CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Real Gospel vs Fake Gospel

Sep 7, 2012

As I am reading through the book of Acts right now I am again struck at how markedly different the gospel the first Christians preached was from what we so often hear today. It is as if there never was an early church: the stuff we hear pouring from our pulpits, Christian TVs and Christian bookstores bears almost no resemblance to what was preached and lived 2,000 years ago.

I am absolutely astounded by how far we have been removed from the real gospel of God. Paul could strongly rebuke the Galatians for doing just this: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). And that was just a matter of some years.

So how much worse are matters after two millennia? If the Galatians could get off track within such a short period of time, how much more we who have such a great time gap between the early church and ourselves? The full text of what Paul said in vv. 6-10 is worth presenting here:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in 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 them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

The difference between Paul and many preachers today is that Paul wanted to please only one man: the Lord Jesus Christ. He cared not one bit about pleasing anyone else. But today we are overrun with churches which seem bent on just one thing: pleasing as many men as possible.

Sadly there are plenty of examples of this to choose from here. I don’t mean to suggest there is just one, but I must say there is a major figure who exemplifies all this big time. I have written about him and his gospel before. I refer to American mega-church pastor Joel Osteen: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/05/18/will-the-real-gospel-please-stand-up/

While there are plenty more like him, he is noteworthy for many reasons: he has the biggest church in America, and his TV ministry and books are ingested by countless millions of believers. He has a huge following, and people hang on to his every word.

But when you consider what his words are, this is not surprising in the least. He is telling the people exactly what they want to hear. Consumeristic, materialistic, greedy, narcissistic, money-hungry, self-centred and self-worshipping Americans are flocking to hear the guy.

He is simply affirming everything about their self-centred lifestyle. He is giving them the divine thumbs up for living a totally materialistic, selfish, and sacrifice-free lifestyle. As proof, all one has to do is consider the books he has penned. Simply look at the titles. They are most telling. Here are some of them:

Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day
Good, Better, Blessed: Living with Purpose, Power and Passion
Living in Favor, Abundance and Joy
Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week
Your Best Life Begins Each Morning: Devotions to Start Every Day of the Year (Faithwords)
I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life
It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor

Did you even see so many “yous” and “yours”? What is the message of Joel Osteen, according to these titles? It is all about me. Me, me, me. The whole world revolves around me. As long as I am happy, and successful, and feeling good about myself, well, that is the gospel message.

Jesus is merely an appendage to a selfish life here. God simply exists so that my world can continue to go well, so I can always be happy, and so I can always have the good things in life. As long as I am happy and wealthy and successful and so on, I must somehow be doing God a really big favour.

But contrast that with the message we hear in the book of Acts. There is nothing of this me-first selfishness ever mentioned in the book. The early disciples never waffled on about living the good life, being happy, getting lots of money, and being at home in the world. Consider just three passages.

What about Acts 3:6?  “Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’.”

What an incredible contrast to our famous big cheese preachers of today. They are absolutely swimming in filthy lucre. They are well-known for their lavish churches, their lavish salaries, their lavish homes, their lavish cars, their lavish hairdos, and their lavish lifestyles.

They have heaps of silver and gold, and seem to want to have heaps more of it. And they falsely promise their deluded followers that they too can have all the silver and gold that they want. They can be successful. They can be prosperous. They can be wealthy. They can have great careers. They can have a terrific self-image.

They can have everything except the one thing which is required: the cruciform life. The very requirements which Jesus gave to his would-be followers are completely ignored by these folks: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus said we are to deny ourselves, not pamper ourselves, gorge ourselves, enrich ourselves, and worship ourselves.

Or consider Acts 3:26: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

We hear about “blessings” all the time from these preachers. God exists simply to bless us, to make us happy, to make us rich, and to give us everything we want. Not only is that an unbiblical view of what God’s blessings are all about, but they have it back to front.

When Peter said these words, he made it clear that real repentance was the first step needed for the blessing of God. Yet you will never seem to hear a word about repentance from these preachers. Indeed, you will hardly ever hear a word about sin, or judgment, or the cross, or the wrath of God, or hell.

That is not what the crowds want to hear, so these basic and essential biblical themes are almost never even mentioned. But there is no blessing without first renouncing self, repenting of sin, and turning away from our selfish and sinful lifestyles. There is no crown without a cross in other words.

