Joel Osteen's new church buildingI wasn't sure if I wanted to address this topic right out of the gate, but it's getting some press and other bloggers are talking about it, so I thought I would weigh in with my thoughts...
The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer), one of the blogs I read, had this article the other day in which he compared Charles Spurgeon's "inaugural sermon" in a new building to Joel Osteen's first service at Lakewood Church's new stadium home. (If you're not familiar with Joel Osteen or Lakewood Church, you might want to read this NY Times article for as long as it's accessible on the web.)
Here is a guy (Osteen) who calls himself a "pastor", who runs a "church", and "preaches" to millions world-wide. But if you've ever watched Joel Osteen's TV show (I've never visited his church in person, but I have watched many times on TV), you would eventually have to agree that his messages are no different from most motivational speeches you might hear at a business seminar. Last summer, I attended a one-day motivational seminar that included speakers such as Zig Ziglar. Mr. Ziglar is actually quite open about his faith in Christ, and I almost felt like I heard more Gospel coming from that speech than from Joel Osteen's "sermons" on TV! And yet, Joel Osteen is touted as the "pastor of the nation's largest church", etc.
Already, I can see this blog entry is going to be too long, and I'll probably have to take it in chunks if I want to say everything that's on my mind. But for now, let me touch on two points:
1. If we are going to go to all the trouble of organizing a "church" and having a church building, etc., then the least we can do is present the Gospel clearly in our messages, and take the time to disciple believers into true maturity in their faith. This does not mean merely telling them how to "be successful" in their life. It means teaching them through word (and THE Word) and actions exactly what it means to have Christ living in us....how to walk in the Spirit...that kind of "stuff"! :)
2. Some of the responses to Michael's post defend Osteen's "ministry" by pointing out that many have "come to Christ" through Lakewood Church. I'm not going to try to deny that point, because the reality is, I just don't know the facts. But, my burning question is, what is the definition of the phrase "come to Christ" in Osteen's terms? And another burning question: Do the ends really justify the means? Do conversions (even if they are honest-to-goodness salvation conversions) mean that a preacher can't be criticized for what they are doing?
I used to wonder about Paul's statement that, even if Christ was being preached out of selfish ambition, "at least Christ is being preached." I thought for the longest time that meant that I shouldn't criticize any selfish, wrongly-motivated ministry because "at least Christ is being preached." A dear friend of mine recently made a very good point, though. Paul was glad when Christ was actually being preached. Are ministries such as Osteen's preaching Christ? From my perspective, I would have to say no.
Making people "feel good about themselves" is not preaching Christ. Christ actually being preached will ultimately help people find out who they truly are in Christ, and that will naturally (in my opinion) result in a sense of what we may define as "feeling good about themselves" (because they will see themselves through God's eyes, and there's a lot to "feel good" about in that!), but if the goal is to make them feel good about themselves apart from the truth about Christ, then we have put the cart before the horse.
Until next time,