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  • THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHURCH

    Matthew Anderson, D.Min.

    This topic seems so outrageously immense and impossible that I have to begin with a brief poem by the greatest spiritual poet of the last 800 years, Jelaluddin Rumi, the most revered Sufi saint and mystic.

    "Start a huge, foolish, project like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference What people think of you."

    The trouble is huge, foolish projects do scare me and I do have some concerns about what others think of me. At the same time, I felt compelled to write this article (and the three that have preceded it). I draw courage from Rumi's wisdom and I trust the bit of Light that shines on the path before me. I will follow it until it darkens.

    Resurrection means to bring something or someone back from the dead. What is implied here is that the Church is dead. I know this statement will upset some of my readers who will testify to the aliveness of the Church in their own lives. I respect their anticipated comments and experience, however, in the wider world of America and Europe the evidence has been in for decades, the elephant has died.

    The Church has lost its esoteric, numinous power and has degenerated into a variety of semi-religious side-shows that attempt to mask its death rattle. Nationally it has been represented in the media either by evangelistic freaks with bad hair, excessive emotion and make-up and irrational/absurd scientific claims or by bleached teeth gold diggers who promise that the streets of heaven will lead us to a new Mercedes and a paid mortgage. And finally, as if these strange impostors were not obnoxious enough, we have of late been assaulted by the self-righteous "Christian" politicos who point their crooked little fingers at the rest of the evil world and offer us the "right way to God and to Democracy" (which is really their semi-disguised version of theocracy).

    If there remains an authentic remnant of the Body of the Ecclesia, it is of no interest to the press or to the vast majority of Americans who live a 99 proof profane existence. The Church, as a whole, both Protestant and Catholic, has long gone missing as a vibrant force of spiritual nurture, growth, healing and inspiration. It is at best a social club and a sometimes semi-effective source of moral education for preadolescent children. At worst it is a constant disappointment to many and any serious spiritual seekers who walk out of its weekly services angry, cynical and completely unsupported in their sincere quest for a meaningful connection to God.

    The Church is dead. That is a fact.

    The question now is: Can it be resurrected?

    How can you resurrect something that will not admit to being dead or save something that does not know it is lost? In truth, you cannot. If I have learned anything from my contact with 12 Step programs, it is this: Recovery does not begin until the alcoholic or addict can admit to the addiction. They must surrender to the terrible truth that their disease has control over their lives and they must do it in front of other recovering addicts/alcoholics. Then and only then, can the process of recovery (which frequently resembles resurrection) begin.

    The Church cannot be resurrected until we, her individual parts/members, can step back and admit to her death. Then we can humbly place ourselves on her now lifeless altars and pray for the saving grace of God.

    This past weekend I watched segments of Pastor Rick Warren?s interviews with presidential candidates John McCain and Barrack Obama. Reverend Warren was affable, intelligent, fair and as an interviewer did a superb job. If he ever sought employment as a television commentator, he would certainly be successful. However, as a Christian pastor, he had no business holding a political event in his church.

    I was astounded by one of his first remarks to his audience (who were predominately evangelicals. He said, "I believe in the separation of church and state." He then spent 2 hours merging church and state at every level. He specifically asked both candidates about their personal faith in Jesus Christ. He also included questions about issues that are of great interest to his evangelical supporters (abortion, stem cell research and the Supreme Court). His twist on reality would have made even the most blatant Washington spin maker blush with admiration.

    Is Pastor Warren a bad guy? Not in my book. Is he likeable? Absolutely? Did he, with smiling face and honest eyes perpetrate an obvious lie on national television and did most of his listeners buy that lie down to the little feathers on the hook? YES.

    There could be no clearer sign of the death of the church than a popular pastor blatantly twisting the truth for 2 hours on national television. There could be no more obvious blending of state and church than this event. The two candidates for the presidency of the Unites States of America sat ON THE PODIUM ON AN EVANGELICAL CHURCH AND ANSWERED FAITH-BASED QUESTIONS POSED BY A CHRISTIAN PASTOR FOR 2 HOURS!!!!!!

    I suppose that we are so used to being spun (being lied to) by political leaders for so long that we don?t blink an eye when a nationally known pastor does the same thing.

    Here is a brief but extremely applicable Bible lesson.

