Saturday, April 30, 2011

Counterfeit Gospels

“Christians and non-Christians are often drawn to counterfeit gospels. Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. They cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us.” – Trevin Wax from Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope

One of the common things a tourist runs into in a big city is counterfeits. You can purchase a counterfeit Rolex for only a fraction of the cost of a real one. For a small investment, the tourist can own something that looks like what millionaires wear on their wrists to keep time. However, it may look like a Rolex and even have “Rolex” stamped on it, but ultimately it is a counterfeit. It lacks the same structure, design, durability and internal components of a real Rolex. It fails to hold up the same way an authentic Rolex will.

I’m afraid Rolexes are not the only thing being counterfeited today. A plethora of so-called “gospels” are passing themselves off as the true gospel. None other than Rob Bell’s controversial best-seller “Love Wins” is just such a counterfeit. Shortly after reading it I learned of a new book titled “Counterfeit Gospels” by Trevin Wax. Wax develops curriculum for the SBC with Lifeway. Being a fellow Southern Baptist myself, I excitedly nabbed a copy of his book and dug into it. I found it refreshing and challenging.

Wax begins by laying out the basics of the true Gospel with the illustration of a three legged stool. Each leg represents a critical part of the Gospel and if any one leg is removed then the stool falls. These three legs are the “The Gospel Story”, “The Gospel Announcement” and “The Gospel Community.” Each counterfeit insidiously attacks one of the three legs of the true gospel.

Wax identifies six specific counterfeit gospels: therapeutic, judgmentless, moralistic, quietist, activist and churchless. The therapeutic and judgmentless attack the Gospel Story. The moralistic and quietist attack the Gospel Announcement. Finally the activist and churchless attack the Gospel Community. Wax begins the study of each counterfeit with a chapter dedicated to the particular “leg” of the stool, then follows with individual chapters to each attack on it.

The book offers an approachable depth that helps the individual believer see through the many counterfeits invading the church today. I believe it is essential reading for any church leader and believer in Christ. Leaders must make sure they avoid perpetrating a counterfeit and believers must be sure they do not fall into the trap of following one. Wax’s work is scholarly and detailed. It’s not a book you’ll plow through in a day or two, but one you will slowly wade into that will lead you to look into your own faith, the faith community to which you belong, and the Christian faith as a whole.

My biggest concern is that the authentic Gospel is becoming rarer in the 21st Century. Wax expresses a deep love and understanding of the Gospel. Each chapter concerning a counterfeit offers advice on “countering the counterfeit” which will help those who find themselves embracing something other than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The stakes are high. The Apostle Paul said:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)

Those are strong words from the Apostle Paul when he dealt with a counterfeit gospel in Galatia. The stakes are high. The eternal fate of souls is determined by how one embraces the Gospel. Paying a large sum of money for a Rolex and finding out later that it is a counterfeit is a tragedy. Investing your faith in a gospel message and finding out later it is a counterfeit is the greatest tragedy in life. Wax’s book will help readers discern the real from the counterfeit in an effective way. It is perhaps the most relevant book I have read outside of the Bible since becoming a Christian.

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Truth (Part 2)

The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 John 1-3)

Many things in the epistle of 2 John prove to be a mystery. Nowhere within its contents does the author name himself; he simply uses the moniker “The Elder.” Most accept this as the Apostle John, but some scholars have called this into question. However, in light of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles attributed to him, I believe John is the writer. That assumption will be made throughout the rest of this study.

Imagine the aged John, an elder in the church of Ephesus. Most likely at the time of penning 2 John, all the other Apostles have died. John has heard or seen each of them spill their life’s blood as martyrs. His flesh is weathered, his muscles have weakened, his bones are aching and his agility, eyesight and hearing are not what they used to be. But as his physical life declines, his spiritual life thrives. In some ways he is a celebrity of the 1st Century church – the last living of the Lord Jesus Christ’s inner circle. However, he is quite unlike the rock star mega-church pastor of the 21st Century – he is humble, poor and focused on building a spiritual empire and not a financial one.

At this stage of his life, as he knows his days on earth are growing shorter, what is he focused on? More than anything it is expressed in these opening verses of 2 John. It’s all about truth and love. Both of these words occur multiple times in the opening of the letter (truth = 4 times and love = 2 times). Many have given John the nickname “The Apostle of Love.” I think we could easily call him “The Apostle of Truth” as well. For the wise, old Apostle, I think he found those two words best described Jesus. Jews saw Moses as the greatest prophet, but John saw how much greater the Son of God was as expressed in his Gospel: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). John understood that the law so dearly loved by the Jews had passed away as an old covenant as the grace and truth of Christ, the fulfillment of law and prophecy, manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The recipients of 2 John present an enigma as well. Should we take this as a personal letter to a single lady? Or is it something bigger? Is this figurative language of a church elder to a sister church? I think as we explore the context we’ll find it to be the latter, and indeed, it is a very relevant letter to the church at large today. The church is the “elect lady” in that she is the bride of Christ and each of us who follow Christ are her “children.”

As I examine John’s writing, I find that for him the words “truth” and “love” were synonymous for the Lord Jesus. You could almost interchange the name of Jesus with those words and see how this fits. The imagery and character of Christ are vividly portrayed, packed in and expounded by John in short order. John is setting up the reader for what is to come later in the letter, clearly and concisely pointing out the fact that one absolute truth does exist, and it is found in the person of Jesus.

