Top Ten Mistakes by The Church: Dishonorable Mentions
by Jonathan Wilson
As I keep adding, I might have to change to
Dishonorable Mention: Premilliennial Sensationalism
A particular belief system in what the Bible teaches about the end of the world has been used as the spring board for several alarmists who have profited greatly from the fears they stir. Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth," Jack Van Impe's syndicated television program on the imminent end of the world, and the "Left Behind" books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, have alarmed and confused millions of Bible-believing Christians and ultimately harmed the witness of the evangelical Church in the United States.
Of course, the opposite lie is that there is no judgment at all.
Jesus tells us that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the coming end of days. It is not the provenance of scripture nor of individual believers to know or to predict. To do so is to risk the curses of Revelation (reach Revelation 22:18-19 concerning that warning). End-time sensationalism was big during the 1800's and led to the formation of various Christian denominations and cults. In our time it has made millionaires of some authors and televangelists.
Dishonorable Mention: The Jesus Seminar
A group of scholars including Marcus Borg and John Crossan assembled themselves in order to debate what of the statements recorded in the gospels were "really said" by Jesus, and what was imposed into his character by the later authors of the gospels. Of course, to make these determinations, the scholars had to make decisions about who Jesus "really" was, to wit: That claims about divinity are automatically rejected, while everything Jesus said that sounds like he hated rich people in the vein of Karl Marx is automatically authentic.
This is a departure from the beliefs of the apostles and of the Church, even as reported from non-Biblical sources. It is historically attested apart from the Bible that a fervent belief in his resurrection and of his exaltation as "Lord" characterized the convictions of the earliest generations of Christians. Did this rise from a vacuum? Was it a power grab from certain cult-masters? That is ridiculous to assert, when these same Christians risked impoverishment and death for these very convictions.
The Jesus Seminar is on the margins of New Testament Scholarship, yet it is composed of faculty tenured at various Divinity Schools that are responsible for training pastors for the pulpits of various main line denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and others. Although on the margins, they receive exposure from national media outlets, including a Peter Jennings documentary on ABC concerning "The Search for Jesus." In this documentary, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright represented the central beliefs that the Church has held for nearly 2000 years.
Dishonorable Mention: Health and Wealth Gospel
There are many doctrinally sound preachers of the gospel that appear on television or are featured on the radio. I do not want to expose myself by making unfair assessments of anyone's public ministry by naming them here. It is sufficient to say that I have had the experience of the majority of television viewers in channel-surfing and coming across televangelists that make promises about the life of discipleship in Jesus Christ that only appear to rise from scripture because scripture is twisted out of context. These promises are on this theme: "It is God's desire for you to live a life of conspicuous consumption. All you need to do is demonstrate your faith in God. Prove your faith by mailing a check to my ministry." (This is not my satire - it is a very real connection drawn by some televised preachers.)
By faith you can "think" and "pray" your way to financial prosperity and you can also "think" and "pray" yourself to personal healing of your ailments. This might be aided by the laying on of the televangelist's hand, but if you cannot get to the televangelist's studio/church, you can send another check and obtain some kind of fetish to aid your healing prayer, such as the handkerchief used to wipe the sweat off the televangelist's palms. (I am not exaggerating.)
The opposite lies are that God requires a vow of poverty from everyone, or that God is not involved in your daily affairs, or that God does not care about your material needs, or that churches only care about taking your money.
God does care about your life and your needs. Obedient living in the will of God is the surest way to remain in the will of God, so that God will see to it that you receive what is necessary to remain on the right path. This is the promise of Jesus Christ, "Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33 - read 6:25-34)
Jesus does not promise that material benefits accrue to your individual taste for luxury just because you covet a particularly lavish lifestyle. The "kingdom" that we are to seek is the community indwelt by the Spirit of God. It is in community and for the community's sake that our needs are met. In Mark 10:28-31, Jesus promises that in his vision, even those disowned by their families for his sake will find "100 times" the security and wealth of a family in the community of the Church.
This calls for a radical recentering of priorities. The Church is a community of care and support for everyone involved. If conspicuous consumption and selfish acquisitiveness continue to be your priority, and you believe you are justified by God in that priority, you have encountered and invited a false Christ into your heart. If you seek healing to be released from the inconvenience of an ailment, rather than healing as an avenue to bringing glory to God, you are asking for a mere work of magic, and magic is not God's business.
Recentering priorities for the kingdom means that there is money that goes to the kingdom work rather than toward all the toys we want for ourselves. Churches ask for giving because Christians have lost their Biblical compass. The tithe is 10 percent of gross earnings, the Bible knows no other definition, and Jesus treated the tithe not as a legalism he overthrew, but as the minimum commitment to a life centered on himself. In other words, if you cannot trust God with ten percent of what you earn (when you trust the government with 30 percent), how can you claim to trust God with your whole life? The sharing of the believers is what allows the Church to serve the community, to be a light to the world, and to be a supportive network for those in the congregation.
When someone promises that if you tithe to their ministry, you will be blessed by God to afford the Lexus you have always wanted, they are preaching on a false premise. Recentered priorities do not have the Christian giving to the Church in order to enrich themselves with toys. Recentered priorities have Christians giving because giving flows from the very heart of God (read Second Corinthians Chapter 9.) Churches will be healthier and more vital places with greater impact in the world when Christians seek the Kingdom first, and begin to trust God at least as far as the tithe.