Midnight in the Garden of Sin and Salvation: Part II

I think the blue ceiling is supposed to be Heaven, or something like that.  In part 1 we generally talked about how people are, more or less, interested in choosing the flavor of the message they receive from the pulpit. Of course this wasn’t a scientific study, and was based only on my experiences in how people have reacted to be being pulpit-bound. The consensus was that I should not be a loud, lame, boring, hellfire & brimstone preacher. Okay, that’s fair. Nobody wants to be berated or put to sleep every Sunday, so I can understand it to a point. My issue is the attitude towards sin and how that attitude has shaped modern society’s view of the Church, Christ, and his relationship with his people.

The most popular church in the United States, Lakewod Church in Houston, Texas, boasts over 43,500 people per week in attendance. Their pastor, Joel Osteen, has taken a unique approach to how we should “do church.” No crosses. No altar. No sin. Nothing but smiles and an encouraging message that tells us how much God wants us to prosper (very poignant in this economy, right?) You know what? It works. People eat this up. It draws people in by the tens of thousands. But to what end? Osteen puts it like this:

 “I think for years there’s been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you’re doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you’re not going to make it. We believe in focusing on the goodness of God.”

The reality is this. If you go to church, hear what you’re doing is wrong and still leave feeling like you’re not going to make it, you didn’t hear the gospel. Period. They didn’t do, as Lutherans put it, rightly divide the Word of God. Sure, you probably received an endless supply of law, and yes, law is necessary. But to preach law while neglecting the gospel is cruel, and it’s a misrepresentation of the work of Christ. The gospel IS the goodness of God. And if you think God is overly concerned with the earthly financial prosperity of Christians, perhaps you should seek out the opinions of our persecuted brothers and sisters lingering in hostile countries.

To not preach sin is to ignore the significance of Christ and the atonement. Essentially you remove the power of the cross, because if there is no sin to convict us, what was the point of the cross, anyway? It’s easy to quote John 3:16. Come on, you know it by heart: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV.) Good stuff, right? But step back a few verses and look at it more in context:

 John 3:14-16 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV.)

The cross is God’s grace and mercy in action, necessary for the redemption of all who claim the name of Christ, open to any and all who acknowledge their sin and believe in Jesus. When you take that away, what do you have left? I can’t be certain, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure that the preacher is smiling, and the thousands of people leaving the building are feeling pretty good about the motivational speech they just heard

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