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The Doctrine of Autonomous Self: A Hidden Idolatry
By A. Sutono

Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!

how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,

I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:

I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:11-15)

I. Background

In this text, Isaiah describes the fall of Lucifer, as well as the cause and effect of it. We learn the cause of him being eternally condemned by God from v.13 and 14 is that he is so filled with pride and self-adoration that he declares himself to be worthy to ascend into heaven and be exalted above the stars of God. He considers himself to be as equally valuable, as equally worthy, if not more valuable and more worthy than God himself that he should be like the Most High. In response, God removed him from his original state and declares that his splendor be nullified and brought down to shame, and he himself be brought down to hell, to a place of eternal torment which is the lake of fire (Rev 20:10) forever as his eternal destiny. When Lucifer was removed from heaven, his name became Satan, and was cast to the earth. In the account of the Fall in Gen 3, after which God offered the promise of deliverance through the atoning work of the LORD Jesus Christ on the cross implied in v. 15, we may observe the correlation between Satan’s sinful ambition to what he tempted Adam and Eve with, which eventually led the couple to sin against God and caused the entire humanity to be totally and hopelessly depraved and under the same condemnation that Lucifer has as a result. The correlation is clearly seen in Gen 3:5, when Satan, disguised as a serpent, said to Eve, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Here are the double lies being offered to Eve springing out of the same principle behind his botched coup attempt; first, that she would be like gods, and thus independent, able to rule over herself apart from God, and secondly, there is not one God, but many gods; each is sovereign over himself or herself.

From here, I would like to state the thesis of this article before expounding further:

1. That the doctrine of autonomous-self, or often referred to as “free-will”, whether it be “Christian” or non-Christian one, though may not appear explicitly, originates from the same spirit by which Lucifer rebelled against God, that is, the spirit of self-idolatry.

2. That the doctrine of autonomous-self is indeed a non-Christian doctrine because there is nowhere in the Bible that teaches such a doctrine and therefore, should be rejected by all true Christians.

I would like to first define what an autonomous self is. I would then attempt, by the use of the first thesis, refute the free-will Arminian argument to defend this false doctrine, particularly in regard to the Fall, salvation, and all the affairs of the world. Finally, I would close with the Biblical basis of my refutation with the exhortation given in the second thesis.

II. Definition of Autonomous Self

Throughout history, there are many who teach the doctrine of autonomous self, among whom is Pelagius. I would now quote from John Owen [1] on what Pelagianism teaches about the autonomous self:

“According to Pelagianism, God gives grace to all who hear the law and the gospel preached. Those who do this are persuaded to repent and believe by the promises of the gospel and the threatenings of the law. The things taught and commanded in the law and gospel are seen to be not only good in themselves, but so utterly reasonable that anyone would gladly receive them if they were not so prejudiced ( i.e., men can themselves respond favorably to the gospel preached by believing in the message without any regenerating work of the Holy Spirit), or deliberately chose to continue with their sinful life. Man has only to consider these promises of the gospel and threatenings of the law to remove these prejudices and so reform himself. When man believes the gospel and obeys it of his own free will and choice (again, no external divine influence at work to convince him of the truth of the gospel, on the contrary, this conviction comes out within himself), then he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, enters into all the privileges of the New Testament, and has a right and title to all the promises concerning both the present and the future life. So say the Pelagians. Thus man converts himself, and the grace of our LORD Jesus Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit are both excluded. All that is needed is the ability to persuade him to repent of his sin and believe and obey the gospel.”

In other words, the doctrine of autonomous self teaches that men in both unregenerate and regenerate states is completely independent and capable of self-determination of what is good and bad for him (hence the term autonomous) and from which make decision without any external divine influence or swaying to a particular direction.

To understand what autonomous-self is more clearly, let us look at Sproul’s definition of autonomy [2]:

“To be autonomous means to be a law unto oneself. An autonomous creature would be answerable to no one. He would have no governor, least of all a sovereign governor. It is logically impossible to have a sovereign God existing at the same time as an autonomous creature. The two concepts are utterly incompatible. To think of their coexistence would be like imagining the meeting of an immovable object and an irresistible force. What would happen? If the object moved, then it could no longer be considered immovable. If it failed to move, then the irresistible force would no longer be irresistible.”

Then for the definition of autonomous self, I would borrow from David Wells [3], defining the autonomy generation as:

“…those who belonged in this outlook saw themselves as being at the center of life, as being responsible only to themselves, as having the sole hand in deciding what beliefs to hold and what behaviors to follow.”

And therefore, continuing to quote Wells [3]:

“… the self becomes the main form of reality and the pursuit of its rights and unique intuitions, even in the face of others, is what life is about.”

