Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sin within the Evangelical Movement

Over the last few weeks, and ultimately last several years the Evangelical Church in America has been under attack. Of this fact there should be little or no debate. Who is at fault, is another question all together. As a result Evangelical Christians are in a defensive stance as likely has never been seen before. While it is true, we have the heroes of the faith, the Billy Graham's, the Mother Theresa's, and numerous others that are often unheard of, the other truth is we have those who often draw the attention of the masses, while at the same time, causing the judgment of all who call themselves Christian. Unfortunately, it has many Christians fleeing from the label of Christian and moving towards other self proclaimed titles like Followers of Jesus. All of this to distinguish the difference between their own individual faith walk, and the faith walk as portrayed by many in the forefront of public awareness.

The truth is there is an abundance of opinions that the non follower of Jesus has developed about Christians as a result of the actions of what unfortunately appears to be more than a few. In fact, many, I know will be critical of this particular article because of my apparent criticism of some who are supposed "leaders" within the evangelical movement. Let me make clear my intent in this article for those who will find reason to be critical of my assessment. My intent is not tear down, or be critical of any ministry doing legitimate ministry for the Kingdom of Christ. Of course those who read my writings know that my opinions are often on the edge, and I am not afraid to be clear as to my belief that our mission is to follow Jesus, not necessarily to follow denominational or popular Christian views. In fact, I believe that Jesus has as little interest in religion now as he did during the time he physically walked the earth. I also believe that many, under the presumption of being "Christian", have in reality forgotten about the mission of Jesus, especially among the poor, the disadvantaged, and the person who does not know the truth as to who Jesus was and what he did. I believe that Jesus mission to The Lost, The Last, and The Least is just as relevant today as it was in the day that Jesus preached that message. My intent therefore, is to call Christians, followers of Jesus, to action and a faith in Christ, as opposed to man. I also challenge and call Christians to a serious questioning of the methods, practices, religious leaders they follow.

Is it any wonder that we as Christians are all thrown into the same boat as those caught up in serious mistakes. Again, I am not trying to publicly point out any individual but lets look at recent history.

In the last number of years we have seen problem, after problem, after problem for religious leaders, specifically within the Christian Church. Before I get onto this soap box, I am reminded of Jesus own words regarding judgment in this area. Words that state, that the way we judge others in particular areas will be the way we are also judged. I am reminded of teachings that indicate that we need to worry about our own lives and our own sin before we start trying to correct someone within our faith. I am reminded of words like those of us who have never made a mistake should be the first to cast judgment or stones. Yet as much as I am reminded of these teachings, I am also reminded of teachings like, we will know who the real followers of Christ are by the fruit they produce. We are to call others to accountability when they mess up, and sometimes when necessary, that is to be done publicly. There are as many scriptures that tells us to bring to light truth as there is that tell us to be careful about the methods of how we judge. I am aware of that, and so should those who say never judge. In fact, the Bible tells us to be careful about how we judge, not that we should never judge. There is a difference.

What is some of the history I have personally observed over the last few years. There are issues like Jimmy Swaggart confessing to sin, giving in to punishment, and then not living through or following through with that judgment and assistance from his denomination. There is the issue of Jim Baker getting caught in sexual sin, and poor financial management and dishonesty. I will give Jim Baker credit though, he has since confessed this area of his life as sin, and made some effort at changing his behavior. In fact Jim Baker is now actively involved in various ministries to the poor. You don't hear much about him any more but he seems to have made some changes. There are other areas like leaders being involved in various forms of infidelity and ultimately divorce. All Christians who seemed to preach one message, while at the same time, living another.

Then there is the recent events of the past. Ted Haggard, the wife of Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and various others. There is a consistency among many of these individuals that separate themselves from other Christians and Christian leaders. While it may not be obvious to all, it should be. Each of these groups follow a theology that is largely focused on self and self gratification, as opposed to the service of others, especially the less fortunate. While there are many good things that are presented with each of these ministries, there are also ideas, theologies and practices that each of us have to be aware of, especially if placing a large amount of importance on these ministries.

