The Pen

Why Lifeway Sells Contraband

Why is it that the big shots of the Southern Baptist Convention don’t bat an eye when clear and obvious evidence is presented to them that their publishing arm sells heresy such as JoelO and TD Jakes and Joyce Meyer? Don’t they know that these people who are presented as teachers to the evanjellyfish world are poisonous snakes and false teachers who will lead their adherents straight to Hell?

Let me venture a hypothesis on that topic. It’s not because they are ignorant. It’s not because they are fine and godly strategists. It’s not because they know better and have good reasons for what they do; how could they?

It’s because, at the heart, they don’t actually disagree with JoelO and Jakes and Meyer.

These men act the way they do because they aspire to be like Joel Osteen and TD Jakes when they grow up.

What is holding them back? It could be any number of things. The tradition in which they grew up, too far a distance from which they are loathe to wander. The daunting task of raising up a new posse of sycophants whom they might lose if they let too much of their true selves be known (though in this I might be giving said entourages too much credit). The prudence of not intruding on another man’s turf when there’s plenty of gain ripe for the taking on this side of the fence.

I know what their reasons are not.

  • A desire to be faithful to Jesus. How could it be when they not only don’t live out the examples of the apostles and prophets, but they in fact fit quite nicely the role of those who opposed them?
  • A zeal for biblical teaching. Which is easier – to hold an unpopular opinion, or to make that opinion known and to live it out consistently in the face of adversity? Yet these men don’t even try, don’t even stick up for the consistent proclamation of the correct propositions to the people for whom they claim they are spiritually responsible.
  • Loving pastoral care that the people who look up to them would know Jesus well. If it were, they would show what it means to follow Jesus. They would set an example of self-sacrifice rather than Armani suits, big time travel arrangements and conference appointments, professional photoshoots, gladhanding politicians and big shots, demanding parsonages with a swimming pool when they move from minor league churches to big league ones, and six- or seven-figure salaries. They would refuse titles like “President”, and would certainly object to being called “Mr. President” 400 times during the course of the day. They would take very seriously the fact that their “flocks” are putting them up on a pedestal and would act and speak in such a way as to disintegrate that pedestal.
  • A care that equality of all men, poor and wealthy, under the lordship of Christ be the order of the day. See above.

They have no principled reason to push back against JoelO. That’s why they don’t do it except when it makes them look good (and even then, only sometimes). That’s why what they teach half the time sounds a lot like Joel and treats the Bible in the same slipshod, loose, and obtuse way. That’s why they live like him and construct massive church campuses and buildings like he does, minus the most ostentatious outbursts (like charging admission for “Nights of Hope”) that would offend too many of their target audience. They’re just as careful for their image as Joel is.

It’s strange to me that their self-interest doesn’t extend to being very careful to remove the competition that JoelO offers to their own little kingdoms within the control that they have, but then again, perhaps Satan has learned a lesson or two in the 2000 years since Jesus said “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26). And of course, only a fool would accuse Satan of steadfast consistency.

I know that you, dear reader, probably think the preceding rant is too harsh. I urge you not to be like the listeners who heard the Messiah’s lips utter what they did in John 6 or Matthew 20 or 23, or what that Messiah inspired Jeremiah, for example, to preach from the gates of the Temple into which these men’s spiritual forebears had denied him access. Why is this “convention” taking place in such a sumptuous setting? Why the evidence of wealth all around? Why the travel expense? And then why the talk about “we can fund an increase of missions through sacrificial giving!” and suchlike, as if their very event and presence didn’t militate directly against such a thing! It is all upside down, as if the very lifestyle and salary of the fat cat saying it didn’t render it all so absurd!

When all other options are exhausted, what else are we left with? However improbable it may seem, take a really close look at what’s going on. Watch the live stream. Think about the way that the actions taken, the money spent, the priorities upheld, reflect the precise opposite of what is proclaimed on stage, the way these men talk to each other and preen before the cameras. Think about how Jesus and His apostles dressed, what they experienced, in what way their godliness was proven. Think about how these men’s so-called godliness has been allegedly proven by, again, the precise opposite of how it was in the men whom we are supposed to see as the foundational examples of our faith.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

(Hebrews 11:24-27, 35-40)

You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

(1 Corinthians 4:8-14)


[Contributed by Alan Maricle]