Finally, take a look at Acts 14:21-22: “[Paul and Barnabas] preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.”

What? Many hardships? And we must go through them to enter the Kingdom? But that is not what the prosperity preachers told me. That is not what the me-first pastors proclaim. That is not what I ever hear in my lavish multi-million dollar entertainment centres – I mean churches.

One can say so much more here. The truths of the book of Acts should be sufficient to make my point here. But let me supplement those with some wise words from a true preacher of the true gospel, Leonard Ravenhill:

“The early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.”

“You see, what people are seeking today is a painless Pentecost. There isn’t such a thing. What happened immediately after Pentecost? They prospered? Yes? No! They went to jail! It wasn’t prosperity; it was prison, pain, privation, and persecution.”

“People say, ‘We want another Pentecost.’ I don’t believe them for a minute. Pentecost in the New Testament is tied in with persecution, poverty (and) prison!”

“Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them. How many times have you stood and sang, ‘Take my life and let it be’ and haven’t given Him a scrap?”

“We’ve reduced God to a minimum. Most of us are trying to get to heaven with minimum spirituality. If we looked after our business like we look after our soul, we’d be bankrupt years ago! The materialism has crept in and it’s blinded us! It has become a way of life.”

“Paul never glamorized the gospel! It is not success, but sacrifice! It’s not a glamorous gospel, but a bloody gospel, a gory gospel, and a sacrificial gospel! Five minutes inside eternity and we will wish that we had sacrificed more, wept more, bled more, grieved more, loved more, prayed more, given more!”

Amen and amen.

[1607 words]

32 Responses to Real Gospel vs Fake Gospel

  • Re: Acts 3:6? “Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’.”
    No longer can they say “Silver and Gold have I none”! But neither can they say “In the name of Jesus Christ, walk”!

    Manfred Sollorz

  • Yes exactly right Manfred

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • i couldn’t agree more!! Each time I hear current preaching I feel physically ill – I have to turn it off!

    The Law is what Jesus started with when teaching and it was necessary to show people their state – a sinner before a righteous judge….I have never heard this preached – only when the heart is ploughed up with this revelation can we preach Christ crucified…Gal 3:24 ..’therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ..that we might be justified by faith’

    we know this intellectually but finally I know it in my conscience and understand if I dont preach a full gospel I preach no gospel at all.
    I was never aware that there are false converts, I always taught there were believers and non believers, Jesus spoke more about false converts than I imagined…I am in a daze after studying in both pentecostal and Baptist bible colleges and having pastored 2 churches…I never got it, the fact that our churches are filled with many false converts, and I am also to blame, cheap grace ‘just ask Jesus into your hearts that’s all you need to do’..
    YUghh! too sad 🙁

    Ilona Sturla

  • Thanks again Bill. another timely message Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel and contested its purity as he wrote on Galatians and is recorded in Acts. Our church is spending a few months Sunday morning on the book of Galatians, because we have to get the right Gospel and that it includes the crucified life for the believer as a norm.
    Also biblical revival is shown clearly that it includes the hardships tribulations you detail. I must mention a book I am also rereading slowly at the time “Gods’ Trademarks” by George Otis. I think it is a great read and almost a must for every Christian leader especially in Western World – have you done a critique on this book. Interesting the speaker you mentioned is featured as main speaker on Australian TV in relation to the theme of Revival. In the book of Jude it is written that we must earnestly contend for the faith – it is so true today. I am being really challenged to revisit my walk with God, stay true to the true Gospel, and live out my faith more in line to Christ and His example and that shown in the Book of Acts. It has been said by many that the Book of Acts can not be used for doctrine and a blueprint for the Church and Christians – that I have come to disagree with – this book has increasingly been a help to me find true north in a world that has a pull in the other direction on you. Acts is a great compass.

    Stephen Lewin

  • As a colleague of mine is wont to say: it’s not that hard to “grow a church” these days, just tell people what they want to hear, as opposed to what they need to hear!

