Faith healing, army building, and the hotel business.
Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo is better known in Nigeria than in, say, North Dakota. The 48-year-old, Assemblies of God-ordained minister has been known to draw audiences of more than 200,000 for a single service in Third World countries. In an interview, Cerullo said of his popularity overseas, “If I were to go to Indonesia tomorrow, no less than 50,000 would turn out.”
Among Christians in the United States, Cerullo’s name was little recognized, especially until recent years. Even in San Diego—headquarters of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE) since its 1960 founding—residents, when questioned, seem to know little about their home town’s faith-healing evangelist.
But recent shifts may bring MCWE greater visibility in the U.S. In 1970, in response to one of a number of self-professed personal messages from God, the stocky five-foot, seven-inch evangelist felt led to a greater North American emphasis. MCWE increased its number of meetings in the U.S. and Canada; at least 15 are scheduled this year.
Trademarks of Cerullo’s meetings are: healings, with on-the-spot testimonials of their validity; clapping and exuberant worship; attenders anointed with oil; and a concluding salvation altar call. In the U.S., local church support for Cerullo is mostly Pentecostal and charismatic, although he frequently makes interdenominational appeals and says Roman Catholics and ethnic peoples are among his strongest supporters.
Cerullo says his organization now takes in $10 million annually—no paltry amount, considering that many evangelicals say they’ve never heard of him.
In earlier years Cerullo sought to avoid publicity. Now, MCWE’s ICI Advertising Agency helps promote Cerullo’s crusades, his more than 30 books, his TV ventures, and the recently established School of Ministry—a three-month program similar in concept to the training offered in the past to national church leaders during Cerullo’s overseas crusades. Cerullo claims to have trained more than 125,000 national church leaders since 1962: “we have been the pioneers … we are on the cutting edge,” he said. About 40 nations were represented among the 313 students who finished the most recent school session in San Diego.
The school’s announced goal was “raising up [of] 10 million soldiers in God’s army in 10 years.” This lofty goal prompted a requirement that applicants promise to share Cerullo’s teachings with at least 100 others after graduation. Cerullo says students are taught to become “proof producers,” who are able to go out and “work the works of God” (healings, deliverances, and miracles). His mobilization of Christians began in earnest in 1962 in Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, when he says God told him, “Son, build me an army.”
In San Diego, Cerullo’s visibility began increasing two years ago—up almost 20 stories—when MCWE purchased the landmark El Cortez Hotel and Convention Center Complex. Covering about four city blocks, the property includes several hotels with a total of 500 guest rooms, parking structures, offices, and shops.
MCWE paid a bargain price of $7.5 million for the choice, downtown property, and so far has spent about $4 million more to upgrade the facilities, which had fallen into disrepair. About $1 million went for a high-technology, electronic learning center in the School of Ministry, which is located there. (MCWE publicity describes the property as a “beautiful 25 million dollar campus.”)
While Cerullo says MCWE bought the property “basically for the school,” his organization seems equally interested in the commercial aspects of the El Cortez. (MCWE is itself a nonprofit corporation, while the center is profit making.)
Spokesmen for the organization say an additional $5 million will be spent for renovations, to be directed by recently hired specialists Harriet and Tony Drago. MCWE intends to make the El Cortez a first-class, deluxe facility capable of entertaining overnight guests, as well as businessmen’s and religious conventions. Partly to compensate for its rule against alcohol, the hotel will serve “the finest gourmet food in San Diego,” said Jerry Cummings, general manager of Cerullo’s ICI Advertising Agency. (The center is a curious mix of religious and secular. MCWE’s “I Care Prayer Chapel,” with its “Wall of Intercession” designed after Jerusalem’s Western Wall, is adjacent to the hotel swimming pool and exercise rooms. MCWE’s “Chapel in the Sky” stands where a bar used to be.)
In fact, the hotel business has put a squeeze on the school. Three school sessions were planned for 1980, but the third has been dropped. Only one three-month session is planned for 1981, from January through March—slow months in the hotel business. Drago told a reporter the three-month system would work better than if they tried to have students, tourists, and conventions at the same time.
This wasn’t the first change of plans for the school, which has undergone several top leadership changes in its short, 18-month existence. MCWE had planned originally to build the school on its 228-acre property north of San Diego. In January 1979 the San Diego City Council granted MCWE a conditional use permit to construct and operate a religious and retirement center on the property. Besides the school, MCWE intended to build a 9,000-square-foot visitors center, a 6,000-seat worship center, a 1,000-student parochial school, a 340-bed convalescent center, a 150,000-square-foot office facility, and 260 hillside villas.
