Archive for March 17th, 2008

17
Mar
08

The shit list

ultron.jpgBig Man brought up an interesting and very valid question in the comments for yesterday’s post about my use (perhaps even overuse) of swearing in this blog. I mean, the very title has a foul word in it, so I’m pretty much in people’s faces from the get-go when it comes to cursing. I’m not going to stop using blue language, but aside from the title of today’s blog, I’m going to see if I can get good and irritated today at various groups and people without resorting to the language. Hey, we all need some time off. I might even take tomorrow off in terms of trashy lingo, too, and talk about some things I really like. 😉

So, what’s today’s topic? I’m going to call out some individuals or groups that just really get under my skin (and all of you should expect a visit from my angry robot above to set you straight). As a former Catholic, let me start with…

The leadership of the Roman Catholic church

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a Catholicism hater and I’m not in favor of promoting all the Protestant-Catholic antipathy that even managed to spark warfare between the two major portions of Christianity in Northern Ireland. Yes, I have referred to myself as a “recovering Catholic” but the fact is, I believe that a person can come to faith and salvation every bit as easily in the Catholic church as in a Protestant one. For me personally, I went to church often enough as a Catholic, but I don’t think I was born again until I started going to a Protestant one.

Why? Because I was bored out of my skull most of the time and being fed like an infant non-stop. Paul tells us in the Bible that we often need to start our faith walk with milk before we can move on to the meat, but the problem is that Catholic leaders seem by and large to want to keep feeding parishoners milk forever. I’m not talking about the priests or even pastors, but almost every pope who ever lived, the vast majority of cardinals, and most of the bishops as well. Catholic mass is based on ritual, repetition and very little actual learning. Sermons are typically 20-minutes at best, surrounded by a litany of the same set of prayers and lots of getting up and down from one’s knees.

Contrast that with a Protestant sermon that could easily run nearly an hour…or perhaps well over an hour, in addition to all the hymns and opening prayers and such. The difference? Catholics get fed a few brief readings and a tiny bit of insight from the priest, and they are hardly ever encouraged to read the Bible on their own time. It’s not that they’re discouraged from it either, but rarely are they told, “OK, make sure you read this stuff in prayer yourself and do it often.”

And don’t get me started on all the rules that Catholicism implemented on its own, like, oh, the confessional. Jesus’ atoning death for us was so that we could go straight to God to acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness and gain strength to move on…not for making us go to a priest and be given a certain number of “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers to say.

And the “infallibility” of the pope drives me nuts as well. When one pope might say one thing and then that gets overruled later by another pope, how can we take it seriously that any pope is speaking with God’s absolute authority on matters of faith?

OK, I’ll end my rant here. Again, Catholics are fine…Catholic leaders often scare me.

Word of Faith movement

My wife and I went to a church recently that seemed nice at first. Young people mostly (well, relatively speaking), good music that glorified God and rocked (often literally), and a very social atmosphere in addition to getting into the Bible and delving into the power and importance of the Holy Spirit.

Then this small start-up church started to go wrong, and we finally realized it had gone off the deep end into the questionable world of the “word of faith.” Also referred to by things like “name it and claim it” and “prosperity ministries” and “health ministries,” this is a dangerous place for a lot of churches to go. The principle is that the strength of your faith should bring you financial security and health. Now, I’m not saying that’s entirely wrong, but God doesn’t intend for all of us to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Wise, yes…but healthy and wealthy aren’t always on the menu.

Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” (some kind of unspecified physical ailment) and despite asking for it to be taken away from him, God said no. If someone as spot-on and faithful as Paul doesn’t get everything he wants, why would the rest of us? And if you think Paul was rich…or wanted to be…you’ve got another think coming.

Yes, blessings can come to us through God, particularly when we remain strong in our faith. But it is also Satan’s job to keep the born again folks from spreading the gospel, so he throws wrenches into the works all the time. The thing with being born again is to lean on God for our strength and for our ultimate protection from being torn down to the ground. To expect him to be a cosmic ATM for us is both unreasonable and disrespectful.

But the scariest thing about a church that is heavy into the word of faith movement is the way that they can sometimes throw their people to the wolves. The church we were in did that. Heaven forbid you should be sniffling and coughing and say, “I think I’m coming down with a cold.” That was against God and you should be saying “I’m not sick.” If you can’t pay your bills, you need to pray harder and God will meet all your needs.

Now, I admit, I’ve hit tough times and cried out to God in prayer, and have seen just the perfect amount of help (often money) come out of nowhere. But it’s neither a sure thing nor is it something that is there to make me rich. Jesus led a pretty humble life in terms of wealth and possessions.

But as I was getting at, the worst thing about churches that go so far into this area is that they have this way cutting off folks who don’t drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. If you aren’t getting ahead in life or feeling better, particularly after they’ve prayed over you as a group and spoken in tongues or anointed you with oil or whatever else…then it must be your fault. You aren’t faithful enough. You must not be really born again. And then you get slowly shut out or even asked to leave, because you aren’t really a child of God as far as they’re concerned.

And that just makes me sick that churches that are supposed to be supporting and lifting their members up would just turn away from someone and get such a holier-than-thou attitude.

Joel Osteen

I’m not sure whether to be mad at the “smiling pastor” or to grieve for him. Years ago, when his father, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Texas, died, his son Joel stepped up to the pulpit. His church was big and popular and he televised his sermons and I loved him. He was young, personable, and spoke really well. He was often modest, noting that he had always wanted to stay behind the scenes until his dad died and he felt called to the pulpit, and he spoke about God and Jesus in ways that were so positive and uplifting.

And then his church got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. He got more and more popular. And suddenly it became about him. People still love him. He’s getting huge book deals. He shows up on TV. But I’ve checked out his sermons in recent years, and I don’t know when I last heard him mention Jesus at all. He’s life a self-help guru now. Not a pastor. He seems reluctant to whip out Jesus’ name or speak the simple truth that we need Jesus for the sake of our souls. He sold out.

Thing is, he probably never meant to. Probably doesn’t realize he has. But I knew several years ago something was going wrong when the Web site URL for his church suddenly changed from lakewoodchurch to joelosteen. And it reminds me of something my father-in-law, a reverend himself, has always said: “If Satan can’t push you, he’ll pull you.”

In other words, if he can’t knock you down off your faith, he’ll give you money and success and let yourself destroy yourself. It happened with Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, two people who might not have always been perfect but whom I think started out with the right intentions. It’s happened with others as well. And what Joel Osteen found was that he drew more people to him the more he talked about lifting ourselves up and the less he talked about giving ourselves to God and putting our faith in Jesus Christ. And so he kept talking more and more about what people wanted to hear and less about what they should be hearing. And he’s getting paid well for it. And his church is a mega-church that, as far as I know, puts all other mega-churches to shame in terms of its gargantuan number of members. But I wonder how many people in that multitude are getting lost spiritually, or being led down the wrong path.

I hope he finds his way back. And soon.

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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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