After 32 years as an active Christian, I like to think I’ve grown in the security of my relationship with God. Still, a few New Testament passages continue to scare the bejeebers out of me. One, in particular, almost makes my toenails curl!
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! Galatians 1:8-9 (NASB)
There are many who lament the state of the Western church, me included. I often think that the greatest enemy of the church is the church itself. In particular, we preach an array of Almost Gospels that doom people to lives of mediocrity at best, eternal alienation from God at worst.
Before going into greater detail about the Almost Gospels, I feel compelled to address a few reasons we fail to preach the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ. All too often our quest for results compels us to employ methods that provide short-term responses, but lack in overall long-term fruit. Sometimes our primary problem is nothing more than well-intentioned ignorance; in other cases our motivations can be totally self-absorbed. Sometimes it’s a complex mixture of both.
1. We’re seeking to raise money for our ministries. – It takes a lot faith to run a non-profit. The competition for dollars can be huge and the challenge of meeting financial obligations daunting. People who serve in a full-time ministry capacity deserve a decent standard of living, but few people give attention to these needs unless compelled to do so. Further confusing the issue are those Christian leaders who selfishly feed off of the sheep for personal gain.
If I come to your church proclaiming that our ministry recently led a thousand people to Christ, there’s a good likelihood I’ll get an excellent offering. It doesn’t matter whether those people were truly baptized into the faith, or they simply repeated a prayer; it’s the numbers that matter because numbers raise funds.
2. We’re on a misguided quest for validation (identity). – I remember once sitting next to an evangelist at a conference. On his lap was a U.S. map with a number of cities circled. Recorded near each circle was the number of decisions made for Christ during his evangelistic campaigns. I’m in no way judging that particular man’s motives, but we all face the gripping temptation to try to validate oneself through the success of ministry endeavors. The higher the numbers, the better we can feel about ourselves—especially if we’ve been deemed failures in other areas of life.
3. We lust for power and influence. – Such motivations represent the dark side of ministry, but they do exist. Whether because of the unintentional compulsion for control, or a deliberate thirst for power, the long-term fruit is putrid.
4. We don’t know any better. – I for one am thankful that God raises up gifted and godly leaders to promote His work on this earth. But even godly Christian leaders don’t always have a complete understanding of how to present the Gospel. Rather than investigate the Scriptures for ourselves, it’s all too common for Christians to simply accept what they are being taught by prominent people. Misunderstandings can perpetuate for generations!
5. We genuinely care about people and try to prematurely birth them into the kingdom. – The pain of seeing loved ones far from God can be considerable; we so want them to embrace Christ and realize the fullness of His blessings. Our concern tempts us to try to help God with ultra-persuasive efforts. But just as a child in the womb needs time to come to full-term, so each potential believer needs time for the Word of God to fully germinate in his/her heart. Because of premature pressure, all too often we find ourselves trying to track down those elusive new believers who quickly second guess their emotional decision.
The Gospel is so powerful in itself, and our God is so faithful to meet the needs of His people, that we need not resort to such flesh-based methods. If we can understand these issues and respond accordingly, we’ll find ourselves rejoicing in the growth of new believers more than lamenting the ungodly actions of notional Christians.