No Deeper Than a Radio Gimmick; No Newer than Ben Franklin

It took me some internet searching to find the origins of “Name it; Claim it.” You have to wade through pages of Joel Osteen and others Pentecostals. As it turns out, it’s really no deeper than a radio gimmick.

Radio stations would have what were called “short-form” contests where you called in to name a record or a ticket giveaway and if you named it, you claimed it. These contests, says the Historical Dictionary of American Radio (94),were inspired by a popular 1952 NBC radio and television game show Name that Tune which itself was a knock-off of Mutual’s radio show What’s the Name of that Song?

So the Christian bookstores laden with books on naming it and claiming it, the countless sermon series preached on this topic, all the pious layman mislead by this genie is in the asking theology comes from a radio gimmick thought up and probably named by some ad men somewhere.

The idea that a pastor will draw more flies with honey than vinegar, that the pastor is to slip the Law and Gospel in unawares, that he is to bait and switch is at least centuries older than the above, but for it’s advance in age it’s really no deeper. This from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:

 “We had for our chaplain [during the revolutionary war] a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually serv’d out to them, half in the morning, and the other half in the evening; and I observed they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, ‘It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you.’ He liked the tho’t, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service” (193).

Do you see the false dichotomy Franklin proposes? Either trick them into coming or punish them for not coming, but he arrives at this from the flawed premise that is the duty of the pastor to make people hear. It is his duty to preach the Word in season and out of season, not to make it more seasonable to hear it. It is required that stewards be faithful to their Lord not fruitful in the eyes of the world.

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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