All Stories in The Strang Report
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Growing up in the 1950s, I knew there were two Christian leaders who stood head and shoulders above the rest—Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. I never dreamed I would get to know Oral personally, publish one of his books, serve on one of his boards and even visit him “to say goodbye.”
Once Oral told some leaders that if they were ever asked to speak and were unprepared, they should tell their testimony. Now I feel inadequate to pay tribute to a man who did more than probably anyone in the 20th century to bring God’s healing power to the church. So I’ll just tell my testimony of knowing him.
I met Oral through my mentor Jamie Buckingham. I was barely 30 when I was invited to a meeting of about 100 leaders in the newly built City of Faith, on the Oral Roberts University (ORU) campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the meeting Oral walked around the room and prayed for each person. When he came to me he said: “Never doubt the gift that’s within you.”
I had only recently started Charisma. Oral must have sensed I was unsure about God’s call on my life. Yet he saw God’s hand on this fledgling magazine. He told me later he read every issue. And once he recorded a short endorsement that I’m so proud of I put it on the special online tribute we posted (charismamag.com/index.php/oral-roberts-tribute).
Once Oral asked me to serve on ORU’s board of regents. I felt as a journalist I needed to keep my objectivity, so I declined. Now, 25 years later, my son Cameron (who graduated from ORU) is the youngest member of ORU’s new board of trustees. Instead, I served for many years on the International Charismatic Bible Ministries board. It brought me to Tulsa for many years and I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with this great man.
I have met heads of state and titans of industry. But never had I met a man who could humbly walk into a room with such a commanding presence. But Oral wasn’t perfect, and he spoke candidly of his shortcomings.
And while he lived in utmost moral integrity, he sometimes did things he must have regretted. When he was desperate to keep ORU’s medical school afloat in the mid-1980s, he threatened that “God would take him home” if he didn’t raise the money.
I wrote an essay in our local newspaper explaining that many Christians believe after they accomplish all they can, God will call them home. That comment is often made at funerals to provide comfort when someone’s life is cut short. Apparently Oral felt that if he failed to save his medical school he would have nothing more to accomplish and he’d go to heaven.
The money did come in, but it wasn’t enough to save the medical school. ORU suffered a great setback and it left ORU heavily in debt. Yet the university and his vision survived and lives on.
The day of Oral’s funeral on December 21 I looked out my hotel window to the beautiful campus that had once been a farm on the edge of Tulsa. I’d heard Oral tell how he had walked that vacant property, prayed in tongues and then interpreted back to himself direction from the Holy Spirit. I have used that prayer technique many times.
After Oral retired to Southern California, I arranged to visit him “to say goodbye.” I took my friend R.T. Kendall, who wanted to meet him. Oral admired several of Kendall’s books, so he wanted to meet him and I went along to help conduct an interview we published in Ministry Today.
I saw him only one more time—at Mark Rutland’s inauguration as the third president of ORU. After the ceremony others on the platform exited amid great academic pageantry. As Oral was helped off the stage by his caregivers he gave a great wave as if to say goodbye.
Later Mark spent some private time with ORU’s founder. After their conversation, Oral put his feeble arm around Rutland’s shoulder and said, “Now I’m ready to go home.” Rutland assumed he was ready to go back to Southern California. Later he realized Oral meant he was ready to go to heaven.
Oral Roberts inspired millions, including this former newspaper reporter. I’m thankful he saw a gift in me. His legacy of faith makes me want to use that gift to its maximum impact.
Steve Strang conducted several interviews with Oral Roberts, including this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1980s. read more
A widely publicized study released in late April about why Americans have given up their faith or changed religions is actually good news for charismatic churches. The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, described as the largest study of its type about why people change their religious affiliation, interviewed 2,800 people. It found that respondents had not become more secular or rejected their religious affiliation because of anger over doctrinal or leadership issues but because they had “just gradually drifted away from their faith.”
Why is that good news? Because it’s an indication that people want something that will meet their needs.
Thirty-five years ago my late mentor, Jamie Buckingham, newly baptized in the Holy Spirit, put this provocative comment on his church’s marquee: “For More than a Sunday Morning Religion.” He knew that people aren’t interested in just hearing a dull sermon and singing the same songs that have been sung for decades. They want a vibrant faith—the living Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is why Pentecostal and charismatic churches around the world are growing.
Like many of the churches noted in the survey, charismatic churches have the problem of people coming in the front door and going out the back door. But I believe the survey results are good news for those of us in the charismatic movement. Here’s why:
People want an exciting worship experience. They don’t want “boring religion.” One thing people say about charismatic churches is that the services are anything but boring.
They want a genuine encounter with God. Often that comes through praise and worship—the subject of this month’s cover story. In fact, the charismatic church has led the way in this area through musicians such as Israel Houghton, Darlene Zschech and others we include in the article.
People want answers to their personal problems. Charismatics pioneered the concept of inner healing, pray for deliverance from life-altering addictions and lay hands on the sick, trusting they will recover, for “by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5, NKJV). We believe God has answers for our personal problems, and that resonates with people who are searching.
If people want community, they can find it at Spirit-filled churches, which are more ethnically and generationally diverse than other segments of the body of Christ. Are they perfect? Of course not. But when you find a mixed-race church, it’s usually charismatic.
Our churches tend to be independent, if not organizationally, at least in attitude. Independence can sometimes create a lone-ranger mentality. But it also frees up leaders who have a passion and a vision to get outside the box and share the gospel with those who are hurting.
It has also spawned new churches and ministries, including Christian TV, which reaches millions who don’t go to church. Many who watch Christian programming later get active in a church, but even those who don’t are hearing the gospel and being touched.
Sharing the gospel and reaching out to poor and hurting people are values almost universally shared by Pentecostal and charismatic churches. There’s a need for us to do more. But charismatics have grown around the world because they emphasize outreach, both here and overseas.
As a movement we certainly aren’t perfect. Sadly, many of our churches are just as dead and boring as the ones spoken about in the Pew report. Timothy warns against “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). And there is nothing “deader” than a dead Pentecostal or charismatic church.
However, we don’t approve of deadness, and charismatics won’t put up with it for long. They vote with their feet by going where the presence of God brings life.
I’ve been covering the charismatic church for three decades, and I believe we’re continuing to grow at a time when many other churches aren’t. But the Pew report should remind us that people want answers and we have them—all from the Word of God.
To me, that’s good news.