MUST SOUND A WARNING—a warning about the dangers of embracing a “different gospel.” The apostle Paul warned that any distortion of the message of the grace of Christ was not simply another valid message, but a false one:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-7 NKJV).
As opponents of Paul, the Judaizers came to the Galatian churches that he had established. They said the cross of Christ was insufficient for salvation and insisted that Paul should have preached circumcision and the observance of Jewish law and ceremonies. The content of their message was different from that of the true gospel and focused on “another Jesus” who could not deliver from sin and heal broken relationships (2 Cor. 11:4). Paul told the Galatian believers that when they hear that kind of message, let the preacher of it be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:8 NIV). In other words, no matter how pious and how sincere, if the message is not about the true gospel and Christ’s redeeming grace, let the false messenger go to hell, even if the preacher is an angel.
Necessity of Sound Doctrine
Unsound teachings are just as deadly today as they were in the first century. Paul said that in the last days Satan would come right into the church, posing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13-14). Just as Paul predicted, Satan takes “ministers of righteousness” (v. 15) and transforms them into instruments of deceit and deception. That is frightening. It should inspire us to fall on our face and pray for God to help us to discern if a message is coming from carnal man, from Satan, or from the Holy Spirit.
It is not surprising that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, but for him to use ministers who at one time had a special touch of the Holy Spirit and entice them to preach and teach “another gospel” and “another Jesus”—that is terrifying! May God give us spiritual discernment to maintain the integrity of the gospel in our beliefs and in our lives.
A struggling pastor may be tempted to water down the gospel. He may have labored for years and fasted and prayed, but has not seen the growth he would like to see. Then a younger minister comes to town and, in a short time, has a mega-church. People flock to his church because there is entertainment and a fun gospel, but such fails to call sinners to repentance and transformation. This different gospel does not speak of being broken before God, bearing the cross, and living a holy life. Occasionally, Jesus’ name may be mentioned, but it is another gospel and another Jesus—a new gospel, not the gospel and the Jesus of the New Testament.
The Popularity of the New Gospel
This new gospel is on the rise, fitting the culture of an American lifestyle of luxury and pleasure and influencing ministers and churches of every denomination.
It has given birth to a number of large churches. Bright and talented young ministers, many who have good intentions, lead many of these churches. In fact, the new gospel is being sold to young ministers who want to get on the fast track and become prominent leaders.
Their approach for quick church growth is to appeal to the values of popular culture, using strategies patterned after the corporate world and commercialism. The new gospel says if a minister has a good strategy and tells people what they want to hear, that person will be successful.
As Paul warned, the temptation to boast in the flesh is appealing to many people (2 Cor. 11:16-18). The new gospel focuses more on bigness, numbers, and being contemporary than on discipleship.
A prominent pastor who preaches “feel-good sermons” was asked why he did not preach on the cross and the resurrection of Christ and other basic themes of the gospel. He said such preaching is out of style, people do not want to hear it, and it no longer meets human needs.
The pastor’s reply reminds us of Jesus’ warning, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15 NKJV). At times, false prophets cannot be discerned by their words or actions. Satan may put in the path of a man of God a wolf in sheep’s clothing to tempt him to embrace another gospel, a new gospel. Let every pastor and preacher heed Jesus’ warning not to accommodate error. It is popular to preach another gospel, but it can be costly. It could cost you your soul.
Invasion of the Modern Church
The new gospel is not the good news of Jesus Christ that transforms hearts and lives for eternity. It is simply a message that makes the unsaved (those who are not living in relationship with Christ) feel comfortable and gives many people what they want to hear. This new gospel has penetrated the modern church, and every church and Christian organization or movement must deal with it if they want to maintain the integrity of the true gospel.
The new gospel of today may affirm human-kind’s love of pleasure over faithful love for God. Paul speaks of misdirected love in the last days—“lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4 NKJV). The Greek word (philedonos) means “sensual pleasure” and “ungodly entertainment.”
People love to hear what suits their own ungodly passions rather than the truth of the gospel. Some teach that sexual misconduct does not make a person immoral and that adultery and homosexuality are only expressions of our culture. Often the argument is that when a person does more good than evil, his good will override and overbalance his evil. God has said anyone who teaches that doctrine or who lives according to it has rejected the truth and, without repentance, will receive nothing short of judgment (2 Cor. 5:9-11; Gal. 6:6-10).
Frankly, the true gospel will offend, because it calls each of us to give up control of our life by submitting to God and allowing Him to change us through a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. While God has not called us to offend people, neither has He called to us to make everyone comfortable.
I had a seminary professor who would pause at times as he was lecturing and say, “Young fellows, when you become pastors, you are going to offend some people because they want to be affirmed in their ways and their pursuit of worldly pleasures, but the true gospel will not do that.” Then he would add, “You can have no greater responsibility in this world than to preach and teach the gospel in its purity.”
