On the death of Reformed celebrity pastor, Robert Schuller...

Error message

An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?  - Jeremiah 5:30, 31

Lately I had been thinking about the terrible betrayal of Gospel ministry by Robert Schuller. And then, yesterday, he died.

Back in seminary, one day our campus mailboxes had a gift placed in them. It was the latest book by Dr. Robert Schuller titled, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.

Taking the book out, I glanced at the title as I walked out of the mailroom and it stopped me short. It seemed inconceivable the seminary had allowed Dr. Schuller to distribute a book with this title through our campus mailroom! I'd never heard of the book, but the title clearly communicated Dr. Schuller's grand pretensions.

Riding the wave of Southern California's infatuation with all things superficial, Dr. Schuller was a celebrity Reformed pastor of national reputation before anyone had heard of Tim Keller or Mark Driscoll. Dr. Schuller had built a mega church on his particular seventies and eighties brand of glib preaching of the Word of God and his tickling the ears of his parishioners was unbelievably lucrative. Like every mega church pastor, Dr. Schuller had a keen eye for marketing and Evangelicals swooned over him and poured money into his church and ministry through television donations, book sales, and conferences. Americans have their super-heroes. Reformed Evangelicals have our super-apostles...

Dr. Schuller schilled for products that were a mongrel combination of Scripture phrases and psychospiritual schlock which, to a certain type of person, appeared deep and wise. But those who knew God's Word trembled for the man. He healed the wounds of God's Sheep falsely and what would they do in the end?

So here he was in the early eighties, all decked out in his dazzling robes, chipper as a chipmunk, flush as The Donald Trump, glib as all the hipster church planters, marketing-savvy as Mark Driscoll, and the money poured in. Puffed up with his success, Dr. Sculler convinced himself he stood in the tradition of Calvin, Luther, Kranmer, and Knox, preening himself over being God's agent of a new reformation of the Church. There was no wife, elder, fellow minister, or acquisitions editor willing to torch her or his cut of the profits. On the dole with Dr. Schuller, they all kept their mouths shut and applauded.

At an Acts 29 conference for lead pastors out in Boulder some years ago, I listened to Mark Driscoll go on and on about this and that person he knew, this and that number of people he "ran" every Sunday, this and that pile of money his church and ministry made each year, this and that number of this and that book he had sold; and Mark added that even Robert Schuller had come knocking! Mark bragged about being called to come speak at the Crystal Cathedral. In mock-shock, Mark promised us that no one had tried to tell him what he could or could not say.

It might have been a clue to a wiser man. A few years later the Hour of Power apparatus fell into an interminable family squabble and ended up, first, with a woman pastor (Schuller's daughter); then it went bankrupt.

The Church Jesus founded was built upon the Apostles and Prophets. Dr. Schuller's church was built upon Dr. Schuller. The Apostolic Church grew by means of suffering and martyrdom. Dr. Schuller's church grew by means of drama, robes, television, riches, and fame. The Reformation Church was built through the recovery of the Biblical doctrine of man's utter depravity—that from the moment of conception every last one of us is so terribly wicked and depraved that nothing but the free imputation of the active and passive righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ can save us. Dr. Schuller's church was built on self-esteem; which is to say, deception.

And his people loved it so.

True preaching of God's Word lays us bare to the utter holiness of God. True preaching destroys every vain imagination, and what is self-esteem but the worst sort of vain imagination? True preaching leads us to fall on our faces before our Lord and Savior Who is there on Golgotha, outside the city, suffering public nakedness, ridicule, shame, and separation from His Beloved Father. In our filth, there is no other way to save us.

Yesterday, preparing to preach on Ephesians 2:1-7, I saved reading Calvin until the very last minute:

...there is not one of us who is not in debt to God and must see himself to be a wretched sinner. ...we must needs be overwhelmed before His majesty until we are reconciled to him by our Lord Jesus Christ. ...every one of us carries sin with him even from his birth. To eat and drink are things proper to us all, but yet sin is more rooted in us than all the things that belong to this life.... As soon as babes are able to give any indication, it is certain that they will show enough and too much that they are forward and perverse, that there is a secret poison lurking in them, and that although they do not show it at first, yet they are like a brood of serpents. ...God must needs be our enemy, even as soon as we are conceived.

...there is not simply one evil blemish in us but an infinite number. Therefore, let us learn to detest ourselves, and to have ourselves in hatred and abhorrence, and afterward when we are come to the grace shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ, let us understand that, without that, the devil would necessarily have full and complete possession of us, and reign over us, as he has done before.

- Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians, "The Second on the Second Chapter."

This is the Gospel preaching Dr. Schuller robbed the souls entrusted to his care of, instead placating them with his "New Reformation" of self-esteem. Read Calvin's sermon excerpt above and ask yourself what Reformed Baptist, Presbyterian, or Dutch Reformed church in America regularly hears such proclamation of the depravity of man extending even to our wee ones from the moment of conception? What preacher of the Gospel would ever be so helpful as to speak of infants as being "like a brood of serpents?"

Yes, we need a new Reformation, one that will remove from us all hope of salvation by anything or anyone except the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father’s bosom came,
Who died for me, e’en me to atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!