    Jesus lived His entire life in the midst of an intense and often life and death political struggle in Israel. Many devout and studied Jews believed in and hoped for a political/military Messiah who would rid the land of Roman rule. From the moment He entered the desert (temptation by Satan) to the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was pressured to become political. Not once did He even sample the bait. He remained true to His purpose to the end. There is not one teaching, not one act, not one sentence in any of the Four Gospels in which Jesus was even vaguely political. Nada. Jesus taught His followers to seek the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of man. It does not take a mind capable of rocket science to understand this fact. Why then, would a pastor of national popularity be able to make such an obviously reality-twisted statement and conduct such a blatantly political event in the center of what should be sacred space?

    Because, the church is dead. It is so dead that many of its potentially best leaders are now drunk out of their spiritual minds with the heady wine of fame, wealth and political power. They are so out of touch with the real meaning and message of Christ that they cannot see that they now work for the Romans.

    As I stated earlier, before something can be resurrected it must be pronounced dead. Evidence of that death appears daily if we have the courage to see it. It shows up in political/church events, in lifeless Sunday services and many of the church sponsored activities that fill the days and hours of the faithful. (See my two previous articles below)

    Now that at least some of us are facing the death of the Church, there are two questions we must answer.

    1- Do I believe that the church can be resurrected? Yes, it can be. God can resurrect anything or anyone one at any time.

    2- Do I believe that the Church WILL be resurrected?

    The answer to this question is crucial. I am convinced that a YES requires each of us to become like Peter, step out of the boat and begin walking toward Christ. We must commit to what Rumi calls a ?huge, foolish project?. We must walk on water that becomes solid only when two things happen simultaneously. We must be clearly in the Presence of our Lord and then act decisively in faith.

    The miracle of new life will not occur if we simply huddle inside the boat and wait for the storm to pass. Our complete participation is required. In a very real sense, each of us must become the rock upon which His new church is built.

    How do we enter clearly into the Presence of our Lord?


    THE DE-SACRALIZED CHURCH AND THE RENEWAL OF COMMUNION


    You are probably very aware that we live, for the most part, in a de-sacralized world. As Mircea Eliade (past chairman of the department of the history of religions at the University of Chicago and world renowned for his insights into the history of religion) defines nonreligious man as "a man who rejects the sacrality of the world, who accepts only a profane existence, divested of all religious presuppositions."

    Western culture, over the last 200 years, has been deeply influenced by the mind and action of this "nonreligious man". Thus, the idea and experience of what we might call "sacred space" has lost its place and power in our daily lives. Given this loss and its significant negative effects on individuals and society (a later article topic), one would imagine that the Church would give great energy and focus on preserving that precious commodity in the life of the ecclesia (those called out).

    From my perspective, this has not occurred. In fact, the Church has imitated the culture rather than challenged it. Sacred space, sacred ritual, sacred practice (public and individual) has slowly disappeared and has been replaced by what Dr. Eliade might call profane practices.

    When, for instance, has a budget session become a sacred experience? When has a deacon's meeting been a time of healing community? When has a Sunday School class invited individuals to share and explore the depth of their spiritual growth? When has Communion truly become a time when Christ was felt fully present in the wine and the bread?

    I remember the Lord's Supper (Baptist for Communion) when I was a child. My church was large (2000 in the Sunday service). We celebrated this event once a quarter. I have no idea why this frequency was chosen except to be different from the Catholics who do it every day. Anyway, as Baptists, we were not allowed to use real wine (another rule that never ever made any sense to me) so we used grape juice. The juice was served by the deacons in tiny glasses slightly smaller than shot (we would never use this word) glasses. It was brought to us in large trays that held about 50 small glasses each. The "bread" was actually very small chips of crackers and was passed out to the congregation in round trays. We remained in our seats for the entire procedure. The deacons served us all. The preacher read the Scripture and we all ate the cracker and then drank the juice together.

    As a teen I always felt that this sacred event held absolutely no resemblance to the original Last Supper. No real wine and no real bread and no real experience of a connection the community of faith or to God or Jesus. It was an amazing exercise in organization, efficiency and coordination but it had no numinous (divine) qualities for me. We did it because it was required not because, from my experience, it changed or transformed us in any fashion.

