Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Still Pondering the Church in America

Someone from my congregation recently praised Pastor Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church. A day or so ago I read that Lakewood may now be the largest church in the USA. Considering that fact, I know that a very small-town, very small church, often struggling pastor perhaps should just keep her mouth shut. I also don't know how articulate or helpful my response actually was, but I found this (from a post and a comment of Dr. Ben Witherington) to be quite timely.

Memo From John Wesley to Joel Osteen

"I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism (and my favorite of the reformers).

In the comment section, Don Yaeger, Witherington's fellow Methodist, comments:

"In John Wesley's Sermon #116, 'The Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,' he said that one of the chief causes of the ineffectiveness of Xty in general and of Methodism in particular was our lack of self-denial.This included not only in the area of money and giving but also in fasting. He is somewhat shocked that Methodists in his day are not fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as was his practice.I wonder what Mr. Wesley would think not only of folks like Joel Osteen, but of ordinary Methodists [and the rest of us, I might add] like you and me?"

And in response to some negative comments, Dr. Witherington rejoins (I took the liberty of combining two of his comments):

The warnings against the accumulation of wealth itself are clear enough in the NT, not to mention that love of money is said to be the source of all sorts of evil. It is a mistake, a huge mistake, to encourage a fallen person to pour more gasoline on an already raging fire of desire for self-gratification and living large....The issue is also the trivializing and even neglect of the cross and the atoning death of Jesus, and a host of other essential doctrines, and replacing it not even with a sort of general feel good religion,(who doesn't want to feel good?) but replacing it with a false Gospel about 'if you just believe strong enough you will be awash with material blessings'. There is not the slightest consideration in Joel's message that if such an outcome should happen, one might well be spiritually ruined by such a thing. Nor will we be hearing a sermon on "suffering produces character" (Rom. 5) anytime soon in that church.

It is probable that Joel Osteen means well. However, I fear that when setbacks, financial difficulty, or suffering comes (as it inevitabley does) some of the 30,000 who attend Lakewood, not to mention those who have made his books "inspirational best sellers" will question God's love, will grow disillusioned, will leave the Church (not just Lakewood) and a "root of bitterness" will grow.

I cannot help but think of Anne Graham Lotz's words, "Just give me Jesus!"


LoieJ said...

I'm always suspicious (ha - my kids say, "Mom, you are so negative.") of people who found their own church [in this case his dad founded it,] as well as those who are outside a denomination so that there is no accountability or denomination to yank a preacher off stage with a cane, and who charges a fee to hear him/her.

A relative went to "see" him in Mpls. and had to buy a ticket. Of course it costs plenty to rent a big convention center, but I would think that he is successful enough to pay for that himself and then claim it on his taxes.

Olsteen, according to some info on the web, attended a college/seminary for one semester.

My suspicion also surfaces when I see a perpetual smile. If a salesman came to my door with that demeanor, I'd put up a wall! What is he like offstage?

Anonymous said...

I share your opinion of Osteen. As far as famous supermegachurch leaders go, perhaps Rick Warren is one of the few who gets it right: he reportedly gives away 90% of his income to charitable causes.

Jody Harrington said...

Osteen inherited his position at Lakewood which was founded by his father who DID have degrees from college and seminary, which makes me very glad to be in a denomination in which one cannot "inherit" a church.

I couldn't agree with you (and Ben W.) more.