6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.8 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.9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9Writing to the young church at Galatia, the Apostle Paul expresses his amazement that they would so quickly abandon Christ and turn to another gospel, as though there was another gospel. This false gospel, as it were, was the product of those who crept in, troubled the believers and distorted the gospel, which draws a warning from Paul to ignore anyone, apostles or angels, that would preach a contrary gospel. Consider this statement again, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” This was not written to pastors warning them against those who would question their preaching. It was not written to ministry leaders or teachers. It was written to God’s people who gathered in Galatia to be on guard against those who would usurp God’s own authority and revelation through His written Word. What or who holds ultimate authority? Not apostles or angels, not priests, prophets, or preachers but the Word of God. Those who depart from that, apostle or not, let them be accursed.
In the first century, the Apostles were faced with a multitude of false gospels that were infiltrating various cities and spreading like gangrene into the fellowships of believers. Commonly, Gnosticism was the chief rival to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, but here in Galatia it was most likely the Judaizers, those who wanted to combine a works-based law keeping Judaism with Christianity.
Our problems have changed little since the early days of the Apostles, the Gospel is still impersonated by false gospels and while elements of Gnosticism and Judaizing still exist. That said, in surveying the landscape, particularly in the U.S., it seems we are primarily faced with three major false gospels that have likewise crept in at the hands of troublers and those who distort the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Social Gospel, Political Gospel, and Prosperity Gospel are the main pretenders, and they are not attacking from the outside, but from within at a rapid pace.
Before we take time to define each one and explain its inherent dangers, let’s take a minute to define what is meant by false gospel. The gospel, or good news, is that though God’s wrath is upon all mankind because of sin, He has provided the way of reconciliation through the death of His own Son Jesus Christ who suffered this wrath of God in the place of sinners and now provides the way to salvation by faith alone in Him. This is good news for sinners.
A false gospel, therefore, is one that pretends to be good news by actually creating an alternative good news and making that an end in itself. It sets itself up, not necessarily as a means to salvation from sin, but as a means to alternative good news. Whereas the true Gospel is a means towards an end goal of reconciliation with God in Christ, resulting in eternal life with Him, the false gospel sees good news as an end in itself. That alternative good news may come across as 7 ways to live your best life now. It may be that by having all of your physical needs met you can have happiness in this life. It might be that by having a personal feeling of equality a person can now be made to feel whole. Perhaps it comes by way of a particular governmental party holding power, surmising that if that were the case everything would be back to normal. Each of these, and many others, are fool’s gold forms of good news and, more importantly they do not have eternity in mind but expressly look to this age, this earth, this life.
As mentioned, three major false gospels that have been around as long as the Good News of Jesus Christ are: The Political Gospel, The Social Gospel, and the Prosperity Gospel. Each of these will require some space to review and summarize, however, a basic introduction is warranted. The Political Gospel involves political power and influence along with the implementation and use of laws intertwined with religion in order to transform society. Because on its surface it appears to uphold Scripture, desires to establish Christ’s Kingdom on earth, and eliminate dissenters it is perhaps not only the most influential and dangerous, but often the most difficult to discern as false. The Social Gospel has historically also sought to transform society, sometimes through legal means and social programs, but primarily through handing out and helping up. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the political gospel and social gospel were often two sides of the same coin until doctrinal fallouts and disinterest separated the camps. Finally, The Prosperity Gospel is the favorite whipping boy of the group. While it can be argued that it can be seen as far back as Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24), there has in reality always been name-it claim-it Gospel that seeks financially or materially prosperity in this life. It isn’t necessarily as interested in transforming society as a whole, rather the individual and then the collective.
If you notice, none of these are God-focused. None of these are concerned with man’s relationship with the living and holy God. All are horizontal and man focused rather than vertical and God-focused. In this way, each of these are a product of an underlying, bigger issue know as humanism. Simply put, the elevation of man to the status of God. When we boil it down to this basic level, we can discern that this really isn’t a new problem but is one as old as mankind itself. Indeed, those first century false gospels we mentioned above, Gnosticism and Judaizing are nothing less than an outworking of humanism. Man has desired to elevate himself to the position of God since the fall in the garden. In fact, an appeal to this very status of deity is what Satan used to tempt Eve, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5 Not only in the beginning with the first man and women, but just a short time later with the episode at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).
Each of these errors are ever-present in our day and are increasingly a danger. It matters not whether an angel, apostle, televangelist, or pastor promotes one of these false gospels, let them be accursed. Familiarize and refamiliarize yourself with the true and genuine gospel of Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, so that you might not be swept away into these errors but be able to confront them as their influence increases like leaven.
Soli Deo Gloria