Scripture and the Church

False Gospels: How Do They Come? What Is the Answer?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In a 2011 seminary commencement address, Dr. John McKnight traced the pattern of departure from Truth that we find throughout history, and the Biblical answer to it.
From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part six (final) of a series. Read part five.

In a 2011 seminary commencement address, Dr. John McKnight traced the pattern of departure from Truth that we find throughout history, and the Biblical answer to it.

In this series of articles we have examined the destructive influence of the false teachings of Timothy Keller, a leading figure in the church of our time. As I stated in the beginning, at the heart of Keller's dangerous influence is a false gospel. Keller's hetero-gospel encapsulates his un-Biblical views of God, the authority of His Word, the origin and present state of His creation, the nature of man, the definition of sin, the purpose of the cross-work of Christ, and the mission of His church. We have also seen that Keller's own stated motivation for his methodology and message is to make his "gospel" palatable to the pagan world.

Keller is certainly not unique in this. We see efforts to "re-package" and "re-brand" the Gospel all around us, and it is not a new problem for the church. But what we observe in Keller and so many others evokes two critical questions: How does a once-sound church, denomination, or Christian school come to the place where it obscures and ultimately denies the Gospel, as Keller and his followers, and so many others, do today? And, what must be the response of those who seek to remain faithful to the one true Gospel?

Dr. John McKnight, pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Darlington, Maryland and a friend of this ministry, focused on these very issues in a commencement address he delivered at Faith Theological Seminary in Baltimore on May 21, 2011. I do not believe I could improve on what he has said. What follows is a partial transcript of his remarks.

As was predicted in the Scriptures, "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" [2 Timothy 3:13]...We observe that, certainly, in the religious scene around us today.

What is our response to be...in the midst of a religious world that is so set upon confusion - where bedlam, theologically, seems to be the order of the day? What are we to do? . . .

Let me share with you a pattern of activity that I think can be traced throughout the history of the message God has given to man. It goes in this sequence: First, God reveals His Truth to a people. The pure, unadulterated Word of God. Those who receive that Truth, eager to propagate the truth, develop methods of communication, programs, organizations, methodologies, to publish that Truth.

Another generation inherits the truth, now encapsulated in various methods and procedures and ideologies.

That is passed to yet another generation, each one of which enlarges the footprint of what has been revealed. But much of that footprint is no longer what was revealed, but rather the methods, and the ways, and the interpretations, and the ideas that have evolved out of that Truth.

That is passed to another generation, to whom the Truth becomes simply a possession they've inherited but never experienced. They have the forms, they have the means, the programs, and organizations, and they are committed to the propagation of those ways, those means, those programs.

And in the course of the efforts, somehow or another, Truth itself - the Truth that God revealed - gets lost in all of man's ideas and inventions to promote it.

And so, you find God revealing His Truth to Noah. But by the time of Abraham, where was the Truth? The Truth [is later] revealed by God to Abraham. But by the time his descendants are enslaved in Egypt, one wonders how much they really possessed of, and embraced, the Truth of the God of Abraham.

It was revealed, then, to Moses. But as generations passed, man-made methods and schemes and plans to propagate the truth resulted in a generation in the day of Christ that was ultra-religious, but did not even recognize the Word made flesh when He was sent among them. And then, Christ Himself, the very Truth of God in human form, eternal truth incarnate among men, was the very revelation of almighty God to man himself.

And man received the truth, and on the Day of Pentecost the Spirit of God came, in conspicuous evidence with blessed gifts, and with signs and wonders that indeed wrought great works for God, and the Gospel was given unto man.

And within several generations, the methodology designed to propagate the Gospel, the programs and institutions of man to keep it alive, began to become more important than the Truth itself, until we come down through the ages to the time of the Reformation.

And as had been the case in Christ's day, when those who should have been proclaiming Him were in fact obscuring Him and fighting Him, so at the time of the Protestant Reformation the Truth was so obscured by the instrument that had grown up to propagate it that the church itself was burying and hiding the Truth, keeping it from man, forbidding man to have it. And God graciously sent the great Protestant Reformation.

That pattern, I think, can be demonstrated throughout the history of humanity, and I think we should be mindful of the possibility that it is in place even today.

For the past century, at least, the handling of the Word of God and the proclamation of the Truth of the Gospel has fallen prey to the notion that man must somehow or another make the Gospel palatable to sinners, must by some means sugar-coat the Gospel with things that will make it appealing to the current culture of the day.

And consequently, human effort to propagate the Gospel, adding to it that which sweetens it for a heathen world, has in fact diluted the Gospel, perverted the Gospel, so that the very exercise and organizations endeavoring to propagate the Gospel are themselves that which obscures it most.

And so the Gospel is presented in a manner today, even as Rome was presenting it prior to the Reformation, that accommodates the ways of the world, the ways of the heathen cultures into which the Gospel has been introduced, thinking that is necessary in order to win those heathen cultures to the Gospel, when in fact like Rome what this is doing is diluting the Gospel with the wisdom of man - which is, in fact, foolishness with God.

