One of the unspoken difficulties of the Christian walk is being able to discern the truth from lie, and being able to defend the truth in a way that is glorifying and honoring to God. While we are called to stand for truth, we are also called to do so in a way that is gentle and respectful.
I’ve been bothered by a blog post for quite some time by Steven Furtick (which can be read here). Now, some clarification is in order. This blog post was from 2007, and while it doesn’t seem like Steven has changed in his adoration of Joel Osteen (Osteen’s worship pastor Israel Houghton recently spoke at Elevation Church’s Code Orange Revival), I could be wrong. However, that being said, I would like to lay out my issues with the post, and why it matters almost five years after being posted.
Essentially the message one can receive from this post is that we need to stop picking on Joel Osteen because he is preaching to and “reaching” 40,000 weekly at the Compaq Center in Houston. In addition, those of us who are criticizing Joel Osteen are either inexperienced seminary students, or they are pastors who are jealous of Joel Osteen’s success. Those of us who are not happy with Osteen should preach ourselves instead of criticizing Osteen. Finally, criticism against Osteen essentially boils down to tearing down the church.
My first problem is this: measuring a church’s success by the number of members, or the number of baptisms, or the number of (insert important stat here) is WRONG. Let me say that again: MEASURING A CHURCH’S SUCCESS BY THE NUMBER OF MEMBERS, OR THE NUMBER OF BAPTISMS, OR THE NUMBER OF (INSERT IMPORTANT STAT HERE) IS WRONG. I am not saying that we should strive to reach as many people as possible. What I am saying is this: when we turn Christianity into a numbers game, are we appealing to the measure of success in the eyes of God, or the eyes of Man? I say this because Jesus said in His parables of the coins and the sheep
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10
Jesus didn’t say “there will be extreme amounts of celebration over any pastor or church or parachurch organization meeting their quota of saved souls, and an extra bonus celebration for levels over those minimum levels.” I feel like when a pastor or organization needs to point out the number of people they have reached, the glory being grabbed there is their own, and they appeal to the same measurements of success that we appeal to as humans, not necessarily a transformed life. So, whether Joel Osteen is preaching to 10 or 100,000, God’s concern is that we are faithful with what we have been given, which I think is the argument many have against Pastor Joel (more on that in a minute.). Another problem with the numerical measurement of a church’s success is this: Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide. Does this mean they have it right? Jehovah’s Witnesses and the LDS have been reporting increases in membership. Are they right? Or worse, the number of people who claim to be atheist has risen from 7% to 15% in America over the past fifteen years. ARE THEY RIGHT? Of course, no one would begin to assert that in a church, but by appealing to numerical success as a measurement of God’s blessing, you are doing JUST THAT.
My second problem is the argument that people who criticize Osteen’s teachings are either inexperienced seminary students, or jealous pastors. I could paraphrase, but I’ll let Mr. Furtick’s words speak for him:
Yep, I hear it all the time. Guys take one systematic theology class, a semester of Greek, and all of a sudden they’re self appointed theological traffic cops.
And their favorite preacher to burn at the stake is none other than the smiling preacher and best selling author who packs the freaking Compaq Center 2 times every freaking Sunday.
Now, for those jealous pastors:
Osteen preaches to 40,000 people weekly…
You couldn’t get 40,000 people to come hear you preach if you gave away free Escalades at the door.
Don’t hurl insults at someone with a big church simply because you can’t make your church grow, and although you’d never admit it, you’re jealous.
That’s right… most of the time the motive isn’t defense of the Gospel… it’s jealousy and presumption.
Well Mr. Furtick, perhaps the reason why first year seminarians are finding flaws in Joel Osteen’s message and teaching is this: After having one semester of biblical training, they already have one more semester of biblical training than Joel Osteen has, which makes it far easier to poke holes in his sermons, messages, and theology. Now, this is not to say that having an MDiv is necessary to be an effective pastor. Matt Chandler is an incredible pastor and has no seminary training. However, Chandler has also put it on himself to learn, to understand, and to glean truth from the Word. I believe that Pastor Joel has a responsibility to study the word, and to show himself approved, whether it be in a seminary situation or personal bible study led by reputable sources. In addition, I believe that at the point it becomes obvious that you have severe doctrinal shortcomings (not knowing the theological differences between Mormonism and Christianity qualifies as a MAJOR doctrinal shortcoming), it is a responsibility as a pastor to study the word, and to become sound in what you are preaching. And some may feel that this is unreasonable to hold a pastor to that level, but James himself said that teachers of the Word will be held more accountable. If this is so, then I think at that point someone who criticizes Osteen’s message from a sound theological perspective is a necessary action.
