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Christian Radio as a Means of Grace

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I don’t listen to Christian radio often, but occasionally I indulge.  I admit I sometimes enjoy the upbeat Christian pop music, and every once in a while the radio personalities have some interesting things to say.  While listening to one of my local Christian radio stations one afternoon, I heard a statement that struck me as somewhat odd.  The announcer guaranteed that listening to their station for three hours each day would improve my walk with Jesus.  Later on, I was promised that three hours per day of this station would improve my relationship with my spouse or children (again, guaranteed!).  At the time this seemed strange to me, if only for practical reasons.  What if I just happened to listen to the three worst hours each day?  Or what if I only listened to music, and never heard a single sermon, devotional, or piece of inspiring advice?  But really, the issue was not a practical one, it was theological.  A radio station that plays some upbeat music and the occasional sermon or talk  show is not the place I think of going to when I want to change my life.

I had forgotten all about this until just recently.  While indulging in a little Christian radio a few days ago, I heard several “testimonial” advertisements promoting the station.  In one ad, a woman said that she was fighting depression after a divorce, and listening to this Christian radio station lifted her mood and strengthened her faith.  The part about lifting her mood didn’t surprise me, but when she described how listening to this radio station had strengthened her faith I was a bit shocked.  Listening to this radio station apparently took the place of (or was simply more effective than) reading God’s Word, hearing it preached, and having it represented and confirmed for her in the Sacraments.  In short, listening to Christian radio had had the effect of a means of grace.

The next ad I heard was only more shocking.  This time, a woman described a point in her life when she was not a Christian and was struggling with suicidal thoughts.  Somehow (I forget the details now) she was turned on to this Christian radio station, and after listening for a while and feeling better, she decided to give her life to Christ.  There was no mention of a church or pastor being involved, only the radio station.  In this case, Christian radio had not only taken the place of a means of grace (the preaching of the Word), but was apparently responsible for converting a lost sinner.  Yet this too, according to Paul, is the province of the proclamation of the Gospel.

What worries me is not that Christian radio is having a positive effect on people. My worry is that many Christians are increasingly looking outside of God’s ordained means of grace to find what they need.  More worrisome than that is the thought that they are finding their needs met not in faithful Gospel preaching and Sacraments, but in music.  It is surely possible to hear a good sermon, occasionally, on Christian radio (although I can scarcely remember that last time I did).  But in ads like these it is consistently the “uplifting music” that is cited as the main source of help and strength.  There is no doubt that singing heartfelt praises to God can have a therapeutic effect.  Singing praises, however, (or merely listening passively to others singing praises) is not a means of receiving God’s grace, but rather a grateful response to grace already received.  The grace we receive from God comes through his instituted means:  The preaching of his Word, especially the promises of his glorious Gospel, and the Word made visible in the Sacraments (especially the Lord’s Supper).  Just as no amount of online sermons can ever replace the experience of gathering with fellow saints in the local church (something that we are in fact explicitly commanded to do), so also no amount of uplifting music can ever replace the true grace of God given by his own specially chosen means.
-David Nilsen (David also blogs at Evangelical Outpost and the A Team Blog)
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  • I LOL'd at the "guarantee".

    I've heard these same "testimonies" on the radio and always think to myself "these people have to be bored to tears in church, if they came to faith via Hillsong." Then again most churches in America are basically stages for entertainment.

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  • Guest - PB

    Well, as "Dad Rod" likes to remind us on the WHI, there is no bread and wine port on your computer - or on your radio. Christian radio is no substitute for Word and Sacrament in the gathering of God's people.
    The added factor is that much of "Christian radio" is only nominally Christian, if that...

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  • Guest - An observer

    Maybe Christian radio is filling people and bringing them to Christ because the church is too busy casting stones at other ministries to care about the wounded and hurting that are coming in their door...or better yet, used to come in their door...

