"I’ll Take Salvation with Extra Health and Prosperity, but Please Hold the Doctrine"
It has been well documented that the relativistic and pluralist mind set of the secular world has had a profound impact on Christianity in America. Many of the great apologists of our day have sounded the alarm to warn today’s Christians of the threat posed to us by unbiblical teachings and beliefs. Men of conviction such as: R.C. Sproul, James White and Hank Hanegraaf among others, have been steadfast in their efforts to hold the line against heresy and errant biblical exposition. Their efforts are to be applauded and their continued perseverance should be prayed for by those who love the truth of God. These apologists are frequently the targets of ridicule and defamation from a variety of sources; however, their motives are more under fire in the "black" church than with any other group of believers. While in other circles they may be accused of mere jealousy or having personal axes to grind; it is only in the "black" church that these men are accused of our day’s most heinous crime, racism.
When someone like Hanegraaf gives an honest and more important, biblically sound assessment of the teachings of someone like Pastor Creflo Dollar, Bishop T.D. Jakes or Bishop Eddie Long, their devotees immediately cry "foul." Without considering the content of the critique, these followers characterize the white apologist as motivated by prejudice against their black preacher. They perceive the reproof of their beloved preacher’s teachings to be an attack upon his person. No regard is held for the demonstrated biblical contradiction that the preacher has committed. Instead, they defend the preacher and fail to defend the truth . . . the word of God.
Those in the "black" churches who fall back on the racism ploy do have one thing in common with many in the body of Christ at large: the failure to obey the biblical admonition to "watch our doctrine and life closely"(I Timothy 4:16). The word of God is replete with commands to his people regarding our fidelity to sound Christian doctrine. The apostle Peter instructs believers to ". . . sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear . . . "(I Peter 3:15). The apostle Paul commands, "study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."(2 Timothy 2:15). Paul also warns that "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking misleading things, to draw away the disciples after themselves."(Acts 20:29-30). Our Lord Jesus also warned us to be on our guard when He said, "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15).
Many who disobey scripture in this regard insist that to point out error and call to the carpet those who teach it are divisive. They say it is "unloving" to hold their preacher accountable. I dare say that none of them would accuse Paul of being divisive or unloving when he publicly took Peter to a task for not being ". . . straightforward about the truth of the gospel." (Galations 2:11 - 21). No, expecting ourselves and our preachers to adhere to sound Christian doctrine is not divisive or unloving. It is a mandate of sacred scripture. We are commanded to protect the integrity of our faith from those who would compromise it, both from those outside of the church and from those within.
For years many black unbelievers have labeled Christianity as "the white man’s religion.". The thinking is, those slave owners during antebellum times introduced Christianity and the Bible to their slaves as a means of keeping their human property pacified and hopeful of a better life in the "great by and by." The truth of this is certainly up for debate; however, even if this was the "white" man’s intention, the plan did not work out very well. Just as with the patriarch Joseph, what others meant for evil, God meant for good. By giving us the Bible and Christianity, the "white" man gave us the very means by which we would be set free.
The word of God (as it has with everyone who has received it as truth) has been the source of strength for many black people through some of history’s ugliest events. Those of us who through its pages have realized that God is sovereign, have also realized that God was sovereign over slavery, discrimination and the civil rights struggles of the 1960's. The atrocities of those times were painful and full of suffering; however, God has sustained us and now we flourish. God is sovereign, even over the oppression and inhumanity we have suffered. He allowed it and He allowed it for His sovereign purposes; both the suffering and the blessing that it has and will work. None of our suffering is in vain. This victory; however, has one negative aspect. The black community, as a whole, has related to God on a foundation of pure emotion, pure corruptible emotion. An emotion that is unchecked by doctrinal understanding and Holy Spirit - led intellectual discernment. Our pursuit of God has been keenly subjective and our view of Him is mainly that of a "pain-killer" or liberator, not that of a Holy, transcendent God who commands His people to be holy. Understandably, during those times our cry was "God, save us from slavery". Now, our cry must be "Lord, make us like Jesus"!
The Bible with its promise of peace and protection was an oasis for a people thirsting for freedom. Those who had enough education to read God’s word naturally became our preachers and were instrumental to helping others understand who God is. It was the black church and its preachers who spearheaded the civil rights movement. The most notable of those preachers was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Under the dynamic leadership of men and women like Dr. King the walls of segregation and discrimination began to tumble down. Their articulation of the injustice and indignity inflicted upon the black people of America gave us the confidence that each one of us was being heard. And heard we were, by the grace of God we have advanced as a people. We have engaged and excelled in business, politics, the arts, education etc. God has truly brought us a "mighty long way."
