BY BISHOP FELIX ORJI
Thank you so much Dr. Lee Gatiss for this opportunity to address a couple of false doctrines in our North American and African contexts. As most of you know I’m connected to Africa specifically Nigeria as well as here in the United States and Canada. So, the two things I’m going to address affect evangelicals in the Anglican Church in both contexts. These are false doctrines that we deal with in our contexts here.
Let me read from 2John 1: 9- 11. It says “so everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teachings of Christ does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching have both the father and the Son.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching” -that is the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ- “do not receive him into your house, or give him any greeting. For whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” You know we are very polite people; we love to be welcoming, but the bible is not welcoming to false teachers. The bible doesn’t want us to be welcoming to false teachers. In fact, it says if you greet him, if you greet a false teacher, you’re taking part in his wicked works. So false teachings are wicked works. And I love the way Reverend Rico Tice, put it: he says “false teaching dazzles, then it distorts, then it diverts, and finally, it destroys. These are the four stages time and again.” So, we must not be friendly to false teaching.
Here are the two false teachings I want to address today. One is the prosperity “name- it-claim it-declare-it-gospel”. And the other one is Salvation by death- this is a form of universalism that I actually call a “gracious” – universalism is contrary to Scripture. So, we’ll look at them one at a time.
- Prosperity Gospel.
What is the prosperity gospel? Prosperity gospel which is no gospel at all teaches that individuals who exercise true faith in Christ will surely attain physical, material, and financial prosperity in this life. It also says that it is God’s will to bless you with good health, happiness, wealth, and anything you believe you must have if you have enough faith. So those are the main issues about prosperity gospel: if you trust God and if you believe it and decree it, you can claim it. You can decree it into being by your spoken words. This is where the prosperity gospel intersects with the word of faith movement. So, if you believe it and declare it, claim it, then you’ll have it. Of course, they believe that this is possible because Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law- the curse of the Law includes poverty, sickness, disease, and all the troubles of this life. So, if Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for sin and removed the curse of the law then true believers will not be affected by all of these curses of the law- they claim. And of course, if you do not receive these things, if you are a believer in Christ delivered from the curse of the law, and you do not receive the deliverance from this curse of the law and do not receive the blessings, it’s because you’re either not a Christian or you do not have enough faith. So those are the tenets of the prosperity gospel.
- What’s wrong with it? Well, the thing that is wrong with it is the fact that it’s not biblically true, we need to start from there. That kind of teaching is not biblically true. Secondly, it’s a misrepresentation of God in the sense that this is a form of realized eschatology. All of these blessings belong to us, no doubt about it because Jesus has redeemed us from all the curses of the Law. All of it. All these blessings belong to us but most of these blessings belong to us and are accessible to us only in the eternal future- full deliverance from sickness, full deliverance from physical death, full deliverance from poverty, and all of that. All these things will be realized in the eternal future. But the teaching that brings them to the present is the false teaching of realized eschatology. Another thing that’s wrong with this teaching is that it promotes greed and materialism which the Bible condemns as idolatry. This kind of teaching is actually idolatrous, and it puts a person’s personal material needs above his spiritual needs, above the worship of God and the mission of God in the world. Also, another thing that is wrong with this sort of teaching is that it is pastorally cruel. It is pastorally cruel in the sense that you preach and tell people that if they believe and give a certain amount of money then God is going to do so and so for them. When eventually those things do not come to pass people are devastated. This kind of teaching misdirects and redirects attention away from Christ and his saving gospel to a present and personal material and physical wellbeing. So, the prosperity gospel is a misdirection from the worship that God wants us to give to him and the focus we must put on Christ and his saving gospel to the present and personal well-being of the believer.
The other thing that’s wrong with it is that it turns our relationship with God into a quid pro quo relationship wherein God gives us according to what we give him. So, when we give to God then God will give to us. It’s a mathematical relationship that is a distraction from the biblical teaching that God is a gracious God. All the blessings of God are based on his grace and mercy toward us, not based on what we do for him.
- Now, what does the Bible teach? First and foremost, the Bible teaches that physical, material, and financial blessings are not necessarily marks of God‘s favor or displeasure. Just because you’re wealthy and happy and healthy doesn’t mean you are in a good relationship with God; and just because you have problems doesn’t mean you are not in a good relationship with God as we can see from scripture and also, from experiential reality. Secondly, scripture teaches that Christians who have faith can be sick and can suffer, they can be in need. Just because you have faith doesn’t mean you’re not going to have problems. We have the example of Paul the apostle, and other Christians in the Bible and throughout the history of the church. So, the Bible doesn’t want us to set our hearts on riches or to trust in riches. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Money is not the root of evil but the love of money is the root of all evil. Hence, the focus of apostolic preaching and faith is on Christ and his saving death.
