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You might think of this as a follow-up to my “Jealousy Card” post. It seems that whenever someone points out the error of a well-known preacher or church– either in doctrine or practice– someone is quick to jump up and accuse the criticizer of jealousy. That’s such a lame charge to make and does nothing to advance the discussion; if you can’t defend the person on the merits of their doctrine or practice then playing the “jealousy card” is just a cop-out.

That being said, the next question is, “Is there any point to pointing out when preachers or churches are using bad doctrines or methods”? In the case of really well-known ministries it’s not too hard to find information (especially if they are all over the secular media), and it only stands to reason that it is the bigger, more public ministries that are going to be in the limelight and subject to more criticism and scrutiny. We are seeing a lot of growth here at the little church that I minister at. Percent-wise it’s a huge increase (in a day when many small churches are declining rapidly), but a 20% increase in a church of 100 is only 20 people. Let’s just say that Larry King is not going to be calling me the next time I put out a newsletter and 60 Minutes has not shown up with their cameras. The bigger you are, the more scrutiny and criticism you are going to face. But there seem to be some online ministries that do little more than to troll the web and press releases to find churches that are doing things that are wrong. Are they wrong to point out things that are, in their opinion, bad teaching or bad practice? After all, we might say that it is not anyone’s business what another preacher or ministry is doing and that we should just focus on our ministry-field and leave everyone else alone.

Yet, within reason, I think there is validity in pointing out when someone is teaching something that is wrong or is doing things that are unbiblical. Yes, we should be careful to make sure that our criticism is loving and is not motivated by things like jealousy or unwarranted suspicion (though I really think that jealousy is rarely the motivation for criticism in ministry… at least not to the extent that people make it out to be). Here are some of the reasons:

