Tony Campolo has been on “The Colbert Report”, “Larry King Live” and “The Charlie Rose show.” But on August 8, he was at the Missouri Conference Center in Columbia speaking to United Methodist pastors in Compass about holiness.
Campolo, 81, is an author of 35 books, several of which made The New York Times best sellers list. He is an American Baptist and has attended a predominantly African American church since he was 19-years-old. He presents himself as a Red Letter Christian, meaning that he bases his theology around the words of Jesus, which some versions of the Bible print in red. He said one editorial sharply accused him of saying the red letters are more important than the black letters.
“I replied that he’s right. I said that and so does the Bible,” Campolo said, referring to Matthew Chapter 5 in which Jesus offers a different take on some Old Testament scripture. Campolo said a discrepancy between the Hebrew Bible and the Sermon on the Mount is that the Hebrew Bible lets you kill people.
“When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he meant for us not to kill them,” Campolo said.
Campolo explained how his Red-Letter branding came up out of necessity. He told the story of how Billy Graham started out as a Fundamentalist, because he based his theology on the fundamentals of the Bible, but later he started referring to himself as an Evangelical because the word Fundamentalist had developed a negative connotation with many people. Likewise, Campolo found himself in the same position as an Evangelical. He said if he were to give a talk at Harvard and they promoted him as being an Evangelical, he would be met with protestors who were anti-war, pro-gender equality and against sexual orientation discrimination.
At a meeting of fellow Evangelicals, they decided to seriously discuss what they had in common. They settled on that they all believed in the Apostles Creed. Campolo does as well but finds it somewhat lacking.
“...born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried” so Jesus was born and he died. The Apostle’s Creed leaves out his entire life of ministry. But other than that, it’s a pretty good summation,” Campolo said.
Matthew, Mark and Luke clearly state the mission of Jesus, saying that the Kingdom of God is at hand, Campolo said. Scripture makes many references to the Kingdom. Campolo pointed out the Lord’s Prayer needs to be listened to closely: “...thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is in heaven.”
“Please don’t lose the emphasis of ‘on earth.’ We’re not just pie in the sky when you die. The Earth will be renewed,” he said.
Holiness is a personal priority for Campolo. The first thing he does when he wakes up every morning is he takes about 20 to 25 minutes to surrender to Jesus. He doesn’t ask God for anything – that will come later in the day. He’s just lying in bed, surrendering to Jesus, saying his name over and over. He recommended that everyone start off each day getting cleansed and waiting for the Holy Spirit to envelope him or her. He also cautioned against expecting immediate results.
“When you start getting into the stillness, it may take about 20 times before anything happens,” he said. “I have a good, cleansing experience about one out of nine times. When you see Simone Biles do a perfect performance in the Olympics, she didn’t just get up there and do it; she has practiced it over and over again. Spiritual exercises are the same way. You have to get in shape.”
Campolo described how one night he couldn’t sleep, so he was flipping through the television channels. He came upon a pornographic movie and watched for a minute. Then he thought, “What are you doing?” and he turned it off, got down on his knees and prayed to be cleansed.
“The Holy Spirit is holy. It has a hard time inhabiting a dirty temple,” he said.
Campolo said he considers Billy Graham’s sermons to be only mediocre, yet Graham won tens of thousands to Christ. He said he believes this came from two things. One, all of Graham’s sermons were filled with scripture.
“He began every other line with ‘The Bible says’” Campolo said. “It gave him authority. The man or woman in the pew said ‘This man is preaching the word of God.’”
Second, Graham preached filled with the Holy Spirit. One time Campolo and a friend were in city in the midst of strong rainstorm. They saw someone outside, drenched to the core, walking up and down the streets. They offered to have him come inside and get out of the weather. He replied, “No thank you,” that he was out there for a reason. They then realized it was Billy Graham and learned that before he preached somewhere, he would walk up and down the streets of the city, regardless of the conditions, and fervently pray for that city.
Campolo said that many youth get immersed in holiness at church camp, and at the end of a week or two of being cut off from technology and media, they are fanatics. He referred to Isaiah 40:31, saying that a couple weeks after camp they may not be on eagles’ wings, but they’ll still be running. A few weeks later, they’ll be walking while trying not to faint.
To keep in the faith, they must keep going to church, and continue to meet and gather with people that hold their same counter-culture value system, citing Hebrews 10:25 (neglect not gathering yourselves together). He went on to say how if someone says he or she can be faithful without being part of a church, they are disregarding what is stated in I Corinthians 12: 12 – 27 about the interdependence of the parts of the body of Christ (No member can say to the body I have no need of thee).
“If you’re not connected to the body, you die, baby. It’s over,” Campolo said. “When your kids go to college, you should say you’ll pay their tuition so long as they go to church once a week and to the mid-week gathering if their church has one. When they get disconnected, they become cynical.”
Campolo spoke to the group for two 90-minute sessions. Following his talks he met with people and signed books. Several mentioned to him that his events and books and had been very influential in shaping their own ministry.