December 20, 2014

The Bad News of Self-Righteousness

By Chaplain Mike

My reliable source for the culture war, prosperity gospel, and all things “trend-a-gelical” is The Christian Post. They call themselves “the nation’s most comprehensive Christian news website…delivering up-to-date news, information, and commentaries relevant to Christians across denominational lines.” Actually, most of the time it’s like walking into a bad Christian bookstore with mostly bargain book quality material.

Nevertheless, it keeps me informed about what’s happening in some of the main rings of the evangelical circus.

Exhibit A: today’s article about Joyce Meyer, with the tagline, “Charismatic televangelist and bestselling author Joyce Meyer on Thursday opened up about the death of her younger brother David as part of a message on the life of self-pity versus the life of diligence and faith.”

I usually don’t bother commenting on such prosperity gospel mavens as Meyer, but this message is such a glaring example of the false “American Gospel” and prosperity message of self-righteousness that I am making an exception.

In Thursday’s message at the C3 Conference at Fellowship Church in Dallas, Joyce Meyer got personal. She told the sad story of her brother, a Marine Corps veteran who became addicted to drugs and whose life turned into a series of bad choices spiraling down to a tragic death. His decomposed body was found after Christmas in an abandoned building after he had gone missing for thirty days. He left only a few meager personal effects.

My jaw dropped when I read her comment. She said, “My personal effects and his personal effects are sadly different. What are your personal effects going to be when your time here is up?” Apparently a person’s life DOES consist in the abundance of his possessions.

This contrast became the sum and substance of her message: what made her life different from her brother’s?

Her text was John 5, the story of the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda whom Jesus healed. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed, he responded with self-pity, complaining, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (5:7) For thirty-eight years, the man had laid there without being healed.

Joyce Meyer likened this to what her brother did. “He (David) just wanted to lay by the pool another year, feel sorry for himself, blame somebody and remain crippled.”

Even though Meyer herself experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her father and had a difficult childhood, she chose another direction. Even though the crippled man in the gospel story couldn’t move much, Meyer suggested he could have at least wiggled to the edge of the pool. Applying this to herself, she testified, “I got tired of laying by the pool and I decided to wiggle.”

So, this is the application: “I think sometimes God has a miracle for people but he sees if they’re going to wiggle first,” she said. “Next time you’re having a pity party and want to give up, I hope the Holy Ghost whispers in your ear, wiggle!” Or, as the Christian Post summarizes the point of her talk: “it’s up to the person’s determination to follow God’s plan, not his circumstances, that allow him to reap God’s promises.”

And finally, the inevitable prosperity gospel mantra: “God operates on the seed principle of faith, Meyer pointed out. No matter how pathetic the attempt is, if we try our best then God will bless us, she said.”

Return of the Prodigal, Sorley

This is classic. So classic.

First, draw a stark dramatic contrast that captures the audience’s emotions and defines the “winners” and “losers.” On the one hand you have Joyce Meyer’s brother, who made an absolute mess of his life (read her message for details—and believe me, they are gory), and met the most tragic, dreadful end imaginable. LOSER. On the other hand, you have the hero—Ms. Meyer herself—world-renowned preacher and wealthy, happy Christian celebrity, with millions of books sold and TV programs broadcast all over the world, who overcame the worst odds and achieved the greatest success. WINNER.

Second, find a Biblical story that has a line or two that seems to apply and which confirms your point and your audience’s prejudices. The only line in the Gospel story that seems to apply at all to Meyer’s personal narrative is the complaint uttered by the paralytic. And she interprets it in remarkably American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” terms. You see, this man’s problem was not that he was paralyzed, but rather that he was expecting others to help him rather than try to help himself. And so he just laid there (for 38 years!) griping and complaining.

[Joyce! I want to shout. The man was paralyzed! He DID need someone to help him! Maybe it’s even part of the story’s lesson that a man like that could lie near the Temple for years without receiving any help.]

Meanwhile, the audience is nodding and agreeing. We all know people like that lazy paralytic! Won’t move a muscle to help themselves!

Question: Where’s the grief over Joyce Meyer’s brother’s death? If that happened to my brother, I would be devastated; probably so profoundly saddened by it that I couldn’t speak. Instead, less than two months after her brother was found, we not only get a profusion of words, we get a message that roundly condemns him for his wasted life and needless death. Condemnation! You can’t call it anything else. The big brother of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable apparently has a sister.