My comment to Prof. Well’s definition is this. Isn’t the autonomous-self then the essence of prosperity gospel, where Christ has been reduced to a lackey or a genie to serve us to accomplish our agenda whether that be family, or money, or career, or, self-healing, self-improvement or anything other than Christ himself? Some may say they don’t believe in prosperity gospel but believe in free-will in the autonomous sense. This, in my view, is an implicit endorsement of the prosperity gospel.

II. Refutation of the Arminian Argument of Autonomous Self

Now I desire to refute biblically a familiar argument in regard to God’s sovereignty in salvation and all events throughout the course of history. In addition, I would also attempt to show the spirit behind all these arguments tends to resemble that of Lucifer as written in Isaiah 14:13-14. Before I go on doing so, however, I would like to point out ‘the goal of the commandment is love’. I can understand new Christians who believe in autonomous self, because I was like that. I tend to think it is natural for new Christians to have such an understanding of how salvation and all the affairs in the world work. I acknowledge I need the humility to understand those who are slow to grasp the truth in the sovereignty of God over all things. The fact is the LORD had mercy on me to reveal what I consider a precious biblical truth of his sovereignty that I have come to love, embrace, and desire to defend with hopefully a holy zeal, holy motive, yet with humility as well in this article. And may the LORD grant the grace to change and transform hearts and minds into ones that acknowledge and submit joyfully under his supremacy over all things (Col 1:18).

The argument that I would like to refute (though there has been many more qualified pastors and theologians than me, past and present who have done this, but I would try to do it from hopefully a different point of view), is a common free-will Arminian / Pelagian argument which was the first Arminian article in their remonstrance brought by Johannes Uitenbogaard and Simon Episcopious in 1610, which was refuted by the Calvinists’ Counter Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, in regard to how salvation works as follows. This first article stated the following: “God’s foreknowledge, that is, divine election was conditiond on foreseen or foreknown faith”. In other words, it says “faith is the cause of election” the basis of which is for example in Rom 8:29, refers to God knowing in advance of who is going to believe by their own free will and who is not, and from there God elects them to be saved. Thus man’s faith existing apart from God’s will but from the man himself is the cause of God’s election. In other words, it all starts with man’s free will to choose to be saved. Men are the Alpha, the beginning, not God. Then based on each independent isolated individual’s decision to believe or to desire to be saved where God has nothing to do with because this comes out completely and independently from man and not God, God is obliged to save them because they have faith to believe. Here men call God to account and demand that because they initiated to believe the Gospel, God is required to save them. So God’s sovereignty consists in submitting himself to and making sure the wills of men are carried out. God is not free in ordaining anything because He is subject to the will of men that he values very much even more important and above himself. Here is the worst kind, the most blatant, the most arrogant, and the most blasphemous of man-centered doctrine that is nowhere taught in the Bible, and an example how the Scripture like Rom 8:29 is distorted to serve man’s needs or if I may borrow John Piper’s quote[4], the gospel has been abused for ‘psychological form of mind control’. I regard this Arminian stand on the free agency of man and God as the most self-centered among man-centered doctrines, even more man-centered than opentheism.

Opentheism at least admits the future is unknown, even God has no control over it and anybody could change it. The Arminian doctrine in regard to the free-will of men as we have discussed is worse than open-theism because it teaches the future is already known, at least in regard to salvation, who is saved and who is not, and who makes this decision before the foundations of the world is men. Then God responds to each individual decision either by saving or condemning. Here is the kind of abomination that I dread has been prevailing in the minds of many Christians, because this is how they were taught by man-centered, world-loving, money-loving preachers. Those who teach this doctrine usually insist that God is still sovereign and omnipotent. But I sense this is simply a futile attempt to cover up their self-centeredness and thus, self-idolatry. God, despite his omnipotence, has been domesticated to serve man’s needs. His omnipotence has become subordinate to man’s will and it is his to use for his benefit. Man makes the call first independently out of his own self-determination of good and bad. Then it is God’s turn to follow up on man’s actions and decisions, whether to clean them up if they are sinful, or to bless them if they are good.

As Mark Talbot says [5] (he explains it in the context of opentheism, but I believe it is applicable here as well) that the doctrine of autonomous self teaches that God values man’s free will so much that he is willing to pay any price. God is really good in cleaning things up to the point that the alternative plan B that he executes looks even better, more perfect than the botched plan A that man has frustrated. So in a way, the doctrine of autonomous self treats God like a lackey or a genie in a bottle whom man can stir as he pleases and wills. Everything God does is for the benefits of man, and here is man, the center of the universe and God’s idol. Therefore, men are not only the Alpha, the beginning, but also the Omega, the end of everything God does and the whole entire universe work for. This, I fear, may God forbid, is the desire behind those who embrace the doctrine of autonomous self which is nothing but the very ambition of Lucifer to be exalted above God (Isa 14:13-14) because the resemblance between the two is striking. It is all about desire for control, as Dave Wells pointed out behind autonomous self [6]:

“This preoccupation with the future is really about control. At least, it is about our attempts at controlling the future as it crests into the present by being able to position ourselves to avoid what is disagreeable and to capitalize on what is advantageous. Indeed, we even go further. We imagine that the future begins in our minds and we can actually create it.”