  • It is biblical. Biblical to criticize? You bet it is. The main thrust of the Old Testament prophets was in pointing out false teaching and false practices. And they were primarily criticizing their fellow Israelites, not the pagans. It was syncretism– the mixing of true religion with false religion– that caused the downfall and exile of Israel. It was false teaching that led the people away from God, it was false practices that God detested. Is there an equivalent to teaching people to worship idols so that people could have bigger crops in the OT and teaching people to worship the “Almighty Dollar” in modern times? I think so. Is there an equivalent to teaching people to commit sexual sins by worshiping fertility idols in the OT and using sex to get people into church in modern times? Could be. The prophets railed against the false teaching and false practices of false prophets on their time.
  • That’s Old Testament, what about the New Testament? Most of the New Testament is an indictment against false teaching and false practices. Jesus spoke strongly against the Pharisees who were teaching false things about God and imposing false practices in their worship. Was Jesus just “jealous” of the large Temple with all its gold and the Priests and Teachers of the Law who were doing so well? I think NOT. Yet much of his ministry was spent speaking against their false teaching and practices. The epistles abound with condemnation against false teaching and false practices… in some cases the false teachers were even singled out by name. Were Peter and Paul and John just jealous of these false teachers who were so good at getting rich off their false gospel and ability to con “weak-willed women”? I think NOT. I would much rather see a pagan fill a building with thousands of “converts” than someone who claimed to be a Christian yet was preaching and teaching something false… at least their followers would not be false converts to the saving Gospel. All throughout the bible we read condemnation and criticism against false teachers and their false practices.
  • Next, we have a right, indeed an obligation, to point out when prominent ministries and ministers are misrepresenting the Gospel. Like it or not, the secular world is going to make judgments about the body of Christ based on prominent ministers. That’s why a scandal involving a well-known preacher is so devastating. If I were to preach a false gospel or have a moral failing here in my small church in my small town there will be little impact on the culture outside this region. A former youth minister here in Northern Kentucky was just arrested for taking sexual liberties with a 14 year old girl… did you hear about it in California or South Africa? I doubt it, he was from a small church in a small town. But when Ted Haggard slipped up it made national and world news. The guys who are broadcast around the world, who represent the church at large (willingly or not) in the news, on Larry King, on 60 Minutes, on the bookshelves, and in the cultural consciousness have an obligation to represent the Gospel and the practice of the church accurately and if they don’t we have an obligation to point out that what they are teaching is not biblical. Let’s face it, there are some names that are household names even in non-Christian homes and people will think that what they say must be true simply because they have so much media attention. If I preach falsely I affect less than 200 people. If a mega-minister preaches falsely he (or she) is affecting millions of people (and probably the 200 people that I minister directly to).
  • We are called to test the spirits and discern if someone is preaching another Gospel than the one that we have learned, which is no gospel at all. In our post-modern day and age it is tempting to shrug our shoulders and say that whatever people want to believe is their business. But we don’t have that luxury as Christians. I appreciate those who spend time discerning false teachers because inevitably I will have people asking me if the latest fad in Christianity is legitimate or not. I can’t just encourage them to believe whatever makes them happy. It’s either the Gospel or it is no gospel at all.
  • We need to be warned of things that we might be tempted to imitate in our local churches. Let’s face it, many smaller churches follow the lead of the more prominent churches. How many of us imitated the Prayer of Jabez, 40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days of Community, the Sex Sermon series, Servant Evangelism, the Seeker-Driven model, etc. How many of us use pre-packaged sermons or do a sermon series on a best-selling book? How many of us are wearing Hawaiian shirts in the pulpit? (And no, I’m not saying that any of these things are good or bad, just using the example of imitated things). There is nothing new under the sun, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, and a bunch of other cliches. With so much cross-pollination of ideas it is a good thing to have people pointing out the things that ought NOT to be imitated. There have been many things that I have seen that seem innocuous until I’ve read more about them from the discernment guys. And since any good minister is going to be looking for ways to preach the Gospel to as many people as possible, it is tempting to imitate the practices of other ministries that are packing the house… not out of jealousy, but out of a desire to grow the Kingdom of God. So, it’s a good thing when someone points out that a teaching or a practice has harmful “side effects”… it makes us stop and consider if we want to do whatever it takes to fill a building or whatever is pleasing and honoring to God. We appreciate it when the government warns us of tainted meat, shouldn’t we appreciate it when people warn us of tainted doctrine? At least in the church you have the right to do a “voluntary recall” if you want.
  • Finally, there is one church. Yes, what some guy does in a church in another state has very little direct affect on my little corner of the world (unless they are publishing books and broadcasting their message into my home). Yet, we are all in this together and on the same team. I am not being loving if I just look the other way when there is false teaching or false practice, especially since my silence will be a tacit approval to the world to the false teaching. It’s a shame when the hardest criticism I’ve heard against prosperity theology came from Larry King and not from our so-called “evangelical leaders”. We know that there is going to be wheat and tares in the church, and while it is not our job to weed out the tares, it is our job to look for false teachers and to expose them. We who are leaders in the local church are called to be shepherds and that means we sound the alarm when there are wolves in the flock. The world really is flat today and whereas the actions of a minister in another part of the country might not have affected my little church 100 years ago, in this day of mass-publishing, internet, and world-wide media broadcasting, it does. What is taught in a church in North Dakota does affect a church in Maine… especially if that church in North Dakota is being broadcast around the world.

So, yes, there is a place in the church for careful discernment. Sure, we have to be careful that our motives are right (and that involves a lot of soul-searching), that our words are loving, and that our criticism is biblically-based. In the long run we will not be able to stop false preaching and false practices, but at least we can follow the lead of the Prophets and Apostles in pointing out false doctrine.

I’m not a discernment ministry blogger or minister. I don’t go out of my way to root out false teachings or false practices… I just don’t have that kind of time. I don’t make it a point to focus in on the questionable practices or teaching of some of the better known ministries out there, though I might preach against their false doctrine or practices. I point out in my little blog here when I read something that I find personally distasteful, but that’s just me spouting my opinion (which is what the blog-world is predicated on, and is no different than me pointing out a book, movie or sports team I don’t care for). I know that there is a danger that our criticism could be seen by the unbelieving world as infighting (though, if we are pointing out FALSE teacher it is not really IN-fighting). Yet, for all those caveats, I really appreciate the discernment ministry guys for pointing out when the emperor has no clothes, or when the false prophet is in our midst. I don’t always agree with them and often roll my eyes when I think they are making much ado about nothing, but more often than not they are pointing out things that deserve to be pointed out.

We do have to be very careful that our criticism does not become sin, but there is a point in pointing out error.

