Interior of the Crystal Cathedral; Garden Grove, California
Copyright 2007, Arnold C Buchanan-Hermit, all rights reserved
Used by permission

3 Advent Proper B3                              
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 Sermon                          
December 14, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
2 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
22 "From Heaven Above To Earth I Come"
41 "Once In Royal David's City"
6 "Hark The Glad Sound, The Saviour Comes"


TEXT (vs. 12-13):  "
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other."

            One of the things that pastors are taught to do, is not to directly criticize another pastor or another church from the pulpit.  This practice doesn't set very well with some people, because it gives the appearance that such people or their particular church are being unfairly picked upon.  And I can understand this.

            Now I can talk about and condemn false doctrine and unscriptural practices all day long; and that's fine, just so long as I don't point a finger at someone in particular.  In other words, the application is something that you, the hearer have to make.  Or, it is something that you can ask me about privately.  It's just not a good thing to publicly upbraid a particular individual or denomination.

            Okay now; I've said all of that in order to say this:  today I'm going to break that rule.  I figure that I've been at this over twenty years now, and if I haven't somehow earned the right to transgress good etiquette once in awhile, I guess I never will.  And I promise that I won't make a habit out of it either.

            On Saturday, October 25th of this year, a pastor by the name of Robert A. Schuller (who is exactly my age, by the way) was relieved of his duties as the main preacher for the Hour of Power television program.  The Hour of Power program originates from the Crystal Cathedral of the Garden Grove Reformed Church in Garden Grove, California.  Now I know that some of you watch this program, and I don't want to offend you; however I feel that this recent turn of events deserves some examination of their entire ministry. 

            Robert A. Schuller's father, the 82 year-old Robert H. Schuller began his ministry in Garden Grove in 1955, with the present Crystal Cathedral being erected in 1980.  In January of 2006, Schuller senior handed the reigns of the Hour of Power ministry over to Schuller junior, and he had been filling the pulpit up until his rather hasty removal.

            So what happened?  As 450 members of the Garden Grove congregation assembled on Saturday, October 25th, the senior Schuller read the following prepared statement:    "My son Robert A. Schuller and I have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry.  For this lack of shared vision and the jeopardy in which this is placing this entire ministry, it has become necessary for Robert and me to part ways."

            "...different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry"-so what might that mean?  What "different ideas" could the junior Schuller be doing that would have placed the entire ministry of the Crystal Cathedral in jeopardy?  What was so radical about him that prompted his hasty removal from the Hour of Power?  To answer these questions, perhaps we should take a closer look at the ministry of the Crystal Cathedral and Dr. Robert H. Schuller.

            The senior Schuller is an absolutely brilliant individual, and of course his son is no slouch either.  When Schuller began his ministry in 1955, he held services at a drive-in theatre.  He pulled a trailer behind his car with the organ inside, and his wife Arvella was the organist.  Dr. Schuller had his pulpit on the roof of the snack bar, and preached from there.  The people would come in their cars, dressed in casual clothing, and would sit there and worship without ever having to leave the comforts of their vehicles.  This was a novel idea that worked well.

            When the Garden Grove Reformed Church got big enough for their own facility, they constructed their first church building with a parking lot that was designed to accommodate those people who wished to continue worshipping the "drive-in theatre" way.  Even with the current 2,900 seat Crystal Cathedral, the drive-in facility is still in use, and is one of the more popular features.

            The church's ministry is what's termed as being "seeker sensitive."  What this means, is that the ministry is tailored to what the largest number of people want.  The Crystal Cathedral has spent huge sums of money employing marketing experts to determine exactly what will "sell" as far as the people are concerned.  This affects the way the service is structured (people like the TV variety show format), the music that is played, the hymns that are sung (even down to the number of verses used!), and of course the theology and message being proclaimed from the pulpit.

            One source describes the Schuller theology as follows: "Schuller has focused in his teaching on the positive aspects of Christianity. Rather than concentrating on condemning people for sin, he encourages Christians (and non-Christians) to achieve great things through God, uplifting theology and positive thinking."

            The Crystal Cathedral runs like a well-oiled machine.  So when the junior Schuller ascended the pulpit, this piece of machinery type church began to experience some mechanical difficulties.

            Christian columnist and writer Bill Keller had some insightful words on this subject:  "Over the past several years, viewer-ship of the weekly "Hour of Power" program has been down, which means their donations have been down, causing them to cut the program from its original hour to a half-hour in many markets. Schuller, Jr. preached a much more Biblically based message than his father, staying away from much of the ear tickling New Age rhetoric his father delivered for so many years. Schuller, Jr. actually said Jesus often in his messages, something his father rarely did. In the end, it wasn't about God's Truth but ratings and dollars. Schuller, Jr. learned the cold hard lesson that the Truth doesn't sell as well as the lie does, and his father is more interested in money than in bringing God's Truth into people's lives."

            Mr. Keller continues:  "So rather than using this weekly vehicle to bring the Truth of God's Word into people's lives, call sin what it is, and allow the Holy Spirit to bring people under conviction, the program will deteriorate into a weekly showcase of gutless preachers who will never look into the cameras and preach the Truth of the Bible, nor will they look into the cameras and tell people that without Jesus they will die and go to hell, and then give them an opportunity to accept the Lord [Jesus] as their Saviour by faith."