Third, leave the Biblical story altogether and make your own point, condemning the sinner and exalting the righteous. Somehow Meyer introduces the idea that this man had the capacity to at least “wiggle” himself over to the water by himself, but he refused to do it. Would you be surprised if I told you that is nowhere in the text? No, I’m not surprised either. Because this is not about understanding and living in the Biblical story, this is about making my story the most important thing, and forcing everything to fit to that. This is about taking the place of the Pharisee and saying, “Look at me. I did it right. But not him. He blew it when he had the chance. See here, the results prove it. Thank God I’m not like him!”

Fourth, drive home your point and motivate your audience to pursue this self-righteousness by trying harder, doing more, giving more. If you read the Gospel story, you don’t read anything about the paralytic’s faith, determination, willingness to “wiggle,” or any such thing. He simply utters his sad story, then Jesus takes over completely and says, “Get up and walk!” And the man does! This is not about making the right choices, being determined to lay hold of God’s blessing, or any such thing. It’s about Jesus and his power to heal with sovereign, loving grace, period.

But Joyce Meyer and those who preach the bad news of self-righteousness are not interested in Jesus. They only care about disseminating the great American dogmas of personal effort, positive thinking, and opulent prosperity. They care only about condemning those who won’t “wiggle” when they should be trying to pull themselves up out of the mire. Through our faith and determination, we have become winners, they proclaim. You can become winners too, if you’ll just get off your butts and do something to get God’s attention.

This is most definitely NOT good news in the spiritual sense. It has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. It serves only to enrich the prosperity preachers and enslave the audience in legalistic and moralistic self-righteousness. It is Christ-less, grace-less, hopeless “Christianity.”

In contrast, Jesus announced, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—the ones who have nothing to offer, who are spiritually bankrupt, who have no “wiggle” whatsoever in them. They have no “seeds of faith” to plant. They are the helpless ones, who have no resources whatsoever. They are the prisoners who can do nothing to set themselves free, the incurably blind, the lame who cannot move move a muscle to get into the pool when the angel stirs the waters. The message of self-righteousness has nothing to offer these people—who by the way represent all of us, you and me, and everyone who walks the face of the earth.

Joyce Meyer has disrespected the dead and done a disservice to the living with this message. Let us call it what it is—bad news of self-righteousness.

Shame on Christian Post and anyone else who promotes it.

Comments

  1. Scott Miller says:

    The prosperity gospel folks always use John 5 and the story of the paralytic. And indeed they teach that it was his fault. I was in this movement for many years, and it doesn’t take long before you present at the healing prayer line and say “I need prayer for…” and the pastor says “why don’t you have enough faith?”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I was in this movement for many years, and it doesn’t take long before you present at the healing prayer line and say “I need prayer for…” and the pastor says “why don’t you have enough faith?”

      Unspoken: “…like MEEEEEE!”

      Christian One-Upmanship strikes again.

      • victoria casler says:

        Everyone is accountable for their own actions like it or not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I’ve wondered for a while if the problem of the paralytic in John 5 was NOT that he made excuses for himself and that he was feeling sorry for himself, but that he *had* no way to get to the pool!! I notice that Jesus asked the question, “Do you want to get well?” and I have heard the interpretation that, because he’d been sick for 38 years, he must not have wanted to get well. His response–I have no one to help me to the pool–has usually been interpreted as him making an excuse for why he was in the shape he was in. But if he couldn’t move and had no one to help him, HOW could he have gotten to the pool?

  2. You know there was a time when I even thought about questioning a WOFer’s views that it would seem judgemental but I appreciate the explanations on why you need to examine things in light of biblical context & in light of Jesus’ Work on the Cross. It’s amazing what you can see as a result. I knew there were things that were off about JM but the promotions about her constant flow of books being a New York timesbest selling author just doesn’t seem like I could see Jesus & the Apostles doing all that
    as well as take the attitude to “teach” their folloers about their dead, decomposed, pitiful brother-that is just morbid.