When looking at these areas and ministries, I think a common point of interest has to be observed. The emphasis on self reward and ultimately money is evident in each and every case. Within each of these groups there are large financial incomes that can be observed. I'll be honest here, I have a hard time personally with this because my income is so low, presently $200 a week, and no expenses covered. The hope is to eventually get that to approximately $60,000 a year but that is a long term, difficult goal to maintain. The Virtual Pew currently has brought in less than $20,000 since last year, yet we maintain a ministry that provides assistance to hundreds of individuals on a personal 1:1 level, and to literally tens of thousands on a ministry perspective via writings and so forth.

Another characteristic is the homes that these individuals live in. Most live in homes that are valued at over $2,000,000 dollars. Some, have multiple homes in multiple areas. Not only do they have the large salaries, in some cases by the time book deals and all are figured in, in the millions, but they live extravagant lives. Joyce Meyer for example even recently purchased a $10,000,000 plus personal jet. She is not the only one, TD Jakes has a point of his speaking contracts to be transported via limousine, always referred to as Bishop, and at a recent event in Tulsa Oklahoma, I was told personally by an employee of the store that he had expectations that he and his wife be treated as "royalty." This was the words of the employee of the Mardell Christian Book store they worked, not mine, apparently, many at the store after working with them seeing the way they expected to be treated lost respect for them. Again, I only know how I respond to this from a personal level. I own a home, (actually the bank owns it) in Oklahoma valued at approximately $100,000. We rent it out for $300 a month less than the mortgage payment on the home. We are getting ready to move to a home that is approximately 1,000 square feet. I work out of a home office and fly coach when I fly. Do I have requirements when I speak, yes, but more times than not waved, and I even let people know I am glad to stay in homes. While I enjoy the hotel on occasion, I also value the opportunity to get to know the people I am working with. All of the money I make from speaking or from gifts goes back into the ministry from which I draw a salary. While I dream of one day having money, it is not an obsession. I have thankfully been able to show that ministry and service is more important than self pleasure via finance and material possessions.

There is also something else obvious about these organizations, the involvement of family in leadership positions within their organizations. While I understand this on some level, it is obvious that in many of these leadership roles, that leadership was obtained by mainly being a part of the family. The only problem I have here is if those positions of leadership were based on being family, as opposed to being qualified. I am often asked what qualifies someone for ministry. My response is pretty uniform and consistent. God calls an individual to ministry, often times that individual is reluctant to follow that call as is the case with many in leadership in the Bible. God affirms that call by endorsements, and support from the local church. I truly believe that this affirmation is critical to proving that God has called an individual to ministry. I also believe another indication is that the person will see fruit in their ministry. Now on this point, one has to be careful, fruit is simply results from the ministry. When on a large scale area, via television, radio and so forth, there is apparent fruit. Yet the real result is not always in the apparent first fruit or results, but in the long term discipleship. Are people sticking, are they maturing, are they in essence becoming more like Jesus? Do they care about, and do the same things he did? If the answer to those questions are no, then we have to call into question the fruit that individuals are seeing. Another thing here though, is who gets the credit? Is the focus on what the individual has done? Or is the focus on what God has done? There are distinct differences here in these two perspectives. There is a third thing I believe critical to the call of ministry. Does the person meet the requirements as are set forth in Titus, 1st Timothy, and 1st Peter? If the answer is no, they aren't qualified for ministry. There are no loopholes and the requirements haven't changed over the years.

There are some common points of interest in theology among these groups as well. I expect this is the point where I will receive the greatest amount of criticism. In most every moral failure within Christianity as of recent years is the leanings of some of those who have failed towards the Charismatic tendencies of theological practice. One of the areas of consistency in these individuals is what many call the Wealth and Health Gospel. There is a strong emphasis that all sickness is due to sin, and that all Christians should be financially well off. The practice of these concepts is evident in the personal lives of each of these individuals, as well as their doctrinal statements on their ministry and personal web sites, and their public teachings. Even in the case of someone like Joel Osteen, there is clear indication that the former Oral Roberts University student believes that all followers of Christ should be financially well off. It is also evident that as a result of his actions, and his wife's actions on a recent United Airlines flight, that they expect that type of treatment. It is likely one of the reasons they were forced to leave the plane they were on after his wife created a disturbance in first class over a spilt item that the airline attendant didn't clean up to Mrs. Osteen's satisfaction.