I feel that it is a responsibility to other brothers and sisters to be willing to create controversy for the sake of truth. You may disagree, but I ask you this: If the cool, cute kid down the street were selling lemonade that they spilled battery acid in it, would you let them sell it? OF COURSE NOT!!! You would stop them because of a social responsibility to others who may not be aware of the truth that there is acid in the lemonade. I would hazard to say that even if the child did not maliciously put the acid in the lemonade, but it was merely accidental, you would still intervene to stop him from giving it to others. Even though the poison may be there without malice, the fact that the child knows that it’s there makes them responsible for the lives they may affect, and you would be responsible from the standpoint of not stopping them. No matter how great the lemonade tastes, you aren’t going to let them sell it, are you?
Now, you may say “but this isn’t battery acid in lemonade.” Really? Look, the message of unlimited positivity mixed with an absolute lack of reinforcement of God as judge of unrighteousness, with a healthy dose of prosperity and wellness gospel, is as dangerous a mix as you can create in America, because it blends all of Satan’s greatest lies: “You are great, you should have what you want, and there are no consequences for you because… YOU… ARE… AWESOME!” If you can’t see the dangers in this theology, I have to question your ability to discern truth from lie.
In addition to trashing the young seminarian, Furtick trashes the pastor of churches smaller than Osteen’s (this would be every other pastor in America). First, I think it sophomoric to assume that every pastor is out to have the biggest church in America, and childish to make the “Escalade” comment. Maybe some pastors just want to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And yes, I’m sure there are some pastors who may be jealous of Osteen, but I think most people are more afraid of the dangers of his espoused theology and lack of discernment. Regardless, I find it pretentious and presumptuous (is that the word you used there, Pastor Steve) to assume that anyone who disagrees with Osteen and goes so far as to say it is jealous and presumptuous.
Now, as critic of Joel Osteen’s message (and, I guess, Steven Furtick’s message, as well), I’m not a pastor, and while I do believe God has called me for His purpose, I do not feel that He has decided at this point for me to become a pastor. I can certainly share my faith boldly, and I can speak the cross into the voids where there is no truth, but God has not called me into a place to be a fulltime pastor of a church. He has at this point called me into a position of being a teacher to my children, protector of my home, and one willing to speak truth, regardless of the venue. I think most people are called into ministry as a pastor; they don’t just decide to be a pastor. So, while I agree with Steven that people who are openly critical should preach themselves, I do not admire the spirit in which it was offered, and would say that it is ignorant of others and the Will of God in the operation of another’s life to assume that they can just simply begin preaching out of a rejection of Joel Osteen’s prosperity and positivity gospel.
Finally, let’s set the record straight. If you aren’t preaching the gospel that Jesus came to save us wretched creatures from our own foolish and depraved selves and to save us from our sins, you aren’t preaching the Gospel, and as such, we AREN’T wearing the same jersey. Joel Osteen’s version of Jesus, the atonement, God’s will for us, and our salvation are markedly different. While we always can celebrate and debate one another’s differences as long as the differences do not result in a different Christ, it is impossible to mingle false doctrine with true doctrine and emerge with anything resembling the truth. Or what does light have to do with darkness? Failure to accept and teach doctrine that is in line with what is presented in scripture is a failure to present Jesus and the cross as it truly is, and results in a blurred line that sends countless Christians streaming over a cliff of battery acid flavored lemonade.
Now, why do I bring this up? Well, Elevation Church just finished a 12 day revival called Code Orange. Now, there were at least two teachers there for the revival that are doctrinally sound and good for educating and edifying the brethren (Jonathan Martin and Matt Chandler). However, when combined with men like T.D. Jakes (modalist and prosperity gospel), Jentezen Franklin (prosperity gospel), Israel Houghton (prosperity), Ed Young Jr. (prosperity and word-faith), and Stovall Weems (prosperity gospel), an astonishing lack of discernment and lack of concern for his flock becomes apparent. I quote from Pastor Steve:
You know, I think it’s absolutely essential that Christians think critically about what is being taught in Christian pulpits. We must preserve sound doctrine. We must guard against erroneous theologies.
Really? But, you have just brought five men into your building and affirmed their teachings as blessings to your congregation, yet all five espouse false doctrine and scripture twisting. Can you honestly say that you believe that we must preserve sound doctrine? You are bringing aberrant theology and heresy into your building and are ok with it! In fact, you affirmed T.D. Jakes as one of your favorite pastors. How can this be, when a cursory glance at the teachings of T.D. Jakes reveals heresy after heresy? When combined with the defense of Joel Osteen in 2007, what we see is apparent. Rather than being concerned for the well-being of his flock, Steven Furtick has placed his seal of approval on men who are decidedly unscriptural in their approach to teaching the word, and as such, has placed his stamp of approval on a brand of Christianity that has been weighed and found wanting.
This is NOT an attack on anyone. I’m saying this because as believers we have a solemn duty to defend and speak truth, and when we fail to do so, we do so at the harm of our own brothers and sisters. I believe in the grace necessary to be accepting towards those who make mistakes; I also believe in the truth necessary to point toward and impress change upon situations that are dangerous to other believers.