Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Whose Gospel Are We Following?

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" --Galatians 1: 6-9 (NIV)

Why do some people leave the truth of the Gospel? It’s amazing that such a thing is even possible. Certainly Paul seems surprised by it when he says that he is “astonished” that some people were doing just that. We sometimes like to call such people “backsliders.” But is that what they really are? The term “backslider” seems rather to imply someone who slides back into something that they were before.

Here rather, it appears to be a case of believers turning away from the true Gospel to a “different gospel” which Paul says “is really no gospel at all.” It was a completely different kind of teaching that some people were introducing that apparently totally confused some people to the point where they were converted, as it were, to some other religion. As early as the first century, there arose a movement known as “Gnosticism” which essentially taught that there was a sort of special higher truth that God revealed to certain more enlightened individuals. It also taught such things as matter being evil and even denied the humanity of Jesus. Was Paul referring to an early form of Gnosticism in writing this? Perhaps. More likely, however, what Paul had in mind was the “Judaizers” who tried to convince the people that they still had to follow Jewish customs (the Law) in their walks with Christ.

Today we see an equally disturbing “different gospel” in Mormonism (and others as well). It too is “really no gospel at all” and it also “throws people into confusion” and “perverts the gospel of Christ.” Mormons use a lot of the same language as evangelical Christianity, but they often have very different meanings behind the words. This confuses many. They even call themselves “Christians” today. One Mormon told me once that they were Christians because "they had the name of Jesus Christ on their church buildings." But having the name of Christ on a building doesn’t make those inside Christians any more than does swearing by using the Lord’s name in vain turns the non-Christian into a Christian.

Even within evangelical Christianity a “different gospel” is sometimes preached which is not at all what Jesus taught. Oh, there are many similarities, to be sure. But there are also many differences. Our form of institutional Christianity today is in many ways a “different gospel” than we read of in the book of Acts. As a matter of fact, much of the early church’s form of Christianity in Acts is completely foreign to what we do today. In some ways we today are like the Gnostics of old in that we tend to subtly preach that God blesses some with higher levels of enlightenment, or anointing, than he does others. Certainly this is often implied, if not said in specifically those words. This is also especially evident when we look at how we have “factioned” the body of Christ through our denominationalism and constant church splitting. What ever happened to unity in the body through love and relationships? What ever happened to Jesus’ prayer for complete unity in the body (John 17:23)? Alas, haven’t we too turned to “a different gospel” than the one Jesus had in mind with respects to Christian unity? Sadly, I think that we have.

In other ways we are like the Judaizers in that we still like to blend the Law with living by the Spirit, such as preaching tithing (Old Testament) law, instead of alms-giving (New Testament) grace. Nowhere does the New Testament teach tithing because tithing was a part of the Old Testament law. Throughout the New Testament (for example in Galatians) we see that we are now no longer under the law. I believe that often tithing is taught today simply because without it the institutional church would cease to exist. In other words, we need it to support our buildings, utilities, and pastoral salaries.

In his book “The Frog in the Kettle,” George Barna says,
The average church allocates about 5 percent of its budget for reaching others with the Gospel, but 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. At a time when the poor and aged are pleading for help, churches in America are spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year on new construction.
Now it no longer matters that the “true Gospel” doesn’t teach tithing, they need it for self-preservation and so, like the Judaizers of old, they teach “a different gospel which is really no gospel at all,” and that gospel is called “tithing.” To be sure there are many other examples as well.

Why don’t people see this? Often it’s because they really don’t know what they believe in the first place. Too many in Christian circles today are too casual in studying their Bibles. Too many today are too content to simply sit back in an institutional church pew and listen to someone else tell them what to believe instead of letting their own personal anointing (1 John 2: 26,27) teach them. Too many Christians today are, whether they realize it or not, involved in some strange form of idolatry (?) of putting too many other things in life ahead of their relationship with God. When suddenly someone comes along with a slightly different variant of the gospel, “which is really no gospel at all,” suddenly they turn “renegade” (in the Amplified) and “traitor” (in the Message). As someone once said,
when you’re in the barn long enough, you soon no longer smell the manure.”
There’s an illustration that comes from the government printing of money. Apparently, when the government wants to train its agents to discern real money from counterfeit money, the first thing they do is to get them to spend time handling the real thing. Soon they become so accustomed to the real bills, that when they are presented with a counterfeit bill they are able to spot it easily. So too it is with the Gospel. If Christians today would only spend more time becoming acquainted with and handling the real Gospel, they would soon also be able to spot the counterfeit gospel, “which is really no gospel at all,” and be less likely to fall for it.

To paraphrase what Paul said about such teachers, he essentially says, “I wish they would all go to hell!”
As we said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel different or contrary to that which you received [from us], let him be accursed (anathema, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment)!” (Galatians 1:9; Amplified).
It doesn’t matter who it is who is doing the preaching, “regardless of reputation or credentials” (The Message), if someone tampers with the truth of the Gospel, they’re in serious trouble.
We who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

4 comments:

  1. Perhaps a lot of people don't see it because the "church" is full of people who are not born-again and are merely religious.

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  2. Arthur, I believe that's exactly right. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. You are right on brother!! Thank you for being a "rebel" LOL.

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