Two years ago Cerullo told the New York Times that several million dollars had already been pledged toward the then-anticipated $100 million project. Now those dollars will go elsewhere. Just to prepare the property for construction would cost $40 million, and the total package would cost at least $200 million, Cerullo said, and the organization got what it needed—and much cheaper—by buying the El Cortez. Because of that, MCWE has made known the 228 acres are for sale. A sizeable profit will probably be made—property values having increased since MCWE bought the land for a reported $4,000 per acre (about $912,000) in the early 1970s.
MCWE’s various investments have aroused local curiosity, if nothing else. Cerullo dismisses suspicions regarding MCWE spending, and says his organization is financially accountable. He said in an interview that his annual salary is $18,000 and that MCWE has an annual outside audit by a nationally recognized firm.
Media director David Balsiger resigned in 1972, as did at least 10 other executives at about the same time. Balsiger alleged in his resignation letter that, among other things, Cerullo employed unethical procedures and misused donor funds. Current board member George Ekeroth, who left the MCWE staff recently after 16 years to become executive director of the new Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and Research, called such allegations “completely untrue.”
Ekeroth did acknowledge observations sometimes voiced by former and present staff members about Cerullo’s power within MCWE. The organization is essentially “a one-man management operation,” and “that can be either a plus or a minus,” he said in a recent interview. Cerullo and his wife, Theresa, comprise two-fifths of the five-member MCWE board. Remaining members are California Assembly of God minister Paul Trulin, and controversial preacher Charles Blair of Calvary Temple in Denver.
The organization has experienced some rocky personnel shifts. Within the past two years, chairman Jim Martin and a number of others on the 50-member-plus board of elders resigned. An editor of MCWE’s 175,000-circulation Deeper Life magazine, a public relations advance man, and several other executives also resigned. Cerullo’s eldest son, David, formerly a special assistant to his father, left the organization for other work, and his daughter, Susan, former MCWE personnel director, married and moved to Toronto, advertising director Cummings said.
Discipleship/shepherding teacher Ern Baxter left the school’s teaching staff after a short stint. Cerullo said Baxter left because of ill health. Other MCWE sources indicate Baxter left partly because at least one local church threatened to cut off its support if Baxter remained. (Discipleship/shepherding teachings are controversial among charismatics, and Cerullo said in an interview that Baxter had agreed not to teach that subject at the school.)
When the school first opened early in 1979, some students complained that actual course offerings failed to match those described in the school catalogue. A present faculty member remembers that “any resemblance to the school catalogue was purely coincidental.” Students interviewed at the campus in July seemed unanimous in their praise of Cerullo and the school. The internationals travel to San Diego at their own expense, but MCWE provides scholarships to many to help meet the $1,800 tuition and board fee charged to all students.
Like many Christian organizations today, MCWE began as a tiny “Mom and Pop” operation and later grew into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. MCWE began in 1960 in the Cerullo garage, which had been converted into a mailing room for literature. Prior to that, he held pastorates in a New Hampshire Assembly of God church (1952–1953) and in South Bend, Indiana’s Calvary Temple (1959).
Cerullo’s Jewish mother died when he was two years old, and his Italian father—described by Cerullo as an alcoholic—was unable to care for the family’s five children. All were placed in foster homes as wards of the state. At an orthodox Jewish orphanage in Clifton, New Jersey, Morris received religious instruction and a bar mitzvah ceremony.
However, a Pentecostal staff nurse, with whom he became acquainted, witnessed to him. When a routine locker check uncovered a Pentecostal magazine given to him by the nurse, she was dismissed, and Morris, then 14, decided to run away. He recalls two angels leading him for several miles in a blinding storm to where his friend, the former nurse, was waiting for him. The following Sunday evening, at Bethany Assembly of God Church in Paterson, New Jersey, Cerullo says he was baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual gifts of tongues, interpretation, and prophecy were bestowed upon him. About six months later, in the same sanctuary, Cerullo says he had a vivid experience of God’s presence, and heard a prophetic message that he believes called him to a worldwide ministry.
Cerullo says God has told him to present the gospel to every Jew on earth before Christ’s return. In what he calls a “miracle,” MCWE once was given Israel’s entire voter registration list of 500,000 names; since then, MCWE reportedly has used this to send three mass mailings of missionary material. Cerullo says 25,000 Jews receive his Israel Bible correspondence course on a regular monthly basis.
