Jimmy Swaggart's "Message Of The Cross" Illuminated: A  Pentecostal's Perspective

strange fires

Jimmy Swaggart's "Message Of The Cross" Illuminated

By  Rev. Rafael Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries

I will say it again. God cannot bless error; He cannot anoint error; He cannot even help error; God will help us while we are in error. He will continue to work with us, love us, deal with us and try to bring us to the knowledge of the truth. ... When you sit in the midst of wreckage, you have to realize that the fault and the blame are yours, no one else's!                    The Cup Which My Father Hath Given Me, p. 166, p. vi.

By evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's own personal account, he has received a divine revelation in 1997 on the cross of Christ which he sincerely believes the Christian Church has lost due to man made religious tradition. He is entitled to his views and I am entitled to question them, as well as his renegade ministry

Through his Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (JSM) organization, he now spends the lion's share of his airtime haling his audience through his Sonlight Broadcasting Network to make their own personal application of this transformative insight which Swaggart says God gave him. A complete JSM product line, of course, is ready for his viewers to peruse for their own enlightenment.

In short, Swaggart asserts that his teaching is based upon a uniquely personal revelation of the power of the Cross of Christ in the life of the believer for complete victory over one's sinful life and, he affirms, this has been the secret key to his own ultimate personal spiritual liberation after a lifetime of his all too well known spiritual struggle. 

With an utterly buoyant confidence in this truth claim, Jimmy assures us that this newly perceived "Message" has made all the life changing difference to him, as well as others who took it to heart, as he recounts in a March, 2011 article:

I’m thinking now of a Preacher of the Gospel who is at the present time building a great church in a respective southern city, but, until he heard the Message of the Cross, he had simply quit. He couldn’t overcome particular problems within his life, and no matter how hard he tried. I heard him state, as he preached here at Family Worship Center just a short time ago, “Everybody told me what I had to do, but no one told me how to do it.” The reason they didn’t tell him how to do it is because they did not know how themselves. There came an hour that he lost everything and, above all, lost his way with God. Reduced to working as a janitor, through a Latino that God used, this dear brother heard the Message of the Cross and his whole world changed. As stated, he is now building a great Church, and for the Glory of God.(1)

What the "particular problems" were in this preacher's life which caused him to lose "everything" are unknown, but they apparently contributed to an apparent sad personal setback of unknown degree. There's no indication if this man was a preacher at the time of his devastation but one thing is clear, according to Swaggart, his issues occurred out of what was apparently a grave ignorance as to how to live for God, and that no one else could tell him "how to do it". 

But through "a Latino that God used", the preacher heard Swaggart's "Message" and his "whole world" began to change. Apparently, he either entered or reentered the ministry and is building a "great Church." Another dramatic anecdote of how Jimmy Swaggart's divinely received insight changes lives is offered, thus again supposedly proving just how "anointed" and spiritually authoritative his ministry is.

The Darkened Church And The Enlightened Evangelist

There have been writers who have reviewed Swaggart's "Cross" teaching and JSM no doubt is quite aware of who they are. I honestly haven't spent a lot of time reading their work, since this is a new article being written in 2012. I'll have a chance to do so now that I'm finished. But any kind of critical articles aren't received well within the Swaggart's inner circle and no less than Jimmy' wife Frances Swaggart responded to some of these unspecified people are in another recent article in The Evangelist. 

Frances' regrettably and yet characteristically derisive reaction states that Jimmy never claimed his revelation was greater in divine authority then the writings of the apostle Paul found in the New Testament nor was it an unbiblical one either: 

It’s seriously sad to have to say that some wannabe apologists have written blogs and/or articles, accusing my husband of saying that “he was given a revelation greater than Paul’s.” As we have just explained, this was just not correct. No, my husband has not said that this Revelation of the New Covenant was greater than Paul’s. And no, his Revelation is not separate from the Bible.

