Note: This is not an indictment on the eternal state of Whitney Houston’s soul. God will do right regarding what everyone deserves in the end.
I happened upon Whitney Houston’s funeral service yesterday while channel surfing. I only caught the last 45 minutes or so, but the last message caught my ear.
Pastor Marvin Winans delivered the eulogy at New Hope Baptist Church; Winans seems like a passionate articulate leader. But with stars from around the world in attendance and an audience of millions in television attendance, he dropped the proverbial gospel ball a bit. To his credit, when bringing up Matthew 6:33, he did stress the “Kingdom of God and His righteousness” before all things be added to us. But righteousness was equated to merely right living, not the righteousness that is only given through the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ. Pastor Winans last sermon point he stressed to the listening masses was this: We need to “keep God first” and make Him “our priority” in all things. I agree with him, but what gives us the strength to carry out such an impossible task?
Let me say I know I may be looking through all this with a negative lens. My wife is always surprised by my ability to find the touch of grey in every silver lining. Sometimes I seriously wonder if God has given me the spiritual gift of discouragement. : )
I really don’t know what gospel Whitney heard throughout the duration of her church life. There may have been some thorough biblical Christ centered teaching that she accepted or rejected at one time. But I am treating the message at the funeral service as a microcosm of the broader message most people hear from American Christianity:
The gospel of behavior modification.
This type of gospel when fully lived out will lead well meaning men to become “twice the sons of hell” they once were (Matt 23:15). It is certainly powerless to lead any man or woman out of the grim demonic grips of drug and self addiction.
Did Whitney hear on a consistent basis that sinful man had to pull himself up by his own boot straps, activate his own faith, or just rearrange his lifestyle to fit God’s standards? I hope not. Because that gospel only births desperation in the hearer. Though it masquerades as a gospel of grace, that gospel is actually the bad news of law keeping mingled with very little good news. Jesus said the flesh “profits nothing” (John 3). Paul said the purpose of the law was to “reveal sin” (Romans 3). James said to fail in one letter of the law is to be “guilty of all of it” (James 2)
Our greatest issue is not that we are merely failing to be Christlike. That’s a given. Our greatest issue is that we are dead in our sins and need supernatural resurrection in Christ (Ephesians 2).
As Pastor Tullian Thcividijian says: “Jesus came first to effect a mortal resurrection, not a moral reformation-as his own death and resurrection demonstrate.”
I’m sure over the course of her life Whitney Houston probably heard the gospel of self-fulfillment, the gospel of behavior modification, and maybe even the prosperity gospel. But this may be the saddest commentary of all regarding Whitney’s death: Despite her Christian heritage I don’t know if she ever consistently heard the gospel of the bloody righteous Savior Who lived a perfect life she never could live, and died a perfect death she never could earn. This is the undeniable understated gospel with a resurrection power that can obliterate the deepest sins, weaknesses, and addictions.
Did Whitney ever hear this clearly? Do we?:
God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)
A tragedy is a life lived in utter bondage. But an even greater tragedy is life everlasting in total bondage. May the biblical gospel we preach always address and free the captives of both.