Unfortunately, as often happens with those who are blessed by God, many of us have strayed. As more of the trappings of success and freedom became ours, we began to worship the gifts and not the Giver of the gifts. Just as the extravagances of the 70's and 80's drew many away from America’s churches, many blacks were drawn away from the "black" church through which many of those extravagances were made accessible. Following in suit, the "black" church began to lose its influence on blacks and society as a whole. In the mid 1980's however, many began coming to themselves as did the prodigal son. We began to realize that the self-indulgence of the previous years despite all of its promises left us empty and unfulfilled. We noticed Pascal’s proverbial "God-shaped" void inside of us and yearned to reconnect with our Lord. We began to return to church in droves. Soon small traditional churches were soon overrun and replaced with 10,000 plus capacity mega-churches. God was back in business. There was something different this time, however. We no longer wanted to hear messages about self-sacrifice, waiting upon the Lord, or being Holy as the Lord is Holy. We wanted to know how we could have all of the stuff of the previous years and get God to bless it. In other words, we wanted to have God and eat our cake too.
For every desire there is a corresponding fulfillment for that desire. It is natural then, that as we desired a God who bless us and let us have our stuff too, there came men and women who preached messages that promised us just that. The words of scripture once again proved true, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables."(2 Timothy 4:3-4). Fulfilling our desires, men and women came preaching guaranteed health and wealth and cheap grace. Catch phrases such as, "the anointing," "binding and loosening" and "pleading the blood of Jesus" became staples of Christian vocabulary. We were told that we are "little gods." Prophets returned in unprecedented numbers, however, these were unlike their old testament counterparts. The new prophets did not warn of impending judgement, convict of sin or forth tell the will of God. This new breed was indistinguishable from fortune-tellers. They forecast monetary blessings, business success, Y2K calamities and the debt-erasing Year of Jubilee. We were told Jesus, the disciples and Paul were all rich and that we should be too. We were told that we have the authority to bind sickness and the devil. Through our faith and the positive confession of our mouths, we can orchestrate our own reality.
We failed to search the word of God ourselves and unlike the days of slavery, this time we do not have the excuse of illiteracy. This time it is because we have been unwilling,
even worse, we have been lazy. We have depended on preachers to spoon-feed us our truth. We blindly trust that they would never give us a bad meal. Dependent as we have been, our allegiance to our preachers has become nigh idolatrous. Like King David’s mighty men we will fight for our preacher, we will exhort others to allegiance to them. We will even question your salvation if you disagree with them. These preachers, like Dr. King, have become our spokesmen, our leaders, our role-models, our spiritual fathers. The difference is that they are not speaking out for our civil rights, but for our "rights" as children of the King, our rights to the treasures that the enemy has stolen from us. They do this while doing violence to sacred scripture.
What further complicates matters is the fact that this new gospel seems to be effective. We have witnessed grammy award winning recording artists giving glory to God for their lustful, violent, drug endorsing music. The parking lots of our churches are filled with "Beemers", Benz’ and Hummers. Our preachers race across the globe in multimillion dollar privately owned aircraft. They take obscure personalities from scripture and turn their prayers into bestsellers. Surely, the thought must come to mind: "It may not be biblical, but is sure is working!" The truth is, Satan will give you anything you want if that’s what it takes to prevent you from having true communion with Jesus.
The problem is that after all our struggling to be free of the bonds of slavery and segregation, a slave’s perspective remains. We still depend on the spiritual "giants" to tell us about God. We applaud when Creflo Dollar tells us that we are "little gods" and that prosperity and perpetual health are due us. T.D. Jakes can espouse a heretical view of the Trinity without challenge because we are biblically illiterate. Juanita Bynum can prophesy "intercourse in the spirit" resulting in the birth of new prophets. Frederick K.C. Price can condemn asking the Lord, "if it be thy will". Carlton Pearson can embrace universalism without fear of reprisal because these congregations are not collectively educated in Scripture to challenge these wicked teachings. Instead, we take our cues from them, we obey them, we follow them and to top it off, we pay them . . . handsomely.
So what is the solution? I believe there are three things that those whom God has freed from this bondage must do. First, the Holy Spirit has certainly troubled many within these congregations regarding the false teachings and doctrines. These people must have the courage to challenge these teachings in love. Whether it is by writing letters to the pastor or by meeting with him or her in person, they must be confronted. Second, we must also remember to pray for these false teachers. God can convert anyone. Their charisma and talents for preaching and teaching are still gifts from God. Transformed for His purposes, these teachers can be useful tools in God’s hands. Third, if these teachers continue in their error; bible-believing, discerning Christians must separate themselves from these congregations. Paul said explicitly in Romans 16:17 "Now I urge you , brethren, note those who cause division and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them."
The "black" church must deal biblically with it’s own prejudice and embrace the truth of God’s word. Our current allegiances to personalities is the same mark of immaturity that Paul rebuked the Corinthian church about. We must strive, instead, to be more like the Bereans who "were more noble . . . in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).
B. L. B. B
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)