The defensive candor of Frances Swaggart is quite telling here. In the same breath in which she dismisses the claims that Jimmy's revelation was "greater than Paul", Frances makes no bones about just how she views it as being greater than any Christian understanding anywhere else. To the entirety of JSM, the "Message" actually provides more "illumination" on the "the Cross" than can found in the whole entirety of the Christian Church itself: the emphases seen in this quote are hers, not mine and her assertions are unmistakable and cannot be ignored or dismissed:

When my husband used the word “revelation,” some thought he was meaning a “revelation” outside of Scripture. Of course, this accusation is false. In his article, he states, “When the Revelation began to come, which, in effect, was not at all new, but rather was that which was originally given to the Apostle Paul, it totally revolutionized my life.” He states a few sentences later, “In this Revelation, the Lord explained to me, even in graphic detail, that which He had originally given to the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:12). But I honestly think, in His explaining this Revelation to me, that He gave me more light than the Church has previously known as it regards this all important subject.” Notice he states that the Lord gave him “more light than the Church” had previously known; he DOES NOT SAY that the Lord gave him more light than Paul had known, or more light than God had given to Paul. 

And of course, following this divisive claim, she sets forth the standard JSM article of faith that it is the Christian Church's fault that the world doesn't have the warmth of the "revelation of the cross" they bask in, a rediscovery of lost spiritual truth they alone possess. She even claims Paul himself had a real issue with the "church world, including himself" for not grasping this truth that the Body of Christ is in utter ignorance of, a truth that will save and sanctify souls like no other:

The indictment is against the church, not Paul or the Bible. He was putting the blame on the church world as a whole, including himself, for our inadequacy in understanding the fullness of the Message of the Cross. There was in no way any indication that God had not done His Part by leaving something out of His Word or that this Revelation was given to my husband exclusively. Anyone who has listened to my husband for any length of time knows that he would never even indicate, much less state, that the Word of God is by any means imperfect or incomplete, and he would never insinuate that God’s Truth was not readily available to any and all individuals who study His Word. This is not part of who he is. My husband has made it his life’s work to study this Book because he knew that, in it, God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . .” (II Pet 1:3). This “Revelation of the Cross” was expressly written in the Bible, and copious Verses of Scripture both confirm and substantiate it! (2)

The double talk Frances gives here is undeniably based on a double standard she holds to.

She states Jimmy Swaggart would never suggest that Biblical truth was unavailable to sincere Bible students seeking light from the pages of Scripture and that such an "insinuation" is "not part of who he is."  One would expect that from a woman who has chosen to stand by her beleaguered husband. And yet in the same sentences, you are struck with their plain conviction that the Christian Church simply doesn't have the same level of truth as they claim to walk in, an exalted level of "revelation" that is authoritative as that of the teaching of the apostle Paul's. If the church would only study God's Word to gain God's "Truth" the way that Jimmy Swaggart has, they too would be in "the fulness" of his "Message of the Cross."  The equally plain and unstated belief they assert here is that the Church's entire two thousand years of learning, teaching and study of Scripture simply doesn't measure up to what Jimmy Swaggart's teaching amounts to. Whatever "light" the Church doesn't hold a candle up, no pun intended, to what he claims to have "received" from God directly. 

It is impossible to overstate the zealous passion and repetition that Swaggart devotes to this concept, which he relentlessly emphasizes as a newly restored sacred truth the Church has not properly understood for over two thousand years.  He has made his interpretation of this "Message", capitalized to emphasize it's importance as the foundational truth that completely colors every thing that Jimmy Swaggart Ministries now produces. He has a daily show on his Sonlight Broadcasting Network entitled "The Message Of The Cross" in which every conceivable angle on it he and his panel of fellow preachers can take is discussed, all of course, centering in on his beliefs about it. It has become the chief talking point that he quite frequently raises and discusses more than any other as well as by his son Donnie and grandson Gabriel to a lesser degree in their own preaching and teaching (inside the cover of all of his Evangelist magazines during the last several months of 2011, pictures of one of the three preachers was captioned "Preaching the Cross at a recent Campmeeting Service ... preaching the Message of the Cross.")

The implications of this position explain what is behind the new energy and passion that JSM's revivalism burns with:

In short, the Swaggarts believe everyone is wrong and they alone are right about the Cross. 

"Everyone" means everyone, folks - no one understands the Cross of Christ better than Jimmy Lee Swaggart himself. That certainly would mean every preacher who's lived since the apostolic age, every one you or I have ever heard, every Christian who discipled me or you, or any book outside the Bible that anyone could ever read that didn't roll off JSM presses. You cannot ignore what the Swaggarts are very plainly saying here. It means the church is in utter darkness and is actually misguiding every single Christian who doesn't accept the authority of Jimmy Swaggart's "revelation." It means most definitely I am a blind leader of the blind as is every other Christian pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet whose ministry has nothing to do with Swaggart.

