On a recent Sunday morning as I was preparing for church, I had the TV on, and Joel Osteen was on the air. In case you have been on Mars for the last few years and don’t know it; Joel is pastor of
Actually, though I have seen him a couple of times in brief TV interviews, and have seen his photo on books and ads, I had never viewed his program. I met his father, John Osteen, once when I was in mission work with ECL/Door of Hope. John was a Southern Baptist pastor who came to embrace charismatic views and started the church Joel now pastors. Under John’s preaching the church grew to 6000 members. John died of a heart attack in 1999. Joel stated that though he was in the church there, he had never preached in his life until one week before his father died. Upon John’s death, Joel assumed the role of pastor.
Just watching this pleasant, nice looking, energetic young man as he spoke, I wanted to like him, listen to him and not criticize him. He really seems like a “nice guy”. I listened for some good word from the scriptures, some exposition, some admonition, some doctrinal content, or at least a verse I could meditate on. Something that might help the thousands of people in that vast audience that resembled the crowd at an NFL game; or that might help his millions of TV watchers with scriptural truth. I heard -- nothing! I think Joel was just giving some highlights of his book. He was telling everyone they shouldn’t feel second rate because of lack of success. He said “God wants you to succeed”. “If you fail, don’t take it so hard -- try again”. “Always look at the positive side”.
What makes his teaching different than the Schullers, or the late Norman Vincent Peale and their “positive thinking”, or “possibility thinking” theology? They also pastored very large churches.Basically, Osteen’s teaching seems to be the same as theirs with a “name it and claim it” charismatic edge. Lakewood Church (as of March 2009), was almost twice as big as Willow Creek Church in S. Berrington, IL pastored by Bill Hybels, or Saddleback Church in Orange County, California pastored by Rick Warren, writer of The Purpose Driven Life. (These two pastors with their “seeker sensitive” philosophy could be discussed also, but another day perhaps).
I do not know if it is this way every service for him, but when Joel got to the end of his message that Sunday morning, with almost no quotes from the word of God for his great sea of thousands of faces, he took about 30 seconds to say “if you need to trust Jesus Christ as savior, ask Him right now to come in your heart. Now you’ve done that -- you are now born again. Contact us and let us know”.
So divine “magic’ here. Just a few hocus-pocus words and men are “born anew”. Such a “just prayism” gospel! Such an “easy believism” gospel! I want to tell you, my friends, that isn’t the gospel! It is not the gospel that Christ Himself preached -- or that Paul preached -- or that Peter and John preached -- or that Spurgeon preached -- or that true Bible preachers preach today. Beware! It is another gospel! “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”(Galatians 1:6-9).
Some will think me overly critical, and probably say “Who do you think you are?’ Well, I am nobody. I am not a pastor. Most of my ministry has been as a missionary, Bible teacher, evangelist and writer. Most of the large crowds I have addressed have been overseas.
But brothers and sisters, is our goal simply to have a large crowd? It would be nice to have a large crowd if they mostly came with a desire to hear the gospel. John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and John Piper have pretty large congregations. There is nothing wrong with that. These three men preach the gospel of grace to their crowds. Yet, having a crowd is not to be an end in itself. Better to have a handful that love Christ, and a desire to hear the word of God and grow, than to have a huge crowd of worldlings that have to have multiple programs and entertainment to keep them coming. Remember, if entertainment brings them in, you will have to get better entertainment to keep them! If all you want is a large crowd, and the money they can give, and the fame it will bring you, you are playing games with the souls of men and women!
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"(Isaiah 8:20).