At this point, I would point to Scripture texts (that I also included somewhere else [7]) that I hope the LORD uses to show the fallacy of the doctrine of autonomous-self, to humble its proponents and exhort them to embrace the doctrine of absolute sovereignty of God over all things. While these texts tend to be self-explanatory in themselves but I shall attempt to expound a little on each:

– “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). John says the decisive power to become the sons of God ( v.12), i.e., to be saved, does not come from man’s will power, but God’s (v.13). Therefore, contrary to what the first remonstrance article says that faith is the cause of election, John says election is the cause of faith. God initiates salvation, not men. Men are dead in their trepasses (Eph 2:1). Physically dead people do not and can not have any desire (inclination) and ability to eat, drink, work, because they are dead, their brain is dead, their heart is dead, their digestive system is dead, and there is no way for them to revive themselves. So also dead Lazarus was unable to revive himself until Jesus called him and infused life to his body to revive him. (John 11). Lazarus did not revive himself. Jesus did. And thus Lazarus couldn’t brag he was alive because of his free will to be alive. Likewise, it is impossible for spiritually dead people to have any desire for God. Their heart is ‘desperately’ or ‘hopelessly’ wicked as Jer 17:9 says. St. Paul affirms the total depravity of humanity apart unless God changes this heart of stone with the heart of flesh (Ez 36:26-27) because “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law. Nor can it do so.” (Rom 8:7). Notice the last part that says “Nor can it do so.” So let us not brag that we have the free will to be christians or we in our sovereignty “decided” to be christians. Let us not think of ourselves more highly than we should (Rom 12:3) but with sober judgment, I’d say, of who we were, and what we are now, and who God is. Do not rob God of something He did and claim we did it. The faith, the willingness to believe, to embrace Christ as our treasure, our LORD does not come from our self-determination, but He purchased it on the cross.

– “All the plans of the LORD stands firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11). God has written down the course of history from the beginning to the end. All his plans will happen, stand firm forever. Everything originates from Christ and returning to Christ, and the details for everything on its way returning to him is fixed and unchangeable (see also Heb 1:2-3, Rom 11:36). God does not make mistakes. God is not a God who is good in cleaning up mess created by men and coming up with plan B. Nobody can frustrate nor thwart nor prevent God from doing anything he wants, Dan 4:35, “All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand, or say to him, ‘What have you done?'”

– “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) God has written down not only the entire course of history before the foundations of the world, but also the scenario of each individual who ever lives, past present and future. This is good for believers for two reasons (but may cause free-willers to feel dejected because they don’t desire God to make the call for them, they desire to make the call themselves). First, it teaches humility that you and I are creatures and God is God. We have absolutely no right over ourselves because we don’t own ourselves, God does. Secondly, this is good news because God knows you and me better than we know ourselves. Therefore whatever plans he has for us can be guaranteed to be the most absolute best for our good and the magnifying his name first and most importantly (see Rom 8:28).

– “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isa 46:10-11). God is free to do anything he wants according to the pleasure of his will. His decision making is not constrained by anything, not by the will of men, not by the wills of angels, not by the will of the devil. He is absolutely free in making any calls. Isn’t this what it means to be God? If God has to submit beforehand in his foreknowledge to men’s decision to be saved or not to be saved, then men are gods, and God is their lackey.

A question then arises, “How, despite crystal clear words from the apostle that believers are slaves of Christ (e.g., Rom 6:18,22), can there be such an arrogant doctrine as the autonomous self in Christian churches?” The answer is because the LORD Jesus Christ is an infinitely good, gracious, merciful, patient, loving Master. He is not a hard Master at all. Men, seizing this opportunity arising from their deep-rooted corruption inherited from the Fall, reinforced by the temptation of the old serpent, abuse the kindness of Christ for their own glory. Men, out of their odious mind resulting from the stench infected to them from the Fall, distort the grace of the Savior to serve their own vanity, and so distort the message of the gospel, that is the pursue of God’s (not men’s) glory in salvation through Christ. Since Christ is so patient, then it is their opportunity to question him, to hold him accountable to them, and thus, what John Piper pointed out [8], that men placing themselves on the bench and putting God in the dock, instead of the other way around (he actually quoted this from C.S. Lewis). I sense free-willers would feel uncomfortable in hearing what God’s goal is in everything he does in Eph 1:5-6, “… he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasures and will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” that God saves men not because he makes so much of them, but for the praise of his glorious grace, that his name may be magnified, cherished, worshipped for his great mercy upon mankind, “…that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Rom 15:9). The only way to cure this discomfort is to acknowledge and repent of the pride and the self-idolatrous spirit behind the doctrine of autonomous self, renounce it, and embrace the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, those he called he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified. Amen.