  3. The main problem I have with this analysis is that it blurs the line between the utter helplessness of ourselves in need of salvation and the need to walk by faith as disciples, which is why James wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (Jas 2:18)

    I agree that Meyer makes a dog’s breakfast of her analysis and application of John 5, but I just don’t see all the implications of her errors that you do. What about this, for example? “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Is it self-righteousness to believe that God does reward us for faith and then to say so?

    • I think the objection here is that it is possible to judge her brother as lacking in grace or God’s favour because he died wretchedly. Possessions as a measure of God’s favour and hence one’s godliness does seem to be a stubborn addendum to Protestantism.

      Did he deny God, flee Him, reject Him? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. We don’t know. We certainly can’t know that he did not turn to God in the last extremity because he was poor, and being poor means you’re not iving a godly life.

    • Re: Hebrews 11:6

      D Taylor, but if you’re going to quote 11:6, you also need to see at least two more verses that come into play when describing the lives of specific individuals lived in faith:

      Heb 11:13 They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…

      Heb 11:39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

      For Meyers to make the judgmental comparison of their lives based on “personal effects” is at best unbiblically presumptuous and at worst self-righteous.

  4. It’s difficult to deal with a family member trapped in substance abuse, and I agree that if that person is a grown, legal adult, he or she has to make his own choices and accept responsibility for his actions. But I sincerely hope she showed more love to her brother when he was alive than she is showing now. There is no grief in this message, only the Pharisee’s attitude of “Thank God I’m not like that publican.”

    • Ruth Folger says:

      I agree with CJ- this lady preacher might be entirely different than her brother was- it is impossible to predict how anyone will react to and deal with a tough life from the beginning. Some do well, other struggle mightily, sometimes all their lives. She would do well to remember that, and to try do develop more compassion towards others. Not easy, but it seems like when some tragedy occurs like this, and the person is looked at more closely, sadly a lot of times after the person has died, one finds out many things, a lot of the time things that would have been terribly difficult for most people.

    • victoria casler says:

      You certainly did’nt spend alot of time reading and listening to Joyce did you?

  5. Growing up in the bible belt, Meyer and others who taught the prosperity gospel, were in the majority in most of the churches in my area. I always felt like I was one of few who questioned such ideals and references to scripture as being “not quite right.” My studies of the scripture as I went through college grew only to be a study to refute these false beliefs. After I had done enough refuting to feel solid, I was so incredibly burned out I quit reading scripture. Thank you for the passion of this blog and the ones who write it because it encourages me to get back into the scripture to learn and grow. You remind me I’m not alone in my questions and doubts of the popular interpretations of scripture.

  6. It might be time again to explain what the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies are, and the simple fact that true faith is entirely a gracious gift from God.

  7. I’m no Joyce Meyers fan; the prosperity gospel is a sad way to look at life, but there’s a lot of conversation here based on a little background history and one quoted line. I always like to be fair when I criticize, because the sword we use is often used on us. Too often my favorite Christian speakers are taken out of context because a critic had used a single sentence.

  8. It is nice to read anathemas of people like this.

  9. I would also like it if people like Joyce Meyer decided to read “the Virtue of Selfishness” or something else by Ayn Rand and then just be honest about it.

  10. The saddest part of all this is the people who are judging Joyce Meyer. No one but God has the right to judge her. She may have tried numberous times and she may have spent an enormous amount of time and money trying to save her borther. As christians we are not supposed to judge, but here you are judging her. Before any of us judge anyone , we need to walk a mile in their shoes. People misjudge people all the time with out bothering to find out what really happened. “Father forgive them they know not what they are doing”

  11. Ken L. (formerly The Seeker) says:

    Chaplain Mike
    I don’t think you have been entirely fair in your treatment of this story.
    Although I agree with much of what you have said, I think readers should decide that for themselves.

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/joyce-meyers-opens-up-about-brothers-tragic-death-49055/

    I will say outright I am not a fan of prosperity preachers, ultimately they may do more harm than good, but there is something to be said for the adage that people need to respond to the call of Christ (she may have meant this when she said wiggle). To me, there are kernels of truth in what she says. There is also some wood, hay and stubble.

    I was a messed up person when I came, but Jesus never forced me. In the end I had to say ‘Lord I am willing to follow you’. The rest was His grace. And I admit, He took the initiative in chasing me.

  12. Leslie Jebaraj says:

    Somebody please help Ms. Joyce Meyer!