That is the focus of biblical preaching -apostolic preaching. The focus of Christian faith is on the Trinity, especially the person of Jesus -his death on the cross for us. Jesus purchased all these blessings.
He redeemed us from the curse of the law- that’s what the Bible says and actually, he purchased all that for us. But we receive some of those blessings in the present, especially the spiritual blessings. We automatically receive these blessings the moment we believe but the fullness of the benefits of the death of Christ which includes physical health, material blessings in their fullness will come in the new heaven and new earth. The blessing of Abraham for us today is not a material blessing- the blessing of Abraham spoken about in the New Testament is Jesus himself. So, when you believe in Jesus you have received the blessing of Abraham in the gift of salvation and everything that comes from that. The material blessing of Abraham does not belong to us. We have to be Jewish; you have to move to Jerusalem and then you can get. If you believe otherwise, that the material blessings of Abraham belong to every Christian, then every Christian in America can move to Israel and claim a plot of land. The blessing of Abraham is Jesus and the gift of salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that God wants to bless us but sometimes his blessing comes in letting us suffer. Suffering can be a blessing from God to us, so don’t waste your suffering. God is blessing you sometimes through that suffering. But also, God blesses us materially. God blesses us physically, spiritually. It is important that we pray. Let us pray for God’s blessing: to heal us, to provide for us financially; and we must learn to be content with what God gives us. We cannot say that we’re going to sow this seed and then after that God is going to bless our socks off. That is not biblical teaching. We must pray and trust him to bless us in the way he wants to bless us in accordance with his sovereign purpose, and his sovereign providence. That is the first false teaching we deal with in North America and in Africa.
- Salvation by Death.
The second false teaching I want to address today is salvation by death. In 2016 Lifeway research here in America found that 64% of evangelicals in North America believe that when you die you go to heaven to meet with your loved ones. Many evangelicals believe this, and you hear it in their sermons at funerals. Everybody who dies in America and everybody who dies in Africa goes to heaven- that’s essentially
what many preachers, including many evangelical preachers, preach. Several years ago, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that says “live your life in such a way that the pastor will not have to tell a lie at your funeral”. Sadly, many evangelical pastors and liberal pastors tell everybody during funerals that their dead brother or sister has gone to be with the Lord. Well, no. Some of them went to hell! Salvation by death is no biblical teaching- that’s what’s wrong with it. The Bible does not teach it. In fact, most religions in the world do not teach salvation by death. Hinduism doesn’t teach that, Buddhism doesn’t teach that, Islam doesn’t teach that. Christianity definitely does not teach that you’re saved simply because you’re dead. This is very cruel teaching- it’s very cruel pastorally because it gives people false hopes. When people come to funerals and hear that this wicked Man or this wicked woman, they knew has now gone to be with the Lord, it gives them hope that they also are going to be with the Lord despite their ungodly lifestyles and false beliefs. Sadly, that is all false hope, and is it’s very cruel. It really doesn’t make sense because it is a denial of present and eternal justice. We’re saying to people when preaching salvation by death doctrine that God doesn’t care about what you do, that it doesn’t matter what you do or believe, even if you rape your daughters, sexually molest your children or molest people and are wicked, all you need to do is to die and everything will be wiped away. This teaching is insensitive and unjust and it is a false representation of God.
What does the Bible teach? Definitely, the Bible does not teach salvation by death. Rather the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That is what the Bible teaches. That is why Jesus said in John 14, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is the teaching of scripture: we are saved by faith in Christ alone and it is because of the grace and mercy of God made manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus for us. In Acts 4 verse 12 the Bible says “there is no other name given amongst men by which we will be saved except the name of Jesus.” Jesus is the only one who can save us. He saved us by dying on the Cross of Calvary in order to pay the penalty for our sins and then rose again on the third day and as a result of that, all who believe in Christ are: forgiven of their sins, justified (declared righteous), given the gift of righteousness’s, reconciled with God, given the gift of eternal life, the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit, access to God, and are completely saved and eternally saved. That is the only way we will be saved. It is not because you died or because you’re a good person. Nobody is good enough for God because we have fallen short of the glory of God and we all have strayed away from him by our sinful rebellion.
I want to encourage all of us and remind everyone listening today that it is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that we are saved and that is good news for me and that is good news for all of us
and it is simple to be saved. All you need to do is to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord. When you do that the Lord will forgive you and you’re ready to die and then you can go to heaven. If you don’t do that dying will not save you, in fact, it opens the door to eternal damnation and eternal suffering. God doesn’t want that for you. May the Lord bless you and hope to talk to you again.
A Field Guide on False Teaching by Ligonier Ministry
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Felix Orji, OSB. D.Min, M.Div, DipCS, M.Ed, BA.Ed, DD, ECCK.
Diocesan Bishop | Anglican Diocese of the West.
Coordinating Bishop of CONNAM.