Writing Checks Your Faith Can’t Cash

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We, these United States are in what is, for us, hard times. Foreclosures abound. Unemployment is high. And inflation may well be warming up in the bullpen.  That said, I remain somewhat surprised at the news today that a particular church in southern California has recently declared bankruptcy, that economic hardship has touched this particular spot. With tens of millions of dollars of debt, and while being sued by sundry vendors who would like to be paid, The Crystal Cathedral is crying uncle.  The church, founded by Robert Schuller and now “pastored” by his daughter, was once the epicenter of a peculiar brand of American religion, the can-do, happy attitude, power of positive thinking gospel.  Schuller is the grandfather, if not the godfather of the entire church growth movement, his spiritual progeny running to Bill Hybels through Rick Warren and down to Joel Osteen. He first determined to grow his church by preaching the good stuff.

The Crystal Cathedral is not bankrupt because its message has begun to ring hollow. Donations continue to come in at a clip of $2 million each month. The church continues to bank on the wisdom of H.L. Mencken who told us that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people. It is instead bankrupt because its rosy projections of its own future were just too grand.

My prayer is that God will do a great work through this great hardship. There is, in a manner of speaking, some wisdom in the happy thoughts of such churches. That is, Jesus really did come to give us life, and life abundant. He really does love us. He really does work all things out for our good.  I believe this message is part and parcel of the gospel, right after that part about repenting and believing, and right before that part about taking up your cross daily. To pluck the happy news out from its biblical context is, in the end, to lie, to preach falsely.

We on the other hand, too often make the opposite mistake. We lie as well. We too pluck out this message of life abundant, not to preach it, but to hide it. We affirm, rightly, the need for repentance, for owning and grieving over our sin, and turning from it. We affirm rightly the horrible price Christ paid for our “free” grace. We affirm rightly that having been plucked from the fire we, as servants of the Master, should expect suffering and persecution for our faith. But we forget the fullness of the promise. We prefer to go through life as stiff-lipped Stoics, insisting on sneaking down to the servants’ quarters while our Father is preparing a feast for us, His once wayward but now forgiven sons. We refuse the ring and the robe, and think ourselves more spiritual for it.

God has blessed us. And God has blessed those saints who attend the Crystal Cathedral. He has given them opportunity to repent. He has blessed them with hardship that they might not make shipwreck of their souls. We ought not, when hearing such news snicker, giggle and rejoice, lest the Lord determine to turn his wrath on us. Instead we too ought to repent, for failing to guard the promises of God.  Our Father in heaven loves us, because Christ came and suffered His wrath, because His Spirit came and convicted us of our sin. And that is a check that will never bounce.

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