CBN Celebrates 50 Years of Ministry

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A half century ago, Dr. Pat Robertson took a leap of faith to follow God’s call to spread His Word like never before. 

Since then, the Christian Broadcasting Network has grown into one of the largest television ministries in the world. But it was no easy feat getting there.

The Nature of America

During the time Robertson founded CBN, the United States had emerged from World War II as the undisputed leader of the free world. But it wasn't the only superpower, and the Cold War threatened to make the world a more dangerous place for the country and its new president.

In 1960, there was hope in the world's most prosperous nation. Advances in science and technology were making life better and the country was choosing between two young, vigorous leaders to steer America into the next decade.

In November, Boston's John F. Kennedy was chosen over Richard Nixon to succeed the war hero, Dwight Eisenhower.  He took office in January 1961.

But there were challenges for the new president.

Soviet Communism was on the march, threatening war around the globe. In early 1961, the Berlin Wall became the symbol of Communist repression, as the Soviets and east Germans divided both a city and a continent.

And on America's doorstep, a new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, would soon import Soviet nuclear missiles and set off waht became known as Cuban missile crisis.

Competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union extended into space. In 1961, Ham the chimp would get his turn in orbit, returning safely to earth.  Just weeks later, Russia's Yuri Gagarin made the first manned space voyage, followed closely by Americans Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom.

After the relative quiet of the 1950s, culture was changing, too.

Evis Presley headed back to the recording studio after a two-year stint in the Army. At the box office, the musical West Side Story was a blockbuster hit.  And a new British rock band called the Beatles played in pubs for the first time.

Yet amid the pop culture, political differences and changing lifestyles came another new beginning—the first Christian television station in the United States.

Continue reading below or click here to take a look back with the Robertsons on how CBN's development over the decades was a family affair, from its humble beginnings to its now international reach as a world-wide ministry.

Robertsons Reflect on 50 Years of CBN Ministry

"We have probably seen more people come to the Lord through CBN than any other organization in the world. But it wasn't me, it was God," CBN Founder Dr. Pat Robertson said.

“I founded or was granted, the charter for the Christian Broadcasting Network. I had a couple of contributions that added up to $35, which is the fee it took to get that past the corporation commission,” Dr. Robertson recalled.  “So when I sent in the application, that's all the money I had was $35.”

“And you look back over 50 years and you think, ‘look at what God has done,’ he continued. “It's just been beyond belief. He's a great God.

Robertson started the Christian Broadcasting Network with an additional $3 donation. Believing in his heart he was to use television to tell people about Christ, Robertson’s morning prayer time became the cornerstone of CBN, just as it is today.

"And I've got to talk about my wife Dede because when I have something that really is important, I say ‘Now honey, let's you and me pray," Dr. Robertson said.  

"And you just know without a doubt that the Lord is with you and that He hears you," Dede Robertson added.

"And we seem to get God's guidance together," Dr. Robertson said about his wife. "But I like that. And she has a good midwestern, common sense view of life and when I run something by her, she's usually pretty much right on in terms of what needs to be done or what shouldn't be done. So it's nice to have a wife you can pray with and work together with."

"It just makes them so unique," their daughter Ann said. "I mean, dad just grabbed a hold and said ‘Okay, yes, Lord. I'm ready to do what You ask me.’ And you hear some of the things that he said." 

"Start a satellite cable network. Start a university. Start a humanitarian organization," son Gordon Robertson continued. "All the things-- start international broadcast.  Don't just have it here in America, but have it be for the world. Have a vision for the gospel going out into all the world. Those things God revealed to dad and he, all he did was say okay."

Pat and Dede Robertson see the 50 year anniversary of CBN’s incorporation as a landmark to God's faithfulness. They have championed the mission of CBN to take the gospel of Christ to the world. 

"It’s just God," Dr. Robertson said. "So He get's the glory, but it is amazing how many people have come to Jesus."

"I think what is mostly significant is the faithfulness of the Lord," Dede Robertson said.

"The idea that every single day people can come in contact with a God who wants to break in from the supernatural to the natural every day. That's what's so…unique about the 700 Club and the ministry of CBN," son Tim Robertson said. 

Each member of the Robertson family has humorous and humbling memories of CBN's beginnings. In the early days, they all played a part in the ministry, no matter how small.

"Well, I used to answer phones during telethon," Gordon said laughing. "That was kind of interesting when you're 9-years-old. But, you know, whatever was needed. You know, everybody sort of pitched in and did.”

"That was kind of exciting and we got to go to daddy's work. And so that was fun," Ann said.

"I had a show,” Dede recalled.  It was about missionaries on the mission field.”

"I've had times that I ran camera," Dr. Robertson said.

"And I didn't have a writer, I didn't have a producer, I didn't have a director," Dede said.  

"It was kind of interesting being in the studio where dad's running camera, mom's on camera and there's nobody directing because we couldn't afford a director," Gordon said. "And so it's just going straight through a switcher to air. And that was the television show that day."

There were family times, too. 

"I loved my children and I think I was approachable and played with them and prayed with them," Dr. Robertson said. "I took seriously the 54th chapter of Isaiah, which said your children shall be taught of the Lord. And I really gave them over to the Lord."

"I do remember dad always engaging with us. He might have had the longest day, might have had so many cares on his shoulders, but when he came home he would run outside, play hide and seek with us, laugh with us," Elizabeth recalled. "He engages at the moment."

"Mom is the glue that holds the Robertson family together," Gordon said.

"She's like a lioness with her cubs," Ann added. "You know, she's a defender of each one of us."

"Without a doubt, the greatest gift my dad gave all of us children was this understanding that if you really want to know what to do with your life and where to go, no matter what the circumstance was, go to God and let the Holy Spirit reveal it to you," Tim said.

Their passionate love for Christ is the hallmark of the Robertson family, and the heartbeat of CBN' s first 50 years. 

"Never left my first love, that was it," Dr. Robertson said.

"And it's probably why it burns so much in my heart," Ann said. "I want others to have that and that faith and that knowledge that he's got us in his hands. And he cares and loves us so, so very much.”

"But everything pales in comparison to seeing people come to Jesus," Tim said. "That's the number one goal. That's what we're all about."

"Giving yourself to that vision that everyone deserves the gospel, that everyone has the right to have the opportunity to hear, and believe that all sins can be forgiven," Gordon explained. "Everything can be made right by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. You can be reconciled with god when you understand that. Then giving yourself to that, yeah, it becomes very easy.”

"And it is hard to believe that in 50 years, all the things that God has done through CBN," Elizabeth said. "And not only do you look back and give Him thanks and praise, you also look forward to what he still has in store for you.

"And I see that year of jubilee as God opening doors throughout the world for CBN," she added. "And, you know, that verse that comes to mind is, 'Thus far, the Lord has helped us.' You know, it looks back, but then it looks forward to what's ahead. And I just think the best is still yet to come."

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John Waage

John Waage

CBN News Sr. Editor

John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN News since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. 

He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.