Sunday, June 15, 2008
Feeling rather dismayed after listening to a televised sermon from the nation's largest mega-church. Protestant Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church just talked a lot about faith, but not the kind I'm used to hearing about. In my opinion, this morning he wasn't preaching faith in the Savior (which he may preach most of the time, I hope), but faith in yourself, and faith in other mortals, helping them to look past their problems and see that they can do great things if only they will believe in - you guessed it - themselves. I agree that we should encourage others and be positive, but that's about all there was to this sermon. Without the foundation of true faith in Christ and repentance of our sins to follow Him, none of us will come anywhere close to realizing our potential. Maybe that part was last week?
The broadcast looked and sounded like a typical motivational speaker for corporate America, but given to a huge audience (about 44,000 people in the stadium that used to house the Houston Rockets). It could have been Antony Robbins or some other feel-good and believe-in-yourself cheerleader raking in megabucks for an hour or two of inspirational froth. Not that delusional, greed-based froth doesn't have an important place in religion.
I missed the first couple of minutes, so there might have been some heavy references to Jesus and the Bible before I tuned in, but during over 20 minutes of preaching I can only remember one such reference. Pastor Osteen told people that having faith in others is like what Jesus did with Peter. He said that when Jesus met Peter, Peter was rough and used foul language (???). But Jesus looked past all that and believed in Peter, and told Peter that he had the talent, the skills, and the personality to be a great disciple (???), and through this encouragement, Peter was able to go on and become great - presumably by believing in himself. I got out my LDS printing of the Bible and thumbed through the Topical Guide trying to find references to personality, believing in yourself, and Peter's foul language, but I guess we Mormons are using one of those Bibles with a lot of stuff subtracted from it.
I get the feeling that the financial pressures that mega-churches face - just think of the air conditioning costs for such a large church - might have a profound effect on what gets preached. Sadly, I think this is the problem we find in some corners of modern Christianity. A core element of the Gospel has always been that man must repent. We must have faith in Christ and repent of our sins and follow Him.
The repentance of sin part is the sticking point. To actually preach this, one must denounce sin. Not abstract sin, not the sins of other people, but our own sins, even our favorite ones. Ouch. Repentance hurts - it begins with pain, the pain that tells us we are not right with God and have done something wrong that we are responsible for. Yes, it hurts - and good preaching and a true Christian ministry can often induce genuine pain in the hearts of the hearers, especially when they are engaging in serious sin, as Jacob found in Jacob 2 in the Book of Mormon. Such preaching makes people uncomfortable because we all have sin. And discomfort can take a toll on the collection plate. Kudos to those churches and religions that boldly teach repentance, but up here in the northern Midwest, as conservative and religious a place as this is, it seems rare to find a preacher teaching his or her people that it's a serious sin to live together before marriage, for example. It's easy to find preachers who are totally cool with that and can meet with and counsel young people for months who planning their marriage without ever telling them to repent and begin on a stronger foundation by not shacking up first. But not many seem willing to be known for being "intolerant" and "prudish."
Have faith in Christ, repent and be baptized. It's the basic message of Christianity. And one that still needs to be restored in many quarters.
We also need to do a better job of emphasizing this message in some LDS quarters. It's too often that we have sacrament sermons that are also contaminated with pop psychology and feel-good fluff off the Internet rather than being rooted in scripture, where the call to repent is one of the most repeated messages of all. You'll get plenty of calls to repent from the leaders of the Church, especially in General Conference, but how are we doing in our own circles of responsibility? Are we helping our families and those we are responsible for to understand the need to repent and the dangers of sin? True faith in Christ leads to repentance, something we can't afford to stop teaching.
But there were some things I really like about Pastor Osteen, compared to some other dangerously influential preachers these days: (1) he doesn't hate America, (2) he doesn't encourage his audience to hate America, and (3) he doesn't make money by telling his audience that they are all oppressed victims who have no hope unless an all-powerful paternalistic government steps in and takes care of them (at the expense of their freedom, of course - but the part about becoming slaves is often left out). So while I found it to be a troubling sermon, it wasn't as disturbing as some other sermons I've heard recently.