Here is my thoughts, Christians, and non Christians can expect, for as long as there is an earth, to see failures among our leaders. Those who follow Christ must be careful to not cover their heads as to the atrocities that exist, neither should they be ashamed to confront sin as just that, sin. Non Christians, will judge and be critical of the lack of those in leadership being Christ like in their practices. They won't tolerate this behavior, and we as Christians have to respond in a loving, but clear way as to who we do and don't support. The bottom line for Christians, and I'll make this personal, Mike Furches isn't responsible to be like Joel Osteen, Ted Haggard or any other leader, my example is Jesus Christ. So should all of our examples be Jesus, not just in the following of his words, but in the practice of the things he did. When we can do that, then and only then, will we have any measure of success in the ministry we are involved in. Now please don't get me wrong, there are ample things about the ministries of each of these mentioned that I appreciate to some extent, there are also things I question. I am not trying to make judgment on these individuals, I am just calling those who follow Jesus to holiness in Christ, not any person, including myself.

Now let me also explain success in ministry. I truly believe that success in ministry is spiritual, not necessarily material. I am confident for example that The Virtual Pew is completing and doing ministry now like few other ministries. Not that we are the only one, the best one or anything like that, but I am personally seeing the response of hundreds on a weekly basis as to the benefits of this ministry. Many comment on blogs, many others email me, and yet many others call me on a regular basis. I see the impact and know of the difference this ministry is making in the lives of those who avail themselves to this ministry. From soldiers in Baghdad using The Virtual Pew Bible Studies and resources, to the personal counseling that goes on from day to day this ministry is having an impact and experiencing success. There is also the fact to face, and vital ministries of helping drug addicts, single parents, and numerous others that occur. Some of which many know about, some of which others know nothing about. I have personally never been involved in a ministry that is seeing the spiritual success as is this ministry. I have also never been involved in a ministry that draws in the small finances and support as this ministry. I am confident that we are building up many rewards in Heaven, maybe someday we will see those on earth as it would really help, but that can't be, and won't be the focus. The individuals receiving ministry have to be the focus of our efforts. Jesus saw value in the people needing help, so should we. Jesus made sacrifices to serve the Lost, the Least, and the Last, so should we. Those things are driven by a heart of love, not a desire for money. Those who call themselves Christian have to see the difference.

Truth is, I think those who fall, forget about, or never knew the difference between serving others out of love, and seeing ministry as business. While there are ministry components that require business knowledge, those in ministry often don't have those same gifts and have to proceed with caution. When they get so caught up in the financial end of things, they lose focus and purpose as to why God had them in ministry. It is one of the reasons that Jesus had a money manager among his following. Jesus and those primarily involved with carrying out the ministry could focus on the ministry. When leaders get obsessed with their private jets, their 2 million dollar homes, or their secret personal sexual desires as opposed to ministry, they will ultimately fall. Maybe not in a financial perspective, I am sure many of these still have their large luxurious homes, but they will certainly fail in the things that matter most, spiritual rewards.

Yea, I am sure Barbara Walters is impressed with people like Joel Osteen for a reason. I am sure that Ted Haggard had a church of 14,000 for a reason. I know that TD Jakes has to be called Bishop for a reason, and I am sure that Joyce Meyer has a 10 million dollar personal jet for a reason. I just hope the reason is right. I for one can't do a lot about what their reasons are though, and truth is, neither can you. What we can do though, is make sure that if we call ourselves Christian or follower of Christ, that we do what we do for a reason, we do it because we want to be as much like Jesus as humanly possible. For those that don't follow Christ and see these actions, I am okay with you making your judgment, your comments, and expressing your thoughts. Just be fair, use the same measure you judge these people by to judge the Donald Trumps, the Tom Cruises' and others within society that also have a strong voice. Be consistent, but be fair.

