January 2012

Current Trends to be Scrutinized

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It is time to speak up about a certain teaching on the grace of God which has recently captivated many Christians. The teaching is encapsulated in the title “Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness, and Victorious Living” taken from a book written by a rising star in Christendom.

Without going into detail about the teaching, it would behoove us to make some observations beginning with the title of the book, especially the phrase “Effortless Success.” This term would appear to appeal to people who are looking to make a fast buck without trying, perhaps to the kind of people who buy lottery tickets hoping for that one-in-a-ten-million dream to come true. There are many such people, even among Christians, and they might want to buy the book and unwittingly enrich the author. But the title does not square with Jesus’ words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Certainly taking up the cross is not meant to be effortless and painless. We must discern carefully.

Now even if after buying and reading the book we come to the conclusion that the above is not what the author meant to say at all, nevertheless the title given to the book is clearly meant to attract a certain kind of person—of which there are many. And that could increase sales. What does that say about the author?

The author is also reported to have received in 2009 a salary of nearly US$400,000 from the church which he pastors—about fifty times the wages of a working class person in Singapore. This would not raise eyebrows if he were the CEO of a profitable corporation. But he is a pastor, a full-time servant of God. Would the Jesus of Nazareth we see in the Scriptures approve of such an arrangement? Would Paul the apostle, who warned of “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain”, approve of this level of income? We need to exercise careful discernment based on this fact alone.

It’s likely that someday this pastor will no longer need to draw a salary from his church because of the skyrocketing sales of his book—as is reportedly the case with a very successful pastor in Houston. Nevertheless, the question of his motivation and what is in his heart remains.

We also might want to examine how the author presents himself, because that might offer insights as to what is in his heart.

J Prince.jpg

Above, the author appears to present himself in a way that might remind us of an Asian version of Elvis or even Michael Jackson. In fact, he—only half-jokingly—compared himself favorably to Elvis in one his meetings by quipping before an admiring audience that he was in fact better looking. (While some may say that Elvis loved the Lord, most if us would agree that pastors should not want to emulate his appearance.) Based on this photo and others, this pastor appears to be making himself attractive in a worldly fashion. It is not wrong for a believer to present himself or herself in a way that will do honor to their Lord. But what kind of Christian is attracted to a servant of God who presents himself as a rockstar or teenage idol—the kind at whom weak-willed women might want to throw themselves? Might such a Christian lack discernment? Such a servant of God, intentionally or not, is a stumbling block to certain women in the congregation.

But let us say that after reading the book we find it to be uplifting. Casting aside the question of whether or not his teaching on grace is scriptural—which many say it is definitely not—how ought disciples to respond when the teaching appears good, but the teacher is suspect in terms of his personal life?

When there are areas of personal weakness in a servant of God—weak places in his armor—the enemy will have opportunities to deceive. This deception can and will eventually work its way into his teaching, as wonderful as it may sound. Time will tell. Personal holiness and sound doctrine should go hand-in-hand. Paul said to Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul also prophesied to Timothy, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears...” That time has now come. Christians today love to have their ears tickled.

In his teaching the author of course emphasizes the “radical” grace of God. Why are some people drawn to such an emphasis? It could be that they need to be reassured of God’s love because of a strict Catholic background, or perhaps an upbringing devoid of parental love. That is understandable. But there is another reason why Christians might be uncertain whether or not they are saved. It may be because they have not overcome sin in their personal lives and they are not obeying the Lord and living their lives on earth as the Scriptures command. Therefore they might be drawn to the teaching on grace which gives them assurance of their salvation despite their disobedience.

We are not here discussing the conditions for salvation, but rather one type of person who might be drawn to this type of teaching. The teaching effectively offers us an excuse and pretext for not obeying the Scriptures: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” This is despite the repeated denials by the author that the teaching is not a license for immorality. But really, why worry about some present sin in our lives if all of our sins—past, present, and future—have already been forgiven?

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, another type of person who might be drawn to this kind of teaching is the one who is looking for a fast track to the good life and an easy path to the throne. There is no such easy path to the throne. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Of course, the author of this teaching on radical grace is well aware of these verses and will have refuting Scriptures at his disposal. It will be another case of “my scriptures against yours”. How then can we make any conclusion without first conducting an exhaustive theological examination of the teaching? It may boil down to a matter of discernment.

Do believers today want and exercise that discernment? Or do we want to remain “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming”? Mature believers want what the Spirit desires. But infant believers want what the flesh desires. And the flesh wants to live on easy street enjoying a free lunch and a quick trip to the top of the heap.

One thing is certain: with his many followers and rising popularity around the world, the author of this teaching has undoubtedly discovered the secret to success and victorious living in this life for himself.

Have we not seen this before in the Church, over and over?

Note: Salvation should be a settled issue for disciples who have been properly taught, and should not need to be revisited over and over ad nauseum. Rather, disciples should now be setting their sights on their eternal reward in the next age, and how not to suffer loss in their reward by doing works that do not stand the test of fire (1 Corinthians 3) or by not beating our body and making it our slave (1 Corinthians 9).

Contrast: “Radical Grace” in the Life of Paul