What then is our response to be? How are we...to go forth into a world that needs the Gospel - and the need of the Gospel is so conspicuously clear to us - how are we to go forth unto them?

The greatest Christian sermon that was ever preached was the first Christian sermon that was ever preached. It was preached by the Apostle Peter, and three thousand souls were saved. They didn't just make a decision, sign a decision card, agree to improve what they were doing. No, the Spirit of God Himself tells us that they were converted, that they believed. And if the Spirit of God says it, it is certain. On that day, as Peter preached at Pentecost, three thousand souls were saved.

And it is notable to observe what he did not do. He did not try to sweeten the message for a heathen culture. He didn't endeavor to sugar-coat it, so that those who saw Christ crucified as foolishness and an offense might instead decide it was a good idea to sign onto. No, he preached that message, and the theme was this: God approves of Jesus Christ.

In that message that we read in the early chapters of Acts, the Apostle gave five evidences of Divine approval upon Christ. He pointed to the miracles of Christ. To the resurrection of Christ. To the fact that the Old Testament itself had spoken of Christ. He pointed out the fact that what they were experiencing that day on Pentecost was in itself a Divine affirmation of the life of Christ.

And when he had demonstrated by irrefutable evidences that God approves of Jesus Christ, he said, "Whom ye crucified." That is not sugar-coating his message. That is not endeavoring to accommodate it to the culture of the day and its pagan ways. For you see, the Gospel does not need our improvement. It needs only to be proclaimed in its naked truth, because the Gospel is itself "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth." ...

I've been pastoring in Harford County, Maryland for almost twenty years. Every week I get in the mail brochures concerning the next great seminar, the next great conference where you can pay your fee, and you're promised to come back to your church, reinvigorated and excited and pumped up, and ready to get that many more people and that much more money into the ministry.

My trash can fills quickly. We do not need new programs, new schemes, new tricks or treats. We need, rather, a God-anointed return to the preaching of the simple Gospel of Christ.

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, he made this point very clear. He said, "It is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' " "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."

And he went on then in the second chapter to say, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of [men's] wisdom." He proceeds to say that he was with them in foolishness, in weakness, in trembling, in fear.

It's not that Paul lacked the ability to communicate, nor is it that he lacked vocabulary to express his thought. He was a wordsmith, a master at language. Rather, he said the he feared that if he resorted to eloquence of speech and men's wisdom, he might convince them - but - by his convincing, their faith would stand in the wisdom of man, rather than in the power of God.

I solemnly fear that the efforts of the past century are so. [They] have focused on making the message palatable to a heathen culture, have made it attractive to sinners who embraced the message and never experienced the regenerating power of the Spirit of God. Sinners who have gotten religious - and oh, what enormous capacity sinners have to be religious. And yet their faith is one that stands in the wisdom of man, rather than in the power of God.

On that day at Pentecost, when three thousand were saved by the preaching of the Word of God that Peter did, on that day, it was a Christless culture that was transformed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit of God. And if our converts are not regenerated by the power of the new birth - regeneration - then we don't want converts. For "converts" converted by any means other than that are converted unto deception, and error, and misguidance. What is needed is the Spirit-anointed exposition of the Word of God. That and nothing more. And God blesses His Word.

Some may lament, "That is so very narrow. There will be very few who embrace what you are doing and saying." Which may well be the case. "Narrow is the road that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." "Broad is the road that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which enter in thereat." [Matthew 7:13-14] But even if one must stand alone, he stands - if what he stands for is the simple, pure Gospel of Christ.

Imagine, for a moment, that we are engaged in warfare, and we are on the battlefield. And the roar of artillery can be heard, and the whistling of the bullets shrieking past our skulls is very close. And our captain, upon whom we depend for every success we are to have in that battle, our captain is on the battlefield with us, and suddenly the bullet finds him, and he goes down mortally wounded, and we for a moment are left at a loss. But then, suddenly, we see our captain rise to his feet, and stand up alive in order to take command once again. And when our captain arises and takes command, we are heartened. We realize that if our captain, slain in battle, yet comes back to life and command, then he is invincible.

Beloved, that is our very circumstance. For the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ, entered human flesh that He might be identified with His brethren and might save them. And in the battle that we fight, He is the commanding officer. He entered the fray with us, and was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day He rose again from the dead. That is the simple Gospel. Our Captain was brought to life. Show to me the Man whom God has raised from the dead, and I will show to you the Man of whom God approves.

And [because] our Captain is utterly indestructible, [because] He cannot be kept in His tomb, then we know that our cause is triumphant. Be we ever so small and despised a minority in the seas of religious confusion, if our Captain has returned from the dead, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.

And so as the Apostle Paul reviewed this glorious truth of Christ's resurrection - as "the firstfruits of them that slept" we too shall rise - he could conclude with this exhortation: "Therefore...be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

We have a risen Captain. The victory is secured. It is for us, in faithfulness to our Head, Jesus Christ, to proclaim - thoroughly, faithfully, and, God help us, with anointing - the simple Gospel that our Captain, slain, lives forevermore and saves all who come to Him. Therein is our great triumph, our everlasting victory.

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