The Apostle Paul warned the young pastor Timothy that a “time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Time and time again, Paul’s divinely inspired statement has been proven true during the intervening two millennia. The twenty-first century is no exception. Below are four of the most treacherous teachings tickling the ears of professing Christians who do “not endure sound teaching.” Sadly, there are many more than four, but this list represents a cross-section of the most prevalent and damnable heresies perverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ today.
According to those who subscribe to universalism, all humans will one day be reconciled to God. Violating the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment, the nature of God’s justice, and salvation, to name three, universalists deny that God will condemn humans who rebel against Him to hell. Instead, they say God will extend grace and mercy to all humans and will welcome all into His eternal Kingdom. All of that blatantly contradicts the Bible.
The basic story of the Bible is simple: God made everything and humans rebelled against God. While pronouncing curses/judgment on the earth because of sin, God graciously promised to send a redeemer. Jesus took on the form of human flesh, lived a life of perfect obedience, died as the punishment for the sins of his people, and then rose from the dead. Currently sitting at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus will one day return to reward those who placed their faith in him. Those who refuse to bow the knee in faith before Jesus will hear him say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Space doesn’t permit a complete theologically based dismantling of universalism. Many verse could be listed that detail God’s coming wrath directed at unrepentant sinners. Read the Psalms; you won’t get far before coming across God’s coming judgment on sinners. Universalism is a heretical teaching that has unfortunately captivated people who worship the idol of inclusivity at the expense of the Bible’s clear teaching that citizenship in the Kingdom of God is exclusively reserved for those who place their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3. The Social Gospel
The social gospel encourages Christians to abandon mission work that has the salvation of individuals as the main objective and, instead, focus on repairing the world by engaging in social justice work. By doing so, according to the social gospel, Christians will accomplish the salvation of the world by demonstrating the love of God and redeeming the culture.
This heresy, which denies the Bible’s teachings on sin and salvation, was popularized by an early twentieth-century pastor named Walter Rauschenbusch. He taught that society’s oppression of the poor and helpless was Jesus’ only concern (feeding the hungry, healing the sick, dissembling the existing social fabric of oppression, albeit through pacifism). In fact, according to Rauschenbusch, the reason Jesus died on the cross was because he failed in his earthly mission. The community sins were too much of a bulwark for one man to overcome, and so, “Jesus experienced his full collision with them [the community sins] when he came to the capital of his nation in the last week” (A Theology for the Social Gospel).
Except the Bible teaches that humans’ main problem is that they are separated from God because of sin. Yes, the Bible commands Christians to feed the hungry, but having a full belly doesn’t repair the broken relationship with God. The heretical social gospel is damning people to hell.
2. Red Letter Christianity
According to their website, Red Letter Christians “have committed [themselves] to doing what Jesus said.” That sounds great, right? Well, except, as their name suggests, they believe that the words of Jesus recorded in the four Gospels take precedence over the rest of the Bible. In fact, many adherents of RLC take a very negative view of most of the Bible. Picking and choosing which parts of the Bible are authoritative is obviously problematic and self-refuting. Jesus commissioned prophets and apostles to record his divine words; all sixty-six books of the Bible are the words of Jesus. Either all of the Bible is Jesus’ divine word or none of it is.
Taking advantage of their a la carte approach to the Bible, RLC co-founders Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne only subscribe to the words of Jesus that pair well with leftist ideology and liberal theology. In doing so, they ignore not only much of Jesus’ teaching during his earthly ministry, but also ignore almost the entire Bible, especially the parts about sin and how a holy God (Jesus) cannot allow sin to go unpunished. An aspect of being a Christian means submitting to the lordship of God’s (Jesus’) ethics—sexual ethics as well as engaging in mercy ministry for the poor, for example. Red Letter Christians construct a god in their own image. They do so by deceitfully co-opting certain leftist-approved words of God while ignoring almost the entire counsel of God’s Word and then repackaging it as legitimate Christianity.
1. The Prosperity Gospel
The prosperity gospel has its heretical hooks in a much larger number of professing Christians than do the other three heresies on this list. In a decayed nutshell, the prosperity gospel teaches that God wants Christians to be materially wealthy and physically well and happy. Beyond that seemingly-benign-yet-not-benign statement, teachers in the movement instruct people to pray for material riches. In fact, lack of material riches or physical well-being may indicate that the individual is an unrepentant sinner or lacks the right amount of faith.
The prosperity gospel contains many errors. One of the more obvious is the self-centered view of giving that the movement embraces. While Jesus taught things like self-sacrifice and dying to self, the prosperity gospel turns giving into a type of heavenly slot machine; play it often enough, and God will reward you with a huge jackpot. Material blessing aren’t inherently sinful, but viewing them as God’s desire for Christians on this side of the second Advent ignores the reproach of James 4:3 that, “You ask and do not receive, because you act wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Prosperity gospel preachers live lavish lives that have been financed by the oppression and manipulation of the poor. By way of contrast, the Apostle Paul refused to take payment from churches for his ministry. Paul and the other apostles of Jesus Christ were most decidedly not seeking material wealth. If the prosperity gospel is to be believed, the fact that most of the apostles suffered material deprivation, imprisonment, beatings, and even martyrdom means that they were unrepentant sinners with weak faith. The next logical step, of course, is that Jesus Christ, according to the prosperity gospel, was an unrepentant sinner with weak faith. If that’s true, then Christianity is a sham. Praise God, though, that the prosperity gospel is a sham and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.