Prophecy is a main staple of Cerullo’s writings and teachings. Calling himself “a very strong believer in knowing the seasons,” Cerullo says he uses his prophetic gift to prepare Christians for the end times, and to alert the many self-professed Christians who, if “Christ returned today, wouldn’t make it.” He cites various world and economic problems when describing the “great shaking” that has started. (He predicts a Soviet invasion of Israel within three to five years.) With a contribution, donors can receive Cerullo’s “confidential prophecy [telephone] hotline card.” The telephone recording, updated monthly, gives “an up-to-date six minute prophecy by Morris Cerullo on today’s happenings.”
Other fund-raising tools and giveaways have included a “Scripture victory wheel,” a “Masada medallion,” and a set of 12-ounce, crystal goblets, each with a different disciple’s picture.
Some San Diego residents have questioned MCWE’s investments and methods, said a San Diego Union reporter. However, there is no evidence to allege wrongdoing, and people should not criticize Cerullo because of his methods, the reporter said. “If he wants to give away crystal goblets, that’s his business.”
JOHN MAUST with MARJORIE CHANDLER
Impending Merger Raises a Flurry of Resistance
With the inauguration of the proposed Church of Christ in Ghana (CCG) only four months away, the union is inundated with problems. Some lay- and clergymen are threatening to secede if their churches join the union.
Last December, C. G. Baeta, a former head of the Department of the Study of Religions at the University of Ghana and chairman of the Ghana Church Union Committee, announced at a press conference that three denominations—the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church, Ghana—would merge on January 4, 1981. The committee has been negotiating the merger—which would encompass a quarter of Ghana’s 11.7 million population—for the last 22 years.
Church union negotiations in Ghana began in 1955 when the Christian Council of the then Gold Coast invited Bishop Sumitra, moderator of the Church of South India—a united church in a developing country—to visit Ghana and share his experiences in formation of the new church.
The first meeting of the committee was held in 1957, and conversations continued through 1979. During the process, however, the Diocese of the Church of the Province of West Africa (Anglican)—one of the four churches originally committed to the union—withdrew.
Since the merger announcement was made, there has been strong argument both for and against the union.
Some ministers and elders have threatened to establish a Reformed Methodist denomination if their mother church joins the union. Although the Methodist Church voted 84 percent in favor of the union at its last conference, they argue that the procedure (voting by raising of hands) was undemocratic.
A group of Methodists describing themselves as “silent majority spokesmen” have called on the three churches to review immediately the concept of union. These spokesmen suggest there are more urgent priorities for the church than union, including the “spiritually sick state of the church, morally degenerated leaders within its institutions, the grip of poverty and hunger on Ghanaian society, and an analysis of the reasons behind the mass flow of traditional church membership into the so-called [indigenous, Ghana-based] spiritual churches.” They also hinted that the proposed union could stir up tribal antagonisms. They called for a referendum on the proposal, which would be preceded by effective mass education.
From the Presbyterian Church, a group of antichurch unionists has vowed to oppose the drive for unity during this year’s synod at Kumasi. The members called the inauguration date unsuitable “because no proper education has been done.”
Some members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church belittle the church union concept, feeling that the Christian Council already unites them in principle. Others see it as a platform to unite Christians. One layman asked, “If the two sister Presbyterian churches could never unite because of language differences, why should they now unite in a larger grouping?”
The public relations officer for the CCG, clergyman Ossei-Akoannor, confirmed the threat by some ministers to form a Reformed Methodist Church, but described them as “a minority.” However, he admitted failings in the process of educating about church union.
Meanwhile, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ghana, I. H. Frimpong, has declared that church union has come to stay and “there is no turning back.” Addressing a specially called meeting of Presbyterian Church pastors in Accra, Frimpong appealed to the ministers of the three denominations to give full support and unflinching cooperation to the union.
The president of the Methodist Church, E. B. Essamuah, also appealed to all Christians to support church union because “it will wipe away tribalism in the country.”
G. B. K. OWUSU
Back to the Bad Old Days Out in the Pueblos
A small group of evangelical families, including some out-of-town guests, were holding a Sunday evening service during July in the rural Mexican town of San Nicolás de Guadalupe. Suddenly two trucks screeched to a stop outside. Dozens of men armed with such weapons as axes, clubs, and stones jumped down and began attacking both the house and the believers; other townspeople joined the fray.
The result was 15 persons wounded—some suffered fractures—three badly damaged cars, and a house with nothing—not even the kitchen stove—left intact.
Mexican missionary Norberto Cortes reported that although two believers escaped to try to seek help, no one in the entire town was willing to intervene on their behalf. Observers assumed they were reluctant to oppose the anti-Protestant vendetta they believed was instigated by the local Roman Catholic priest. Cortes noted that Red Cross ambulances carried off some of the wounded, but that otherwise the authorities in the entire region of San Felipe del Progreso, in the state of Mexico, ignored the evangelicals’ pleas for justice.
