Certain teachers peddled a doctrine pressing the idea that new gentile converts had to add to their faith in Christ obedience to the Jewish ritual law in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas, God’s principal ministers among the gentiles immediately discerned the perils of this teaching and their “no small dissension” (Acts 15v2) led to a full-scale church council being held in Jerusalem some weeks later. The clarity of understanding that emerged from this council is beautifully stated in the letter sent out to the young churches; “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” (Acts15v28) During the last one hundred years or so there have been several doctrines formulated that are corrosive of the true gospel; one of them has been defined as the ‘health and wealth’ gospel, sometimes known as ‘name it and claim it.’ Often, swinging along in step with these ideas is a strong emphasis on obtaining physical healings and miracles. We must clearly state that the latter are clearly present in the New Testament record although, in no way are they married to health and prosperity.
God promised His Old Testament people that provided they lived in obedience to Him and His law He would make them prosperous and keep them in health but never promised these particular things to His church. Actually, what Jesus told His followers was “in the world you shall have tribulation,” (John 16v33) and when new churches were formed under Paul’s gospel he warned them that, “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14v22) Obviously there is a serious discrepancy here and we need to consider it with the kind of diligence displayed by the church in Acts chapter fifteen. But is the ‘health and wealth’ doctrine so dangerous, does it work like an acid and eat away at true faith? I recently attended a pastor’s conference in the United States, about fifteen hundred men had gathered; the ministry could be described as ‘sound’ evangelical doctrine and ‘solid’ truth. Although the Holy Spirit was scarcely mentioned the word of God was presented inspiringly, focusing us on the things that really matter. Having reflected on the general weight and substance of what I met with and heard there I am thankful for the opportunity to go. However, I had a shock yesterday when I went into a website representing the ‘prophetic’ ‘charismatic’ wing of the churches today, it was the stark contrast of emphasis present in the writings there. The site was full of the enthusiastic pursuit of possible healings and miracles, encouragement to expect God to settle financial needs and so-called prophecies detailing what He is about to do in revival in various countries. The latest ‘revelations’ were given prominence, often subtly replacing the primacy of the Word of God already made known in the Scriptures.
The names of various apostles and prophets were bandied about; each bolstering the other along with their prognostications and again, this was very different from the sense of self-effacement evident in the pastor’s conference. Doubtless I am overstating these extremes somewhat, but there is sufficient cause to provoke concern as to whether the true gospel is being corrupted by the emphases upon physical blessings, plenty and comfort in the things of this present life. It is here that the corrosive affects are most evident because in this acidic gospel attention is firmly placed upon our present happiness; God is expected to supply plenty of health and monetary benefits so that we can live comfortable lives until we are taken home to glory. And, to cap it all, financial success and bodily health are signs of God’s approbation! Where all this places Paul, Peter and John who knows for the scriptures show us their manner of life and it certainly does not line up with the prosperity gospel! We must remind ourselves that the word spoken by Jesus, the early church and the multitudes of faithful witnesses since focuses upon the saving of the soul in this life that we might be ready for the life that is to come. We are shaken and tried in this life that we might enter into the unshakeable and eternal Kingdom of God. Abraham, the father of us all, “looked for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11v10) Hebrews eleven directs our attention to true faith. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” we “sojourn” here, “as in a strange country,” with others who “dwell in tents,” We “desire a better country,” a “heavenly one,” which “God has prepared for them,” because He is “not ashamed” of such persons. (Hebrews 11v8-16) The ‘name it, claim it’ emphasis directs our view away from a life of simplicity, holiness and loving service to God and fashions Him into an idol whose task is to make us comfortable here and thus His everlasting Kingdom is eclipsed by a present earthly one. Health and wealth ideas actually make their adherents try to avoid difficulties and suffering, yet often these are the very arena’s where the sanctifying, transforming Person and Power of the Lord Jesus is most fully known.
What a grief it is that we have to polarize things like this, for who amongst us has not experienced God’s kind providential supply, sometimes His healings and miracles too, and we desire to see Him do much more. C.S.Lewis captured our concerns in his Narnia books. We meet a number of talking beasts in those stories and as far as I understand Lewis was seeking to magnify a certain human quality in of each of them. Among these fictional characters is Puddleglum a marsh-wiggle, his name suggests that he comes from wetlands and is rather glum and pessimistic. In The Silver Chair he is trapped in the dark caverns of the Underworld along with the three children, there the Green Witch seeks to seduce him from the realities of Narnia and of Aslan’s country. His final speech is, “suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.
And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play–world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once, and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think: but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” Let another Lewis character Reepicheep the talking mouse of indomitable courage have the last word as he sets out on pilgrimage from Shadow-Lands, his quest is to find Aslan’s county somewhere to the east, out of sight, beyond the horizon, but a burning reality to him never the less for he has sensed the joy thereof. He captures this musing perfectly, showing us where Christian attention and focus is set. “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”