1) Prosperity Theology
I grew up around this one. Its sheen is appealing, right? Come on, who doesn’t want to have money? Who doesn’t want to be healthy? Who doesn’t want to avoid rigorous Bible study and prayer and instead simply think positive thoughts and smile a lot?
Prosperity theology is prevalent in the inner city, which is where I currently worship and serve. The promises of physical healing and financial reward (in return for faith and donations) are very attractive to people in chaotic or desperate situations. Single moms, people who haven’t seen their grown children in years, people who hear voices or can’t stop shooting heroin. A man or woman on TV offering health and wealth will usually be well-received in those settings. But the New Testament does not tell us God is building a financially prosperous people who can cast out cancer like Jesus cast out Legion or create wealth with positive speech and thoughts. The New Testament tells us we have inherited eternal life, and all things in the Heavens, and will be raised to live with and enjoy Him forever, but that we will also have trouble in this life. It tells us some of us will be persecuted, and then encourages us to hold fast. It tells us that though some of us are outwardly poor, we are in inwardly rich. It tells us that Stephen and James and Antipas were murdered for faith in Christ, but were faithful through that pain and unto death.
God does sometimes bless us financially and physically. And God does sometimes allow us to undergo intense financial and physical pain. But He also tells us why He does both, and everything else He ever does anywhere else in Creation: To work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, conforming each of them to the image of His Son.
To tell people God definitely wants them to be wealthy or well is to speak with a certainty the Bible doesn’t authorize. You don’t know God wants them to wealthy or well. And neither do I. I know He wants them saved and confirmed to the image of His Son, though, and I’ll shout that from the rooftops.
And to seduce them to crave wealth or wellness is lure them into a trap that has snared souls for centuries.
Beware this theology.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:9
2) The Sin-Free Gospel
It seems to me that it shocks people in some circles to say that we are not owed love or salvation from God; that the only thing we are owed is judgment.
That’s an incredibly sad thing when it’s a Christian circle, because the fact that we, in our own rights, deserve God’s wrath, not His grace, is basic Gospel doctrine. It’s also common sense, considering the Bible wouldn’t call it “grace” if we deserved it.
But I see the presupposition, both implicit and explicit in certain Christian materials and conversations: We are not moral rebels against God but merely neutral or perhaps even flawed but basically good people.
It’s false, it’s spiritually deadly, and it tries to rob the Cross of Christ of its power. Other than that, no big deal.
The Bible is clear that each and every human being not named Jesus of Nazareth is a spiritually dead sinner who, until he or she is justified by grace, is under the wrath of God. To leave out that truth is to leave out the Gospel. To let people think they’re not sinners is to let people think they don’t need a Savior.
If you encourage people to think that they’re flawed but good you are encouraging them to believe the lie that what they need is to trust themselves, not the tortured and risen Messiah who died and rose to ransom wretches.
There is no salvation apart from the Gospel of Christ, and part of that Gospel message is that human beings are each sinners. If you leave out sin, you leave out salvation.
If you won’t diagnose the disease, you’ll end up showing the patient the door without ever ever offering the remedy.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
3) Misidentifying the Kingdom You’re In
My primary identity is not American.
My primary identity is not white.
I am not first a Cincinnatian or Republican or Democrat or middle class. Before any other such identity I am in Christ. I am a member of His body, a citizen of His eternal and ever-advancing Kingdom.
With some potential qualifications, I can say that in this particular conversation (thanks for pulling up a chair and talking, by the way), I don’t much care who you voted for. But I witnessed a Christian or two in this past election excuse awful moral behavior from a candidate because the candidate was the representative of the Christian’s political party of choice. I didn’t say I saw them vote for the candidate despite the behavior; whether or not I agree with that conclusion, I can sympathize with it. I said I saw them excuse the behavior. And what that tells me is that the kingdom most at rule in the person’s heart, at least in that moment and context, was not the Kingdom of God. When you are willing to adjust what you call sinful based on the political persuasion of the perpetrator, politics is more important to you than the Author of right and wrong.
We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom first, not Rachel Maddow’s, Sean Hannity’s, Jon Stewart’s, or Donald Trump’s. If we have trusted in Jesus and are true Christians, then our actions and philosophies and spending habits and leisure time, all our beliefs and actions and priorities, should be run through the rubric of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. The question shouldn’t first be “is this conservative” or “is this liberal” or “is this what _______ would say” but “is this pleasing to my King?”
We should not mortgage our faith or our faithfulness for any other kingdom’s victory. If I get my candidate elected or my culture back at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’ve leveraged what should be most important to me for a smaller prize.
A Christian is a stakeholder in the only eternal Kingdom. He does both God and himself a disservice to think he’s anything else first.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Parting shot: The church is the buttress of truth, the fortress where what the world needs is guarded and administered and celebrated. Here is where we guard the antidote to the world’s most deadly pandemic: Sin.
I hope all of us stay more mindful about what it is the world needs than what it wants.
Truth in love.
Good motto for 2017 : )