Examine the Ministry Message
- Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Few who seek to apply Scripture to developments in the evangelical world would argue that things are bad in many ways. It is certainly easy to point to cheap grace rampant in our churches, the merchandising of the gospel in our stores, the peddling of false gospels through much of televised religious programming, a lack of discernment in our ministries, and a woeful ignorance of the Scriptures and related issues on the part of the masses in evangelicalism today.
One concerned commentator shared a recent conversation he had on an airplane with a woman that is comically tragic. She asked, "'What are you reading?' I showed her the cover and said, 'John Owen's book on mortification; it is an explanation of how God calls people who trust in the Lord Jesus to live.' She responded very excitedly, 'Oh! Our church just studied one of his books! Oh, what was the name of it....Oh yeah! It was The Purpose Driven Life!' I gently explained the mistaken identity and couldn't help but wonder if there was a rumble at Bunhill Fields in London, as old Owen rolled over in his grave (www.founders.org/blog/)!"
It therefore behooves us to examine our own ministries with particular reference to the message we proclaim, the method we use to advance that message, and the motive behind it all. At the same time, as informed and discerning Christians, it behooves us to examine the ministries of others as well. If someone is going to preach to us, we must be very sure they speak for God and not for themselves. Generally speaking, at least five questions may be asked to evaluate a ministry in question, whether it be our own or that of someone else.
First, when examining ministry (message, method, and motive), ask the question: does it have the ring of truth and purity? True gospel preachers do not convey a message of error, nor do they employ a motive of impurity, nor do they utilize a method of deceit.
Consider the hype surrounding The Da Vinci Code. We must see it for what it is. Erwin Lutzer speaks to the difference between that false gospel grounded in Gnosticism and the truth. "Read the Gnostic Gospels, and you will not be struck with their similarity to the New Testament but, rather, their radical differences. In the New Testament, Jesus is not just a great teacher but a Savior; indeed, the book of Hebrews shows in detail how he fulfills the whole sacrificial system of the book of Leviticus. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the prediction of 'Someone greater than Moses' as found in Deuteronomy are fulfilled in Jesus with breathtaking detail."
He then recounts a personal experience. "I was standing in line at a bookstore when the man ahead of me was purchasing a copy of The Gnostic Bible. The woman behind the counter said, 'You will enjoy reading this . . . it will give you an entirely different picture of Christianity,' Of course, I could not let that pass. I smiled and said, 'Do you realize that the Gnostics were not eyewitnesses? And did you know that the early church was aware of these teachings and refuted them? The New Testament has much more historical credibility.' To which she replied, 'Well, we all have our interpretations, but I prefer The Gnostic Bible.'"
Lutzer comments, "And this explains why many who read The Da Vinci Code are prone to believe it: Forget historical investigation; forget the need for consistency; forget the need for continuity with the Old Testament. It comes down to the desire to have a tolerant faith that lets us pick-and-choose our beliefs, cafeteria style (http://go.family.org/davinci/content/A000000058.cfm)." How tragic. And yet, we have a word from God that tells us to look for truth and not error simply because we prefer it for one reason or another.
Consider that Paul had to defend his ministry in Thessalonica. He and his companions had been accused of using deceit to exploit the believers there. Those opposed to the gospel knew very well that if the messengers of the gospel could be discredited, then the message itself would then be discredited. So, Paul speaks of not only the truthfulness of their message but also of their own integrity as they brought the message.
The apostle appeals to his former entreaty toward them. They had come as men of God with the gospel of God. Paul's opponents apparently were saying that their message sprang from error and that their motives were impure. They were lumping them in with the variety of pseudo-philosophers who used deceit to captivate their listeners. Paul answers these charges directly by plainly stating, "For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit (1 Thes. 2:3)." They brought the good news of God's redemptive plan, not error. They preached Christ, not error. Moreover, they did not employ flattery to convey their message. They simply proclaimed the truth. No deception was to be found in their message or their actions. Their motive, action, and message sprang from love (v. 8). By way of application, true gospel preachers do not minister in error, impurity, or deceit.
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