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Is Joel Osteen a False Prophet?

Before I get into the meat of this article and answer the question about Osteen's status as a New Testament Christian minister, first we need to look into his background. Having pastored a Church near Houston, TX in the late 1970's to the mid 1980's I am well aware of Osteen's rise to celebrity status. The church he pastors was founded by his parents - John and Dodie Osteen in 1959 in a feed store on the outskirts of Houston. John Osteen began his ministry as a Baptist but changed to the Charismatic persuasion. He authored some 45 books, established a TV ministry along with his wife and preached in conferences throughout the world. His positive message of prosperity and inclusion attracted many people from all walks of life and Lakewood Church soon grew to become a mega Church. While John Osteen preached a positive prosperity message, he also make the gospel clear and on occasion would teach the sinner-hood of the sinner, that is, that all men are sinners by birth and choice and need forgiveness that only God in Jesus Christ can offer. I know this to be true for I listened to many of his sermons as well as read his books. His passing in 1999 from a heart attack was unexpected and left his wife in control of the Church.

Joel Osteen who never attended a Bible college or seminary, made his imprint as a media producer creating the John Osteen TV program and making KTBU channel 55 a premier independent TV station in Houston. The  TV outreach soon reached a global market. After his dad's death, his mother appointed Joel as the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church. His syrupy smile and written messages (he never uses a Bible in the pulpit except to make the beginning proclamation at each service that the Bible is the Word of God) of positive prosperity caught on quickly and Lakewood has grown to be one of the largest churches in America. His style of preaching has helped him sell millions of books as well as make him a millionaire.

The first thing that is wrong with his pastoral status is that there is no teaching in the New Testament that a woman or mother can appoint a minister or pastor over the people of God. The apostle Paul, personally chosen by Jesus to plant churches all over Asia minor is the pattern and norm for how true Churches are begun. In many cases, when Paul reached an area to preach the gospel, a church had already formed, that is, Christians were coming together for worship. Paul would then appoint Elders to lead the Churches. One such elder was young Timothy whom Paul referred to as his spiritual son. When people are led by the Holy Spirit to form a Church, they usually seek a man of God via much prayer to lead them and depend on the Holy Spirit to send them His leader. At least this is the way things used to be done. In today's modern world, churches rely on resumes and recruiters to staff leadership positions. I can honestly say that of the five full and part-time churches I pastored, I never used a resume to find a Church. The Holy Spirit would put me in contact with a pastor-less Church that I knew nothing about. Usually I would receive a phone call from a pulpit committee saying someone had given my name to them. Usually but not always I was already praying about a Church. In one instance, I was not seeking a Church and it was only after several contacts that I agreed to talk to the pulpit committee. It turned out to be a good experience.

What should have transpired at Lakewood is that the people should have come together in prayer and sought the Holy Spirit's direction in choosing a successor to John Osteen. What if God had wanted to place someone other than Joel Osteen as pastor of Lakewood? Well, He never was given the opportunity for Dodie Osteen moved quickly to make her son the senior pastor that way the Osteen family  is in control of the Church which makes you ask the question - Is Lakewood God's Church or the Osteen's?

When Paul addressed his letters to the Churches, he often addressed them as follows:

To all the saints in Phillipi with the elders and deacons -Philippians 1:1.

In my book on the Day of the Lord..., in the last chapter, one section is devoted to explaining what is a true New Testament Church. A true New Testament Church is composed of the saints and deacons (servants) with Elder leadership. In Titus 1:5, Paul instructs Titus to set things in order in Crete that are lacking and to appoint elders in every city until he came. Notice who does the appointing of Elders. In this case it was the apostolic office conferred upon Titus by Paul who was directly appointed by Jesus to be an apostle to the Gentiles. True New Testament leadership in any city today would be an already established Elder body appointing proven elders to pastor and lead the Churches. However, we don't follow the New Testament pattern and today pastors are chosen by pulpit committees along with the members approval. I am not saying that is all wrong, but it is not how pastors or elders were appointed in New Testament days. Certainly there is no biblical basis of a mother self-appointing her son to lead and pastor one of God's Churches. The reason Joel Osteen was made pastor of Lakewood is to remain in control of the Church. This is one flaw of Charismatic Churches, a man and a woman start a so-called Church and become the pastor and pastorette of the flock thereby maintaining control. There is no Scriptural evidence for such leadership in the New Testament. In some cases a charismatic woman or man place themselves in leadership and control of a church. There is presently a dispute going on in a large Charismatic Church involving Paula White and the man who founded the Church. She contends she should be the pastor. However, the founder has sued her in a court of law not something that makes Christianity appealing to the world. I would tell Ms.White to go do something else as God has never called a woman to pastor one of His Churches and if I had time I could prove it with irrefutable evidence from the Scriptures. This is one of the problems plaguing the modern churches - not following the Scriptures in their literal and historical interpretation but twisting them for convenience and popularity. Paul warned of this in I Timothy 4:3 - For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and turn their ears away from the truth. The Greek meaning of heap is to pile up or pile on.