This is the position that the Swaggarts actually have taken without ever actually saying so. Such self-centered elitism is a can of spiritual Red Bull that gives them wiiings like eagles and makes them run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Believing you have all the answers when you are in the public's eye to challenge the whole world is an addictive drug that energizes like nothing else. I could go on and quote from their writings endlessly to prove this, but that's not the purpose of this article. 

But before the nature of Jimmy Swaggart's "Message of the Cross" is explored, let us first review what the Bible itself says about the Cross of Christ. 

The Cross Of Christ: Where The World Becomes New

The central truth of God's love for man was vividly revealed at the cross of Christ on Calvary, where He willingly offered Himself up to a sinful world that hated him to atone for its sin and bridge the gap between a holy God and an unholy humanity. That is what the most well known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, is based upon. God's most wondrous and most merciful love was seen in His free offering of His life to save us from the punishment for our sins we surely deserved: by the shedding of His own blood, He made it possible for anyone seeking peace with God to wonderfully receive it. 

But it just doesn't stop there! To know one is free from sin and able to relate to God as an actual Heavenly Father and fellowship with Him in the most wonderful and intimate way is, without question, simply life changing. Billions of Christians who have made Christ the Lord of their life by faith in Him know this well. 

The peace of Christ brings joyous unity with the Triune Godhead and an intimacy of relationship with them that is extended personally as well as corporately by fellowship with the Church, the Body of Christ. The great assembly of those of us who believe upon Jesus Christ alone for our salvation all have come to Him as the Door to eternal life and blessing (John 10:9) and while all of us, sadly, haven't lived as if we actually have entered in that way, enough of us actually have done so to prove by truly changed lives that He still remains open to all. Thanks be to God! 

I have been amazed by the all-reaching grace of Jesus daily since He found me adrift and living on the streets of Chicago in 1980; it was the love of God in the lives of the the workers and ministry of the Pacific Garden Mission that opened my eyes to my spiritual need, melted the stone around my empty, bitter and lustful heart, and led me to behold the cross anew in a way all of the tradition of my Catholic roots never could (faithful Christians whose prayers in agreement with my mother's intercessions definitely did NOT hurt either). I learned  that love came calling in a brutal murder of an innocent Man and that death itself could not hold Him .. and that He rose again in power and glory to give that gift personally to us all by faith. 

In so doing, heaven's gates were opened to me as I began to seek the Lord. A year later, in February 1981, I found that I needed to give myself totally to Him. It was then that the revelation of what Jesus has done on the cross sealed my victory, and He truly became my Lord in a relationship I cherish to this day. I have a communion with the one true God, in His Christ, through His Spirit.

Thanks to the cross of Jesus Christ, I now know God, intimately, personally, profoundly by having made His Son my Savior by faith in Him and Him alone. No religion. No rituals. No rules. No "One True Church" being in charge of my soul's destiny - just the Lord Himself.

I am not alone in my own glorying in the liberty I have found in the cross, despite what Swaggart says. 

For over two thousand years, there has been no more gripping a symbol that captivates the hearts and minds of all believers everywhere, no matter their Christian persuasion then the symbol of the Cross of Jesus Christ. All Christians see the mercy and grace of God for themselves and the world so powerfully materialized in the splinters of "the old rugged cross," and to glory in what was done there is certainly a renewal of our joy and our faith. That is the key to understanding all of the spiritual liberty that is give to us, which frees us from the religious traditions of men, and enables believers in Christ to claim true salvation. It was all done there at the cross (Colossians 2:9-15). Declaring such freedom is no less than what Paul the apostle would boldly do himself (Galatians 5:14). No matter where you go in the world today, the symbol of the cross itself is a universal touchpoint for Christians across all time, distance and culture to identify by and with. 

Although understanding about it may greatly vary, Christians know that the cross of Jesus is at the center of our faith. At the cross, where the old song says all Christians "first saw the light", we experienced God's love and the cost it endured to bring us back to Himself through the offering up of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It was there that the final sacrifices for our sins was accomplished, "once for all" (Hebrews 10:10) and there that the price was fully paid for the renewal of all who believe upon Him. It is the personal cross that Jesus points to that we must take up daily (Matthew 8:34) as an instrument of death to ourselves that we are to passionately embrace as we  seek to follow Christ, as He has commanded: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." 