References
1. J. Owen, “The Holy Spirit,” The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p. 76-77.

2. R.C. Sproul, “Chosen by God,” Tyndale House Publishers, October 1986, Ch. 3, p.?

3. D. F. Wells, “Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006, p. 234, 153.

4. J. Piper, “Woe to Those who Trample the Son of God,” Desiring God Ministries (audio), April 13, 1997, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceL…he_Son_of_God/

5. M. Talbot, “All the Good that is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do Us,” Desiring God National Conference, Minneapolis, MN, October 7-9, 2005.

6. D. F. Wells, “Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006, p. 239.

7. A. Sutono, “The Defense for the Sovereignty of God in the Fall of Man,” Nov 25, 2006.

8. J. Piper, “Pastoral Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election,” Desiring God Ministries, Nov 30, 2003, ttp://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceL…e_of_Election/

ttp://www.christianchatforum.com/articles/elect.shtml

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Healing the economy means going beyond ‘What’s in it for me?’
By Douglas Todd 01-10-2009

Healing the battered economy means going beyond the ‘self’; ‘What’s in it for me?’ is not an attitude that will work in the times we face

Many Pentecostal Christians have been among the hardest-hit victims of the economic meltdown in North America.

“Victims” might not be the best word to describe their fate, though. Followers of the popular “Prosperity gospel” suffered because of their own desperation, naivete and uncontrolled desire.

Prosperity gospel adherents have put too much stock in certain Pentecostal leaders in the United States and Canada who preach that God will provide worldly wealth if you just give your soul to Jesus Christ and your donation to the church.

The most prominent proponent of this theology of cars, boats and houses is Joel Osteen, author of Your Best Life Now.

With virtually no assets, many financially struggling Christians attracted to the Prosperity gospel of Osteen and others were eager to jump at the subprime loans offered by sleazy brokers.

Prominent Pentecostals have admitted that many followers believed God was miraculously answering their prayers when a bank gave them a loan they couldn’t afford. However, it’s not only adherents of the Prosperity gospel who have spiritual and moral lessons to draw from the financial collapse. After all, they haven’t been alone in their struggles.

The larger spiritual themes behind this financial meltdown are those of too much blind optimism about the financial system, too much faith in leaders and too much unacknowledged self-interest.

Which brings us to greed.

There can be benefits from modest amounts of each of the Seven Deadly Sins: anger, lust, envy, sloth, pride, gluttony and greed.

While there is something to be said for moderate self-interest fuelling our lives and the economy, greed has careened beyond control on many economic fronts. In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko was not much of an exaggeration of a real-life financier when he baldly preached, “Greed is good!”

Rebecca Blank, senior economic analyst for the Brookings Institute and co-author of Is the Market Moral?, recently said: “Greed is good to most economists. It’s greed that makes people work harder, be more productive, and helps the economy grow. Greed has certain economic advantages. It’s hard for an economist not to say that.

“But greed is clearly partially responsible for where we are right now. There’s a level beyond which greed can go too far, and . . . being greedy for more goods and to make another buck can make me stop paying attention to the effects of my action on you. That is when greed clearly becomes sinful — even, I think, in economics.”

Moral concerns about our over-avaricious attitudes have even been expressed recently by high-profile evangelical Christian leaders such as Chuck Colson (Richard Nixon’s former right-hand man), who has made a career of praising Jesus Christ in the same breath as free enterprise. Like theologian Michael Novak, Colson believes western democratic capitalism is like a three-legged stool, resting on political freedom, economic freedom and moral restraint. “Take away moral restraint and the stool collapses.”

But Colson’s solution — simply to talk more about morality in churches and elsewhere and to wish for greater moral behaviour — won’t make the economic system more stable or fair. That is what was uncovered through a revealing investigation of the moral behaviour of evangelical leaders by scholar Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Lindsay found precious few evangelical executives were “distinguishing themselves from their secular peers” by taking salaries capped, for instance, at a ratio between the highest- and lowest-paid employees of 20:1. Most tried to justify astonishingly luxurious salaries.

Just as the Communist Soviet Union fell apart because it wasn’t realistic to expect everyone to embrace the principle of equality, the western capitalist system cannot sustain itself just by hoping everyone will embrace justice.

Without regulations to enforce society’s moral ideals, the scoundrels prevail. Now nearly all of us are suffering because we were drawn, knowingly and unknowingly, into their unrestricted avarice.

As Aristotle said, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Spiritual insight into the economic collapse comes from Martin Marty, of the University of Chicago Divinity School, one of the most distinguished religious historians in North America.

Marty believes the economic meltdown grew out of a growing global obsession with the “self.” He points to the way many economists talk about how the “spreading disease” in the global economy will “self-heal.” But Marty believes the modern free world is fixated on terms such as “self-generating,” “self-developing” and “self-correcting.” It’s the kind of thinking that has led many to over-optimistically advocate for an “unfettered” and “unregulated” market that never impinges on the supremacy of the “self.”

