As I write this, Houston is recovering from Hurricane Harvey. During the past few days one of the trending topics related to the disaster in Houston was Joel Osteen. Osteen is the pastor of the largest church in America, Lakewood, and folks have been trashing him because Lakewood Church was not immediately opened to receive refugees. Most disturbing to me were the many Christians lining up to gleefully attack Osteen because he is a “false prophet” or “heretic”.
For someone seeking God, there are many systems of belief to choose from. When those outside the Christian faith observe Christians openly and angrily attacking other Christians, what message does that send? While there is a time and appropriate place for lovingly correcting our fellow believers, we must consider the results of the system we are peddling to the world. Because we must not be deceived, whatever system of thinking we claim to believe we are selling it to others through its fruit.
In other words, if we claim to be Christians and further claim our faith is inspired and directed by love, then it is confusing to others when we act in unloving ways particularly towards those who are in our own camp. That is what has happened this week with Osteen. Christians have come out of the woodwork to blast him for his “un-Christian” response to the Houston flooding.
As ambassadors of Christ in the earth we represent Jesus to the world. We are His hands and feet. We carry His mind within us. We are the physical manifestation of Christ on the earth as His bride, the church. How we treat others is a clear indicator to the world of how Jesus will treat them. In other words, judge others the same way you want to be judged.
Here’s the question you need to ask yourself, my Christian friend: how does your belief system’s fruit taste? Your system of thinking, no matter how much it is based on some interpretation of the Bible, ultimately finds its expression in your actions. The fruit of your belief system is the proof of its intrinsic value. Or as my British friends might say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
This is what is most disturbing to me about the attacks on Osteen this past week. Not a theological issue or an interpretive one. Not an issue about Osteen’s finances or his response to the hurricane. What is most disturbing is the picture of Jesus painted by all those who lined up to throw stones at someone the world clearly sees as one of our own. After all, why would anyone who does not believe in Jesus make the assumption that Osteen, the pastor of the largest Christian church in America, is not a Christian?
So think about what you’re doing when you present the image of a church divided to the world. And consider the fruit of your belief system. If your system of belief is filled with vitriol and anger because other people just don’t “get it”, then perhaps you need to reexamine your foundations. Any system of thinking will bear fruit, and all we need do is examine the lives of its practitioners to see the end result.
Remember that Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” We are supposed to be the carriers of good news, of light, of life, and we are supposed to be the salt of the earth. When we angrily attack one another, when we are more concerned about our theological position and its “correctness” than we are about the lives of others, when our system of belief leads us to act like the world instead of like Jesus, then we should not sit back and click our tongues and wonder why everyone is so angry about the Nashville Statement, or why there’s no prayer in schools, or why gay marriage is legal, or why debauchery is on every television in our nation.
It’s a simple gospel. We must return to the roots of love. This does not mean we abandon theology or our biblical moorings, but it does mean we must reject the system of syncretistic thinking so prevalent in American churches today. Christianity is radical and it should be reflected in radical changes in thinking and action. Attacking someone we disagree with in an open forum and in a hateful way is not reflective of that change.
We can do better, Christians. We represent Jesus, let’s act like it.