    To quote Dr. Jung from as long ago as 1957,

    In Communion it (natural food, wine and bread) remains what it is. It is no longer a symbol; the mystery has become nothing but a feast of remembrance. And thus we arrived at our modern rationalization and materialism, in which all the numina have disappeared from the great realm of Nature and man himself is nothing more than the homo terrens, terrestial man and Adam."

    Simply said, we have lost the Mystery. When the Mystery is lost, the transformative power disappears and remembering through routine becomes a sad substitute for the Presence of the Son of God.

    For you literalists, yes Jesus did say "Do this in remembrance of me". However, I am certain He did not mean for us to become so rote that remembering would become like looking at your neighbor's wedding pictures. A polite, after dinner requirement that should not be repeated.

    I am of the opinion that Communion was never designed with large groups in mind.(There is a way to handle this in large groups) It is for a small gathering of intimate friends in the faith, who are prepared in their hearts and minds to receive one of the most sacred ritual gifts we Christians have to share. It is a time so sacred that we feel compelled to remove our shoes, our social masks and our mental/emotional defenses out of respect for holy ground.

    When we hear the words, "Do this", we know in every cell of our physical and spiritual bodies what THIS means. We know that we are being drawn, willing or not, into a miracle of grace that not only transforms ordinary bread and wine but also, and more importantly, our own ordinary selves.

    Communion by definition means "a possessing or sharing in common". It means that we share together the numinous experience of the Presence of Christ. In a way, we might also say that we are "possessed" by that Presence in the sense that it takes us over, inhabits us and changes us even as it changes the bread and the wine. This is a Mystery.

    I here mean a Mystery in the sense meant by Rudolph Otto in his incredibly powerful book THE SACRED. Eliade describes Otto's famous phrase mysterium tremendum in this way:

    "He (Otto) finds the feeling of terror before the sacred, before the awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the majesty that emanates on overwhelming superiority of power; he finds religious fear before the fascinating mystery (mysterium fascinans) in which perfect fullness of being flowers. Otto characterizes all these experiences as numinous (from Latin numen, god), for they are induced by the revelation of an aspect of divine power."

    Does Otto's description go too far? Could it be that fear in the sense of awe and overwhelming power is an essential part of the experience of Communion (and other rituals of our faith)? On the contrary, I say that we have gone too far in the other, de-sacralized, direction. We "celebrate" Communion nonchalantly as a pastime, an obligation and even a habit. But, we have lost the connection to Divine Power that would and could shake us to our core and throw us to our knees in awe before the Mystery that emerges within and among us as we partake of the Presence of Christ.

    Is there a way to approach Communion as a sacred event? Can we renew a practice that for us has lost its numinous qualities? Jung, whom I deeply respect, used to say "Once the gods have left the temple, they never return." Is it possible that the life transforming power of the Mystery of Communion has been lost to us in decades and centuries of rote performance?

    I, for one, have to disagree with Dr. Jung on this one. I am convinced that Christ never left Communion. We are the ones who dulled ourselves to His Presence by showing up so deeply blinded and insulated by our de-sacralized and profane lives. This God did not leave His Temple, His followers simply forgot or refused to take off their shoes.

    If this is true, and my own dreams convince me it is, then renewal is possible. We can, like the Prodigal, once again approach the Communion table shoeless, undefended, open to awe, and expect a new cup of grace to be poured for us. The Mystery awaits us with open arms.



    THE ELEPHANT IN THE CHURCH'S LIVING ROOM



    "The elephant in the living room" is a phrase often used by family therapists to describe a very large and obvious problem that a dysfunctional family denies and avoids. It might be alcoholism or depression or rage or any one of many dysfunctional behaviors or attitudes, which cause suffering and chaos in a family.

    This "elephant" seems invisible to the family but is incredibly obvious to someone outside the family system. On occasion, the "elephant" may be visible to one or more family members but they remain silent out of fear. Anyone who "names" the elephant is usually in danger of attack or ostracism by other family members who currently live in denial of this dysfunction.

    It has long been my observation that the Family of Christ (the Church) has an entire herd of elephants in its living room (pews and pulpits) and very little has been done to name or honestly attend to them.

    Why name the "elephant?" The "elephant" is a dysfunction that erodes and/or ultimately destroys the health and effectiveness of the family (Church). We will never regain an inspired, alive Church if we do not face (name) the elephant that lives in our own living room. An "elephant" is a dysfunction that erodes the individual?s connection to God and the community's ability to support that connection and live it authentically in the world.