    Mark Henderson

  • Yes quite right Mark

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Manfred beat me to it. I was going to make exactly the same point. Perhaps it’s partly because the modern Western Christian does usually possess plenty of “silver and gold” that we lack any power from God to heal the sick?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Bill that is excellent and so true. It is such a shame this is happening. The reason it is happening is because people are not reading the bible for themselves and are relying on those who preach. The bible says that even the elect will be deceived and now the “elect” are deceiving many. People should be smart enough to say if it is not in the bible then don’t believe it, but, instead people are saying if the preacher preaches it must be in the bible. Sad, sad, sad.
    Keep preaching the truth Bill God knows the world needs to hear it.
    Bless you
    Stella Collins

  • Hi Bill, thank you for your frank and open honesty. My husband and I used to watch Joel Osteen and many other Christian TV Preachers until we caught on to what you are saying. There is always the pressure for money and they put the guilts on you if you say anything negative about the fact that they keep telling you if you give to their ministries you will be blessed and if you aren’t, then it is something that you have done wrong. I don’t know if you have noticed but Joel has his audience (I say that because these guys are merely giving a performance), hold up their Bibles and say his spiel, then he never once reads from or uses his Bible. I watched a Preacher called Voddie Baucham yesterday and he is on the same page as you. He was saying that they have made the Lord a sissified needy Jesus and Holiness is never preached etc. Yes God does want to bless His people but it is up to Him to choose how He does it. We have a very blessed family relationship and in today’s culture, that is worth more than silver or gold. We believe in giving to christian Charities because it honours God and blesses others who are less fortunate than we.

    Gloria Gaske

  • Hi Bill,

    I’m new to your site. I’ve been Christian for three years now. I felt a strong pull privately then met my wife Carol who’s walked with Christ for decades.

    I wonder if my fascination with aspects of popular culture is causing me to be side-tracked from my Christian duties. For example, I am a massive fan of Dr. Who, which is a television show about an alien travelling around in space. I’ve watched most of the stories and think that morally Jesus would most approve of Jon Pertwee, since he was the most direct and uncompromising when it comes to facing and confronting evil.

    Also, Carol is troubled that I like Timothy Dalton most as James Bond, because, as I tell her, he is a superb actor and the closest portrayal to Ian Fleming’s creation. She worries that, bar Roger Moore, they are all too amoral, and unsuitable viewing for committed Christians.

    I guess I’m asking you if you think it’s possible to be both a committed Servant of Christ whilst retaining a hobby of watching populist culture. Do I have to choose between my faith and my hobby?

    Thanks for listening.

    Nicholas Blanchard

  • Thanks Nicholas

    A big topic really, but a few thoughts if I may. I of course monitor popular culture, so I watch, listen, read about it often. But for me it is more to see what is going on, to see how we may best reach people for the gospel. We cannot hide from the world or live in caves. But on the other hand, we are to do all for the glory of God. There is nothing wrong with having hobbies and various relaxing pursuits. But idolatry can come in whenever we value or prize or worship something more than God. So even good things can become idols. We can get addicted to all sorts of things which in and of themselves may not be wrong, but can become so if they end up taking our supreme allegiance. So we need to pray and ask God what he thinks of all that we do.

    I suppose a good test is to ask how much time we spend on things. If we spend, say, 20 hours a week, watching our fav TV show, or playing FB games, yet only pray or read the Word 20 minutes a week, then something is surely off balance. Another question worth asking is this: Does this activity lead me to love God more, to love his people more, seek holiness more, and hate sin more, etc? If not, and certainly if it leads to the opposite, then we may need to reassess things.

    But God is gracious – he often slowly weans us off even good things, leading us to love him more. And the more we love him, the less attractive everything else tends to become.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • “What an incredible contrast to our famous big cheese preachers of today. They are absolutely swimming in filthy lucre. They are well-known for……….”

    Leaving aside for a moment the ‘lavish’ element, we must ask how has this appalling situation arisen. I suggest no one single answer, but a leading factor does emerge.
    When churches abandoned the simplicity of the New Testament order found in Acts, and particularly Paul’s teaching in the Corinthian letters, and substituted the “pastor separate” doctrine, then the seed was sown.

