The Incredible Lightness of the Unchurch

One of my pet peeves has been those success-oriented pastors and pundits who use God’s church as a pulpit for boosterism. They include the late Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert Schuller. I’ve nothing against success, of course; it is far better than being a failure. Or is it? My sense is that earthly riches may as well a curse as a blessing be when it comes to our salvation.

When it comes to the Gospel message, it is crystal clear that the “Crystal Cathedral” would be as foreign to our Lord during His lifetime as a Hindu temple. His Gospel is about the wretched, the poor in spirit. Not to the exclusion of the successful, mind you, but not at all focusing on them — just the opposite (e.g. Matthew 19:21). Jesus tells us, in His preaching, that the wealthy in material things already have their reward. As our liberal brethren are quick to remind us, Jesus was first for the poor and the wretched.

A better word for what the success-oriented “positive thinkers” do is to pander to the dreams we all have of material success. They preach that spiritual success will lead to monetary success. They may not say it in those precise words, and perhaps I’m being a little harsh on Dr. Schuller (but not on Peale). But, with their exalted trappings, suitable for princes of this world, it is hard to separate the message of the Lamb of God from Mammon.

The January 31, 2005 Washington Post offers a front page story of another of this type — one Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church Central in Houston, Texas. His appears to be an updated, modern, professionally produced production, whose purpose appears to be, from Lakewood’s “About Us” page,

…serving and helping every person, regardless of background and economic status, to achieve their fullest potential.

From the Post’s story, we get a little more of the flavor of this mega church:

“Joel is doing it better than most,” said William Martin, a sociology professor and religion expert at Rice University. “He is purposely seeking to lower the barriers that keep people from going to church. They don’t know the hymns; they don’t have to learn the creed. It’s all there for them.”

Detractors criticize the style as “Christian-lite” — all show and platitudes and no theological depth. Osteen’s older brother Paul, a surgeon who left his practice to help the church, differs. “There is a disconnect between religion and what people need,” he said, calling some sermons in traditional churches impenetrable, “almost goofy.”

“What people want is an unchurch,” Paul Osteen said. “They don’t want pressure. Joel makes faith practical and relevant.”

Of course. People don’t want pressure. Modern folks want to feel good about themselves. The Gospel, and attempting to be His disciple…what downers! I can’t stand the pressure…and therein lies my principal objection.

It is certainly not that these preachers don’t mention Christ or preach that salvation must come through Him. It is that their path is the broad way, is strewn with flower petals, and is merely another tool to “achieve your potential” through a “practical and relevant” faith. This is, more or less, a feel good about yourself approach to salvation through that narrow gate.

Will it bring strangers to Christ? Perhaps, but will they have the staying power if reared on this kind of Christianity? Will they stand in the gap when it is cold and raining, when they are abandoned and destitute? I don’t know, and I make no claims that my faith is any stronger than these new-age seekers who like the jazzy presentation of a megachurch like Lakewood. It’s just that I know that it is when I have failed in the worldly things that my Savior is closest to me.

I’m of the old school — No Cross; No Crown.

Note: this is one of my favorite posts; recycled from January 31, 2005.
Hey, even bloggers get time off during August…

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One comment

  1. JL, I am of the old school too ! Greta old/new post!

    Jesus was crucified, not in a Cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves. – George F. MacLeod.


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