I recently watched a 140-minute documentary on Netflix called the American Gospel. A shorter first 40-minute version is freely available on YouTube to watch as well.
Over the centuries, the Biblical truth that has guided the Church has remained largely a core foundation on which our faith is based. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1946-47, provide us with the clearest evidence that the Bible we know today has remained true and unchanged in its form for almost 2000 years. Given this, it is interesting to see how diverse the church family has become.
A Walk through church history
Originally, the term “catholic” was literal in meaning – the universal church. Today, instead, the Catholic Church is considered just one denomination amongst others. First there was the schism that solidified the separation between East and West parts of the Roman Empire – and the Orthodox Church parted ways.
Then in the Renaissance era, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses against the Roman Catholic Church. This, led to the collective Protestant denomination of churches. Another major split originated from King Henry VIII that led to the Church of England, aka, the Anglican Church. Reformation and enlightenment has continued ever since as the Protestant branches of the Christian tree of faith have continued to grow and diversify.
All throughout, reformation and renewal of the church saw the common tenets of the Christian faith shared as a common root. Through the centuries many wars have been fought but none of these endeavours aligned with the core tenets of the faith and as such, we modern-day believers generally accept them as examples of our fallen nature triumphing over the divine calling that Jesus would harken us back to.
Time and time again, when we refocus away from ourselves and back to what our faith is all about, the Gospel message rings true and its Light pierces both darkness and our souls to remind us of what it is we first believed in. The Gospel was and is the Good news that Jesus lived, but more importantly, He died on the cross and rose three days later. In doing so, Jesus conquered death and made it possible for us to have reconciliation back to God. Belief in the Gospel is core to what it means to be a believer. For any denomination now to contradict the Gospel is ultimately challenging us to reconsider if that branch really belongs on the main tree of Christian faith and community.
The Gospel transcends local culture
Indeed, Jesus taught the disciples to bring and spread the Gospel to all nations irrespective of their culture. Everyone needs to hear the Gospel and be allowed to make their own decision on whether to believe or not. Beyond the core message of the Gospel, is where people get creative. Their original intentions are no doubt noble, and the original calling would have been sincere. However, the rise nowadays of the Prosperity Gospel, in particular, does stretch our ability to accommodate their beliefs and behaviours when attempting to align them to the actual teachings of the Bible.
Indeed, the Bible warned us that in the latter days, false prophets would distort the true Gospel and distract and/or deceive the hearts of many. The Bible may also caution us from judging each other, but the Bible is clear that we need to be discerning and to keep our eyes open. How else would we recognise the wolf amongst the sheep, the wolves disguised as sheep, etc…?
Word of faith
In the documentary American Gospel, the movement birthed out of the US known as the Word of Faith, is scrutinised and deemed one such distorted version of the Gospel. A large part of the movement ethos is tied up in the worldly measures of success. Some of their teachings are that God wants us to be successful, that wealth and prosperity are goals God would have us work towards. The American dream as a cultural aspiration is appealing to us from a worldly sense but is dangerous when we consider what the Bible teaches.
The Word of Faith movement acknowledges the Gospel insofar that salvation comes from Jesus. Salvation comes from Christ alone. Where the Word of Faith diverges from other groups of believers is that they over-emphasise and promote self-glorification to levels beyond what the Bible and Jesus would have taught. This is part of their mass appeal where they suggest that God’s desires align with our own, and in this way, they promote selfishness over selflessness.
One of the tests of the validity of the Word of Faith I think is summarised in the “so what” consideration: Christ and the Gospel ultimately all point us back to God; the transformation that comes from pursuing the true Gospel is reflected in our hearts aligned back to God and giving Him the praise He deserves. There have even been talks from Word of Faith champions where they make the argument that God within us equates us to little gods, empowered to succeed and prosper.
In contrast, when you succeed, according to the definition and mindset that Word of Faith teaches, you end up glorifying yourself, your ego inflated and “God” conforming to your will. God is our loving Heavenly Father and He does want to bless us, but the form of blessing and our understanding of what it means to be blessed by God needs careful examination.
So, I leave you with this verse for you to consider and apply as we navigate the 21st century, from 1 John chapter 4, verse 1:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Nic Lee works by day as a Business Analyst Consultant whilst, outside of business hours, maintains an IT support & website services business. He volunteers with 89.9 LightFM (Christian Community Radio). Nic has served for over twenty years in his local church, in worship, technology consulting, life group leading and event management.