Published on September 10th, 2016 | by Josiah Batten
A Defense of Discernment
Our recent guest post by Adam Felder regarding the Festival of Life taking place in Clarksburg has generated no small amount of controversy. In just five days, WV4G’s Facebook post for that article has reached over 2,500 people. Many people have expressed gratitude for this article, and agree with our desire to exercise discernment regarding the Prosperity “Gospel” (which is in fact no Gospel at all). Others, however, are asking “What gives?” There are Christian believers who think it is wrong for us to criticize the doctrine of professing Christians, especially during a festival in which it is claimed thousands of people are being saved.
Allow me to say I am glad whenever anyone comes to Christ, repentant of sin and believing the Gospel. Whether that happens at a festival, in a church, at a home, or in a bar, I do not care. When the Gospel goes forward, and the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ, I am filled with joy. There are many imperfect people the Holy Spirit uses to proclaim the Gospel. I am imperfect, as is every WV4G contributor. Admitting as much is a requirement to be a Christian.
I also have no desire to fight doctrinal battles unnecessarily. There are many doctrinal issues I simply do not address, because they are secondary or tertiary. I have no desire to promote unnecessary feuds or disunity. In fact, I believe that within certain parameters Christian unity is a biblical command and one that we within the Reformed movement have not always taken as seriously as Scripture demands (Ephesians 4:1-16). I believe that, as we submit to Scripture and are led by the Spirit, doctrinal disagreement will be less and less frequent. There is a unity of the faith toward which leaders in Christ’s Church are to be working. I believe that denominations as we have them today are a symptom of disobedience and of a failure to yield ourselves to the Word of God. As Christ’s Kingdom advances more and more, the number of Christian denominations should become less and less.
But this all takes place within certain parameters, and when those parameters are violated the integrity of the Gospel itself demands that we take action. The primary criteria for genuine Christian unity is the Gospel itself. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6, ESV). Paul tells us that if anyone teaches a different Gospel, they are “accursed” (Galatians 1:8, ESV). A fundamental and inviolable prerequisite for Christian unity is the Gospel itself. I can say, standing on the full authority of Scripture and with the backing of the entire Christian church over the course of history, that if you get the Gospel wrong you are not a Christian.
Given the importance of the Gospel, many Christians suggest that as long as the Gospel is preached, we should refrain from criticizing those who preach it regardless of how much we disagree with them. Of course, if people applied this standard consistently, there would be no criticism of WV4G when we post a piece on doctrinal discernment, because regardless of how much people disagree with us we do preach the Gospel (see, for example, the entire tab labeled “The Gospel” at the top of the page).
But leaving aside the fact that it impossible to avoid exercising some degree of doctrinal discernment, we have to reckon with the fact that many people claiming to be Christians today have no idea what the Gospel is. And this is as true of many so-called “preachers” and “evangelists” as it is of people in the pew. The real problem with the Prosperity “Gospel” is not that the Gospel is preached along with some bad secondary teachings. The problem with the Prosperity “Gospel” is that it is not the Gospel at all, and most prosperity preachers do not ever bother preaching the Gospel at all. Prosperity teaching attempts to bribe people into a confession of faith, “If you become a Christian, you will be rich,” “If you have faith, God will give you anything you want,” “Hell is such a terrible thing, you don’t want to go there, so accept Christ so you can go to Heaven.” The Prosperity “Gospel” most often seems to be trying to get people to come to Christ for any reason at all except for Christ Himself.
“But as long as people are coming to Christ, that’s the important thing,” I’m sure someone will say. The problem is this: Wanting to avoid hell does not pave an avenue to God for you. Wanting to be rich does not constitute coming to Christ. Wanting to have God “on my side” and as your personal genie does not deal with the problem of sin. There is one way to God, and that is through the Gospel of Christ. What keeps us from God is not poverty or sickness. What keeps us from God is sin, and sin is remitted through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is not a matter of trusting in God to give you material riches or to heal you of disease. Salvation is the work of God to save us from our own sin and His righteous wrath against that sin. And salvation is worked in us by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit convicts us of sin, leads us away from sin, and turns us to faith in Christ.
For us as Christians the content of faith matters. The difficulty with the Prosperity “Gospel” is it sounds so Christian. They use biblical terminology. They talk about faith, they talk about Jesus, and about being empowered by the Holy Spirit. But they are just like the cults to the extent that they use biblical and theological terminology that is divorced from its genuine biblical meaning. They use the term “Gospel,” but they invest that word with a meaning that is completely devoid of biblical significance.
We here at WV4G exercise discernment, not because we want to pick a fight, but because the Gospel itself is at stake. Our concern is not that the Gospel is being preached along with some questionable secondary teaching. Our concern is that the Gospel is not being preached at all. Our problem is not that there are conversions. Our question is “What are they being converted into?” Because if they are not hearing the biblical Gospel, you can be certain they are not converting into Christians.
When the Gospel truly is preached, and people truly are converted, I am exceedingly glad. But most “evangelism” in America today is converting people into moralistic deists at best, not biblical Christians. Evangelism devoid of the Gospel is not biblical evangelism, it may win converts, but it does not win converts to Christianity. We have to reckon with the hard reality that many people who claim to be Christians do not actually know the Gospel and are not exercising biblical faith. Mainstream American Christianity is certainly mainstream and American, but we have reached the point where there is hardly anything Christian about it.
Glory to God alone,