    In order for the rest of this article to make sense I need to share my own working assumption about the purpose and the function of the Church. Your own definition of the may differ a bit but I think you will see the application.

    PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

    To create a community of deeply spiritual and committed Christians who work diligently to increase their individual connection to God in Christ, support each other in that endeavor and then work together to bring that message to the rest of the world.

    It is my conviction that anything outside this stated purpose is not the work of the Church and should be named an "Elephant".

    THE ELEPHANT QUESTION

    What causes an "elephant" to show up in the pews, pulpits and organizational meetings of a congregation?

    The Church, both locally and world wide, is composed of two essential and interrelated parts: The individual and the community of faith. Each one grows and blossoms as it supports and nurtures the other. One does not exist well without a healthy partnership with the other. To neglect either one is to invite dysfunction (elephants).

    Each partner has three functions that are necessary for spiritual health.

    The Individual

    1- Must have a developed and consistent, daily personal spiritual practice that is deepening, nurturing, growth-full and inspiring. (I will submit a future article on Sacred Practice)

    2- Must bring that personal growth and inspiration to the community of faith as a gift and a source of sustenance and inspiration and dialogue.

    3- Must bring that gift to her/his life outside the community of faith.

    The Community of Faith

    1- Must have a developed and consistent, daily/weekly community spiritual practice that is deepening, nurturing, growth-full and inspiring. ( I will submit a future article on building Christian community)

    2- Must accept, encourage and employ the gifts brought by each individual.

    3- Must bring those gifts and inspiration (from the individual and the community) to the world outside the community of faith.

    Dysfunction (elephant) begins to appear when any of the 6 functions (described above) are neglected.

    In my observation, the difficulty begins with the individual who neglects her/his daily spiritual practice and then becomes excessively dependent upon the Community of Faith and/or the clergy (the representative of the Community of Faith) for spiritual nurture and direction. Once this kind of dependency takes hold, the depth and quality of spiritual growth of the individual begins to erode. When the individual loses a depth connection to God the entire community is affected.

    The working assumption of many, if not most, congregations is that the community sets the level and quality of spiritual development for the individual. This model is a top-down or parent-child style of spiritual growth. It may have worked for many centuries but, for many reasons, it is no longer effective. The new and more effective model needs to be an almost equal partnership with the individual carrying slightly more weight. (I will share more about this model in later articles.)

    Too often, the community of faith becomes a too indulgent parent who requires very little of the child. The child is not trained in the essential disciplines of spiritual growth and thus loses all but surface understanding and experience of what the faith (and its life-transforming power) is all about. This child often becomes demanding, entitled, selfish and finally disinterested in a meaningful connection to God. (I would also suggest that this disinterest is the central cause of loss of members in the traditional Christian over the last 60 years.)

    Once this stage of disinterest occurs the community of faith frequently loses its sight of the real goals of the church and devolves into programs and practices that are designed to please, placate and entertain the children. Enter an entire herd of elephants disguised as bingo, sports programs, dinner theatre, political positions, prosperity seminars and sermons, dances, singles dating programs??.you can add your own ideas here.

    If meaningful renewal is to occur, each partner (individual and community of faith) must make a commitment to evaluate each activity they perform as regards their faith based on the 6 functions stated above. If an activity does not meet these criteria, it needs to be changed or abandoned.

    The goal is to develop a community of adults who are spiritually mature, have a depth connection to God, and can live that faith authentically individually and communally.

    Final comment.

    I am certain that my point of view could be considered radical. I hope so, in the sense that radical means going to the roots of something. We need to root ourselves, as individuals and communities of faith, in a spirituality that is real, meaningful, deep and life changing. If we do not find a way to root we will be completely overrun by elephants or every size and shape. If we do root and grow, we will become a tree that blossoms and finally bears the true fruits that God created us to share.



    MORE ON GREED AND THE CORRUPTION OF THE CHURCH


    Last week I began to explore the topic of greed and corruption in the church and used the work of Joel Osteen as an example. I received a very enthusiastic response from many of you. I also received 2 very thoughtful and respectful replies from individuals who disagreed with me. Their comments seemed to be honest and heartfelt and each presented what she/he believed to be the positive side of Osteen?s approach. Their comments were meaningful to me and caused me to reflect even more thoroughly on this subject. What follows is a result of those ruminations.