But there are crucial limits to the “self.”

Marty suggests Americans (and, I’d add, many Canadians) haven’t been willing to face the dark, shadow aspects of an economic system and foreign policy that focused on serving only the “self” (including that of the nation).

Just as the Iraq war has proved disastrous on human and financial fronts, Marty says the battered economy is making us look at all aspects of what happens when “the self” is glorified as absolute.

“We are well aware of our own virtue, knowledge, power and security, and these are real enough to be celebrated,” he writes.

“But we did not recognize their undersides: vice, ignorance, weakness and insecurity, which overtook us.”

As a Lutheran, Marty responds to the financial crisis with a secular translation of the “body of Christ” theme, which teaches us to reflect on how “we are members one of another.”

Instead of “self-healing,” he wisely suggests the western economic system needs “mutual” healing.

To use the language of other traditions, a Buddhist might say we need economic solutions that recognize we are all interconnected.

In secular terms, the late American political philosopher John Rawls would teach that we need economic policies beneficial to us all, no matter where we find ourselves on the financial ladder.

The simplest way to put one of the spiritual lessons of the economic collapse, however, is simply to make it clear that creating a healthy society has to go much further than asking, “What’s in it for me?”

dtodd@vancouversun.com

http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/thesearch/archive/2009/01/10/healing-the-battered-economy-means-going-beyond-the-self-what-s-in-it-for-me-is-not-an-attitude-that-will-work-in-the-times-we-face.aspx

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The Leaven of Lakewood

“‘I don’t want this to sound arrogant, but I believe one day we’re going to have 100,000 a weekend,” says Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston .’”[1]

By Rev. Robert S. Liichow

 The Kudos

I want to begin this article by giving credit where credit is due.  When it comes to the Lakewood charismatic mega-church there are aspects of this ministry which must be cited as worthy.  To begin with the church was originally started by John Osteen, who was originally a Southern Baptist pastor but after receiving the “baptism” in/with the Holy Spirit he became enamored with the charismatic renewal movement in its early stage and eventually became associated with the Word of Faith (WOF) cult.  The following commentary was taken from the official web site of Lakewood Church :

 The late John Osteen served the Lord Jesus Christ as pastor, evangelist, author, and teacher for sixty years. Ordained as a Southern Baptist, he received the baptism in the Holy Ghost in 1958, an experience which revolutionized his ministry into a worldwide outreach…John Osteen began Lakewood Church in a dusty, abandoned feed store on Mother’s Day 1959…John Osteen was driven by an amazing love for people of all ages, races, nationalities and walks of life.[2]

One thing is certain in a time of racial division John Osteen opened wide the doors of his church to all people, and all shades and classes of people came.  John, even though he had rejected his Baptist theology (he did actually earn a Masters degree from Northern Baptist Seminary) he never lost sight of the need for foreign missions and his congregation supported and still supports a great deal of foreign mission work.  At the time of his death Lakewood Church had risen to 8,000 members.

I must be honest with you; out of all the WOF teachers my wife and I listened to we enjoyed John Osteen more than most.  He did have a genuine pastor’s heart and a desire to see people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  We have many of John Osteen’s books and tapes in the DMI archives.  It seems that his seminary education helped keep John from espousing some of the most heretical doctrines that are commonly taught by WOF teachers today.

However, I am under no illusions regarding the WOF “leaven” which John propagated and is unfortunately being further magnified through his son Joel Osteen who took over as Pastor when his father died in 1999.  John was a big crusader for the error of positive confession.  This is a metaphysical belief that we can either create or change our reality by the power of our words, for example he stated the following:

 When they say like they did to Smith Wigglesworth, “How are you feeling today?” He said “Listen, I don’t ask my body how it’s feeling; I tell it how to feel.” And your words should not be to describe the situation; your words should be given to change the situation. And so, read it, meditate upon it, and speak it[3]

I am the sum total of what I have been confessing through the years. My children are the best children that ever lived on the face of the earth.  They are blessed of God.  They are the sum total of what Dodie and I have confessed and loved them into being[4]

 Osteen is on record as fully endorsing the WOF errant concepts surrounding financial prosperity:

It’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty. It’s God’s will for you to pay your bills and not be in debt. It’s God’s will for you to live in health and not in sickness all the days of your life[5]

 In the above sermon we can see the Health & Wealth “gospel” summed up three sentences.  So despite the good things that John Osteen did as a Pastor he got ensnared by the subtlety of false teaching and ended up misleading millions before his death.

Jesus in speaking to His disciples warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees in the following discussion:

Mt 16:6,11-12

Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees… How is it that ye do not understand that I spake [it] not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?  Then understood they how that he bade [them] not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Even though it seems to us that His disciples were a little slow on the “uptake” at times Jesus makes His point crystal clear to them — He was warning them to beware[6], to be on guard against the danger of their doctrinal errors, which Jesus likens to leaven in bread.  Jesus knew that if left unchecked, like leaven in bread, their doctrinal error would spread.  The leaven of false doctrines which he instilled in his son are now expanding and misleading more people than John Osteen could have ever imagined.