Already in the life of the Apostle false teachers are creeping in and stealing from the flock of Christ. Many truths are presenting themselves to the early believers. Scholars today like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels tell us that early Christianity was a buffet of beliefs, full of variety in understanding and interpreting Christ. They say eventually the bigger, stronger sect overpowered the others and became orthodoxy as we know it today. I believe we see clearly in 2 John that an orthodox, single teaching of the truth existed from the beginning. The Apostles (including Paul) had a unified understanding of Christ. Other false teachers tried to bend, twist and hijack that truth. How heartbreaking it must have been for John to witness this, with some of the false teachers possibly being students of Scripture that he taught. How painful it must have been for him to see people led astray into false belief and doctrines of damnation.

Truth took top priority for John, and he saw the truth embodied in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He desired more than anything to preserve the truth, teach the truth and live the truth.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Truth (Part 1)

I plan on blogging by video through the epistle of 2 John over the next few weeks. This is the introductory episode. What is the truth?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scriptural Surgery

I recently underwent Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery to deal with a herniated and fragmented disc in my back. The acronym the medical industry uses for this procedure is MISS. As I read all the literature provided to me and researched the procedure on the internet, I thought to myself, “What an unfortunate term.” You see, the last thing I wanted to be on anybody’s mind as they inserted surgical tools in the vicinity of my spine was a “miss.” I wanted them to hit their target with the precision of a highly trained sniper. I didn’t want them to miss by even a micro millimeter. My future health depended on the surgical precision of my physician.

Fortunately the surgery has all the marks of success. I am on my second week of recovery and I am already in a vastly reduced amount of pain. My surgeon appears to have accurately cut away parts of one of my discs that had compressed a nerve. The precision involved in the procedure overwhelms me. A simple miss could have had devastating consequences.

It makes me think about something the Apostle Paul said to his protégé and understudy Timothy:

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth to not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

A unique word occurs in this one verse, the Greek word “orthotomeo” which is translated as “rightly dividing.” It occurs in the New Testament only once, and paints a vivid picture of the responsibility that comes with teaching and preaching God’s Holy Word. It literally means “to make a straight cut” or “to dissect.”

As leaders in God’s church we are therefore called to be scriptural surgeons, operating on God’s word with the precision and care that a neurologist would when performing spinal surgery on a patient. One minor deviation can lead to devastating results. The verse calls us to “study,” not just haphazardly plow into the Bible with no regard for those who have treaded its depths before us. Imagine the development of medicine, and how my surgeon had relied upon the vast library of knowledge about it developed over hundreds of years. Consider his years of education, and the amount of time he poured over texts and case studies. He would never have considered simply dismissing all of that knowledge and trying a heretofore unknown procedure on a patient. Likewise, he would not consider using methods that had been proven as failures and lacking in success rates.

I’ll never forget when my doctor explained the surgery to me. He had confidence in it because he had done it before and seen the results. He knew of many other surgeons with patients who had benefited greatly from the procedure. He was happy and enthusiastic that he could solve my problem. Then he saw the sick look on my face because the last thing I wanted was to turn my spine over to some guy I just met. However, I learned the methods were tried and true, and now I am personally benefiting from them. You see my doctor had studied, a medical board had approved him, he had patients with results he did not need to be ashamed of and above all, he knew how to make a precision cut with his tools.
I believe the manner in which we handle God’s Word is even more critical. My neurologist performs procedures that have temporary results. Eventually my body will grow old and deteriorate. My spine may develop problems again in the future. However, as pastors and church leaders we deal with eternal issues. The fate of people’s eternity is at stake. The immortal soul is exactly that: immortal. The Bible clearly teaches it has two possible fates in eternity: Heaven or Hell. God has called us to the high duty of delivering his message about this most important of all decisions. He has called us to be surgeons of the Holy Scriptures.

Vincent’s Word Studies says this concerning the phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth”:

“The thought is that the minister of the gospel is to present the truth rightly, not abridging it, not handling it as a charlatan, not making it a matter of worldly strife, but treating it honestly and fully, in a straightforward manner.”

Lea and Griffin in the New American Commentary on 2 Timothy state this in regards to this section of the verse:

“This same workman (specifically, Timothy but by application all believers today) was to be accurate in delivering the message of truth. The truth is the gospel. Paul showed concern that Timothy would present the gospel without perverting it or distorting it. He was not to be turned aside by disputes about words or mere empty prattle.”

I have a friend that will be undergoing her sixth back surgery later this year. Early on a physician performed a surgery that created more problems for her than it solved. She is still dealing with the consequences of those issues today hoping that maybe this surgery will be her last. A man calling himself a physician failed to live up to his calling and wounded his patient instead of helping his patient.

God has given us a glorious epic of truth called the Bible. This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. It’s the anniversary of a milestone because it celebrates the Bible being made available to the mass of men in their common vernacular. Celebrate this anniversary by reading God’s glorious word. You don’t have to read only the King James Version, pick up a copy that you can enjoy and understand. Find a church that preaches the truth of that Word. If you are a pastor, follow the tenets of 2 Timothy 2:15 – study it, don’t be ashamed of it, and rightly divide the truths of it.