In a curious sequel the following Sunday, the only non-Christian man in an evangelical San Nicolás family was confronted by townspeople and killed “for being a believer.”
The incident came unavoidably to the attention of the state government when some 800 Pentecostals gathered in front of the capitol in Toluca with placards and banners. The believers publicly accused San Nicolá’s town president of directing the attack and declared their intention of continuing to live in the hostile community. The National Committee for Evangelical Defense also sent a delegation from Mexico City to Toluca to assure that justice would be done.
Although no believers died in San Nicolás, another incident last May in the Atlantic state of Veracruz was more violent. A prominent believer in the small Church of God in San Jorge Atitla Omealca was murdered, his brother kidnapped (and still missing in August), and both their wives kidnapped for a short period.
The Reformed Evangelical Synod
Reformed Group Keeps Unity Without Ducking the Issues
Meeting in the historic Protestant city of Nimes, France, in July, 100 delegates from the 38 member churches of the Reformed Evangelical Synod succeeded in maintaining both confessional integrity and unity.
It was not a foregone conclusion. A number of issues had been troubling the RES, a grouping of evangelical Calvinist denominations with a combined membership of about 5.5 million. The issues included race relations, membership in the World Council of Churches, and doctrinal developments in one of its members, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Added to these long-standing issues was a new one—homosexuality.
Communications from a number of Presbyterian churches indicated they might withdraw if the synod failed to take a strong stand on crucial issues. There were also rumors that the Indonesian churches would withdraw if dual membership in the RES and WCC were made impossible or if the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were pressured to withdraw. The stage was set for crisis.
General Secretary Paul C. Schrotenboer expressed concern in his opening report that excessive attention to internal problems would prevent the churches from undertaking their service together in the world. He urged the synod to spend more time in prayer, and it did.
In the end all but one or two major decisions were made without dissent. Several factors led to the favorable outcome. One was the series of conferences—prior to and during the first week of the synod—on missions, youth work, church-state relations, and gospel broadcasting. In these the delegates caught the vision of a united testimony, with their shared tradition and evangelical position, that they can bear effectively only together.
A second factor was the procedure of thoroughly and unhurriedly discussing the issues first in small representative committees before they were debated in plenary sessions. With but two exceptions, each committee came with a unanimous report to the synod and all reports were adopted with relatively slight changes.
A third factor was the broadening of ecumenical interest, especially in the World Evangelical Fellowship. Possibilities of fruitful cooperation between the WEF and the RFS seemed to decrease the tension over WCC membership.
• adopted a lengthy declaration on the social calling of the church, and combined evangelism and the diaconal task in one word/deed undertaking;
• urged member churches in South Africa to work to remove structures of social injustice, but otherwise kept hands off this subject so as not to impede current internal grappling with this issue among the four South African member churches from the Dutch Reformed tradition;
• dealt partially with the “new theology” emanating from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (the synod satisfied itself that the Dutch church had repudiated the teaching of Herman Wiersenga, which holds there was no actual atonement for sin by Christ but that he had instead suffered shock; but it deferred, pending further reporting, action on controversial teaching spread by Harry Kuitert on the authority of the Scriptures);
• labeled all homosexual practice sin;
• agreed to establish closer relationships with the WEF, and authorized one more study on dual WCC-RES membership;
At the end of the assembly, moderator John P. Galbraith expressed thanks to the Lord for the way his Spirit had led the synod. The hours were long, the feelings ran deep, and the differences were not all resolved; but the Nimes synod that began with a service of prayer was able to conclude with a united expression of praise.
The Vatican has issued a call for a major redistribution of Roman Catholic priests throughout the world. In a July report, their uneven distribution was dramatized by noting that two clusters of nations, Europe and North America, and Latin America and the Philippines, each account for 45 percent of the Catholic population. But the northern cluster is served by 77.2 percent of available priests, while the southern cluster is served by only 12.6 percent. The document proposes that “rich” and “poor” dioceses could be paired, with the bishops from both and the priests concerned working out binding agreements on the terms of redeployment. The declining ratio of priests to the Catholic population—from one to 1,400 in 1962 to one to 1,800 in 1977—has aggravated the distribution problem.
In a surprise decision by its general synod, the Church of England agreed to initiate dialogue with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches about women’s ordination. None of the three churches have women priests. Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, who appears more inclined toward ecumenical exploration with “our episcopally ordered brethren” than with Protestants, supported the move. The synod also gave a cool reception to new proposals for linking five British churches in a unity convenant, merely “taking note” of the churches’ Council for Covenanting report.
