Whose Gospel?

 

A person came for Christian counseling and substance abuse care who immediately began to tell me about all of the religious teachers under whom she had studied, most of whom I did not know. She told me how she had been “in ministry” for several years and what her office, gifts and calling were…..and yet, here she was, asking me to help her with some profound issues.

Among my first directives to her was to read selected sections of the Bible. After several days it was clear she was not doing that. As I talked to her about Christian principles from Scripture she lacked knowledge of some basic scriptures to which I pointed her. And she added some things to other passages that absolutely weren’t there in the Word. When I challenged some of things she was saying, she seemed to not even know what I was talking about and continued to reiterate what teachers she had had and how smart and ministry-equipped she was because of being with them.

The level of biblical illiteracy and confusion suggested ingestion of a lot of false-teaching, the presence of mental confusion, or even demonic influence…… or a combination of all three. Certainly, failure to read selected Bible passages after multiple directives to do so as part of the therapy led me to believe she had an aversion to reading the Bible. She apparently was more comfortable having a teacher tell her what it said and how to interpret it. After another few days, it was necessary to tell her that she was not ready for the counseling that I do, as she seemed unwilling to follow simple directions related to scripture and authority. I assisted her in getting to another place with which she was familiar and in which she expressed confidence through knowledge of others who had been there…….. Once again, it was her willingness to put her confidence in the experience of others, not a desire to be obedient to Christ, driving her decision.

As I reflected on our encounter, it seemed more and more to be the case that she had been a part of some ministries not too much different from those about which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians…..ministries that exalted an individual leader above Jesus Christ.

Sadly, some preach a gospel that is almost exclusively their own…… their beliefs, their experiences, their salvation, their miraculous healing…… One might reasonably ask if Jesus Christ had anything at all to do with it. There may be one or more blind spots with regard to Scripture so that the message that comes across is not the whole of Scripture, but that which confirms their own experience…… proof-texting, as it were, to validate their own life message.

This is certainly not new in our age, as Paul clearly describes it among the Corinthian believers. I had written previously about “counterfeit” churches…. where people are kept busy with religious activities and are denied a true relationship with Christ. Such churches often have long-tenured, personally well-liked pastors who have strong personal testimonies but who preach their own gospel and cultivate their own followers…….not Christ’s.

Such personal testimonies are fine, as far as they go. But they should not be the cornerstone of a ministry that competes with the true Cornerstone, Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:11-31

“……Some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides, going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.”

13-16 I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul’s name?” I was not involved with any of your baptisms—except for Crispus and Gaius—and on getting this report, I’m sure glad I wasn’t. At least no one can go around saying he was baptized in my name. (Come to think of it, I also baptized Stephanas’s family, but as far as I can recall, that’s it.)

17 God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.
18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hell bent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

1 Corinthians 3: 21-23
“I don’t want to hear any of you bragging about yourself or anyone else. Everything is already yours as a gift—Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, the present, the future—all of it is yours, and you are privileged to be in union with Christ, who is in union with God.”

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