In so doing, the victory and power of the truly Christ-centered life touches, transforms, changes us as 2 Corinthians 4:10 so beautifully puts it, where Paul the apostle exhorted the Corinthians to devote themselves to be "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." The cross, far from just being a religious symbol we reserve for jewelry and church architecture, becomes far more than just a symbol. It becomes a reality in the Christian life as we practice our own death to our sinful selves and making room for the power of the God in Christ by the Spirit to rule and reign in our thought life, our passions, our dreams which then is manifest in our lifestyle. It is a practical and powerful spiritual reality that has changed lives, families, communities, cities and cultures to the glory of God. 

How Jimmy Swaggart's Take On The Cross Has Taken A Lot Of Christians

And it is precisely with this most powerful symbol of Christian faith that Swaggart's never ending attempts to engage his audience at their most deeply personal level have been most affective. It is Jimmy Swaggart's perspective on "the Cross" that has probably done the most to win the new audience of adoring disciples he presently enjoys new support from. His continual identification of his ministry with a "Message Of The Cross", and how it had been lost and now found by his spiritual ardor has certainly enabled him to catch the new wind in his organizational sails that he now enjoys. Christians are drawn to the uplifting of the potency of the cross .. and Jimmy knows this very, very well. 

If there's a short answer to why Swaggart has managed to make a come back, it would be likely be for this very understandable reason. As I have observed in my other article, the majority of those who eagerly hearken to Swaggart's programming and teaching are those who are either largely ignorant of his ministry before his infamous fall or who look past it for any one of a hundred reasons we don't have time to get into here. For them, Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart provides a simple understanding to a complex and confusing world, bringing light and holiness to a dark and evil world as well as insight into what role in the drama of fallen humanity on the edge of last days judgment they themselves might actually play. 

Being the fiery tongued revivalist who speaks their language as he reveals how the "Message" matters to them, Swaggart's homespun Pentecostal revivalism captures their conviction and then their faith. He promises, as all Christian preachers might, meaning, purpose and newness of faith by coming near to "the Cross" he rapturously invites them to kneel before. For Christians long aware of just how accessible God's grace is through the Cross of Jesus Christ and given to seeking it out, Swaggart's rhetoric is a potent draw that many find irresistible. This is of course a fact not lost upon those at JSM seeking to improve it's fortunes by gaining more market share among a new audience. 

Be that as it may, the fact that there are indeed people turning to Christ despite the vainglorious self-exaltation the Swaggarts indulge in is a thing that cannot be ignored. For that, whether or not his followers believe me or not, I am indeed thankful and do praise God. I rejoice knowing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will never be bound by any man's example or egomania, and there are souls entering the Kingdom as a result of the Word of God being declared by JSM.

And yet, for all of his humble bearing, magnificently gifted musical talent and self-deprecating pulpiteering, Jimmy Swaggart still continually anoints himself as a new apostle for our day without ever saying as such. This is evident to far too many people not in the orbit of Planet JSM, and is lost upon those same adoring followers who support it, go to its' campmeetings, subscribe to its' Video Church programs or regularly pay unbelievably inflated prices for the books, DVDs and Expositor Bibles that its media channels continually hawk.

They have chosen to install Jimmy Swaggart as an example in their lives and readily accept his declarations as inspired opinion that should be unquestioningly accepted as gospel truth. With all spiritual objectivity therefore cast to the winds, and freedom to disagree or dialogue on his claims completely cut off, their faith is controlled entirely by him - whatever he teaches in essence is an indoctrination of his own choosing with no apologies, no turning back.

Therefore, what Jimmy Swaggart actually teaches about the cross of Christ needs to be analyzed, and in so doing, we will get to the heart of the matter - does he actually understand the Gospel itself or has he created another gospel altogether?  We'll now explore this point thoroughly in our research article you can go to here or at the link below.


(1) The Evangelist, March, 2011, p. 10

(2) The Evangelist, October, 2011, p. 13-14

On To The Next Article    Back To The SpiritWatch Home Page     Back To The Strange Fires