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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The False Gospel of Success

Just turning on the television and tuning in to one of the local "Christian" TV stations here in Orlando gives me great distress and cause for alarm. If what we see on so-called "Christian" television represents Christianity, then the Christian religion is in serious trouble. You might ask why I am so pessimistic. Did not Jesus say that whoever is not against Him is for Him? (See Matthew 12:30; Luke 9:50, 11:23).

To make matters even more complicated, the historical development of the Christian religion is a long and complicated one. Exactly what is essential to the teachings and doctrines of Christianity as a universal or catholic religion? This question is no longer an easy one to answer. This is especially true since all of the Protestant Reformers, including the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, considered justification by faith alone to be the cornerstone of true religion and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately today even Evangelical Christianity has become confused and divided over this issue. Even Billy Graham, the foremost Evangelical evangelist of the 20th and 21st centuries, has allowed for the inclusion of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in his crusades, both of which churches explicitly deny justification by faith alone and affirm some sort of justification by good works or merits.

Moreover, the explosion of the charismatic/pentecostal movement seemed to inject new life into the dying mainline denominations which had been decimated by liberal, modernist, and postmodernist theology. But it was not genuine in the end. With the emphasis on "experimental" religion there was initially a revival in conservative Christianity but such roller coaster experiences are ultimately built on shifting sand. When the emphasis is on one's experience of God rather than a solid balance between theology and experience, the end result is a de-emphasis on sound doctrine and the Holy Scriptures. Ironically, the charismatic movement ended up becoming a form of "liberal" conservativism. In short, the heterodoxy and heresy problem just put on new clothes.

The charismatic movement arose from the pentecostal movement which had its roots in the Wesleyan theology of entire sanctification and an experience of holiness and closeness to God such that a person did not sin willfully anymore. However, in the 19th century a plethora of millennialist movements were on the rise because of the approach of the turn of the century. Along with this many early forms of popular eastern religion were on the rise. New Thought, Christian Science and Unity School of Christianity were all influences on the early pentecostal movement. This combination of conservative Evangelical Christianity with Wesleyan theology mixed with the emphasis on the control of one's own destiny, prosperity, and health only makes sense from an Arminian perspective. Afer all, God is merely in control of things in general. Man is the captain of his own eternal destiny. If this is true, then man ought to be able to choose his own success in life, his physical and social well being, and his own financial prosperity.

The combination of popular psychology, Christian Science, New Thought, and the popular success industry in the secular world gave rise to a form of "Christianity" that actually made man a "god" in control of his own destiny. This attractive sales package is initially intoxicating to the new convert and he or she is sold out to the charismatic personalities leading the local church, believing that the promises made to them will come to fruition.

Sadly, after a few years disillusionment sets in as the person realizes that the promises are not going to happen and that the whole system of success is just a way for dishonest ministers and preachers to take advantage of people desperate for a way out of their financial and social difficulties. In the mid 1980's when the economy was booming there seemed to be some legitimacy to these exorbitant and excessive claims but as the economy cooled off more and more charismatics became wise to the game.

But aside from the manipulation, pseudo-miracles, and other problems, the doctrinal issues are by far the most disturbing. Those who deny the trinity, like Bishop T.D. Jakes, are welcomed with open arms. Even the Society for Pentecostal Studies, a formal academic organization representing "conservative" Pentecostal denominations, openly welcomes oneness pentecostals who deny the trinity and theologians who defend the prosperity faith movement, which denies the deity of Jesus Christ among other things.

I could go on about how the faith movement has virtually become the dominant theology in classical Pentecostal "fellowships," including the Church of God and the Assemblies of God. But even early pentecostal pioneers like Harold Horton were involved in Christian Science and taught that Spirit-filled Christians are "little gods and little Jesus's."

The so-called church growth movement was initiated by early charismatics who sought to use techniques and gimmicks to promote a rise in membership. This capitalized on Charles Finney's extreme pelagianism and his manipulation of the altar call to get a response from the audience. Unfortunately, the utilitarian approach of whatever works is right ends up compromising conservative Christianity with secular culture. Today, despite rock bands for youth groups, Christian youth is no more faithful than their secular counter parts. Instead of transforming youth with conservative values the church growth movement merely brought the pagan values of the culture into the church to undermine youth from within. Christian youth are just as likely to be sexually active and drink and use drugs as other youth according to some experts.

Evangelical denominations in general are succumbing to charismatic influences via the church growth movement. In turn a de-emphasis on Scripture and solid theological teaching has watered down the gospel to the point that the gospel has practically become irrelevant.

The premier Evangelical organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, formed around 1947 in response to the liberal organizations among the mainline churches, was headed by a charismatic pastor, Ted Haggard. Turns out that Haggard's prosperity gospel was not enough to satisfy his soul. Revelations of sexual misconduct involving a homosexual prostitute along with drug abuse led to Haggard's removal from office as president and as pastor of his church.

These are but symptoms of a deeper problem in Evangelicalism. There is no longer an agreed ground of common or univeral faith. There are no longer any "fundamentals" or "essentials" of Christian faith whereby Evangelicals can have a common fellowship and a common theology in general.

Since both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy are apostate churches, this leaves Christianity in dire straits. Unless there is some sort of miracle, a revival of Reformed and sound Evangelical theology, Christianity is headed toward being assimilated by the borg culture and by heretical and modernist theologies rampant in the mainline denominations. The Episcopal Church USA is on the frontlines of this sort of moral and theological decline. It is only a matter of time before formerly charismatic and Evangelical denominations follow after the mainline denominations. These formerly conservative churches will endorse sexual license, theological pluralism, and the social gospel over and above the gospel of Jesus Christ which focuses more on justification by faith alone and on the after life than on the here and now.

May God have mercy on us all!

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