Holding To The True Gospel
Images of people from third world and war torn countries tear at the heart of all who feel compassion for those who are in dire circumstances and desperate need. These images stand in stark contrast to the images that come to the minds of most Americans. Although America has its share of impoverished people, we remain an extremely prosperous country as a whole. However, our American prosperity—despite all the good it has brought into our lives—has nevertheless led to some problems with the perspective of some. The blending of our prosperous society and our Christian faith has caused some Christian people in America to take a somewhat distorted view of the Christian faith.
This negative influence of cultural thought on theology is something that must be addressed. It has been called the "Americanization of the Gospel." This is not a gospel that you will hear preached at most churches, yet it so dominates the airways that one might think that it is what all churches believe. Some call it the "hyper-faith" movement. Some call it the "prosperity gospel." But no matter how one tags it, it has the indisputable sound of a gospel that has its origins in prosperous society. It sounds something like this, "Christians are supposed to be wealthy and healthy or something is wrong with their faith!"
I was reminded of how unscriptural and odd that this must sound to millions living outside of a prosperous nation when I heard what a fellow seminary student from war-torn Bosnia had to say. He was commenting on the recent onslaught of broadcast in his country featuring a well-known American "prosperity" preacher. The student said that the people of his country—Christian and non-Christian alike—found these broadcasts to be humorous. Actually, they literally laugh at the man and make jokes about his "message" that tells them that if they had faith they would be enjoying a life of prosperity.
The reason for such a reaction is that this televangelist is telling people from a war-torn country, filled with poverty and suffering that is pretty much inescapable, that if they will truly have faith that they will have wealth and be free from sickness and suffering. If they do not experience this, then their faith is defective. Ironically, this so-called message of liberation results in oppressing the very ones that it is meant to liberate because it makes one's financial and physical condition the measure of one's spirituality. It is enough to make the skeptical, not to mention the hopeless and hurting, want to say, "If that is the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, then I guess it is not for me."
It reminds me of something that I learned early in my ministry concerning the content of one's message, "If you can't preach it everywhere, don't preach it anywhere."
There is, however, a message that can be preached everywhere because it is a message that offers hope for a better future without equating "gain with godliness." It is the message that Jesus preached. We find it in Luke 4:18-19. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
The true Gospel is a message of hope to the hopeless, a message of help to the helpless and a message of freedom for those who are oppressed by their sin. The beauty and rightness of this message is that there is something for everyone who is in need. The emphasis of this gospel is on the necessity of knowing Jesus Christ, not on the necessity of possessing material goods.
I think the young minister from the Ukraine expressed his love for the true Gospel message best in a prayer that I heard him pray. He asked God to help his country come to know Christ because, as he put it, "It is better to die without bread in your stomach than to die without bread in your heart."