The Case for Unity and Forgiveness

Evangelism that installs a common faith produces unity and such unity among believers expresses the Father’s loving Nature to the world, a unity that is elegantly demonstrated in the Trinity.  Unity is important and difference is not necessarily disruptive. In fact it can enrich unity. When I listen to Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church I am left filled with feelings of encouragement about my importance in the Father’s Plan for my life right here and now; Charles Price of Living Truth leaves me feeling edified with eye-opening biblical insights; Mark Hughes of Church of the Rock provides me with practical scripturally-based “recipes” to apply in my life; and Fr. Mark Goring from Food for Life offers me a down-to-earth understanding of my daily walk with Christ. These four pastors are all gifted in the delivery of their different messages. Here’s my point: I believe God intentionally put them in my life and in the lives of all those who benefit from their ministry for His purpose. None of them is superfluous in His Plan! Any preacher who contributes to making faith happen or grow is demonstrating God’s Will. Listen to Jesus and the Father agreeing and elaborating on this:

… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

I do recognize how outraged and even betrayed some pastors must feel in the face of what they see as scandalous profiteering in the name of the Gospel. Many of them no doubt feel “speaking out” is the honest and Christian step to take to unmask others they may see as charlatans. Considering however that we will not all see things from the same point of view and much as Christians, like other people will feel aggrieved by some of the behaviors of others, we do have biblical models or principles for managing such circumstances none of which prescribe publicly chastising or shaming the perceived offender. Undoubtedly both Paul and Peter strongly denounce false teachers and Christian leaders guilty of deceiving various groups of believers. These canonized saints however without exception in the end leave the problem with the Lord and God to judge and punish. This is a form of humility that keeps the perceived problem and its emotional impact within the best containment. Even more basic is the fact that the Apostles are addressing unmistakable problems. The case for today’s prosecutors of heresy as I have shown is at best weak and one from which they themselves cannot be totally exonerated. At worst they condemn others based on motives that are not provable.

In an example of pointless criticism I noted offence taken at the size of some churches. The question here is: Where should we draw the line between acceptable size that enables the true Gospel versus an unacceptable largeness? And does going beyond a certain number of people mean misguided evangelism? And then on what logical basis will this numbers critique, for example, stand if a proven counter-point is made that clearly it is the preaching content and style of the so-called prosperity gospel pastor that is directly responsible for the very large following or “popularity”? There must be a good reason why the Holy Spirit would allow this. I wonder if those who accept the absence or insufficiency of the “prophetic voice” in more traditional Christendom can also accept that very likely it is their inexplicable silence or weak “Promises of God” voice that allowed so-called prosperity theology to emerge and prosper. If they do then they are attacking the very thing they themselves created. So they need to fix that problem. No doubt Scripture can guide them. If they don’t, then looking in the mirror may provide an answer.

Criticisms that acknowledge “good” aspects of the ministry of the people being condemned as merely seeking prosperity weaken the case of the anti-prosperity critics. This is simply because to complain that only some part of something is acceptable where it is difficult to know where to draw the line, is unhelpful; and it may even have been better not to criticize as I stated above. I have also already commented on the subjectivity in assessing the economic situations of two Pastors with different economic bases.  And how do we determine with certainty that a preacher is insincere or manipulative and not just “misinterpreting” Scripture? Do these critics forget Proverbs 28:20? The Holy Spirit has taken care or that!

Some have raised the contrite renouncement by Jim Bakker seemingly triumphantly as confirmation of “prosperity” theology’s error, especially the comment in his book that Jesus had nothing good to say about money. At least two very important aspects caught my attention in the Bakker repentance. 1) He admitted he knew that Jesus had stopped being the center of his life, being replaced by acquiring money. To me this represents the defining sin in engaging in pursuing wealth. Until we have proof that so-called prosperity preachers are aware of this failing I do not believe we can comment on the rightness or wrongness of wealth in a person’s life. 2) In His time and way God brought him to that place of remorse. The whole event was accomplished without the help a single human anti-prosperity defender. I see that God chose to restore rather than pillory him. There are things only God can do faultlessly.

We humans can only take Paul’s advice with respect to those who are not true to Scripture. Namely that such people “… must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). I can see one way of trying to do this is to give special invitation to the supposedly errant preachers of all stripes to general theological conferences structured for everyone’s learning with no intention of putting anyone on the spot and in fact with a spirit of reconciliation and acceptance.

Despite Our Completely Sinful Condition Jesus and Our Father Accept Us; therefore so Should We Each Other!

When Christian preachers put down other Christian preachers, particularly if, in good faith their targets are preaching Christ according to their abilities and/or Spirit-driven motivation I think these Christian critics diminish Christ’s accomplishment or perhaps even worse they nullify the entire evangelical Mission in the eyes of unbelievers. This is not to Christ and God’s glory (Rom. 15:7). For the sake of the unity Christ worked and prayed for earnestly and in unmistaken language (John 17:11, 21-23), we need to bear with one another. We need to be able to relate to these differences as different ways of worshipping the same God. Paul said in Ephesians:

… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (4:1-7)

In view of the numerous Christian denominations Jesus and Paul’s plea for unity is applicable to the entire Christian Church and not just to those who object to a type of preaching of which they do not approve. At this point therefore, why would we want to do more damage to the Body of Christ?

