“The Cover Is Not The Book”
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While a book cover may give you some idea about the contents of its pages, the opposite is also true. Sometimes a great book could have a very bland cover, while a bland book could have a very engaging cover. In other words, a cover cannot capture the contents of a book. However, the saying isn’t merely talking about books, is it? Rather, we understand this idiom to explain that appearance or perception is not everything.
I think this is especially true when it comes to the world of faith. There is so much out there that has a great “cover” for the world to see; that is, religious groups can look good on the outside, and yet the inside is rotten. Speaking especially from a Christian point of view, I can tell you that not everything with a Christian “cover” contains the truth of the Christian faith. There is plenty of twisting, distorting, and flat out contradicting the Bible found in groups, churches, and organizations that wear the Christian label. Yet all those with the Christian label tend to be tossed together in one bucket as if there were no differences.
In fact, the most public face, or pervasive “cover”, of Christianity tends to be that which is found on television, radio, and the bestsellers list. So-called televangelists have not only made names for themselves, but have popularized a specific variant of the Christian message often deemed the “prosperity gospel” (which is actually no gospel at all [Galatians 1:6-7]). This prosperity message beams across the country: “It is God’s will for you to be healthy, wealthy, and happy all the time. And with enough faith, that is what you shall get.” These promises are often attached to sending in “seeds of faith” (i.e. money) to the speaker. Yep, that’s right, if you want more money send this guy your money and God will give you more money! Welcome to America. Not only do we make this the most well-known “Christian” message in our country, but we export our Americanized-message to other nations around the world.
Now, I think people are allowed to believe whatever they want. That is one of the blessings of living in the United States. (I hope it’s a blessing that remains.) If you want to send all your money to some TV preacher, you have the right to do so. I don’t recommend it, but I won't stop you either. While you have the right to believe whatever you want, I also have the right to offer a critique of such beliefs. Not because I’m mean and have nothing better to do with my time, but because I want to make sure that people are aware that the cover is not the book. In other words, although this health, wealth, and happiness message is so prevalent, it does not represent my Christian faith. That is, so much of what is proclaimed as Christianity in popular forums does not represent me or what I believe the Bible teaches.
Take for instance the central claim of Christianity: Jesus died for the sins of His people and rose again from the grave three days later. I don’t think you can hit the nail on the head any more in terms of what the historic Christian faith has always been about. I wonder, however, what would be one's take-away from observing many of the popular Christian speakers and authors? After listening to one of these popular messages you may instead think that Jesus died so that you can have a better job, nicer house, and a more loving spouse. Why did Jesus rise from the grave? So you can be healed of all of your ailments, right? And what's wrong if none of this comes to pass? “You lacked the faith that God required.”
Now don’t misunderstand me, I don’t believe that God wants all of His people to be living in shacks and dressing in sackcloth. There is nothing more “holy” about being broke. No, God provides for our needs (Matthew 6:26-34). God also expects us to work in order that we may provide for our own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10). My point is that the gospel, the message of Jesus, is not primarily about our physical desires but is focused on our broken relationship with our Creator and how that relationship can be restored.
The gospel shows me that my main problem is not that I don’t have enough money, but that I am a sinner. In fact, I tend to make money a god. These types of desires, though not sinful in and of themselves, become idols of the heart so very quickly. Perhaps this is why the biggest gatherings, what we call mega-churches, proclaim a prosperity message: It appeals to the flesh. In other words, if you want to draw a crowd, give them what they want!
Upon close examination, many of these mega gatherings have abandoned the gospel message in order to move to, what they believe, a more appealing message. What kind of message? The "gospel" of life-enhancement. No longer are people called to come to Christ for eternal life but instead to “have their best life now!” The gospel message becomes deteriorated into messages on gaining wealth and prestige, “3 ways to enhance your marriage”, or “7 ways to be a better you.” Many of these so called “churches” are more like a self-help clinic. No mention of sin, no mention of judgement, no mention of grace; instead you get a half an hour talk on personality growth mixed in with corny jokes. This is not why Jesus came to earth to die!
Let’s take a moment to look at what the gospel is about. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:17). The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for broken sinners such as myself to be made right with Him through faith in Christ alone. The gospel is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose again defeating sin and death; when we turn from our sins and believe in what Jesus has accomplished for us we can be certain that we have eternal life. This is the gospel.
A true church teaches that our only hope is what Jesus has accomplished for us. Many counterfeit churches teach that we must do something to earn salvation from God. True churches teach that Christ did it all and that salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you belong to a church that doesn’t teach this, you may belong to a counterfeit church. If you belong to a church that focuses merely on outward/worldly success, you may belong to a counterfeit church. You see, it doesn't matter what the "cover" of the organization may be but the message that is taught and proclaimed.
The purpose of this blog is not to make fun of certain groups of people or to look down on others, but to get the gospel right. It doesn't matter if you go to church if you do not believe in the true gospel of grace. This is so important. The stakes could not be higher. Getting the message of Jesus Christ right is a life or death (in the eternal sense) kind of a situation. What gospel do you believe?