    Instead of the normal pattern of a plurality of elders the ‘one pastor’ system reigns, with all its trappings of professional status, academic qualifications, salary, and the whole apparatus of the clergy/laity culture. This not only exalts a man to a position he should never hold but more seriously it is the main barrier preventing the rest of the body of Christ to function as a true priesthood of all believers.
    This current tragedy has been critically assessed by Dr Jon Zens for some years and he is well worth reading on the issue. To quote the essence of the problem:
    “It is very possible that the pastor-doctrine stands as one of the most pervasive human traditions causing a log-jam in Christ’s expression on earth through his Bride”
    (see: ‘The Pastor has no clothes’ – Moving from Clergy centered Church to Christ Centered ekklesia)

    Graham Wood

  • This is good, to look again and again at these prosperity preachers. It’s doing so much damage to God’s people, teaching them of a life, unfulfilled.
    I notice too, they always make long speeches about how they are NOT interested in money, talking a lot about something that doesn’t interest them.

    Daniel Kempton

  • We are all too soft. Money gathering is far easier than talking to your neighbour about the Good News.
    Thanks Bill, and I liked your comment “And the more we love him, the less attractive everything else tends to become.”

    Johannes Archer

  • If you haven’t heard Leonard Ravenhill preach – you need to. Go to SermonAudio.com. or google.

    Daniel Campbell

  • Hi, Nicholas Blanchard. You asked a big question:

    I guess I’m asking you if you think it’s possible to be both a committed Servant of Christ whilst retaining a hobby of watching populist culture. Do I have to choose between my faith and my hobby?

    In support of Bill’s excellent reply, I would like to suggest that you measure up your hobbies against the standard of the Word.

    I kinda like Dr Who, but I recognise that only God transcends time. I find Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a humorous way to poke holes in silly modern ideas, but I recognise that Douglas Adams (who wrote some older Dr Who) was a staunch atheist and evolutionist – really an anti-theist.

    I enjoy the music and humour of Gilbert & Sullivan, and see the way they burst the bubble of pompous British upper classes in their day. But I also recognise that their personal lives were not Christian, although Sullivan wrote beautiful hymn music as well.

    I also like the Goon Shows but am careful to remember that they (especially Spike Milligan) portray life in a particularly warped way.

    All of my interests I try to measure against the Word of God, and all of them are limited, or reflect the fallen nature of humanity. None of them substitutes for the presence of God in the centre of my life.

    Hope that helps you think it through and pray towards a sober view of things.

    John Angelico

  • In response to Graham Woods excellent contribution (I found myself saying yes, yes) I ask the question: why do we model the CEO pastor? Coming out of corporate life 20 years ago I puzzled about this and I still puzzle about the desire to align the church with the business world, its structures, hierarchy and executive based titles, specialized car parks, names on doors, and multi titles eg: Dr, Rev, Senior Executive Pastor, Apostle, all for one person.
    Ilona Sturla

  • Hi Bill, although I have to agree about the super churches, I think the divergence started way back certainly within the first two hundred years, sure there has been great blessing in small portions since then but I myself have had to have a great rethink.
    Though to imitate the pristine church may not work today there must be much wisdom there. One thing I identify is the churches disconnection from the root that was appointed to sustain it. and keep it from conceit. Another is, under girding the gospel at the beginning was the accuracy by the believers of connecting it what they were saying to the prophetic scriptures in a real way, “this is what the prophet had said” What they believers said had a resonance of reality about it and the listeners knew it! Today we have failed to have been seen to be real but I believe in the coming days of suffering and persecution that will come. I would also add in relationship to Israel. If the scriptures three times instruct us to take the gospel to the Jew first, (the test our gospel is the genuine article) why have we ignored this? I believe two things have especially done enormous harm in disarming the body from what was given it, one replacement theology robbing us of relationship and two dispensationalism which so many have been lured into accepting which has blinded concerning showing a watching and perishing world what is already starting to happen. That so many millions of believers somehow think they will be caught away before what is destined to be the churches finest hour is incredible. No wonder there is a such a great falling away (after such unpreparedness) when what they have been led to believe turns around to bite them. We need to return to the root that gave birth to us first.