Did Dodie Osteen appoint her son as senior pastor of Lakewood according to her own desires or was he chosen to lead the Church as the Holy Spirit led the body in prayer to seek the man of God for the Church?  I cannot find in my research where a search committee was ever formed to find a pastor for Lakewood. As one critic of Joel Osteen says, "He was unwillingly thrust into the headship of the church." I remember watching him preach or try to when he first took over the leadership of the Church under his mother's watchful eye, he was extremely nervous and admitted he was not comfortable with his new role. However, once he decided what kind of pastor he would be, he found his niche in being a motivational speaker and not really an expositor of Holy Writ. The apostle Peter told the under-shepherds to feed the flock of God with the Word of God not give motivational speeches. The problem with Joel Osteen's style of preaching is that it is one dimensional and leaves aside a great volume of Scripture his flock never hears. This is the problem with topical preachers. Instead of preaching books of the Bible verse by verse, they choose a new topic every week and usually something they prefer of what the audience likes to hear. This way they avoid the difficult passages that address sin, judgment and eternal torment. Read all of the New Testament apostles letters and notice how many times they mention sin and judgment. In addition, they were not remiss to address the sins of homosexuality and adultery.  There are many passages in the Bible that don't make me feel especially good but are convicting and even disturbing like this one:

21 Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me, Lord, Lord, have we not preached in your name, cast out demons in your name and done many wonders in your name? 23 And then I (Jesus) will declare unto them, depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you. Matthew 7:21-23

I doubt Joel Osteen will preach this text as it is too negative to his chosen style of preaching. No man truly called of God decides that he is going to choose his own style of preaching rather He preaches out of his spirit what the Holy Spirit is revealing to him of God's Word and that means the sum total of Sola Scriptura not a narrow focus as the positive prosperity preachers are doing. I have not watched Kenneth or Gloria Copeland on TV in many years but one day I was searching for something to watch and came across the Copeland's program. It was identical to what I had heard some 15 years ago - the same old prosperity message and using the same words. Looks like the people would grow tired of the same old broken record. At the end like always they asked the audience for "seed money" not to bless the givers but to make the Copeland's wealthy which they are.

Now, lets look at Osteens background and some of his public statements and ascertain if they are sound doctrine.

According to one Real Estate Guide, the Osteen's house is valued at $1.3 million on sprawling acreage. They drive expensive cars and wear the finest clothing and jewelry. I understand but have not verified it, they all drive Mercedes as well as their children. ABC news investigated Joel and Victoria Osteen's extravagant lifestyle and how much money they made. They refused to make public their annual take from the Church. Osteen  probably makes enough money from his speaking engagements and books to where a salary wouldn't be necessary. I don't know if he is still receiving a salary from the Church. However, the fact is he and his wife have become very wealthy since he became pastor of Lakewood Church. Is this what pastors are supposed to do - become wealthy off of the saints?  No, it is not. Pastors are supposed to labor in the Word and teach the people how to become mature Spirit-filled disciplined believers. That kind of teaching and ministering is not going to grow mega wealthy Churches. 

Try to attend one of his national tour meetings without purchasing a ticket. None of his meetings are free. You must pay to hear him or you cannot get in the door. One critic wrote speaking of Osteen's wealth: 

[This should be outrageous to anyone who desires to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and recognizes that all things come from God. Could not this money be used to further the preaching of the gospel in other countries? If his book is so important, could this money not be used to give his book for free to anyone who asked him for it? Could this money not be used in a variety of good and righteous ways, rather than on himself? I am not suggesting that Joel Osteen ought to live like a poor person. But I am saying that he ought to live equally with the world he is trying to teach. I am saying that he ought to live equally with the majority of his congregation. Who can imagine Jesus to live in such extravagance and then preach, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20)? How could Jesus ever say, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24)? Joel Osteen has most certainly already received his reward.