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In political parlance there is often talk of someone playing the “race card” to shut down conversation.  A person is convicted of some crime and there is discussion about what the penalty should be.  Then the “race card” is played: the charge is made that the person is only being prosecuted because of their race.  Immediately all discussion must be stopped, or it must revolve around whether or not racial bias is in play.  Whether or not the person is guilty or should be charged is moot from that point on: when the “race card” is played, it’s all about race.  Discussion is effectively over when the “race card” is on the table; it is the nuclear bomb of rational discussion.

I’m noticing the same thing in regards to the discussion on Joel Osteen, but in his case it’s the “jealousy card” that is being played by his supporters.  Don’t know if you read the comments in regard to my IWJO post, but someone posted the charge that I’m just sadly, sinfully jealous.  Ironically, I didn’t even question Joel or his teaching in that comment or in my previous comment.  Yet, some Osteenista felt it necessary to come to my humble blog and condemn me for being sinfully jealous of the man.

If you read other blogs about Osteen, and now that his new book is out and he’s been on Larry King and 60 Minutes there is discussion aplenty, you will find a lot of lot of people questioning his message.  Immediately his supporters will come on and accuse the criticizer of being “jealous”.  Wham, the jealousy card is played and all discussion must end or the criticizer must defend against the charge that they are jealous.  The “jealousy card” is intended to shut down converation and discussion on whether or not Joel’s teaching is biblical or not.

So, if we question the theology of one of the best known preachers in America we are automatically jealous?  Give me a break.  I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be dissuaded from commenting on someone for fear of being called jealous, it’s a lame accusation and playing the “jealousy card” is nothing more than an attempt to shut down discussion.  I’ve had it played on me before when discussing some of the questionable gimmicks of other megachurches.  It’s a tactic meant to shift focus away from valid points and question the motive of the questioner.  “He’s questioning mega-guy, he must just be a jealous small-church minister.”

Yes, I’m sure that there are times when preachers get jealous– if you want to call it that– of those ministers and churches that are doing well by worldly standards.  But those pangs of envy are just momentary failings of the flesh which are quickly repented of in the light of reason.  Any minister worth his salt is going to be less concerned about being successful in the world’s eyes and more concerned about being faithful to God.

Questioning the methods and motives of megachurches, especially those whose theology and preaching is so blatantly suspect, is not a matter of jealousy; it’s called discernment.  To be honest, more of us ought to be exposing those who represent Christianity yet preach a gospel that is not biblical… which as Galatians says is no gospel at all.

So, go ahead, play the “jealousy card” all you want, but it’s not going to stop people from examining the preaching and teaching of those who claim to represent Christ… especially those in the public eye.  Any tactic that is meant to stifle discussion is simply cowardly.  If you can’t defend the teaching of your favorite preacher from the bible, at least refrain from playing the “jealousy card”.

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In my previous post I made a remark about a “Joel Osteen fan club”.  I was just kidding about such a thing, but then got wondering if there were such a thing.  Well, a Goodsearch of “Joel Osteen fan club” did not turn up such a thing.

Then I read about this site while reading A Little Leaven.  While not exactly a fan club, it’s pretty close.

Yikes.  And the way the guy quotes “Chapter 9” of Joel’s book like it were from the bible… yikes squared.

Wonder if the folks at the church I preach at will wear lapel pins that say “IWRW”?  Doubt it.

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Here lately Joel Osteen has been all over the evangelical blogosphere.  Most of the comments have not been very complimentary, to say the least.  I got thinking about all that and wondered if Joel ever trolls around the internet to see what folks are saying about him.  Other than a few people who are accusing his critics of “pulpit envy” and those who are in his fan club, I would say that most of the comments are negative.

Wonder what Joel thinks of all that?  Does he get hurt and wish that he could explain his theology to his detractors to show them that he is not the false prophet that many accuse him of being?  Does he desire to show his bank statements and charitable giving to justify all the donations and $46 dollar tickets to hear him preach?  Does he sulk underneath the broom tree like Elijah, wondering why he is getting so much flak for his ministry?  Does he get on his knees and ask God for the discernment to see if his message really is biblical or not?

Or does he fill a small room knee-deep with $100 bills and roll around in it naked, laughing with giddy delight screaming “Boo-ya!!!” to all his critics who could never afford a private jet or fill a stadium or have tickets to hear them preach sold on the internet?

