Recently, I read an online article on a Facebook contact’s wall with a captivating title, “How to Preach the Gospel: The ‘Blessing’ Outreach.” I was exhilarated as I opened to read. But was disappointed. In the article, the author sought to provide some tips for effective evangelism. In summary, the article suggested that for effective evangelism (evidenced by large numbers of people trooping to our churches),
- We must not tell sinners they are destined for hell because of their sins, as they are already in hell (probably on the assumption that they are poor or sick) and don’t need a reminder.
- We must entice our audience with promises of material blessings and business and career ‘breakthroughs’—as this is what Jesus came to offer the world.
This approach to evangelism and Christian teaching at large is fast gaining popularity in many mainstream denominations, particularly in our parts of the globe. However, it is a false “gospel”. And I believe it is a kick in the face of God. Here’s why.
It Spurns Biblical Orthodoxy
The very first preacher we encounter in the New Testament is John the Baptist. This is what he preached:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2).
Shortly after this, we read of our Lord’s own evangelistic ministry. Matthew tells us he preached the exact same thing as John—repentance from sin (5:17). What about the Apostles? The first message Peter preached on the day of Pentecost similarly called people to repent and be baptized… in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [their] sins, so that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37).
Throughout the New Testament, we see that the apostles and other evangelists remained faithful to this message. Paul went so far as to say that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:18). It is only today that we purport to know better than our Lord, the Apostles and the Holy Spirit. The old gospel message is not effective enough by our standards, hence we must “spice it up”. But alas, to sugar-coat the truth is in fact, to present a lie.
It Withholds the Truth in Order to Gain Access
There are those who hold that an undiluted gospel will drive people away from God instead of drawing them. The solution, to them, is therefore to hold off telling people about sin and hell till they are safely in the realm of the church. What such false teachers fail to understand is that the Gospel is good news because first there is bad news. Without the bad news, the good news is of no use. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and fallen from the glory of God. The wages (consequence) of sin is death—eternal separation from God. Because of our sins, we are all by nature rightly deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment in hell. This is the bad news. Years ago, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon which he titled, “Sinners in The Hands of an Angry God”. Jonathan aptly sums up the truth about all of us before coming to Christ—we are creatures of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3), deserving of eternal punishment in hell. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— “(Ephesians 2:4-5).
The Bible always tells us the bad news about ourselves, before the good news of God’s grace in salvation through Christ. Any so-called gospel message that presents only the love of God without adequate emphasis on the wrath of God falls short of the true Gospel message as we find in the Bible.
It Presents a Message Which is Not Universal
If the dominant call of the gospel is for people to come to Christ in order to experience material prosperity, what will we tell those who are already well to do materially? This approach to evangelism is opportunistic–targeted at the poor and vulnerable. It is discriminatory—nothing like the free offer of grace that the gospel in Christ offers to all regardless of age, gender or social status. “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22b-24). There are many examples of wealthy people who don’t care a hoot about God. Truth is, you don’t need God to be rich materially.
Further, preachers of this false “gospel” and their followers greatly misunderstands why Christ came. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10); and “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 28:20). This is why He came—to reconcile us to God. The message of the gospel is that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself…” (2Cor. 5:17).
It is Worldly Instead of Heavenly
Ernst Neubach’s song, “In Heaven There is No Beer” was very popular on the air-waves growing up. In it, he describes the existential pleasures of drinking beer, by bemoaning the fact that when he gets to heaven, his friends will be drinking all the beer—as there’ll be none in heaven! Sadly, the contemporary preacher who believes that a life of poverty is equivalent to an eternity spent away from God’s presence and therefore he needs to have the best of the world has to offer is only singing to the tune of Ernst. On the contrary, Scripture affirms that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits us in heaven (Rom. 8:18). The flip side is that the temporary hardships of this world can never be compared to an eternity of gloom that awaits all who reject God’s offer of salvation in Christ Jesus. What is more, the Bible does not promise that once we come to Christ, we will live happily ever after. On the contrary, to the believer, suffering is a sharp reminder that we live in a fallen world (Rom. 8:23, John 16:33, Acts 14:21-22). It is in the new heaven and the new earth that God has promised there will be no more sin, and all our tears and sorrow will be a thing of the past (2Pet. 3:13).
A “gospel” of “blessings” may bring in throngs to warm our church pews, but it may not guarantee true disciples who have turned to the Lord because they have truly repented of their sins. Calvin’s words are fit for the moment.
“The excellence of the Church does not consist in multitude, but in purity.”