    Rob Withall

  • Bill I ‘enjoyed’ reading this article, it is sadly, so true. IF only church leaders would preach and teach Bible truth.
    Where is the church opposing all forms of sin, let alone many of the leaders living every day in sin and blinded to the truth.
    No wonder it is the blind leading the blind.
    Thank God for your faithful and Bible based teaching.
    Judith Bond

  • You’re a good teacher Bill, we need to be corrected time and again. Mind you it is rather difficult to stay on the straight and narrow. I love your reply to Nicholas, rightly put. It is very easy to fall into a rut and not realize you’re in one, these days. Thanks again for placing the emphasis on honest teaching from God’s word. The distortions we get thrown at us are indeed multifaceted, and it is hard to distinguish the truth. Henk Hanegraaff’s book, Christianity in Christ; 21st Century may be helpful for keen readers to gain insight into good old honest preaching from God’s word.
    Thank you for keeping up with the task of exposing the misleading super church teachers.
    Bill Heggers, Perth

  • I belong to a church that would be likely to consider itself to be “in revival” and take as its pattern the Early Church of Peter and Paul. On examination that view is little more than aspirational. The actual similarities are hard to find.
    A prayer meeting last week was seeking God about getting traction for the Gospel in our satisfied Western society. I think that we are in a deeper malaise than many of us realize. I am part of the problem.

    Popular culture; it could do with a thread perhaps.
    I enjoyed the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The ending “so-long and thanks for all the fish” is possibly poking fun at the Catholic fish Fridays. But Douglas Adams really does get it right (unintentionally). The Answer really is “42” – even though the question may have been forgotten. We can use this to preach the Gospel. In Bible numerology, 6 is the number for man, and 7 is the number for perfection. 6×7=42 The real answer is Jesus the perfect man, the only mediator between God and man. All Hitchhikers fans can easily have the Gospel proclaimed to them. I have used it a number of times.

    There are probably many examples of this kind of opportunity.

    Bruce Knowling

  • Hi, Nicholas,

    Speaking as a convert, I suspect you will find the more time you spend with the Lord the less time the world calls. That is how it is with me, and we’re talking a horror film habit to the extent that, yes, I even worked on horror films. They are an awful lot of fun to do, even though on so many levels they are bad for you.

    Not least for the soul.

    I have started throwing out old cds purely because when I listen to them now they are vapid and repulsive. I’m replacing them with Gregorian chants – I’ve got a great polyphonic arrangement of the Missa de Angelis, for example lol.

    I spend more time reading about the Early Saints and Fathers, the Early Church, and the more I learn about my faith, the less I want to partake of the decadence around me.

    We are called to take up our Cross – how many of us actually do that?

    God bless you in your journey.

    Debra Franklin

  • Thanks guys for the lovely responses. There are lots of things that trouble me, not only Douglas Adams, but Lalla Ward, who after Dr Who got married to the High Priest of Atheism Professor Richard Dawkins. She even records his audiobooks with him, including The God Delusion, which is a terrible dereliction of her Christian duties and shows no consideration to the children who look up to her. In fact, lots of the leading actors including Tom Baker are spouting atheistic, pro-evolution worldviews that does make me question if I should just go and get another hobby that’s more closely allied to my faith.
    Nicholas Blanchard

  • Nicholas
    Here is a link that has helped me a lot.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HL3kfDmHL5g

    Daniel Kempton

  • Well said Bill. Diane and I were reading 2 Corinthians yesterday and saw nothing that entices Christians to pursue the good life or seek personal well being. On the contrary Paul stresses that Christians should not go after the temporal things of this world but have unselfish attitudes and lead lives of sacrifice and devotion to eternal issues.

    John Heininger

  • At the very least, Osteen seems absolutely clueless about even the basics of Christianity and its place in the world. See Al Mohler on this for example:

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/lessons-from-piers-morgans-interview-with-joel-osteen-57527/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • See Paul Washer tell it straight on Joel Osteen and the others like him:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igKhXFAfnzI

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • For more on him, see this helpful article:

    http://juicyecumenism.com/2012/09/20/joel-osteen-americas-cheerful-waffler/

    Extract: “Osteen’s theology is too flimsy to answer questions that might make some people dislike him or feel a bit uncomfortable. His books read more like self-help, even new age motivational messages than serious lessons in Christian discipleship, and his most recent is no different. I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life claims to teach Christians how to verbalize their way out of life’s unpleasant circumstances.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for posting this article. The majority of my family have been sucked in by the claims of the Word of Faith teachers, and most will not reconsider! It is very encouraging to see the truth of Scripture being reiterated here!
    Jim Nies

  • Thanks Jim. And see here for more:

    How can the pastor of one of the biggest churches in the world refuse to give a simple and unambiguous pronouncement of what the gospel is?
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/06/06/how-not-to-become-a-better-you/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • “a painless Pentecost”. thanks again Bill

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