    It will become quickly evident that I have not changed my view but I want it to be clear that I respect each person who chose to thoughtfully interact with me on this topic. I quote from parts of the emails not out of disrespect but because each comment represents the point of view of many Americans and probably many of Mr. Osteen's sincere followers. I cannot, therefore, let it go unanswered.

    Here is an excerpt from one of the emails.

    "Apparently, you too have missed the mark as to what Mr. Osteen and others are trying to tell us when they preach the message of having things.

    God does not mind you having things as long as things don't have you. In the passage you quoted the rich young ruler obviously did not want to part with his riches. (things had him) When Jesus walked the earth yes he had followers and he also had a treasurer( remember Judas) how many poor people do you know with a treasurer. No he was not lavished with the houses of today in the New Testament but was anyone. They had things that were equal to at there time.

    Mr. Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Myers and T.D.Jakes are not preaching that this is the only thing the Gospel offers but if that is the missing link in your life then it is good to know that Jesus died shed his blood on Calvary for everything that causes us pain. And believe me not having enough money causes much pain."

    I wrote the following response.

    Americans, more than any other people on this planet are "owned by their material riches". I am sure you will not disagree. We, then, do not need another message about becoming richer. Our media (and now our churches) are bursting at the seams with techniques and guidelines for becoming rich. We are so obsessed with riches that we have become probably the most spiritually deprived people on this planet. We have become the camel that cannot get through the eye of the needle. Do we really need more lessons crafted by our "spiritual" leaders on how to make the camel fatter?????????

    Jesus could have easily become a materially and politically powerful man. He was clearly tempted in the desert with this option. Thank God He resisted. Osteen, in my opinion, went to the desert and came back with a bag of gold........not a cross.

    America suffers not from lack of money but from a need for bread from the mouth of God. To offer financial prosperity to a spiritually deprived American is like giving a brightly painted stone to a starving man.?

    Today, I want to add the following comments.

    The comment about Jesus having a "treasurer?" was creative but certainly an Osteen-like aberration of Judas? function. In over 40 years of Bible study and research on the meanings of New Testament texts, I have never heard anyone use Judas as an example or justification of affluence. But enough on trivialities.

    The most central issue here, in my view, is that America is in the midst of a very long and terrible spiritual drought. We are dying for a spiritual connection that will quench our thirst. To quote an insightful contemporary poet, David Whyte: "This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand."

    This drought shows no signs of abating and its effects are devastating. As we wander about searching for nurture we have become extremely vulnerable and desperate. Anyone who promises a "good word" will find an easy following. Anyone who connects that "good word" to the "Word from God" will easily assume numinous (god-like) power. Anyone who connects our greatest addictions (money and material gain) to GOD'S WILL FOR OUR LIVES, is guaranteed a lusty and lustful audience.

    Let's return to the email again.

    "Jesus died shed his blood on Calvary for everything that causes us pain. And believe me not having enough money causes much pain."

    In truth, I became almost nauseous when I read this comment. One, because it is grossly inaccurate (see below) and two, because it appeals so seductively to the addictive American mind.

    Two first. We Americans want to live a life with no pain. We want to be free of physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain and spiritual pain. We voraciously consume any product that promises a quick and effective release from pain. We thus, are easy suckers for a Gospel of Pain-Free Living..................even when it is a blatant corruption of the life/message of Jesus.

    Back to one. "Jesus died shed his blood on Calvary for everything that causes us pain".

    I have heard quite a bit in my 40 years as a minister and a counselor. I have not, by any means led a protected life. I am, as a result, not easily shocked, but this sentence got to me. It is so obviously out of touch with the meaning of the crucifixion that I am astounded that even a brief student of the Gospel could even vaguely imagine that it is correct.

    Jesus did not die, was not crucified, to take away our pain. His death and resurrection (they always go together) were about bridging the gap between us and God. Jesus did not ever present himself as a Jewish-pain-reliever. He too often made statements like

    "Take up your cross and follow me.

    Turn the other cheek.

    Walk the second mile.

    Forgive your enemies??..70 x 7."

