(**Note** This is the unedited version of the February 2nd, 2012 article that was published in the Louisiana Baptist Message publication, authored by Pastor Andy Johnson**)
“America’s Preacher” now has a new name….or, so says Oprah Winfrey.
Recently on her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) show titled “Oprah’s Next Chapter”, the 57 year old talk-show icon interviewed the Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Pastor Joel Osteen, and his wife Victoria. Lakewood Church is the largest church in America today, meeting in what used to be the Compaq Center in downtown Houston. The building has a 16,800 seat capacity.
Questions concerning televangelist scandals and mega-church business practices were among some of the topics of discussion, as well as the 48 year old Pastor’s success in authoring several New York Times bestselling books. But the questions that remain are the questions that leave us wondering why this church and many like it have become so popular in today’s culture.
One thing that puzzles so many is the blatant absence of many Scriptural references in Pastor Osteen’s sermons. In the interview, Osteen addressed this from the perspective of when he succeeded his father, John Osteen, when he suddenly passed away, causing a Pastoral vacancy in Lakewood Church:
“…I got comfortable and said, ‘Okay, I don’t have to quote twenty-five Scriptures or read a long text to feel like I’m doing the right thing’…I got into my groove when I started encouraging and telling stories, and just taking a part of the Scripture and make it applicable…”
Many evangelicals are sincerely offended by his easy-believism methods of perspective and positive thinking. However, obviously, many believe that Osteen is preaching the right message at the right time in history.
Oprah referred to him as “America’s Preacher” during the interview, pushing the baton from the Rev. Billy Graham who used to don the name, to Pastor Osteen, whose church has the largest membership of any mega-church in America (approximately 66,000 members).
Osteen is simply at the top of the stack of a massive “felt-needs” based religion. To its credit, the movement has massive momentum – seen in the upsurge of motivational messages being preached from church pulpits all across the land on a regular, consistent basis. Motivation is the watch-word of the day, and people flock to it like moths to a flame.
The only problem is this type of teaching and religion is quite shallow. There is hardly any mention of sin, repentance, and/or holiness.
And certainly no mention of hell.
So why is there such magnetism toward this sort of ministry? If you were to ask Pastor Joseph Prince, the response would be startling.
Prince is the Senior Pastor of New Creation Church in Singapore, one of Asia’s largest churches. His doctrine is not unlike Osteen’s in that he preaches an easy-believing, motivational, favor-of-God, positive self image type message.
He and his wife, Wendy Prince, recently made their first journey to America and met with Pastor Osteen and his wife, Victoria. They sat down for an interview on an episode of TBN’s “Praise the Lord” program. Pastor Prince directly tackled the issue of the style and method of the new, popular doctrine of righteousness. He even pointed to 2nd Corinthians 3:9 and Romans 2:4 as the core of his belief in the preaching of a feel-good Gospel:
“…it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Under the old covenant, you have to repent first before God blesses you. But under grace, the new covenant, is the goodness of God that leads one to repentance.”
This ‘old covenant’ is referred to by Prince as the “ministry of condemnation”. In the interview, Prince essentially tipped his hat to the great revivalists and evangelists of old who would preach hell hot and heaven sweet, bringing many tears and much repentance before God.
The ‘new covenant’ referred to by Prince is the “ministry of righteousness” which he gladly dons on his, Pastor Osteen’s, and the multitude of other ministries in the world today that share this same view on the doctrine of grace.
The problem that seems to surface is the happy-go-lucky sensation coming from their message that seems to say that you simply need to have a little more faith and everything will sway in your direction. God will grant you favor, wealth, health, and blessing if you just stay in the right mind-frame and think positively.
While I do not disagree with the premise that God is on the side of His children, I, as well as many others, do take issue with the lack of an authoritative context in which the message goes forth.
I also take issue with the fact that millions of people buy into the entire premise of God’s grace without first facing the reality of their own sinfulness and wickedness before the Lord God. To this thought, I say that it is highly plausible that the millions who become addicted to this grace-filled, ooey-gooey, happy-God teaching have never considered their own sin as being a deal-breaker with a thrice Holy God.
I understand that times have changed and the message that we preach should be relevant. But I disagree with the premise that we have somehow entered into a new era where sin needs no longer to be preached against, repentance doesn’t need to be encouraged, and impending judgment from God should not be spelled out.