Saturday, September 1, 2018

How Do We Evaluate a Preacher's Message?

Unhappily, Christian people are often all too ready to attack other Christians and to accuse them of being “heretics” because they disagree with their teaching. The gospel (euangelion) is the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and his authority over all things,as the Son of God (e.g., Romans 1:1-4).

But this basic “good news” has many implications and facets, and different preachers focus on different aspects of the gospel. Some stress accepting God’s forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. Others emphasize the experience of knowing that God loves you. Still others stress the new way of life that becomes possible for us through the work of Jesus. Obviously all these are aspects of the basic message about Jesus, so it’s unkind and even foolish to attack a preacher as a false teacher because he or she stresses a different facet of the Christian message.

As an example, in certain Christian circles there’s a sustained attack on the “prosperity gospel” or “word of faith” movement as a false teaching. (Never mind, of course, that the Apostle Paul calls the gospel the “word of faith” that he preaches — Romans 10:8-9.) Opponents evaluate the “prosperity gospel” negatively because millions of third-world Christians continue to live in deprivation and poverty despite having come to the Lord.

But, we have to ask, should we evaluate the truth or falsehood of a preacher’s teaching based on the experiences of people, or on what we see reported in the media? Or should we judge the preacher’s message based on how it corresponds to the Word of God? In other words, does the poverty of millions of believers negate the clear teaching of Scripture that “the reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4)? It seems to me that it’s the Word of God, rather than human circumstance, that provides the criterion by which to evaluate the truth or falsehood of someone’s teaching.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We Need More Pharisees

The Pharisees get a “bad rap” in the New Testament because Jesus called some of them on their inconsistent practices (Matthew 23:13ff.). Indeed, he told some of them that they were children of the devil (John 8:44) — pretty strong language! The epithet “Pharisee” has become synonymous with “hypocrite,” and nobody wants to be accused of being Pharisaical. But the fact is, all Christians are Pharisees. If you believe the Word of God should be your guide for living, if you believe in miracles, and if you believe in the resurrection of the dead you’re a Pharisee — for those things were what distinguished the Pharisees from other Jews of the first century. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), and used his identification with the Pharisees to stir things up among his accusers (Acts 23:6-7). Jesus certainly cared about the Pharisees or he wouldn’t have tried so hard to straighten them out, to make them into more effective and accurate teachers of his people.

Contrary to common opinion, the Pharisees weren’t trying to get people “saved” by keeping the most stringent provisions of the Law of Moses. They were actually developing “workarounds” so the Law would be easier for more people to keep. For the Lord had given the Law as an act of grace (Deuteronomy 7:7ff.), in order to prepare the people he had chosen as his witnesses to lead an orderly and successful life in the land he had promised to give them. Our culture of today has experienced the disappearance of many standards of upright and compassionate behavior, and a diminished belief in the resurrection and in God’s miracle-working power. So we don’t need fewer Pharisees, we need more.