The Concerns

Joel Osteen Master of Marketeering

Joel Osteen has absolutely no biblical training or experience to be a pastor.  Charismatic pulpits are filled with people who feel “called” to the pastorate and that is enough for them and those who follow them.  They attempt to build congregations on the “strength” of their calling.  Some charismatic leaders may go on to some unaccredited “ Bible School ” for a year or two, none (which encompasses a large group of ministers) that we were ever acquainted with attended any legitimate seminary.

Would you allow a surgeon to operate on you because he felt “called” to be a surgeon as a child, but never went on to medical school?  Or would you allow someone to build your house who firmly believed God had called him to be an architect yet had never gone on to college to study architectural design?  Of course not, it would be the height of foolishness!

Yet millions of professing Christians are more than willing to follow a man (or woman) who says “God” has called them and has supernaturally equipped them to be ministers. (FWM doesn’t agree with this statement as we believe God can and has called many a man to the Ministry and has used them greatly who never attended any type of Bible College, but we do agree that those same men studied their Bibles daily and learned the Word.)  These especially anointed men and women have no need to study Church history, hermeneutics, systematic theology and struggle through Greek and Hebrew as other ministers do.  They hear directly from God (this is especially true for the sign-gift[7] pastors, most seeker-sensitive churches are led by seminary educated individuals).

So my first main concern is that we have a man in the pulpit of the largest congregation in America , being beamed around the world that has no biblical education or training for the vocation he says he has!  To me we have a clear case of the blind leading the blind (read Luke 6:39) with the end result being masses of people falling into the ditch of spiritual ignorance, abuse and/or extremism.

Joel Osteen made the following statement which ought to be enough to drive 1,000’s of people away from his church:

 Osteen’s upbeat style is deliberate and authentic. ‘Make church relevant,’ he says. ‘Give them something to be able to take away.  I find today people are not looking for theology.  There’s a place for it, [But] in your everyday life you need to know how to live.[8]

 That statement is loaded with seeker-sensitive “code.”  My wife and I left a North American Baptist church of over 1,000 members which had as its acronym “GPARS” which stood for: (1) Grace; (2) People; (3) Authenticity; (4) Relevance and (5) Small groups.

Of course Osteen’s “style” is upbeat, would you expect negativity from a positive confession devotee?  No!  Deliberate, absolutely, he really believes much of the WOF nonsense his father taught him all his life, not to mention whatever offbeat spirituality he may have gleaned from his two years at Oral Roberts University .  Authentic?  Without a doubt!  What you see is what you get.  Joel Osteen is a man without any biblical education but an admitted talent for marketing. 

To be a success in marketing you have to know where people itch and scratch it.  Or, you have to create a desire in them by creating a hunger for something they currently do not have nor formerly knew they needed.  All commercials can be condensed down to one of these two truths.

So to become a mega-church a pastor has to make church relevant.  He has to give the people what they want, something that soothes that spiritual itch.  In order to be a “success” (i.e. large masses of people and money) pastors must preach unchallenging messages that uplift rather than convict.  He must pander to the lowest common denominator and make sure that whatever is taught does not offend anymore at anytime.  What we are seeing is really nothing new, it is a simply fulfillment of 2Ti 4:3-4

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

 This is exactly where multitudes of people are spiritually today.  The above text also helps explain the phenomena of people like Robert Schuller, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and now, Joel Osteen.

Osteen goes on to say that “I find today that people are not looking for theology.”  Well that is obvious because if they were they would not find any sound theology at Lakewood !  Although he does not reveal to the readers where he found this astonishing fact out, it appears the folks he has talked to have no interest in theology.

Lest you think me a bit harsh let me remind you that theology simply means “the knowledge of God.”  In essence Osteen has said that people are really not interested in learning about God.  Somehow (undoubtedly due to his lack of biblical education) he has made a disconnect between knowing the God of the Bible via sound biblical theology and “knowing how to live.” 

Brothers and sisters, my wife and I can testify to you that the more accurately you understand God within the biblical context the better life you will live before Him.  Tracy and I have a daughter, she does not like to eat certain vegetables but we MAKE her eat them from time to time.  Why?  As her parents, even though somewhat distasteful to her we know that eating them will be beneficial.