Sort of makes you wonder.

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I’m often critical of those megachurches who seem, to me, to be selling out the Gospel and its call to righteousness and humility in exchange for big numbers, big prestige, and big money (and mind you, that’s not every megachurch by any means).  While I try not to paint every big church or big ministry with a broad brush and I try not to be unfairly critical, I know that it’s easy to misunderstand where I’m coming from.

One charge that is often made about folks like me– guys in small-church ministries who dare to point out that some megachurches are compromising the Gospel– is that we are just jealous of the success of the big churches.  I guess the assumption is that if we could use the compromising methods to gain numbers that we would and that the only reason we don’t is because we don’t know how.

Well, this is the very topic that the Internet Monk tackles in this awesome post.  He has written critical posts about Joel Osteen, lately back on the radar of the blogosphere with his appearance on Larry King’s show.  Not only does the Monk give an awesome explanation of where he is coming from, he truly inspired me as a fellow servant working in a “small” ministry.  I think you’ll understand some of where I’m coming from and be inspired as well by his post… go read it.

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i_m_ok_cover.jpgI like John Shore.  Don’t know him, never met him, couldn’t tell you what he looks like and didn’t know anything about him a week ago.  But, he’s a funny guy with a sharp wit (I can respect that) and he’s certainly got the evangelical world talking about his latest book and the shocking premise that fulfilling the Great Commission is a violation of the Great Commandment (and, after all, a commandment is more compelling than a commission).

I urge you to give him the benefit of the doubt and buy his book and read it.  Then send me a copy.  I’ve read the introduction, read his interview on Christianbook.com here, and heard his interview on Way of the Master Radio so I’ve got a sense of where he’s coming from, but there’s nothing like reading the whole thing.  Plus, I know that it’s funny, so it’s worth a read.  Just don’t dogear the pages before you send it to me, I hate that.

On top of all that, John Shore commented on my little blog (on Update to “I”m OK), so that makes him tops in my book, read his comments to see where he’s coming from and for links to his website.  Again, I’m still not sold on his premise, as I think that fufilling the Great Commission (in the right way) is the BEST way to fulfill the Great Commandment, but he seems like a pretty good bean.

Ok, enough free advertising for his book, I want to discuss some questions about evangelism which his book has brought to my mind, which I will do in my next post.

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i_m_ok_cover.jpgLike I said in my previous post on “I’m OK, You’re Not”, the new book by John Shore, I really hestitate to believe the hype about a book- positive or negative- until I read it for myself.  So, even though I pointed out that Shore posits an evangelistic response diametrically opposite of mine, I didn’t want to comment much on the book until I knew more.

Well, now I know more, and so can you.  Check out the Way of the Master Radio podcast from hour two of March 14th.  If I linked it right, you can find it here.  If not, go to their website under “listen” and find it.  After the news stuff they have an interview with Shore himself.  Very eye-opening.  Yeah, I don’t agree with his premise, which is basically that if you tell a stranger that they are “wrong” for not believing in Jesus that you are not showing love to them.  As though warning someone about hell is unloving…

And, in answer to my own questions:

  • Yes, he’s serious.
  • No, he’s not just using this as a hook to show that evangelism really IS important.

Essentially he feels that telling someone that they are wrong is unloving, so if you witness to someone and tell them that without Christ they are lost, you are not showing love.  And he feels that the Great Commandment is more important than the Great Commission.  Still, I wonder how warning someone about being lost is considered more unloving than letting them die in their sins.  There is a lot of post-modern logic in the interview too: the bible is true for him and for me, but it might not be for the lost guy.

Anyway, I’ve now heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.  I’ll not be buying the book (not in the budget) and don’t feel the need to now that I’ve heard his own words.  But don’t take my word for it, go listen to the interview, or read the book.

Me, I’m still going to search for ways to obey the Great Commission and equip others in the church to do the same.  I can think of nothing more loving than telling people about Jesus.

 Oh, and for all the Garbage-Haters out there: I’m not suggesting we burn this book or boycott it, and my criticism is only my opinion.  He has his way of (not) evangelizing, I have my way (Great Commission), that’s all.  Not trying to be negative, other than to say that his way is not my way.  (Why do I feel I have to justify my defense of the Great Commission?)

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