Can anyone see Paul going through the major metropolises of the Roman Empire like Ephesus and Corinth and charging admission to hear his speak? Can you imagine Paul charging an entry fee into the school of Tyrannus where he lectured (Acts 19:9)? Perhaps Paul could have charged the people who came to hear him speak while imprisoned in Rome!

Perhaps Joel Osteen has not read this part of the Bible: “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-5; NIV). One of Pauls definitions for a false teacher is someone who sees godliness as a moneymaking operation.

This should draw outrage from everyone and cause all of his followers to leave him. This is the clearest evidence of all that this man is truly not preaching because he is compelled to save souls. Rather, he is compelled to make money and lots of it. Let us turn our eyes to the scriptures and not follow those who see the gospel as a way to make money.]

His Public Statements

[I remember quite well, Joel Osteen's appearance on Larry King live in 2009. He was wimpy, compromising and downright pathetic. When Larry King asked Osteen if he was a fire and brimstone preacher, his response was, "No, that is not me, I am an encourager and I don't believe it is my role to condemn anyone." I've always been an encourager at heart. . . . I don't have it in my heart to condemn people. I'm there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us. . . . I'm for everybody. You may not agree with me, but to me it's not my job to try to straighten everybody out. The Gospel [is] called the Good News. My message is a message of hope, that God's for you. You can live a good life no matter what's happened to you. And so I don't know. I know there is condemnation but I don't feel that's my place."

When King asked him whether people of other faiths who don't believe in Christ would go to heaven, Osteen replied, "You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know. . . . Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe." Later when asked about atheists going to heaven, he added, "I'm going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell. I just—again, I present the truth, and I say it every week. You know, I believe it's a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? I'm not going to go around telling everybody else if they don't want to believe that that's going to be their choice. God's got to look at your own heart. God's got to look at your heart, and only God knows that."]

Now I ask you, read Osteen's comments very carefully and see if you can find a clear gospel in anything he said. No, he dodged the direct questions and tippy-toed around the truth making sure he did not offend King (a lost Jew) and his audience. In that same interview, King asked Osteen a specific question if he believed all other faiths were going to hell such as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu's etc. Osteen remarked that he went with his father one time to India and met some fine people and that no, he did not believe they were going to hell if they were sincere in their hearts. Well, can you imagine how Larry King felt, a lost Jew? He heard what his question was seeking - that he was okay being a Jew without  saving faith in Jesus. The Lord sitting at the right hand of the Father must have looked upon Osteen in disgust for not making the gospel clear. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul giving the answer Osteen gave? Not in a hundred years for Paul would have been bold and told Larry there was only one God and one way to the Father in heaven - by the Lord Jesus Christ and His blood stained cross.
[King later asked Osteen about abortion and same-sex marriages, to which Osteen replied, "You know what, Larry? I don't go there."

On the use of the word "sinners," he said, "I don't use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don't. But most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don't go down the road of condemning."]

That is the most pathetic presentation of the gospel I have witnessed by a so-called minister of the gospel on national TV.

Osteen under fire from evangelicals over the King interview, later wrote a letter of apology for his wimpy performance, yet the damage was done as a large number of unbelievers who watched the program no doubt felt secure in their religion or none.

Apparently, his letter of apology had little meaning for he recently appeared on Oprah Winfrey and made some of the same compromising statements. I saw the interview. Oprah asked him to explain to her audience how someone can know God. Remember, Oprah is a New Ager. Osteen stumbled and stuttered and said he believed God wanted to have a relationship with everyone and so that was his positive message - that God was not condemning people but wanted to have a relationship with them. The problem is that he did not tell her how to have a relationship to God which is repentance of sin and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, as he told Larry King - he doesn't deal with sin.

What does the Bible say is the Holy Spirit's role is in the world? 

