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The Preachers of a different gospela pilgrim's reflections on contemporary trends in Christianity
By Femi Bitrus Adeleye
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Femi Bitrus Adeleye
All right reserved.
I grew up being taught that, "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here" (2 Cor 5:17). The lady who led me to Christ, Mama Mary Frank-Kirkpatrick, made me understand this truth. I believed it wholeheartedly – and still do. Her simple but clear explanation of that verse was just what I needed. Even though I was only thirteen, I knew something was wrong with my ability to do right or please God. Having been brought up in a strict Baptist home, I had a good understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and desired to do right to please both God and my parents. But much of my attempt to please my mother was a failure. I knew most of what I should not do, but I kept doing it all the same. I wanted to please God and go to heaven but I realised if I could hardly please my mother by doing the right things, there was no way I could meet the standards of a righteous God. So when Mama Kirkpatrick told me Jesus was able to give me a new heart and make me a brand-new person, I was quite ready for that to happen. Her simple but clear explanation of the gospel gripped my sinful heart and brought a new light into my life. I went on to trust Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. My life was changed.
Mama Kirkpatrick also taught me that without holiness, no one shall see the Lord. I believed it wholeheartedly – and still do. All through high school, preliminary college and university, I affirmed a gospel that emphasised repentance, renewal, and Christ-likeness. We honestly sang, "Things are different now, something happened to me when I gave my life to Jesus."
That something was transformation. Our goal was to be like Jesus in all of our life. We were well taught and believed that, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt 5:8). Also, "He who says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk just as he walked" (1 John 2:6).
Through the ministry of the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) and later the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES), we were well-schooled in the meaning of Christian commitment and discipleship. We were also given rigorous discipleship training by Calvary Productions (CAPRO), an indigenous mission group, and by Scripture Union (SU). These were significant foundations which have remained irreplaceable.
Now, you must realise those were ancient days. These are modern days and things are quite different now. Really, really different. Let me illustrate:
An advert for an evangelistic crusade in Zaria, one of the major cities in Nigeria, read something like this:
Are you barren? Come to Jesus, Are you a failure? Come to Jesus. Are you poor and want prosperity? Are all your plans not working out? Are you sick? Are you being attacked? Come to Jesus, Come and be healed. Claim your inheritance and prosperity.
On the surface, this appeal seems all right. But a man who examined the list of needs on the poster might decide that he didn't fit into any of those categories. He would conclude that he did not need Jesus.
But let us assume that this man went to the crusade and all the needs listed were met. What would happen then? He would have been helped to escape some of the realities of life but might remain lost in his sins. Is this evangelism? The danger is not just that the means and methods of evangelism have become cheap and commercialised but that the very heart of the gospel is being corrupted. The popular trend is that people are no longer attracted to Jesus for who he is or because they need a Saviour to save them from their sins. Rather, they are lured to Jesus for the blessings or benefits they can claim from him. Welcome to the gospel according to the modern preacher.
It is not too difficult to discern that there is a new gospel in town. Its impact is refl ected in the songs sung in fellowship meetings and some churches. Several years ago, it was common to hear saved people sing,
I have decided to follow Jesus I have decided to follow Jesus I have decided to follow Jesus No turning back, no turning back
If I gained the world but not the Saviour ...
Songs like these have been overtaken by songs like, "I am a millionaire", or "I am a winner" and even "I shall not die".
In the past Christians sang, "With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm". Today, no storms are expected in a Christian's life. Life is meant to be trial-free if one is in Christ. Whereas even non-Christians sang, "This world is not my home", it is more common today to sing, "This is my Father's world, why should the devil have all the riches?"
The same difference is noticeable in the favourite memory verses of the day. Whereas verses like, "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30) were once popular, today it is more popular to assert, "We shall be the head and not the tail" (Deut 28:13), even when we have not worked enough, or "We are gods" in gross misinterpretation of the context of Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34.
The shift from a Christocentric gospel to one that appeals more to the satisfaction of our immediate appetites has produced what has been described as "adulterated" or "fraudulent" Christianity. It has also been called a "fluffy" or "cross-less" gospel. One pastor bluntly calls it the gospel of greed. It is a gospel that tends to make life here on earth as convenient as possible without preparing people for eternity.
I wonder what Paul would say to our generation when so long ago he told the Galatians:
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 that person be under God's curse! (Gal 1:6–8)
The days we live in demand that we not only take these words seriously but also examine ourselves to know if we are still in the faith or not. We are surrounded on all sides by preachers of a different gospel who twist the word of God to suit their desired ends. By manipulating the Bible, they distort the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and mislead those who are not careful enough to see through their deceit.
Our task in this book is not to criticise or judge anyone or any group of persons. Rather, it is to examine the claims of various shades of this different gospel in the light of Scripture and expose what contradicts the essence of biblical faith. It is also to warn those who may not be aware of the subtle ways in which false teaching has crept into the church. It is almost impossible to expose these trends without mentioning specific names, and so this has been done when necessary, not with the motive of judging but to expose teachings that are not consistent with the gospel as it was once entrusted to the saints.
Chapter TwoSTRANGE TIMES, STRANGE GOSPEL
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. — 1 Timothy 4:1–2
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. — 2 Timothy 3:1–5
The times that the Apostle Paul warned about in the above passages have certainly come upon us. Events and trends within the church and in society are sufficient evidence that we do live in dangerous times. These are times in which it is becoming more difficult to differentiate between faith and fantasy, and between devotion to Christ and religious delusion. We live in times when the line between churches and cults is thin and people easily mistake spiritism for spirituality. These are strange times indeed. Times when people wholeheartedly follow strange teachings and philosophies even within the church; times of strong addiction to seducing spirits; and times when leaders feed their flock with false doctrines. As regards the content and practice of the gospel, only those with discernment, who understand the times and refuse to compromise their vision, know the difference between the true and the counterfeit gospel.