            I could go on with more, but I think you get the idea.  Just think of it-a pastor being removed from his position in the ministry because he preached too much from the Bible.  People were turning off their televisions and not donating because they weren't hearing what their itching ears wanted to hear.  The concept of sin and grace has been traded in for a "you can do whatever you want, you can be whatever you want" philosophy.  Sin is regarded as merely having a poor self-image, and has nothing to do with transgressing God's holy law.  And with that type of thinking, Jesus Christ becomes a personal enabler instead of a personal Saviour.

            This morning, our text is the Epistle reading appointed for this day.  Paul is concluding his first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica with an exhortation.  He says:    "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work."

            Perhaps people weren't giving the proper respect to those who were faithfully proclaiming the Word of God.  Maybe they were looking for something more like the Crystal Cathedral philosophy rather than what God wanted them to hear.  Maybe they wanted God to fashion himself according to their own whims and desires, rather than to be presented as he actually is.  And maybe they wanted a Crystal Cathedral type message, which is so watered down that it is designed not to offend anyone.

            This morning, John the Baptist is the focus of our Gospel reading for today.  Here is a guy straight from the wilderness, someone who eats locusts and wild honey, someone who dresses in crude camel hide, and he's preaching the message of repentance.  He's preparing the way for the Saviour by pointing out the sin of the people and giving them the hope of forgiveness through the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.  He's faithfully going about the task God wanted him to do.

            As I studied this, the Crystal Cathedral and the situation between the two Schullers came to mind.  If the senior Schuller fired his son for preaching too much from the Bible, what would he have done with someone the likes of John the Baptist, or the Apostle Paul, or the Apostle Peter, or even Jesus Christ himself?  I daresay that these guys wouldn't have stood a chance.  And speaking for myself, I would imagine that I'll be waiting a long, long time before I ever see an invitation to fill the pulpit at the Crystal Cathedral.  Go figure.

            John the Baptist was not a popular person.  He preached a powerful message, and he didn't care who heard it.  John didn't even hesitate to touch government.  Even though King Herod was fascinated by him, John still condemned him for his sinful marriage to his wife Herodius.  Herodius was so furious with John that she had Salome ask for John's head on a platter.  Being faithful to God doesn't always have the most pleasant results.

            Paul exhorts the Christians at Thessalonica to give due honor and respect to God's spokesmen who faithfully preach the law and gospel.  Being faithful often needs to be placed in sharp contrast with being popular.  Popularity in and of itself hasn't saved one soul; the faithful preaching of law and gospel has saved many.

            I'd like to share another quote with you from Bill Keller.  He says:  "The ONLY message we have is Jesus. Robert Schuller, Sr. is just another world-pleasing motivational speaker unless he tells people about Jesus. Robert Schuller, Jr. is just another guy who can talk unless he tells people about Jesus. The pastor of your local church is no better than the drunk at the local bar unless he tells people about Jesus....YOU have nothing but empty words for people unless you tell them about Jesus."

            And that's the bottom line right there.  Our congregation right here in Seward, our ministry and everything it involves is nothing but hollow words if we're not about the business of telling people about Jesus.  That's why we are here.  That's why we have a website.  That's why I write sermons each week.  If we haven't been faithful about presenting Jesus to the world, then we have failed miserably.

            Let's think about our own lives.  We're sinners in need of a Saviour.  We have fallen short of God's glory.  We've missed the mark of perfection.  And we've rejected him and run away from him.  We've done this many times too.  These are all faithful and true statements.  They're not popular statements, but true nevertheless.

            So where would we be without Jesus?  We would still be lost and condemned creatures running on the fast track on the road to hell.  The power of positive thinking and uplifting statements to that effect might make us feel good about ourselves, but like it or not, without Jesus we're still on the road to hell.

            The concept of having a good self-image isn't a bad concept however.  In fact, a good self-image is the result of the Gospel.  Let's think of all the positive things here.  God loves you...God provides for you...God wants you to spend eternity in heaven with him...God loved you so much that he sent his only begotten Son to this earth...Jesus loved you so much that he died for you...Jesus conquered death, hell, and Satan on your behalf...Jesus intercedes for you when you pray...Jesus promises to be with you always.  In fact, God loves you so much and wants to give you the gift of eternal life so badly, that he sends his Holy Spirit to you to create faith in your heart so you can accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour.  Can you think of a more positive and uplifting thing than how God interacts with our lives?

            It's all about Jesus and the message of the Gospel.  The special things we do this time of the year celebrate his coming to the earth as a baby, born of the Virgin Mary.  We hear the good news of great joy once again; we sing "God and sinners reconciled," because we know it's true.  And we travel once again in spirit to the city of David, to Bethlehem, to behold our new-born Saviour and king lying in a manger.  Indeed, it's all about Jesus, who is as the saying goes, the "reason for the season."

            Because of our faith in Christ Jesus, we also have a certain hope.  This is a hope that no amount of our own positive thinking can give us.  Therefore we can say with the hymn writer:  "And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love.  For that Child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above.  And he leads his children on, to the place where he is gone."