    I could go on for pages with these powerful quotes. But I assume you get the point. Jesus' followers certainly did not live lives of ease and safety. Most of the original apostles including Paul, died horrible deaths as a result of their faithfulness to their Lord. None of these men promised the new Christians better homes and gardens.

    Anyone who uses Jesus' teachings and life story as an encouragement or permission slip for a life of affluence and material gain, is someone who is either completely ignorant of the Gospels or who is a new version of a snake-oil salesman. There is no grace, no truth and no redemption in this corruption of a sacred story. It is simple and obvious business as usual with focus on the highly lucrative bottom line. It is not religion and it is not Christian in theology or practice.

    What then is the answer to this aberration of the life-transforming message that Jesus both shared and modeled for us? What are meaningful alternatives that will be true bread for the hungry and water for the thirsty? Is simply exposing the greed-hucksters enough? I think not. I think it may be time for a new connection with and exploration of this powerful life/message, one that can be both true to its essence and meaningfully applicable to our everyday lives.

    Can this message find a place in the local church? Is the local church capable of becoming a safe and viable container for the new wine of the Christ?

    My own heart says YES......maybe.....possibly. I will share more with you in weeks to come.

    God bless each of you on your journey.


    GOD, GREED AND THE CORRUPTION OF FAITH

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    I suppose I could not have chosen a more provocative title for this newsletter but it seems fitting to me. I hope what I have to say is useful to you on your own journey.

    For some strange reason I receive monthly copies of the magazine Conde Nast Portfolio. I never ordered it and certainly don't pay for it but it shows up each month without fail. I usually pay attention when this occurs, especially if it is something outside my usual interest. The magazine is about money, success and business and I read quite a bit of it just to keep a perspective on a world I do not truly belong to.

    This month ( the August,2008 issue) I took particular notice of an article entitled GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH. Here is the copy inside the front cover.

    "GOD WANTS ME TO BE RICH - The economy keeps dropping, but televangelist Joel Osteen is filling arenas and selling millions of books with his hopeful and profitable- message of prosperity. How a college dropout built the hottest brand in America's faith industry."

    The first 2 pages of the article are filled with a photo of Joel and his wife Victoria in their lavish Houston home. The writer then goes on to describe Osteen and his rather incredible success as "the hottest brand in America's faith industry."

    I read the entire article and had the following response.

    To quote the writer Karl Greenfeld, "Ever since evangelical Christianity separated from the mainline faiths in the early 20th century, some preachers have gone further and linked their focus on personal piety to financial success." He mentions Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and then says that "Osteen is one of a new breed of televangelists" Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar are also rising stars...."

    Osteen is then quoted as saying that God wants you to have a good job, a beautiful home and decent cash flow.

    It is no wonder, given this sort of approach to the Gospel, why Christianity in America has lost its power and relevancy. Osteen's message is a complete corruption of the essence of the message and ministry of Jesus. Osteen has become incredibly effective at cloaking capitalism, greed and materialism in the dusty robes of my Master and to tell the truth, this really pisses me off.

    There is nothing in the message/teachings of Jesus to support a materialistic or capitalistic life-style. Nothing. I suppose that Mr. Osteen might be aware of this fact if he had finished college and gone to seminary. He apparently did neither.

    College has many purposes but one essential purpose is that it teaches a student how to think rationally and critically. Seminary, of the kind that would have been appropriate for Mr. Osteen, would have done even more. Mr. Osteen's father was a Southern Baptist. The Southern Baptist Seminary that I attended in Louisville Kentucky would have been sufficient. Seminary, An intensive, three-year master's degree program, takes a student on an in-depth journey into the meaning and message of both the Old and New Testaments. Nowhere in the Scripture I studied, day in and day out, was there a message even vaguely like the one Mr. Osteen sells.

    Jesus was not a capitalist. He was a man who asked, even demanded, dramatic sacrifice on the part of his followers and He demonstrated that He meant "business" by His own suffering and sacrifice. He did not create a business and once He began His ministry, He did not even have a home. Any child can read the Gospels and figure this one out. It is, in fact, so obvious that one does not need a college or seminary education to see it.

    One of His rather famous teachings on seeking material gain, at least in the Baptist circles I grew up in, was in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6 verses 21 -34. I will not quote the entire passage (look it up for details). I will simply quote the following passages from the Amplified Bible.