Research material and recommended readings:

Time Magazine Article: Opening Up the Umbrella Group

Associated Press: Apology Letter Colorado Springs Article 11/5/06

Barbara Walters taps Joel Osteen for her famous list TV personality in town taping part of her 'Ten Most Fascinating People' show
By Melanie Lawson (11/03/06 - KTRK/HOUSTON) Send news tips RSS ABC13 E-lert Info mentioned on air Search

"30 Mistakes in 30 Years," (Copyright © 2006, KTRK-TV)

USA Today, Pastor's wife's altercation leads to two-hour delay for Vail flight

Property Tax Assesment

Oh Yea, here is that contact information again.

The Virtual Pew
P.O. Box 17731
Wichita, KS 67217

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David said...

You know it is tragic that your points (though obviously well intentioned) are laced with gossip and opinionated statements against people you have never met.... and do not have an opportunity to defend themselves. I happened to know that T.D. Jakes doesn't like limousines, avoids them when possible, and generally request a van to travel in when out of town. I know because I used to work there. The tragedy is when you write things you have heard... you too are disobeying scriptures and help to make it harder for those who are really trying to make a difference. the scripture about slander and gossip are just as much Christlike as your pet peave here.

When you do what they do, people always write about those others will know. Some of these people are over the top, like you and I they make mistakes. Some are greedy but I hear you say nothing about the compassionate work I know is done through T.D. Jakes and the Potter's House who has won many awards for its philanthropy.

I see why God tells us not to judge... we won't be fair, we won't get the truth and we don't seem to pay any attention to the numerous scripture about murdering people with our tongue...You said they care nothing for the poor.... how sad? Your opinion ignores many facts that are public record.
Trucks loads of food to Katrina, millions given to the homeless, outreach to the prisons, well dug in Kenya, fights HIV AIDS both in americaa and Africa.... and not even one word mentioned about it.. You didn't know? You didn't check either. I think what you are doing is irresponsible and unfair. And yet I hear your compassion for the church.... I just wish you had more balance to your opinion... It really does damage people within and outside the church when Christians don't get all the facts and take your cues from secular media... They don't cover the faithful. They cover the sensational and yes these people do things with opulence that makes it easy for them to focus on that... But what I am saying is that is NOT the whole story and I would expect someone of your caliber to be fair.... I won't go on... I am just disappointed!


Reviews by Mike Furches said...

Thanks for your comment David but I will strongly disagree with you on the points. Truth is you don't know who I have met, who I have seen and who I know regarding the issues posted. I can specifically say while it may be the norm to not travel in limo's I don't know, that certainly was not the case at the Mardell Store apperance in Tulsa Oklahoma several years ago. Withoug going into full detail, which I can do if need be, but out of respect am not. I have given enough detail to state I know what I am speaking of regarding this one apperance. Again, if wanting more, I will be glad to go into it. There are also some theological issues which I think are greater regarding some of the people mentioned.

Regarding judgment of others, Scripture never says don't judge, but it gives specific directives on how to judge. I am confident of that as well.

Regarding the article itself. Look at the origingal posting date, done shortly after the Ken Haggard episode. There are also many other things I could point out, mainly, because you seem to be critical of it is the criticism for not doing enough for the poor. I will point out the widows mite parable that Jesus tells in Scripture, just because someone gives a lot, does not mean it is a lot proportinately. In other words when emphasizing the wearing of diamonds and thousand dollar suits that many of these evangelist and pastors promote within their own families, and within the congregations they speak, they may do some for the poor, but in proportion, they are doing little.

Am I singeling people out? One of the things I have said in the past, is if the shoe fits. I will say, among many Christians, yours is one of only a very few responses in a negative way on this. Most who have read it agree with the points made, many who have also worked with some of these ministries.