Britain has lifted its 12-year-old ban on the entry of Scientologists. The government announcement in July is expected to lead to a flow of hundreds of adherents of the Church of Scientology sect to its world headquarters, located in Sussex on a luxurious 55-acre estate that once belonged to the Maharajah of Jaipur.
An association of Flemish Protestants was formed recently in Belgium. The Flemish Evangelical Alliance was launched at the Antwerp meeting, with provision for denominations, local churches, parachurch organizations, and individuals to join. Clergymen Jean du Meunier of Mechelen and B. C. Carp of Antwerp were elected chairman and secretary, respectively.
The Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU) voted recently to enter into full communion with the United Church of Christ, U.S.A. Synods of the EKU in West and East Germany have a combined 12 million members and are descended from the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union, which merged Lutheran and Reformed congregations in 1817. German immigrants from this church formed the Evangelical Synod of North America, which merged to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1934, and again in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ. The EKU is exploring full communion with other United Churches, but creation of another world confession fellowship is not envisioned.
Publication of an open letter by Russian Orthodox Priest Dmitri Dudko in the July News Bulletin of the Moscow Patriarchate confirms his startling “confession” on Moscow television in June. Addressing Patriarch Pimen, Dudko wrote that his dissident activities were “mere sensation seeking or political intrigue,” and asked forgiveness for his “folly … insults … the sorrow I have caused you.”
Seminary students in Hungary are being punished for participating in religious group activities and carrying out pastoral work among university students. One seminarian at the Theological Seminary in Budapest was refused ordination by Istvan Bagi, auxiliary bishop and rector of the seminary. Fifteen other seminarians appealed on his behalf to the Hungarian Episcopal Conference. As the case had caused a sensation among believers, the bishop decided to avoid further controversy by allowing the ordination after all. But he penalized the 15 other seminarians by sending them back to their dioceses and banning them from further study at the seminary.
Another leader in the Seventh-Day Adventist movement in the Soviet Union has been arrested. Rostislav Galetsky, 32, who had been living in hiding for five years, was apprehended in July in Leningrad. He had been an active evangelist of the All Union Church of the True and Free Seventh-Day Adventists, and may have been the designated successor to leader Vladimir Shelkiv, who died last January in a Soviet labor camp.
The Turkish government announced in July that it would reopen Istanbul’s famed Aya Sofya Mosque for prayers for the first time in 45 years. The mosque, a Byzantine church in pre-Ottoman times, has been a museum since 1935 when Turkey became a secular state. Culture Minister Tevfik Koraltan said the return to religious use of the mosque—apparently a move aimed at appeasing Muslim fundamentalists—would occur toward the end of the holy month of Ramadan (in July).
The World Muslim League is pushing the Koran and its recitation among Muslims living outside the traditional Muslim sphere. The league, with headquarters in Mecca, has made 3.4 million copies of the Koran available to this diaspora in the last few months. A spokesman said that the Saudi Arabian government has decided to establish a modern Koran printing press in Medina and announced production of a further 5 million copies. Also, for the first time, the league has sent 31 Koran reciters to the non-Islamic world—people specially trained to “recite” passages from the Koran in the approved modified chanting style. An additional 100 reciters are being trained.
The total of new believers among Cambodian (Kampuchean) refugees has reached 26,000, according to a recent report in the Alliance Witness. Fifty-three congregations, scattered throughout the refugee camps in Thailand, have resulted from the awakening that is continuing in them.
Western Christian educators will begin teaching later this month in five Chinese cities. But, reported the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, “They are going largely without Bibles, without buildings of their own, and without illusions about the role they can play in the People’s Republic.” Representatives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, the Yale-China Association, the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, and the Lingnan Board will be teaching in Changsha, Wuhan, Taigu, Taiyan, and Lanzhou. Nathan Pusey, president of the United Board, which formerly governed 13 Christian universities in China, and president emeritus of Harvard University, was quoted as saying, “We are not interested in starting Christian institutions of our own. And we are not interested in proselytizing.”
The prime minister of the world’s newest nation, Vanuatu, is a clergyman—and so is his defeated rival. Walter Lini, an Anglican, was sworn in on July 30 as prime minister of the some 70 islands in the South Pacific formerly known as the New Hebrides. The islands had been jointly administered by the British and French. Lini defeated Roman Catholic priest Gerard Leymang, who represented the French influence. A month earlier a local chief, Jimmy Stevens, led a group of French-speaking separatists in a takeover of the largest island, Espiritu Santo, and attempted to secede. Leymang then came out in support of the secession attempt, which was quashed.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.