Jesus said: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall…” (Luke 11:17)

Sniping at so-called prosperity preachers only serves to create division (as if there isn’t enough already), undermine our Christian image and our faith and muffle or muddle our testimony to unbelievers. It also violates Jesus’ cardinal command: “Love each other” (John 15:12, 17). Remarkably He does not make obeying Him a command in the same way as He does our loving each other.  Obeying Him is evidence of our love for Him; it is conditional to being Christian. Once we are however, we must love each other. It’s a package deal! And not with lip service either as when we condemn or put another person down “in love”.

The standard of achievement in the demonstration of mutual love among Christians set by the Lord Himself is His Willingness to die for us. For those who will find a way to take this to mean an attempt to stifle legitimate criticism, I believe our Lord does present two criteria for pointing out others’ faults. We do so after: 1. We remove the plank from our own eyes to be able to see the other’s fault more accurately as well as to free us from moral dishonesty 2. We review our own life and are satisfied we haven’t missed the mark somewhere, somehow (as in the case of the accusers in the story of the Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery). Then we are qualified or free to evaluate another person’s life, which no one can be as the Evangelist indicated by showing that even the self-righteous religious leaders walked away not stoning the woman.

Please let me say more about the lessons to be learned from the story of the Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery.

This lady was being accused of one of the worst moral-religious crimes in Jesus’ day – adultery. Her criminality was that much more magnified because she was caught “in the act.” She was facing a universally accepted religious way of dealing with her immoral act that was considered just. I would be surprised if there were people in the crowd that gathered who had not judged her behavior as religiously, morally and socially offensive.

So these leaders came fully convinced on biblical grounds and with practically unanimous public support behind them that their case was watertight. Yet God Himself, in the Person of Jesus did not condemn her. He saw through them! His sole response to her amounted to: Go with your dignity and My Blessing; but from now on stop living that life of sin.

This is the clearest instance of a moral-religious wrong that almost everyone in His day would consider worthy of condemnation and the severest punishment. Yet in the Evangelist’s telling, Jesus’ attitude and reaction was not only calm, non-judgmental and accepting of the woman but as well He unequivocally left no doubt that her accusers were guilty of forgetting that they too were sinners, regardless of how they regarded their own sinfulness in relation to hers. It is also noteworthy that He did not comment on or use her situation as a basis for a teaching to His disciples or the crowd (as in the case of the man who could not give up his wealth). It seems that all the lessons to be learned from that event were already presented at the “accusation site”. Jesus did not need to take things any farther.

All preachers of the Gospel are on the same side because “ALL Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16) Let’s all live together in peace with gratitude that the message is going out one way or another and lifting up the power of Jesus and our Father for one reason or another. When this is happening we should be happy not angry or resentful. Paul said:

… what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Critics of the so-called prosperity gospel need to heed Paul’s message and change their attitude and take down their articles off the Web. Of course in such matters of needed correction in a group, change occurs when the problem is made personal. A self-correction for unity is called for regarding the friction over “prosperity gospel” preaching as well as over any divisive issue in individual churches. As such anything you have been doing which divides rather than unites the Body of Christ must end with you, personally. Be assured that God has ordained that His Word shall go out in as many forms warranted. He has it all under His control! Doesn’t Paul appear to be explaining that God uses different forms of ministry to empower His Church, when he writes?

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

These are hugely significant items for the lesson plans of today’s religious leaders, as they determine what is critical to be taught as unbiblical and unchristian. Jesus teaches every Christian that no one’s sin is better or worse than another’s. Paul echoes this truth when he says: “… all have sinned, and come (fallen) short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23) On the basis of the lessons from the account of the Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery my humble advise is that we who are followers of Jesus need to: Stop judging or pretending we are not judging. We cannot fool God.

Of particular relevance to this whole matter of keeping the Church of Christ united, using the best qualities that epitomize a Christian are Paul’s words to the Colossians as follows:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)

Nor can anyone manipulate or spin God’s Gospel and get away with it even if it looks that way. Scripture tells us where God stands on such matters. The whole of Psalm 73 says it like many feel it today but please hear the Lord’s assurance that this passage offers us:

Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.” (Psalm 73:27)

Through Paul God’s exhortation is stated in more explicit detail, apropos to the topic at hand in his Letter to the Galatian church where He says:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6: 7-10)

I hope you do not miss “all people”, who include those some describe as preaching “false theology”. For the record my sole motivation in writing this entire piece is 1 Peter 4:10: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” As one granted grace to be a psychologist with 40 years’ experience I feel a need to try to heal what I see as an unnecessary, divisive and most serious of all, insidious and self-destructive rift among ambassadors of the Gospel Story. But do I do this with a wagging finger? God forbid! I’m not sure how well it comes through but this is an almost tearful plea for family members whom I love dearly to accept one another in love (Hebrews 13:1, 1 Peter 4:8). It is eye-opening and sobering for me to realize that Christian unity is to be at the heart of our evangelism. In His revelatory prayer Jesus said:

… so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (17:23)

Leave a Reply