Can Christian radio and TV programming provide believers with the same spiritual nourishment found in the local church? Is it possible or even right for Christian television and radio programs to replace the ministry of the local church? If believers are fed through these programs, is it wrong to share a portion of one’s tithes with them?
The Assemblies of God has effectively used radio and television for ministry and for evangelism. This media ministry experience has taught the church valuable lessons on the strengths and weaknesses of the mass media for Christian witness. As with any human activity, there are biblical principles that must be observed as the Church uses the latest technology and media to minister to human needs.
Modern technology is neither all good nor all bad. It can be both a blessing and a curse. It has opened up unbelievable means for communicating the gospel. But at the same time it has threatened the Church with temptations and distractions it has never had to face before.
The Bible instructs Christians, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day [of Christ’s return] approaching " (Hebrews 10:25). Christianity is lived out in our relationships with other believers, as members of the body of Christ. An individual sitting in front of a television set watching a preacher, a musician, or even a worship leader may experience some emotional feelings, but God has ordained the community experience of the local church as the setting for spiritual health and growth.
Just as Jesus came to earth not to be served but to serve others (Mark 10:45), so we should evaluate our excessive involvement with Christian media when it becomes a replacement for the local church. The command not to give up meeting together with other Christians is not only for our personal edification and blessing, but that we can edify and bless others in the body of Christ. And sending an offering to a national media ministry, though helping the ministry, is not the same as coming together with prayer and words of encouragement for fellow believers who need the personal caring concern of another believer. Only if physical handicap or forced isolation prohibits church attendance should Christian television take the place of worship with a local congregation of believers.
That is not to say, however, that watching Christian television is wrong or improper. With so much broadcast time given to senseless, sensuous programs of little or no redeeming value, good Christian radio and television programming provides a much better alternative. But for the healthy, well-rounded Christian, television should only be an auxiliary to, never a substitute for, local church participation. Also, one must even listen to Christian media with discernment. If the Bereans judged Paul’s preaching (Acts 17:10,11), we should evaluate the words and actions of those who profess to speak to us for God. Christian media networks must pay their operational expenses, and occasionally a colorful program may be allowed because it provides revenue. But God promises discernment to the Spirit-filled Christian, not just to recognize demonic spirits, but also to recognize when the human spirit is spotlighted more than Jesus is lifted up.
There is no denying that Christian programming can provide inspiration and encouragement. But it is no substitute for the God-ordained interaction and unity of a body of believers. Though the viewer may warm to the personality of the television preacher, the two-way interaction of believers ministering to each other is missing. Sinners have been brought to a salvation experience through Christian television, but to grow in sanctification and Christlikeness, each believer needs the accountability and watchful care that comes only through face-to-face relationship with another believer who can personally love and share joys and sorrows.
Can one’s tithes be sent to a national media ministry? God tells His people, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse; . . . Test me in this . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Malachi 3:10). Some have tried to justify sending their tithes to television ministers by saying that they get more spiritual food and blessing from the TV ministry than from the local church. But the local church which fulfills the biblical pattern of spiritual leadership and community can more effectively use the tithes to reach the community in which the believer lives. The early believers were called to be witnesses and contributors to their own neighborhoods and towns rather than give their money to itinerant preachers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving money to other worthy ministries–after the tithes have been paid to the local church. Yet one can still be more certain that the money he gives to the work of the Lord is rightly used when he can see it put to use in the local community.
It is unfortunate that some legitimate media ministries wrongfully suffer because others conduct business and promote teachings that discredit the entire Christian ministry. Abuses in the mishandling of contributions and gifts raise questions in the minds of many. Lavish lifestyles, funded by sacrificial gifts from those who can scarcely afford to give, reflect negatively on the cause of Christ and His concern for the poor.
Other media evangelists refuse to open financial records to Christian agencies seeking to bring credibility to independent ministries. Instead, they claim they are accountable only to God, not to man. Such abuse of the accountability God requires of His servants is inexcusable.
The solution is to give the tithes to the local church, God’s ordained storehouse. Here there is much more accountability. Christian radio and television can be effective tools of evangelism, and as such, offerings beyond one’s tithe would be appropriate. But such support is only secondary. The tithes belong in the local storehouse.
In evaluating the integrity of a television or radio ministry, one should seek answers to the following questions: 1) Does the ministry belong to a Christian media organization which has standards its members are expected to meet? 2) If it does not voluntarily belong to such a group, does it have a board or higher entity to which it is accountable for its financial reporting? 3) Does the ministry encourage its listeners to be involved in and support a local church? 4) Does the ministry avoid attacking or criticizing by name other Christian persons or organizations? 5) Does the ministry lift up Jesus in its music, teaching, preaching, and even in such mundane activities as fund raising? If the answer to these questions is positive, one could feel confident in sending an offering beyond the local-church tithes to a ministry that has blessed you personally.
A final concern: with the explosion of technically excellent and emotionally stirring media ministry programs, some may unconsciously substitute watching television programs for the private times of studying the Bible and praying for needs the Spirit places on one’s heart. Bible study and prayer must never be sacrificed to any other spiritual activity, no matter how inspiring that activity may be.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.