Evangelical Pastor Evaluates Oral Roberts' Legacy

A public memorial service for evangelist Oral Roberts has been scheduled for Monday.

The charismatic leader died Tuesday at the age of 91.

In the days following his death, Christian leaders have reflected on the prominent life Roberts led and the legacy he left behind. They acknowledge that as a pioneer televangelist and a leading figure in the charismatic movement, Roberts had and continues to have tremendous influence and a wide following throughout the world.

Mark Rutland, president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., calls Roberts one of two preeminent luminaries of the 20th century, the other being Billy Graham, according to Christianity Today.

David Edwin Harrell, Jr., author of biography Oral Roberts: An American Life, says the late evangelist was the premier leader introducing the message of prosperity and legitimizing it in the broader Christian community in America through tent revivals and televangelism, according to The Albert Mohler Radio Program.

And that's what some evangelicals lament.

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., wrote in a commentary Friday, "Roberts' legacy needs to be evaluated soberly, honestly, and carefully, under the stark light of Scripture."

"Was the message he proclaimed the unadulterated gospel?" he posed. "No."

"In all the many times I saw him on television I never once heard him preach the gospel," the evangelical pastor pointed out. "His message – every time – was about Seed-Faith."

The seed-faith message is the teaching that if people give money to the church or the ministry, God will multiply it back to them 30, 60, or 100 times more than they gave.

"Tragically, the Seed-Faith message usurped and utterly replaced whatever gospel content there ever may have been in Oral Roberts' preaching," MacArthur lamented. "The reason for that is obvious: the message of the cross – an atoning sacrifice for sins wrought through Jesus' sufferings – frankly doesn't mesh very well with the notion that God guarantees health, wealth, and prosperity to the righteous."

With the use of modern electronic media, Roberts' message was exported to millions around the world and left "a deep mark on the church worldwide," as MacArthur noted.

The southern California pastor says the message has confused many people.

"The message of prosperity is now the message multitudes think of when they hear the word 'gospel,'" MacArthur pointed out, adding that in some regions, especially the most poverty-stricken ones, Roberts' seed-faith message is better known than the doctrine of justification by faith.

"Countless confused people worldwide think of the gospel as a message about earthly, temporal, and material riches rather than the infinitely greater blessings of forgiveness from sin and the eternal blessing of the believer's spiritual union with Christ," he said. "All of those are reasons to lament rather than celebrate Oral Roberts' fame and influence."

Roberts was a household name in the latter part of the 20th century. Over the course of more than six decades, he conducted more than 300 healing crusades in more than 35 countries, wrote more than 130 books, and founded a number of different organizations, including the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.

It's estimated that Roberts personally laid hands on more than two million people for healing prayer.

Though Roberts may be relatively unknown among young people today, he is perhaps better known outside the United States in such continents as South America and Africa where the prosperity gospel is widely embraced, as noted by Harrell. In those places, Roberts is a legendary figure, Harrell said.

The memorial service on Monday will be held at the Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University. It is open to the public.