These are times when sin is being redefined so that the things that used to be sin are no longer considered sinful. I have wondered whether the admonition by many a preacher to the faithful to "claim your inheritance of prosperity" is not just spiritualising covetousness. These are days of confusion in which the doors of the church are wide open to worldly values and standards. The result is a confusing mix of worldly holiness and holy worldliness. Worldly holiness is the commitment of a people meant to be holy to worldly standards. This is to say that men and women who are created in the image of God have seriously embraced the world and yet feel comfortable with both being "holy" and clinging to values that contradict that attribute. Holy worldliness is when worldly things are "sanctified" and called holy and the worldly claim to be born again simply because of their external affiliations. In other words, those who are yet to have an encounter with Christ or be transformed by him now commonly claim allegiance to him by clothing their worldliness in "spiritual" garb when it is convenient to do so.
Strange times indeed! Times when one can be "born again" and not be a new creature in Christ. Times when one can claim to be "spiritual" and yet show no evidence of this in one's character, conduct, value system, relationships or lifestyle.
These are days in which clear truths from Scripture are considered outdated and new revelations and experiences are sought with all gullibility. Some of these trends are being perpetrated by undiscipled young converts who claim they know more than Scripture reveals. These are days of lying wonders in which teachers who make miracles an end in themselves lead astray those who want a miracle at all costs. These are days when the gospel has come to be viewed as a short cut to the good things of life – a good car or a bigger house. This strange gospel promises entertainment without commitment, and those who embrace it are content to accumulate titles at the expense of a good testimony. For the love of celebration we have shifted from the "great commission" to the "great entertainment". The attraction of this mixture of worldly religion and the gospel is so strong that believers are being seduced by it.
It is a time when the church tends to listen much more to the world than to the word. Too many people who claim to be Christians seem to agree when the world declares that sin is harmless and godliness is not only harmful but also dangerous to good living. Current events and modern lifestyles are pressurising the church into believing that God is either tired of running his world or that his word is no longer relevant. So human beings play God and in the process make a total mess of both themselves and the world. And those who want to keep pace both with the world and with God have ended up being seduced to embrace strong religious delusions: "Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:28).
The real tragedy is that this mindset has crept into the church, with the result that the church itself has become worldlier. Just as Lot's association with Sodom and Gomorrah (and tolerance of their values) cost him his sense of spiritual discernment, this conformity to the world takes away the Christian's sense of right and wrong. Hence our understanding of Christian values is as blurred as our discernment of the difference between clean and unclean, true and false or holy and unholy. Like salt that has lost its flavour, we have almost altogether lost our relevance in society. As Warren W. Wiersbe puts it:
For nineteen centuries, the church has been telling the world to admit its sins, repent and believe the gospel. Today, in the light of the twentieth century, the world is telling the church to face up to her sins, repent, and start being the true church of the gospel.
Even the world knows that all is not well in the church. It is no longer uncommon for the secular media to call the church to order and challenge church leaders to be true to Jesus Christ. This is clearly a role reversal – the world is rebuking the church.
What these trends have done is confront us with a generation of Christians whose lifestyle is different from that which Christ taught, Christians who have departed from the simplicity of Christ. We are left with a generation of Christians who explain away their shortcomings with a new understanding of Scripture, a new teaching or a new revelation. Whereas older generation Christians talk of honesty, integrity, character and the fruit of the Holy Spirit as essential marks of a Christian, we are being made to believe today that the mark of a Christian is the ability to be slain in the spirit or to have instant results by the use of deified objects like anointing oil.
Furthermore, we have a generation of Christians who have lost a sense of awe in the presence of God. The new breed of Christians, with the Internet pace of today's world, have little patience with waiting on God. This generation of Christians believe in "sweat-less victory" and instant results without pain. Yet, the making of a man or woman of God still takes as much time as the unchanging God has always desired. It cannot be made instant by the speed-driven pace of the contemporary world. Busy with our activities and entertainment, the words of an anonymous saint remain true: "If the Spirit of God were to leave the earth today, 90% of all Christian ministry would still continue unaffected."
One of the greatest losses in the church today is the emphasis on repentance. We have replaced a gospel that emphasised contrition and repentance with one that indulges our "self-esteem" or offers us deliverance services when our urgent need is to repent. How have some of us come to believe that the remedy for outward expression of a fallen sinful nature is a dose of deliverance service rather than repentance? Even those who have yet to encounter Christ in a personal way are herded to the altar of deliverance as if their sinful nature only needs a little trimming for their inward good to be released. How far we have drifted from the words of Oswald Chambers:
The entrance into the Kingdom is through the pains of repentance, crashing into a man's respectable goodness; then the Holy Ghost, who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way round. The bedrock of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a man cannot repent when he chooses; repentance is a gift of God. The old puritans used to pray for "the gift of tears". If ever you cease to know the virtue of repentance, you are in darkness.
Scripture remains true, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).
The root of this pathetic situation is the departure of a significant part of the church from the gospel that was once entrusted to the saints. What the church believes determines what the church practices. Wrong teaching always produces a wrong lifestyle. As flies follow infested sores, so degenerate conduct follows false beliefs. Therefore when the word of God is twisted or manipulated to accommodate various forms of subjective interests, it ceases to be "the power of God that brings salvation" (Rom 1:16). It is only the truth of God as God intends it to be interpreted that remains the power of God that brings salvation. Jesus did not stop at asking the expert in the law what is written in the law. He also asked, "How do you read it?" (Luke 10:26).
Excerpted from The Preachers of a different gospel by Femi Bitrus Adeleye Copyright © 2011 by Femi Bitrus Adeleye. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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