In 2nd Corinthians 11 Paul makes reference to men he calls “super apostles” because they think highly of themselves, but he also says they are false apostles. In fact, he comes on quite strong about who these men are, saying, “deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13-14).
What makes their teachings and leadership false? Well, Paul doesn’t say. No specifics are given. You could make some educated guesses, but the fact is Paul is vague about how these apostles masqueraded as of Christ.
While understanding the specific situation in Corinth becomes more difficult because of this, this vagueness provides with an opportunity to think about our own situations. And I think that leads us to this question:
What commonly held perspectives in the church today are masquerading as of Christ?
I’d like to identify two that jump out to me, and then discuss how to avoid other deceptions of the truth.
1. God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of health and wealth.
You might hear this kind of perspective referred to as the prosperity gospel. And let me be clear, churches that champion this kind of perspective often seem on the outside to be quite healthy, they often have a lot of people and a lot of resources to build up something that looks nice and flashy on the outside.
There’s a number of issues with this kind of perspective.
1) If wealth and health are a result of the degree of faith a person has, this leads to the conclusion that the poor are poor because they are spiritually deficient. While personal sin may result in poverty, the prosperity gospel ignores the effects of the sin of others and structural evils that may be the cause of poverty. Believing harder fails to eliminate poverty and advance human flourishing.
2) The prosperity gospel overemphasizes the importance of wealth on the individual. Monetary gain rather than obedience is seen as the sign of faith. While Scripture records examples of faithful rich men (Abraham), it also records examples of people who were poor or sick, yet were also faithful (Paul).
3) The biggest issue with this perspective is that it places suffering and difficulty under the heading of lacking faith and giving into sin. There is an absence of teaching or emphasis on a right understanding of suffering, which is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced, according to the Bible.
A prosperity understanding of the gospel avoids weakness, and poverty, and suffering, rather than embracing such hardships to the glory of God.
2. It’s All About You
A few years ago a study was released saying for the previous four decades the number one career aspiration of children ages 12 to 16 was to become a teacher, but that in 2009 this was replaced by a desire to become famous through sports, music, tv, or movies. On the surface it’s not surprising but I think it highlights a shift most recognize: a teacher seeks to build into the lives of others, but the goal of being famous is first and foremost a goal for the individual.
“Discover who you are” and “be who you are” are the anthems of our society today. Anything that impedes this process for individuals is often seen as discriminatory and thrown into the pile of things that bring about the rage of social media. And this me-first kind of attitude is quite prevalent in church too. Church shopping is a commonly held thing, where people look for a church that meets their needs.
And it is quite often what you hear in church. It’s all about you. “You’re going to change the world!” While God loves you and pursues you, an overemphasis on self leads to narcissism, which often leads to anxiety and depression.
A self-centered reality is not a healthy way to live. Us being created in God’s image means that our lives must look to and extend beyond ourselves, in order to be fully who we were made to be.
How do we know which messages are deceiving?
Or another way to put it would be, how do we know which messages and messengers within the church to trust and which ones to ignore? I ran across some advice John Piper shared relating to this subject that I found to be helpful. Here’s some questions to ask when deciding who to trust:
- Do they make the greatness and majesty and glory of God their focus? Is that their sole aim, or are they more focused on themselves?
- Do they talk about themselves more than God and others?
- Is their heart broken over sin? Is there noticeable repentance?
When these questions are posed against the two teachings shared above the truth shines brilliantly.
Each day presents opportunities to buy into something new. Every day we’re inundated with various pictures of what a good life looks like. Over time the church can become compromised from teachings within and beyond that deceive us away from the truth that leads to life. Each of us must examine the things invading our lives so that we can protect that which is held dearest to us (Proverbs 4:23).