    "You cannot serve God and mammon (deceitful riches, money, possessions)."

    "Therefore do not worry and be anxious, saying What are we going to eat....."

    Jesus made an even more provocative comment to the rich man who asked Him how to find eternal life ( Luke 18:18 25). Jesus replied,

    "Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come back and follow me." The man "became very distressed for he was very rich."

    I read these rather provocative but absolutely clear passages and I wonder if they are missing from Mr. Osteen's New Testament.

    Instead of offering his followers the real meat in the message of Jesus, he has preyed on their fears, their greed and their vulnerability and he is getting rich in the process.

    Any brief student of American culture can easily see that we are willing to spend big time on certain products: Quick and easy weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry and so is How to Get Rich Quick. Many of us are suckers for either or both of these "promising products".

    One of the most vulnerable audiences, however, is the conservative, evangelical Christian population. They are accustomed to giving their preachers great authority and following them down any path as long as it is connected to "Jesus' will". They seldom require logic or rationality and though they are encouraged to study their Bibles daily, they are also discouraged to ask critical questions like, "Hey Mr. Osteen, how come you never talk about what Jesus says in Matthew 6:21-34?????????????" They are more interested in getting their prosperity-fix at the foot of the pulpit.

    To be fair, the growing New Age community in America is just as susceptible to this poorly disguised form of drug dealing. Note the popularity of the film/book THE SECRET. It is the same kind of capitalism/greed cloaked in and spiritually legitimized by quotes and stories by self-help gurus.

    In essence the message, both from Osteen and The Secret is HOW CAN I USE GOD AND SPIRITUALTY TO GET MINE....FAST?

    This message has absolutely nothing to do with the teachings or essential message of Jesus. You don't have to take my word for it. Just read the Gospels. Or, if you are lazy, just read any one of them, there are only four and they are short.

    Think about this. American is severely spiritually deprived. We have de-sacralized 95% of our daily lives. We are lost in a whirlwind infused with technological explosions and fear of terrorist attacks. We have little if any depth and meaning to hold on to as the wind roars around us and our ?trusted spiritual leaders? are handing us B.S. called ?Hey, a new house and a new car will make you real happy!!!?

    I can only share a question that I often pondered as a young man in seminary: "What would Jesus do?" I can guarantee you one thing. I know beyond any shadow of doubt what He would not do. He would not stand by me in the midst of my suffering and confusion and offer me a plan to buy a house. No frigging way!!!

    Yet, Mr. Osteen leads a congregation of 45,000 members. It is reportedly the largest church in the United States. What does this mean? To me, it means that people are desperate for hope and help and that they are deeply vulnerable to a quick and easy surface gospel of greed. They worship the god of capitalism and Osteen is his main man.

    I am suddenly reminded of a very popular Rolling Stones song. It's first verse is:

    "Please allow me to introduce myself Im a man of wealth and taste Ive been around for a long, long year Stole many a mans soul and faith And I was round when jesus christ Had his moment of doubt and pain Made damn sure that pilate Washed his hands and sealed his fate Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name."

    "Please allow me to introduce myself, I am a man of wealth and taste....Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name." How could a group of irreligious, drug taking rock and roll musicians have such clarity of sight and 45,000 God-fearing Christians be so blind?

    How could this happen? The answer to that is worth an entire newsletter. I will simply say that the Rolling Stones see what is obvious. Evil shows up looking pretty slick and anyone who is greed driven will miss him/it every time.

    Even the writers for Portfolio magazine are sharper about this issue than Osteen's blind followers. The writers know capitalism and they recognize one of their own. They may not identify him as evil but, in truth, that is not their job. Their job is to report on who is hot in the "industry" even when it includes the "faith industry".

    My point here is that faith is always corrupted when it becomes the tool and property of capitalism. Faith in Jesus may be open to many levels of interpretation but any truly serious and intelligent student of Jesus' teachings will agree , Jesus was not a capitalist and His message had nothing to do with mortages, cars, wages and material income. Osteen missed the point entirely and sadly his followers will continue to be lost in the whilrwind without a prayer.

    May God bless each of you.

    Matthew Anderson D.Min.



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    Matthew Anderson, D. Min. is a minister and pastoral counselor. He is available for confidential consult by phone or in his So. Florida offices. For more information or to arrange your personal consult, click here.