Sunday, April 5, 2015

Robert Schuller: Reflection

The Reverend Robert Schuller passed away last week, a fixture in Orange County circles, and a motivational speaker/evangelist well-known around the world.

His theological take on issues concerned pastors and teachers, many of whom believed that he was watering down the Gospel, and promoting man's efforts instead of Jesus' work at the Cross.

In many ways, those critics were right.

Much of the glitz and glamor in the Crystal Cathedral, the meeting place for Robert Schuller and his growing congregation for decades, did not rest on the authority and revelation of the Scriptures, but in psychological pep talks.

In fact, this obituary written about Schuller reveals a stunning and disturbing element: that the name of Jesus is not even mentioned, even in quotes from the now deceased Reverend.

Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were saddened by the passing of a man who offered them "unfailing kindness and wise counsel" during Bill Clinton's presidency.

"From the people who filled the pews of the Crystal Cathedral to the millions who embraced his ministry on television and through his books, Robert Schuller was a beacon of faith, hope, and love," the Clintons said in a joint statement.

To me, that statement spells out the problem with Schuller's ministry. Not just that he was friends with the Clintons (themselves of dubious moral character), but that they viewed Schuller as the "the beacon of faith, hope, and love".

Robert H. Schuller quote #7
Jesus did the Great Thing for us -- that's what we needed to know about
The beacon, that Savior, is Jesus Christ, not a pastor.

Once a ubiquitous presence on Sunday morning television, Schuller faded from view in recent years after watching his church collapse amid a disastrous leadership transition and sharp declines in viewership and donations that forced the ministry to file for bankruptcy.

What happened to the Crystal Cathedral, and what is happening to churches all over the country, that they are closing their doors in record numbers? Their light is getting put out, because they do not honor Jesus Christ, or rather Christ Jesus, who today is gloriously seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus prophesied about this collapse of churches in Revelation:

"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Revelation 2: 5)

The soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral — the touchstone of Schuller's career — was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011. Schuller lost a legal battle the following year to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry over claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.

The love of money came to define Schuller's ministry instead of the love of the Father. How very disappointing. Yet based on the theme of what he preached, can anyone be surprised at the slow yet visible demise of his business?

Schuller's message — that "possibility thinking" and love of God overcome hardships — was a uniquely American blend of Bible and psychology. It was inspired by late author Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking." Schuller also wrote more than 30 books, including several best-sellers.

What we need is not positive thinking, but a positive revelation of the perfect sacrifice which Jesus fulfilled at the Cross. Once again, where is the discussion, the revelation, the preaching about all that Jesus has done, is doing, and what He will be forever more?

Unlike other televangelists, Schuller's message lacked fire-and-brimstone condemnations or conservative political baggage.

In too many churches, men and women have abandoned the one crucial politic: Christ the King, and His reign is a blessing to all of us, as He invites us into His life to reign with Him (Romans 5: 17).

"The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person," he wrote in his book "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. "Rather, we have started from the 'unworthiness of the sinner,' and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology."

In a way, Schuller was right. We do need to stop focusing on the shame of sin and the human being. Why? Because of Jesus, the Perfect Man at the Father's right hand, who has paid for all our sins, taken us from dead in our trespasses to alive and seated in heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 2: 4-6). The solution is not more self-esteem, i.e the Way of Cain, but rather more esteem for Jesus and all that He has done, the paths of righteousness, for He esteemed us far more than we could ever esteem ourselves.

Fundamentalists attacked him for statements they believed denied the need for personal repentance of sin.

That is true. Man needs to repent, and believe the Gospel. Where was the preaching about the justification by faith? That is what the Gospel is all about.

Crystal Cathedral (Garden Grove, CA)

Obituaries about Schuller dwelled on the public fight over leadership in the Hour of Power ministry, in which the Robert A Schuller was granted brief power, but then removed from the ministry. What was the source of this feud? Perhaps the younger Schuller wanted to bring in more attention to Jesus, rather than man. The disorderly bitterness between the two shows a lack of unity in Christ, that is certain, and very sad. This fight served as the precursor to the growing financial decline of the ministry, too. What caused the ministry to fold? I submit that the self-help, think-away-the-pain "gospel" turned off a lot of people who found that all their efforts and self-righteous acts did very little to stem the economic fallout. After two decades of trusting trusted in its own efforts rather than relying on the grace of God, the global turmoil of trusting one's riches and self-righteousness pre-eminence fell through, and all the good thoughts about oneself could not cover that up.

This indictment was the most damaging of all:

Bankruptcy filings indicated the ministry was paying significant tax-exempt housing allowances to Schuller family members and insiders. The allowances were legal, but they raised concerns among church creditors who had gone unpaid for months.

What?! Is it any surprise that many Christians do not tithe to any ministry at all? The antidote to this skepticism, returns back to the Word:

"And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth." (Hebrews 7: 8)

Our tithes testify that Jesus lives! So what if any one ministry takes or defrauds? We are not tithing directly and finally to one ministry, but to Jesus, our High Priest Forever!

Robert Schuller, in later years (Wikiportret)

Final Reflection

American Church-ianity has focused too much on man and his accomplishments, rather than Jesus and His Finished Work. The self-help self-reliance, Americana cult has crept into churches around the country, and to this day I rarely find a church where men preach about Jesus, a living Savior who lives and reigns in us.

Now, formerly mainstream churches are embracing false, disordered doctrines like homosexual marriage, abortion, and even "fair trade" economics, all of which reject sound scientific and economic principles. Taking lessons from Robert Schuller, himself a failure resulting from his drift from the Revelation of Christ and Him Crucified in the Word, pastors are investing in pyrotechnics and glamor, good music and nice food after the service, rather than the Living Word and Bread of Life who feeds a hungry world.

What can we learn from Pastor Schuller, then, which can help the Body of Christ stand strong and triumphant in a dark, sighing, crying, dying world?

We need to see more of Jesus, not more of ourselves. We do not need steps to living, but rather Life, who has stepped into our existence to bring us to Life, to Himself.

Today, the traditions of political conservatism, where "God and country" has replaced "God, then country". Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, yes indeed, yet many Christians have confused the building where they conduct Sunday worship with the Head, the Source. The Church is not a building, but a person, and we are all members of His Body. We do not create or manifest Him.

Rather, He made us, died for us, redeemed us, and lives in us forevermore.

If there is any lesson why draw from the life, failings, and death of Robert Schuller, we must remember our First Love, Jesus, and do the first works: Believe on Him, and love one another!

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