The Apostle Paul had some stern words concerning ‘contrary’ gospels:
"As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:9 ESV)
Some translations use the phrase ‘other than’ or ‘any other’ instead of ‘contrary’ in that passage, and both are most certainly true! Any gospel other than the one Paul preached is a false gospel. At the same time a ‘false’ gospel is a ‘contrary’ gospel. Is there a subtle difference in meaning here?
‘Other than’ means just that – anything not the same as. In this case a gospel not the gospel that Paul preached.
‘Contrary’ by definition means: opposed, as in character or purpose; opposite in direction or position. So not only are ‘other’ gospels not Paul’s gospel, they stand in direct opposition to and actually head in a different direction. When we turn to and accept other, contrary gospels, we can be led astray from true devotion to Christ. It does happen, if we believe the Apostle Paul:
"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough." (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV)
It seems that Paul saw the work of the enemy, who is always opposed to the true gospel, in false gospels in his day. I fear nothing has changed. I recently read a sad story told by a Baptist Pastor in Namibia, Conrad Mbewe; that illustrates what is perhaps the chief ‘contrary’ gospel in our day:
"Last Sunday, a young man came to see me after our church service. He is the kind of guy who shows up at church once in a while and then disappears for a season. My guess is that he goes around churches sampling sermons and looking for answers. On this visit, he asked that I help him to overcome a failure in his life, and it was a failure to progress. He said that his greatest problem is that he does not believe in himself. Could I help him believe in himself so that he could become successful?
I gave him a booklet to read, entitled, What is a Biblical Christian? When we met the following day, he was honest enough to tell me that he was disappointed with what he read because it was not telling him what he wanted to hear. “What I want to know is how I can be successful. This booklet did not say anything about that.” I repeated what I told him earlier. What he needed was not belief in himself but belief in a Saviour sent from heaven. He needed forgiveness as a foundation for his life.
Yesterday, a church member told me that he met the young man in the local market. He had two booklets in his hands. The first was the one I had given him and the second one was by Joel Osteen. He told our member, “Pastor Mbewe gave me this book but I don’t like it because it makes me feel guilty. I prefer this one by Joel Osteen because it lifts me up. It motivates me.”
This false gospel takes many forms, and I won’t even try to list them all here. You will probably be able to identify some of those forms in Pastor Mbewe’s remarks:
"Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail."
In his online post at A Letter from Kabwata, Pastor Mbewe concludes with this:
"Motivational speaking is not biblical preaching. It is a blight on the landscape of true evangelicalism. It is filling the churches with dead people who are being told to live as if they are alive. We need to return to the good old gospel that truly gives life to the dead and sets men and women free. Like Paul of old, every truly evangelical pulpit must sound out the clear message of “repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Let us get rid of this curse of motivational speaking!
The question we must ask ourselves:
"Are we sitting under sound Biblical preaching that presents the true gospel, or do we spend our Sunday mornings listening to a ‘contrary’ gospel?"
Food for thought early on this Sunday morning, June 24, 2012.