The same is true for every man who mounts a pulpit!  God does not tell us to feed the sheep what they want to eat.  Jesus told Peter “feed My sheep,” (see John 21:16).  Jesus said “feed” the sheep not “entertain” them!  We are to give them the Word of God in its totality.  Any pastor can fall into the trap of becoming a people pleaser.  This is why Paul, through the Holy Ghost warned young Timothy in the verse just above the one I cited:  2Ti 4:-2

I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

 Timothy is WARNED to be steadfast in his proclamation of the Gospel to be ready and in his preaching to: (1) REPROVE; (2) REBUKE; (3) EXHORT the people according to the Scriptures.  How? We are to preach with all longsuffering (because such preaching is unpleasant to people’s carnal nature) and with doctrine.  GASP!  Doctrine?  I can hear the seeker-sensitive pundits saying “oh come now, Rev. Liichow, surely you know preaching doctrinal messages is passé?”  Osteen would do well to heed the word of the Lord from a genuine prophet who stated:  Eze 34:2 -3

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel , prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe [be] to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?  Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: [but] ye feed not the flock.

 There are many biblical themes which are very “unpopular” and even politically “incorrect” yet the faithful pastor/teacher will expound on these topics as well so that the flock under his care is receiving a balanced spiritual diet and is able to walk in the full light of God’s Word and not in the shadows.

What is Joel’s educational background and experience?  Since we know his training is not theological, what is it?  He did attend Oral Roberts University for two years, but his area of study had to do with television production and marketing.

 Meanwhile, son Joel, one of six children, was learning the business of television… ‘Growing up, I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be involved in TV production,’ he says. ‘That was just my passion.’  In 1981 he came home from Oral Roberts University (ORU) to start the Lakewood TV ministry.[9]

 For seventeen (17) years Joel was behind the scenes handling all the television and marketing of his father’s ministry.  The next statement from the Charisma article is very revealing:

The younger Osteen’s television-marketing talents and his dad’s preaching skills resulted eventually in the church churches being aired on stations nationwide and in more than 100 countries.[10]

             Joel Osteen had the ability to get his father’s heavily WOF influenced message out all over America and into 100 foreign markets.  Due to this dynamic-duo of folksy preaching/teaching and highly visible presence on television Lakewood Church grew to close to 8,000 members at the time of John Osteen’s death in 1999.

            With his father sick in the hospital, John asks his son, Joel, to preach for him that Sunday.  Initially Joel balked at the idea and said “no.”  He then relented and here are Joel’s own words concerning his preaching that day:

 I just got up there and told stories.  I was so glad when it was over, I said, ‘I’ll never do this again in my life.’[11]

That was the beginning of his public ministry; he just got up and told “stories.”  Joel has been telling stories that have been tickling the ears of the multitudes ever since. Here is how the article describes Joel’s style of preaching:

 The appealing style of Osteen’s personality in the pulpit is unmistakable.  It is part of the reason for the Lakewood ’s current level of success.[12]

Everyone agrees Osteen’s preaching is a key ingredient.  Descriptions of his style include ‘simple,’ ‘down-to-earth,’ ‘practical,’ ‘relatable,’ ‘easy,’ ‘folksy,’ ‘humble.’[13]

It’s 10 a.m. when he began his sermon.  The theme is practical as he gives example after example of the importance of following God’s timing rather than one’s own.  He keeps the tone cheerful, optimistic. ‘God doesn’t want anybody walking out of here today heavy-hearted and downcast,” Osteen says.[14]

Joel Osteen is charismatic in his personality.  He is not a bad looking man, his delivery is as non-threatening as the positive messages he delivers.  Perhaps I am reading in to much yet when I read “practical” it makes me think that he believes teaching theology is somehow “impractical.”  The example after example simple means he tells a lot of stories and anecdotes that somehow relate to the message in which he may cite one or two proof texts to make his point.

It also concerns me when a pastor can make the statement that God does not want anybody walking out of here “heavy-hearted.” My Bible says “godly sorrow worketh repentance…” (see 2 Cor. 7:10).  At times God does want us to walk out of a service “heavy-hearted” if we have been sinning against His will.  We should allow the Word (when properly expounded) and the Spirit (when genuinely present) to break us, to convict us of sinful attitudes and practices. 

However if all you hear is “upbeat,” “cheerful,” and “optimistic” messages there is little opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work conviction in the hearts of the hearers.  This folksy down home non-confrontational type of message also goes a long way in explaining the huge crowds that gather to be entertained. 

Let Us Entertain You

Entertained?  Oh yes, it is not only Joel’s preaching style but the music of Lakewood is an important ingredient in drawing large hoards of people. Once Joel took command of Lakewood ’s already large congregation (between 6,000 to 8,000 members) he began to expand the musical talent as well.

