Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr., of VOUS Church in Miami, preached a sermon this week at Kanye West’s latest “Sunday service.” While Wilkerson’s message contained some important truths, some might be troubled by the absence of a key part of the gospel message: that Jesus saves us from our sins.
“God is not mad at you,” said Wilkerson during his sermon. “He’s madly in love with you. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. Get a new narrative. It’s way bigger than that. He came to make dead people alive in him.”
The Kanye West Sunday Service
For several months now, West has been holding what he calls “Sunday service.” These services are exclusive events that, from pictures and videos leaked on social media, seem to be concerts with a Christian twist. Earlier this year on Easter Sunday, West held one such service at the Coachella music festival, which among other things, was a good reminder that people are spiritually hungry and look for meaning in many kinds of places. About 50,000 attended the two-hour event and watched West and artists such as Chance the Rapper and DMX perform gospel songs, West’s own music, and covers of songs by other musicians.
This past Sunday, Wilkerson, who officiated West’s marriage to Kim Kardashian, preached an 11-minute sermon you can watch on Instagram. Throughout the sermon, Wilkerson encouraged his listeners to turn their eyes to Jesus and to trust in Him.
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At the beginning of his message, Wilkerson made it clear that the purpose of the gathering was to worship God. “This is not a concert,” he said. “This is not a performance…this is an old-fashioned worship service of Jesus Christ.” He said that if people were feeling something, that feeling was not a “vibe” or “energy,” but rather, “the tangible presence of a living God.” Throughout his message, the people in attendance responded with clapping and “amens.”
Wilkerson made several valuable points in his sermon, emphasizing that believing in God is not the same as trusting in Him and stating that Jesus is the only way to God. At one point, Wilkerson almost seemed to be promoting a version of the prosperity gospel when he said that if we trust God, God tells us, “I will get you to the things that you’ve dreamed about, believed for, prayed for, hoped for.” Later, however, Wilkerson said that Jesus enables us to endure the trouble we experience in this life. Even in our suffering and heartache, we can have joy because, “Vision gives pain purpose.”
Wilkerson quoted from the Book of John as he spoke, including John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The pastor observed that nowadays, many find such an exclusive statement offensive. But, he countered, “I would ask you, is [Jesus] being exclusive or is he just being specific?” In a similar way that Wilkerson would tell someone travelling to his house from Key West to take I-95, when Jesus says that He is the only way, “Jesus is not trying to make you feel bad, he’s not trying to exclude you, he’s saying, I want to be so specific with you, because I love you so much and I am for you.”
Turning to Jesus…from What?
While many will find it refreshing that Wilkerson is willing to preach on Jesus’ exclusivity and the importance of trusting in Him, some might find it concerning that the pastor was not clear about what Jesus calls us away from. Wilkerson repeatedly stressed the importance of trusting, following, and surrendering to Jesus, but he never mentioned the Bible’s teaching that people fall short of God’s holiness or that Jesus is significant precisely because He sacrificed himself to save us from our sins. At the end of his sermon, Wilkerson did mention repentance, but he defined repentance simply as turning to Jesus—presumably instead of dealing with the troubling and confusing parts of life on our own.
Some might also find Wilkerson’s statement about making the dead alive to be unclear, depending on how good of a grasp his listeners already had on the gospel. On the one hand, it could be that Wilkerson is directing people away from a works-based view of salvation and pointing them to God’s power to transform hearts. But given his lack of clarity about sin, it’s possible some could take that statement to mean God is not concerned about the morality of our decisions.
There’s no doubt that West has the opportunity to point his fans to Jesus if he chooses to use his influence that way. But West’s famous egotism and his pricey Easter service merch are only some of the reasons why many, even those who are not Christians, find his Sunday services off-putting. It doesn’t help that West also recently filed an application to trademark the term “Sunday service.”
The fact that the Bible is being preached even at events West is leveraging for material gain is arguably something to be thankful for. But we hope and pray that as these events continue, the gospel message is able to come across with full clarity.