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  • Observer,

    I would certainly be sad if all churches were as you describe, and radio stations felt the need to replace the church, however I don't think your comment makes sense for several reasons. First, the state of the church is not as bad as you describe. I can think of numerous churches in just my local area alone that make a very specific effort to reach out to the lost in numerous ways. Second, even if you were right, listening to the radio is still no substitute for gathering with the body of Christ, hearing the Word preached, and receiving the Sacraments. The point of this article is that God has clearly ordained the means of His grace, and Christians cannot simply decide of their own accord to do things differently than God has ordained them to be done.

    No one is questioning the good that Christian radio can do (and the music is certainly better than most of the garbage on non-Christian radio stations), but acknowledging that something can help to support the church is not the same as using it to replace the church. To do so is a recipe for disaster.

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  • Guest - Cindi

    The Holy Spirit is in those radio waves... let them simply wash over you and cleanse you, renewing your heart... baptized in electrons swirling about and within you. As you listen in your car, the Holy Spirit sends electromagnetic waves to sanctify you, to pour grace into your life. Is nothing too great for our God.

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  • Guest - Greg

    I'm not quite following your argument here. Are you saying that because no pastor was mentioned, the radio station is therefore claiming that their station has become a means of grace? Are you saying that because this woman claims salvation at a time other than during the preaching of the Gospel that the Gospel was not at work in her life?

    I think if you asked the people at the station, they would make no such claim, but would credit the preaching of the Gospel by some unknown pastor as instrumental in the salvation of that soul.

    I've heard many, many good sermons on the radio and on the internet over the years. Certainly there are people who are looking for grace in the wrong places, but let's not be so quick to condemn radio ministry on the basis of some bad marketing - and some bad logic.

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  • Greg, good question.

    The claim is not that the radio station was actually claiming to be a "means of grace." I doubt most people working at the station or listening to it would even think about it in those categories. I simply find it troubling that the station would choose to market itself as such. They may not be saying, "listen to us, and you won't need to gather with the saints at your local church and partake of the sacraments", but the message is essentially close to that. And it is equally troubling that someone would claim that uplifting music was instrumental in their conversion. What if they hear better music on a Mormon radio station? What happens when serious depression sets in again and the radio station doesn't quite meet their emotional needs at the minute? At the very least, it is a poor foundation upon which to build faith.

    Even if the music simply helped to raise the woman's mood while she was being evangelized to by a local pastor and regularly attending a local church, by no stretch of the imagination would we say that the radio station played an important role in her conversion (which was the claim made).

    (I should also add that this was not talk radio. There are no full-length sermons, talk shows, etc. on this radio station. It is 95% music, with the occasional short, inspirational devotion during a commercial).

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  • Guest - Robert Biz.

    Very well said Mr. David Nilsen. I enjoyed both of your carefully articulated comments above. Sometimes I feel as if I am in this silent minority when it come to the neccessity of the WORD AND SACREMENT on sunday the lord's day. But just when I am on the cusp of dispair I read an article such as this and then hear well fed christian's such as brothers and sisters like David, exspound on subjects like this. Thank you brother.

    Sola Deo Gloria!!!

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  • Guest - Paul

    OK, I admit to being new to the whole concepts of Reformed theology, it was only last year that I discovered the concept of sanctification by grace (as opposed to moralism or work). So, I have a question about this discussion. I can understand to some degree the concern about the radio's choice of advertisement. What I don't understand is the concept that God can't minister to me through a song, especially a song that has very Biblical lyrics.

    I know that over the past year, there have been several songs that have helped me piece together truths of the Scripture. Sure, there was something of a foundation of Scripture in my memory, but it was the lyrics of the song that proclaimed the truth for me to hear that ministered to me. It doesn't make sense to me that you would say this cannot happen.

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  • Guest - Tag

    My friend attends a church that is going to buy an am radio station that is for sale in the Portsmouth Ohio area and turn it into a Christian radio station. The church is in a very old building and does have the money to support itself and pay utilities but not the $100,000 needed to purchase and run a radio station. They are relying upon God to provide. I know God is all powerful and His plans are far above ours, but does this seem like a good idea? To the \world\, it sounds crazy. I guess if God wants this church to take on this ministry, He will allow it to be self-supporting. Seems to me like it could be a satanic trick to take the pastor away from his congregation.

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