John 16:8-11 NKJV

8 And when He [Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:  9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me;  10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;  11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 

In saying he is not going to preach about or against sin, Osteen is usurping the Holy Spirit's role in convicting the lost of inherent sin. If anything, he is being disobedient to the commands of Jesus. For the gospel message to be accurate, it must include sin for that is the reason Jesus went to the cross - to pay the price for our sin. People do not get saved by hearing a positive message based on material wealth and the goodness of mankind. No, they are saved when the Holy Spirit by the Word of God - the gospel message - convicts them they are sinners in dire need of salvation. The Holy Spirit convicts of righteousness which is centered in one person - God in all three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mankind has no righteousness of his own. It has to be given him or placed to his account by Jesus death, burial and resurrection. What the Holy Spirit actually does is to show man that he lacks any righteousness and to do that, He must first convict him or her of having a sin nature that cannot be refined or improved. It has to die and Jesus nailed it to his cross, so we could be placed in right standing with God which is what righteousness it. Righteousness is the absence of any sin. God has no sin and is perfectly righteous. Mankind inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve and is proven by many acts of sin. The other convicting action is judgment. What is that?  To show that God has judged Satan and mankind's sin in Jesus Christ and mankind no longer is under the bondage of sin and judgment.. However, if the sinner rejects God's salvation in Jesus, then he or she will face the judgment to come and be consigned to the Lake of Fire which is prepared primarily for the devil and his angels.

By failing to preach the true gospel, Osteen is guilty of disobeying the Holy Spirit's primary ministry to a lost world. Even Christians sin and have to be reminded that daily confession of sin is necessary to cleanse the conscience from condemnation and to maintain fellowship with God.

Oprah Winfrey asked the question that all TV hosts ask a popular Christian - What about homosexuals, do you think it is a sin and do you allow them in your Church?  To that question, he took the easy uncommitted path by saying that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin so he would have to say it is a sin. Instead of emphatically saying, Yes, I do believe it is a sin for the Word of God in both Old and New Testaments declare it not only a sin but an abomination.  Then he told her that he did not condemn homosexuals and THAT THEY WOULD GO TO HEAVEN and were welcome in his Church.

Wow, what a denial of New Testament truth.  First, no homosexual that does not repent of that deviant lifestyle and accept Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior attested by a changed lifestyle, is going to heaven:

Ephesians 5:5 NASB

5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 NASB

8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

Revelation 21:8 NASB

8 " But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Revelation 22:14-15 NASB

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Now, it should be clear that no immoral or homosexual person who does not repent and turn from that lifestyle will enter the kingdom of heaven in the life to come. So, who is right, Joel Osteen or the Word of God?

Concerning homosexuals in the Church, Osteen's comments show a serious lack of understanding of what the Church is. Here is the Bible's verdict upon unrepentant practicing homosexuals in the Church:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NASB

9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

This is a strong statement, but not one open for debate. Do you think Osteen has read this verse and if so, why doesn't he believe it? Only one reason, he could not have an all-inclusive Church that is popular even with the world that would make him the rich person he is today. If he preached the truth, his following would dwindle and he may have to live like the majority of his flock.

Hebrews 12:14-17 NASB

14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

The Greek meaning of "the sanctification"  is to be set apart unto holiness which is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believers life and the on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit to separate the believer to live a holy and righteous life on this earth. Notice it says anyone without this holiness will never see the Lord.

Ephesians 5:11 NKJV

11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, rather expose them.

1 Corinthians 10:20-22 NKJV

20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

My good friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Allbright who has an international deliverance ministry, says that all homosexuals have at least one demon and maybe more. Why? They live a lie 24/7 and have chosen to believe a lie. Therefore, they have opened themselves to demonic invasion and oppression. So, if you allow homosexuals in your church and you partake of the Lord's Supper or communion, you are joining the Lord's table to demons. Paul says that will provoke the Lord to jealousy. How?  The Lord is a jealous God meaning that he guards the things that are holy unto Him. The Lord's table is a spiritual union with God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which is all about holiness and righteousness. To invite people who are unregenerated and having demons to partake of Holy communion is blasphemy and will bring the judgment of God upon that Church.

So how do we appraise Joel Osteen by all of  the above. Is he a false prophet and is he guilty of preaching "another" gospel. Yes, he is on both counts. If anything less, he is guilty of spreading heresy and Paul warns not to associate with a heretic - Titus 3:10. 

A deacon once told me in a Church I pastored that no matter what I preached or taught, I always made the gospel so clear a child could understand it. That is perhaps the greatest compliment I have received in my 40 years of Christian ministry.

Dr. Allen Barber