“For if someone comes and proclaim 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 am you accepted you put up with it readily enough ” (2 Car. 11:4 ESV)
In Galatians 1:7-9 Paul speaks in more severe tones to those who would change the Gospel: “not that there is another one [gospel], but there are sow who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, ‘let him be accursed.”‘ The word metastrepsai, here translated as “distort,” could actually be translated as “reverse.” The Judaizers, who did believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, were adding the act of circumcision to that belief, thus distorting, even reversing, the gospel itself.
God is ever concerned about the purity of His word. In Deuteronomy 4:2 He warns the Israelites through Moses, “You shall not add to the word which I command you nor take from it.” (ESV) The utter seriousness of either adding to or subtracting from Scripture is stated dramatically at the end of the book of Revelation:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of this prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book ” (Rev. 22:18-19 ESV)
Christ’s Church, though it is not to be “of the world,” does exist within a particular culture. The Church, in every age, tries to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant manner: styles of teaching, preaching, and worship may flex with the changing culture as old and new methods and media are tried and kept or discarded. For instance, keyboards replace organs and pianos in the worship service, typewriters and mimeograph machines are supplanted by computers and laser printers. Overhead projectors give way to video projection screens and power point presentations. These are just part of living in our particular culture–using them is not necessarily or inherently good or bad. The Church is free to use the tools of the culture, but must be careful, as always, regarding the content of what is presented.
Presenting the Gospel in a culturally relevant manner is one thing, but often preachers and teachers are tempted to make the Gospel itself more “attractive” to the people at large–always a very tricky enterprise. There is danger in integrating the ideas of reigning popular culture into the Gospel. Within our culture, change may be a good thing, but within the Gospel, change is never a good thing. The difficulty lies in discerning the changes, in spotting the tampering.
Paul was concerned about this very thing:
“Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, … By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. … and last of all he appeared to me also…” (I Cor. 15:1-8 NIV)
Back in the 1970’s, a teaching called “measuring the mixture,” was an attempt to identify the works of the flesh that were mixed with the work and gifts of the Spirit. The phrase is apt and the idea may be applied to the Scriptures and the Gospel. The Church must be very careful how it handles the Gospel “recipe.” It can ruin the recipe by additions or deletions or by changing proportions. For example, adding sugar to a gas tank will not sweeten a car’s engine. Adding heroin to sugar is a potentially deadly proposition. Protein is necessary for a healthy diet, but snake venom, which may be 85% protein, is a toxic source of protein that should be avoided. Even adding an inert “filler” a substance dilutes its effectiveness. Not long ago we heard of a pharmacist who did just that with chemotherapy drugs. Cancer patients who assumed they were taking the full dosage received a weakened amount of the drug, and several died because of it.
As they handle Scripture, and especially the Gospel, Christians must be like the Bereans who were constantly checking teachings against Scripture. They were commended for constantly searching out truth (Acts 17:11)– they were carefully “measuring the mixture.”
Unfortunately, I think it is safe to say that there are not many people testing the content of the Gospel these days. Blending the Gospel with cultural additives has become the institutionalized method of evangelism. There is rarely even an attempt to disguise the various additives! It seems to be assumed that the gospel can be laced with just about any substance that might make it more attractive to the spiritual consumer.
Recently in Minneapolis, authorities tested the water of Lake Harriet, a popular swimming venue, finding dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria. Warning signs were posted. Nevertheless, many people walked right past the posted signs and entered the water. Could they not read? Did they not see the signs? Did they think they were immune because they couldn’t see E. coli? Did they assume they’d be safe because they knew about the danger?
Many preachers and teachers within the church promote non-biblical ideas and teachings. There are a few in the Church who are posting warning signs at the edge of a contaminated Gospel. Why do many Christians walk right past those signs?
Too often culturally-accepted ideas and messages are papered over with biblical sounding words and surface references to isolated scriptures–the result appears acceptable, safe. Add some tolerance here, some diversity there, remove original sin, substitute self-esteem and the Gospel is reversed. Add a requirement from Old Testament Law, add any kind of work to faith, and the Gospel is reversed. Paul would say that it is no Gospel at all A dab of Freud or a smidgen of Jung, both God-denying psychologists, invalidates the Gospel, no matter how “helpful” it appears to be. Naive believers begin trusting foreign ideas for their salvation and/or sanctification. The Bible’s God-breathed teaching, which is more than adequate for the believer’s life, is diluted, distorted, and made to seem inadequate.
Posting warning signs against these mixed, blended “gospels” is derided for being out-of-touch with ecumenism’s tolerance and diversity. Post-modernism resists absolute truth claims. Individual preference reigns–go ahead, enjoy your own gospel-blend–don’t pass judgment on mine. By current standards, Paul is seen as arrogant legalistic, and authoritarian for saying that adding anything to the gospel he preached was anathema, even if it was preached by “an angel from heaven.” (Gal. 1:8)
Paint stores have one or several base paints, to which hundreds of color variations can be added. The Gospel is not a “base paint,” meant to be tinted or shaded according to the whim of a customer. Any variation distorts the Gospel message.
The Gospel is the core of the Church’s message; the Church is to proclaim the true, pure Gospel recipe with no additives, no deletions, no distortion, no reversal. Each individual Christian (together, the Church) must “measure the mixture.” That means each Christian must know the Gospel–know it well enough to realize when something is not right. Even if it is unpopular and viewed as arrogant presumption, we must post the warning signs of clear biblical teaching. We must, in loving and humble obedience to Christ, always be measuring the mixture!
by Dr. Orrel Steinkamp, The Plumbline, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2003