Every minister of the gospel is going to give an account of what he or she has done with the gospel. On that day the Lord may say, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman . . . . When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning . . . to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezek. 3:17-18 NKJV). Our responsibility is serious.
The new gospel of today may deny the need for self-discipline. Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24 NKJV). Self-denial is the giving up of ourselves and everything that displeases God. Paul urges us to present our whole self “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1 NIV). The true gospel brings our body and spirit—our total personality—under the lordship of Jesus.
As believers, our physical bodies belong to the Lord; but the Corinthian Christians considered their bodies to have no permanence, so what they did with their bodies was not important. Some of them had visited houses of prostitution. As a result, Paul reminded them that their bodies belonged to the Lord and were meant for resurrection (1 Cor. 6:12-20). Christ died for the whole person—soul/spirit and body. The body will not pass away; it will be raised up when Christ returns. This future reality should affect our behavior now and cause us to glorify God in our bodies.
However, a popular counterfeit gospel implies that it makes no difference what you do with your body as long as your spirit is right with God. This heresy has been around in one form or another since the first century. Today it is known as Neognosticism, which teaches that the material world, including the human body, is evil. This false doctrine divides the human personality, suggesting you can sin in your body without it affecting your spirit. This teaching is a subtle way of changing the grace of God into license for immorality, and it is destroying the faith of many.
The new gospel of today may promote the doctrine of a hundredfold return. The “prosperity gospel” teaches that strong faith and the good life lead to an abundance of material wealth. Jesus did promise a “hundredfold” return in Mark 10:28-30, but He is speaking of spiritual wealth. Jesus is comforting and giving hope to those who have sacrificed that they will receive a great eternal reward for their faithfulness. He is speaking to those who have left everything (home, brother, sister, mother, father, and fields) for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. The kingdom of God is of supreme worth, and those who make great sacrifice to serve Jesus will ultimately receive great rewards.
Those believing the prosperity gospel appeal to 3 John 2 as a scriptural basis for teaching that God intends for all Christians to live in prosperity. This verse is John’s prayer for Gaius to “prosper and be in good health” (NASB). Most Christians would appreciate such a prayer, but they would not take it to mean John was praying for all Christians as well as Gaius to have great wealth.
In 2 Corinthians 9:10, Paul gave the Corinthians the assurance of God’s blessings for their generosity. However, Paul did not promise them unlimited material wealth; there was no guarantee their returns could be measured in dollars and cents. Material prosperity could prove to be a snare of Satan to entrap Christians and destroy their faith. Clearly, Scripture warns us of the inevitable spiritual danger of materialism. Beware of those who promise, “Give and the Lord will give you a hundredfold in return.”
The new “gospel” of today may diminish the importance of the Cross and the gifts of the Spirit in public worship. Our churches need to be seeker-friendly, but not at the expense of sound doctrine and Pentecostal worship. If we try to get rid of everything that may offend people from other churches and religious traditions, the first thing that has to go is the true gospel.
In New Testament times, with the Cross as its center, the gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews and an offense to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). Today the gospel still offends many people because the Cross remains the only way to salvation, and it calls each of us to a holy life.
Not only is there opposition to the preaching of the Cross, but also to the freedom of the Holy Spirit to break into our worship services and manifest His presence through His gifts. When the Spirit moves, God is there to heal the brokenhearted, the wounded in soul, and the afflicted in body. God may offer a word of encouragement, deliverance from a fatal illness, or a word of wisdom. Moreover, He may speak words of life through a word of knowledge, a prophecy, or tongues and their interpretation. The gifts of the Spirit demonstrate God’s immediate presence and love.
The Enemy is trying to lure Pentecostal churches to lock down the gifts, especially manifestations of the oral gifts in public worship. The many needs of God’s people and freshness in worship are reasons why a diversity of gifts are so vital to Spirit-filled worship.
The True Gospel
The integrity of the gospel and the church are challenged by many doctrinal errors and extreme theologies in our society. How can we maintain our Pentecostal doctrines and practices?
• Study and learn the truths in God’s Word.
• Walk in relationship with Jesus Christ in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, including Him in all aspects of our lives and the life of the church.
• Explore and understand our own past and what has brought us to where we are today.
• Be attentive to and prayerful about the times in which we live and discern how God is moving in our world, so we can participate in what He is doing.
• Rely on the Holy Spirit to gain a clear vision for the future and know the next steps God would have us take.
Attention to these areas will provide a strong spiritual foundation for teaching and discipleship in local congregations, and will help to grow healthy Pentecostal churches rooted in the true doctrine and moral teaching of the New Testament.
Excellent resources to use as guides for teaching the foundational truths of God’s Word are the Church of God Declaration of Faith, Doctrinal Commitments (core beliefs as outlined in Scripture), and Practical Commitments (moral teachings). All are available at www.churchofgod.org.
French L. Arrington, Ph.D., is the author of the three-volume Christian Doctrine: A Pentecostal Perspective, and commentaries on Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy. He taught and mentored students for decades at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary and Lee University.