Originally published on September 9, 2009 at sbcIMPACT!
I am very slow to drop the H-bomb on anyone. I will tell you I disagree with you. I will try to explain why I disagree with your position. But I seldom call people heretics. For me, that is a term reserved for those who hold doctrines that would undermine the very foundation of our faith and nullify the gospel. We should be very careful about using the word.
Understanding that, I assert that there is a heresy that has become rampant, even pandemic, in American Christianity. I call it a heresy because I believe that it nullifies the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a very old heresy, one that was prevalent in Old Testament days. But it has taken hold of the very fiber of the American church and it threatens to make us spiritually impotent.
The Old Testament False Prophets
False prophets were always a problem among the people of God. God called prophets to deliver his message, but the false prophets often seduced the people with their soothing words and led the people away from God. As you study the prophets and writings of the Old Testament, you see one consistent marker that identified the false prophets.
Israel and Judah had both turned from the Living God to serve and worship idols. They had sinned against God and he was bringing discipline on them. The true prophets confronted the people with the holiness of God and the depths of their sins. The people often did not like the message of the prophets, so they would throw them in pits, bounce rocks off their heads or separate those heads from their shoulders. They preferred to hear the message of the false prophets.
The false prophets had a more soothing, comforting message. They told people that God was not angry at them. They were his chosen people. He was a God of love and grace, after all. They proclaimed peace with God when God was angry at his people. There are many examples of this in the Prophets.
Ezekiel 13:10-11 says, “Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall!”
The false prophets misled the people by proclaiming peace with God without dealing with the sin that caused the problem. They whitewashed sin instead of confronting it. In Lamentations 2:14 the problem is spelled out.
“Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; They have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, But have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.”
The problem was sin, but they refused to take the unpopular step of confronting sin. Because of that, the people’s fortunes could not be restored. False teaching cannot produce the work of God. Jeremiah 6:14-15 reinforces this.
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.”
They offered peace with God, the blessings of God without repentance. They ignored sin and pretended that God would do the same. They forgot what God said to Isaiah (57:21), “’There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” Those who are wicked cannot have peace with God until their sin is dealt with. Repentance precedes blessing.
Paul warned us in 2 Timothy 4:3 that there would come a time when people turned away from sound doctrine and surround themselves with teachers who will give their itching ears what they want to hear. I am afraid that has happened in many churches across America. Rather than calling people to face their sins and receive the forgiveness of Calvary, many try to become pulpit therapists to help people find their best lives now.
Our flesh is drawn to worldly purposes. We want to be happy and fulfilled. We seek prosperity so that we can buy the things that we think will make us happy. We seek comfort – the absence of pain, suffering, sickness and hardship. We go to great lengths to insulate ourselves from these things. Our culture is saturated with entertainment – a smorgasbord of hedonism. Pleasure has become the god of our hearts. And we seek independence and control over our own lives (and often the lives of those around us). These are human purposes that we often seek.
What we have created in America is false Christianity based on the premise that God exists to help us be more successful as we seek these things. He is here to help us get what we want, do what we please and achieve our own goals and ambitions. God is here to help us find happiness and fulfillment in life.
Dead Men Walking
Nothing could be further from the biblical truth. God does not offer to come and help us be more successful in our lives. He calls us to die! We are to die to self, to sin, to the lives we lived without him. We turn aside from the purposes of our lives and yield to his purposes. We are to “deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow him.” We must present our bodies as living sacrifices. We must be buried with Christ by baptism into death so that we may be raised to walk a new life in him.
The Christian does not seek the rewards of, the approval of or the pleasures of this world. The world is crucified to us and we are crucified to the world. We reject the treasures of earth for those in heaven. Instead of insisting on ease and comfort, we willingly endure hardship to serve the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We no longer settle for the pleasures of this world but seek something higher and nobler – the glory of God. And when you submit to Christ and his purposes you no longer seek the power and control that those in this world crave. The call to Christ is a call to abandon the purposes of life that have been our focus so that we can embrace the purposes that God has set for us. You only experience the life of God when you turn from the life you had without him.
And we cannot offer this world a gospel of self-fulfillment. The gospel calls us to face our sin and guilt. We cannot offer “peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
An American Heresy
I watched a video today of a famous Baptist pastor telling a crowd of lost people that God just wanted them to be themselves – to figure out who they are and make the most of that. Balderdash! God calls us to die to self and to be conformed to the image of Christ. God does not want me to be myself; he wants me to be like Christ!
I was at a large ministry outreach at which a Christian (and Baptist) celebrity “shared the gospel.” He managed to do that without once mentioning the death of Jesus on the cross as the payment for sin. How do you offer the gospel while ignoring atonement of Christ? You can try to help people build their self-esteem without the atonement. You can try to help them find self-fulfillment and to achieve their goals. But you cannot offer people genuine salvation without taking them to the cross where they are hit in the face with the hard, cold reality of death and sin. Joy only comes in the morning after that dark night of conviction.
Here’s something for us to ponder. In the Old Testament, the true prophets of God confronted the sin among God’s people, even when it made the prophet unpopular or when it offended his audience. It was the false prophets who comforted sinful people by telling them that God accepted them just as they were. The false prophets avoided calling people to repent of sin and tried to make them happy as they were.
When we deal with lost people, are we more like the true prophets of the Old Testament or the false? It is my observation that there is way too much in the modern American church that mimics the methods of the Old Testament false prophets.
We have tried to make the gospel inoffensive. When we do that, we often end up with a gospel that is nothing more than a cheap, impotent imitation. I’m afraid there will be many members of Baptist and other evangelical churches who are shocked when they stand before God and find that the gospel of self-fulfillment they were offered and accepted was a human invention and not a saving faith.
I call that heresy.