Four years ago, when Cindy Cruse-Ratcliff — former member of the Dove Award-winning Cruse Family gospel group — became Lakewood’s minister of music, the church had only one Sunday morning service…Soon after Cruse-Ratcliff arrived Lakewood expanded when two Sunday morning services were added…’The growth was extremely rapid,’ says Cruse-Ratcliff, who still serves on the 200-member Lakewood. Staff.[15]

 “Star power” brings people to churches as well, especially musical stars and Joel is not ignorant of this fact.  As minister of music Ms. Ratcliff knows people in the contemporary music scene and she no doubt help add to the musical strength of this mega-church by helping bring in some more musical talent:

 Helping to spice up that mix are two of the most prominent names in worship music.  Marcos Witt, who fills stadiums in Latin America for worship concerts was tapped in 2002 to pastor Lakewood ’s 3,000 member Hispanic congregation.  Also adding diversity to the Lakewood staff is Israel Houghton, whose soulful worship anthems are sung around the world.[16]

The music at Lakewood is contemporary.  They have musical stars that appeal to Hispanic (Witt), African-American (Houghton) and Caucasian members (Ratcliff).  The musical team writes many of their own songs and nothing in the article is ever mentioned about hymns.

This is not surprising when you consider that (to our knowledge) no seeker-sensitive or WOF congregation use hymnals at all, apart from the occasional singing of Amazing Grace.  The charismatic movement’s brand of music has infiltrated almost all evangelical congregations that have forsaken the use of the historic hymns.  At our former seeker-sensitive Baptist church we sang songs that originated from the Toronto “revival” and from the Vineyard movement, two examples of some of the wildest expressions within the renewal movement.

Musically speaking there is a method “to their madness” at Lakewood and other mega-churches.  They have a strong emphasis to cut all ties with traditional Christianity.  The classic, highly theological hymns and hymnals virtually scream out the dreaded word “traditional.

Out With the Old, In With the New

  Lakewood and all seeker congregations do not want to be associated with any denominational trappings or any forms of liturgical worship[17].  Many of these churches have even removed crosses from behind their pulpits lest they appear to be too churchy to the seeker. 

In all our time spent among both Pentecostal believers and seeker-sensitive groups we never recited the Lord’s prayer as part of our worship.  We never recited any of the historic creeds of the orthodox Church.  I doubt there are three people who attend Lakewood who could recite the Apostles or Nicene Creeds, probably few know the Lord’s Prayer.  Catechism classes?  You’ve got to be kidding!  In its place some groups may offer a new member’s class, but these classes are usually just general introductions to what the church has to offer the “seeker.”  Osteen being a sign-gift believer offers classes which promote the concept of a second baptism in/with/by the Holy Spirit, but this aspect seems to be soft-peddled as well.

 What Is the Key to Osteen’s Success?

Osteen I believe is probably the first of many WOF devotee’s who has melded the successful marketing techniques of the seeker-sensitive mega-churches with their positive confession health & wealth message.  The blend becomes a potent hybrid that appeals to both sign-gift believers (sort of “charismatic lite”) and baby-boomer seekers.

The message that God wants to bless His children with complete physical health, to give them great financial wealth and to demand little of them regarding their spiritual life is a highly appealing message.  When you combine this with well known Gospel singers, highly orchestrated praise and worship teams in a decidedly non-church atmosphere it will appeal to even a wider audience.

We cannot forget to mix in the vast television footprint that Lakewood church promotes, along with its web site, daddy John Osteen’s books are still in almost all Christian bookstores so it is not difficult to understand how it can gather 30,000 people in Lakewood ’s rented 16,000 seat arena, formerly the home of the Houston Rockets.

What saddens me the most is that one hears little, if any, Law & Gospel proclaimed by Joel at Lakewood Church .  To quote something I remember hearing “dad” Hagin say: “how do you poison a dog?  You put the poison in with the good meat.”  I do not want to press the analogy too far but the reality is that 30,000 people are not being biblically fed a balanced spiritual diet that will promote true growth in their lives.  What you do hear is a synthesis of WOF concepts wrapped up in a seeker-friendly environment by a young man with a winsome smile.

Lastly, we cannot lose sight of the fact that a certain synergy builds with any church when it begins to reach such a size.  People, who have no solid doctrinal foundation, will want to attend the place where “something” is happening (throw in a coffee bar, ice rink and gym does not hurt either).  In America , bigger is better.  After all, many posit, if Joel was not being used of the Lord then why would God allow all these people to come to Lakewood church?

Could it be a sign of God’s judgment on His people who have forsaken His ways?  Often we think of God’s judgment as some divine catastrophe, yet often, and just as catastrophic, is when He simply allows people to have own way.  I believe the words of Jeremiah are applicable to many in the Church today: Jer 2:12-13

Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

 As much as Joel no doubt believes the growth they’ve experienced is due to the blessing of God it really boils down to three simple things, which have nothing to do with God at all: (1) his father’s legacy and an already existing mega-church; (2) Joel’s slick marketing abilities; (3) a biblically errant, but hugely popular message which appeals to the masses seeking to have their ears tickled and experience a “good time” in church.  Please pray for Joel Osteen, like it or not, he currently has a tremendous impact on many people.  Pray the Lord open his eyes to biblical truth and may he take as bold a stand to expose error.

Thank you Rev. Liichow

http://www.forgottenword.org/osteen.html

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