doubted whether the Holiness movement was ready for the “whole Wesley,” and said the issues involved had no simple answers. She called for fuller attention to the complicated historical, semantic, and biblical questions at stake. Bangs emphasized the Christocentric nature of Wesley’s thought, as well as the broader work of the Holy Spirit throughout human history.

Wesleyan church historian Clarence Bence echoed Bangs. He also sought an eschatology that was built on Wesley, but that avoided the “cultural pessimism” of a Hal Lindsey and the “historical utopianism” of some liberation theologians.

United Methodist Lawrence Wood of Asbury seminary is president-elect of the WTS, which now numbers about 1,100 members.


Bishops’ Grief Wins Ear Of Chief

Roman Catholic leaders are both angry and frustrated by what they feel is increasing government intrusion into church affairs, and last month they took their case to President Jimmy Carter. Four top prelates, representing the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), later told reporters that Carter had given them a sympathetic hearing.

Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco, NCCB president, said there was “immediate agreement” by Carter that church-and-state problems exist, not only for Catholics but also for other religious groups. The bishops, said Quinn, also expressed “a mounting concern about the need for aid to parents of … private school children”—a gentle reminder of an as-yet-unfulfilled Carter campaign promise. The President asked the bishops to send him a detailed listing of their specific concerns.

The bishops’ twenty-minute meeting with Carter came at the conclusion of the semiannual meeting of the Washington-based NCCB at a hotel three blocks from the White House. Although their three-day agenda was jammed with budgetary and housekeeping items, the 264 bishops devoted a large chunk of time to the government issue.

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Bishop after bishop voiced complaints against what was described as unfair and unwarranted actions by government regulatory agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Labor. Especially criticized was the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has claimed jurisdiction over parochial school and other institutional employees in such matters as unionization and unemployment compensation. (A case involving the NLRB and parochial schools in Chicago and Fort Wayne, Indiana, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Some bishops lamented that Carter had received strong help from the church hierarchy in winning important legislative battles, but had failed to protect the church from harsh treatment by certain presidential appointees. “The White House and Administration used us when it was something they wanted,” fumed one bishop.

Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York suggested that the bishops set up an ecumenical monitoring process, possibly with the assistance of church colleges, to help guard against government interference in church work. By consent (no vote was taken), the bishops agreed that a watchdog was needed. However, they decided to assign the role to their own officers rather than to establish a new committee. (Cooke attended the meeting with Carter, as did Quinn, NCCB general secretary Thomas C. Kelly, and Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the NCCB vice-president.)

In other actions:

• The bishops decided for the first time to respond officially to conclusions of Protestant and Catholic theological dialogue groups. The first response will be made to the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

• An NCCB committee listened to statements from 20 of the some 1,500 persons who attended a conference in Baltimore Where ordination of Catholic women was advocated. The women demonstrated outside the NCCB meeting hall and chided the bishops for not permitting them to make a report to the full body.

The ordination issue was not on the agenda, but at one session six bishops urged the NCCB to begin serious discussion of the woman’s role in ministry. No action was taken, and leaders reaffirmed that church teaching prohibits the ordination of women. The only reason for any talks, suggested Quinn, would be to “elicit a better acceptance of the teaching of the church.”

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C. M. Ward, well-known Pentecostal radio preacher, has retired after twenty-five years as speaker on the Assemblies of God thirty-minute program, “Revival-time.” Ward also resigned as president of Bethany Bible College in order to give full time to writing and speaking ministries.

Philip Yancey has given up the editorship at Campus Life magazine to become editor of Campus Life Books—a book line copublished with Zondervan. The move will give Yancey more time for writing and research; a frequent contributor to CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Yancey has more than 250 articles in sixty-four publications to his credit.

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