A dramatic and must-see documentary film, American Gospel: Christ Alone, is beginning to strike a chord within Christianity for some of the very challenging questions it raises of professing believers of Jesus, amongst them, “Does Christianity mean Christ + the American dream?”
You know about or have dreamed the American dream haven’t you? It is the traditional, multi-faceted vision or ideal that there is ‘A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S., especially by working hard and becoming successful.’ And that dream can be further realized by passing it on and seeing it lived out in the progenies of our future generations.
The idea is that with good jobs, a nice house, 2.5 children, and plenty of money, people can live the American dream.
Unfortunately, that dream has too long infected evangelicalism, culminating in the monstrous growth of the prosperity gospel, a gospel that treats Jesus Christ as little more than a cosmic ATM or genie who yearns to meet our every whim and desire if we would just manifest enough faith, spirituality and self-esteem.
In response, American Gospel examines how the prosperity gospel or ‘Word of Faith’ movement has distorted the true and biblical gospel message, and how this theology is being exported abroad.
Rather than posting a treatise here on the nature of that false and heretical church and ministry movement, featuring the likes of everyone from its most influential and charismatic leaders (Ken Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Todd White) to its more “evangelical” mainstream proponents (Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick, et.al), we can say that it seems to share a certain commonality, with other cults and religions such as Roman Catholicism, in it’s discipleship of Christ “plus”.
In other words, the biblical doctrine of justification and sanctification being brought about due to God’s grace alone and by faith in Jesus alone, is just not “enough” to satisfy the appetite for something resembling the American dream.
The ‘name it and claim it’ worldview movement for “Your Best Life” now has never been at greater odds with the gospel view that our best life is to come (in glory).
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5, ESV)
The apostle Paul’s first letter to his young apprentice and pastor Timothy in Ephesus, features a clear and concise text (1 Tim. 2:3-7) showing that Jesus is the Christian’s all and all and that we don’t need anything or anyone else to be right with God and this world. That truth became a key doctrine of the 16th century Protestant reformation, which we refer specifically to in Latin as Sola Cristus, or Christ Alone.
One of the major, early catalysts in the Reformation was a book by Jan Hus, a Bohemian Christian and theologian who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. The book was De Ecclesia (The Church), and one of Hus’s most profound points was proclaimed in the title of his fourth chapter: “Christ the Only Head of the Church.” Hus wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic [i.e., true] church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.”
Pointing out that most church leaders in his era actually despised the lordship of Christ, Hus called out the Roman leaders that “hated those who preach often and call Jesus Christ Lord.” Hus’s candor cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415, leading to the ominous idiom we came to adopt, that someone’s “Goose (Hus) is cooked.”
That happened because Hus preached the truth of the gospel and the faith that Christ alone was sufficient for salvation and a relationship with God in the face of the Catholic institution that said essentially, it’s Christ + the Papacy, Purgatory and Mary, including sacraments like infant baptism and the mass which allegedly infuses saving and sanctifying grace to the faithful.
Christ Alone is our Go-Between
A go between is a mediator, in the sense of salvation for a lost sinner who has confessed sin and repented to God through Jesus Christ. In fact, an older translation for the word mediator, would render that noun to mean ‘umpire’, or in a non-baseball analogy a more modern paraphrase translates the word to refer to a reconciler, one who intervenes between two parties, either in order to make or restore peace and a friendship or relationship, or form a deal, or for ratifying a covenant – as a go-between. This is Jesus alone, by virtue of his cross and resurrection, being the bridge or go-between God and a redeemed sinner.
We need this mediator and redeemer believe me. And we need to come to him on God’s terms and not ours, as one who will save us rather than to give us what we want and when we want it, such as health, wealth and prosperity.
Every person who comes into this world and lives, and doesn’t know Jesus as Lord and savior, is what the Bible calls, ‘an enemy of God.’ They have no personal, redeeming relationship with God, because they’re God-hating, Christ rejecting, gospel ignorant sinners, living in darkness and are under his perfect and holy wrath and judgment (John 3:16, 19-20,36).
There are multitudes of people like that who need reconciliation with God, rather than prime parking spots, first-class airplane tickets, new cars, better homes and vacations. People under the cloud of such judgment need to plead to God for his grace and mercy to be manifest to them, so they would be brought back into a right relationship with him.
The false religions exposed in the film, American Gospel, teach we can be are own “Little gods” who can achieve salvation on our own, or do what only Christ did in his first advent on earth, if we would just carry enough self-confidence or partner with God by obeying traditions, regulations and religious rules.
They think if you can somehow work, or serve enough people, do enough good deeds, feed enough homeless people, give enough in sacrifices and offerings, pray and heal enough or speak in tongues enough, or even live well enough to have enough good karma, kill enough to show your faithfulness to a certain deity, confess to a priest and pray to the mother of Jesus, you might be able to earn your way into heaven and earn by faith, wellness and prosperity.
Do, do, do, when the scripture says Jesus Christ has already done it all.
Only through Jesus and Jesus alone can human beings reach the goal intended by God, which is Christlikeness, the emulation of the one who never had a place to lay his head while on earth and who suffered the most unjust treatment anyone could ever imagine. Not exactly a picture of prosperity is it?
Only through Christ can sinful human beings come to God and love and obey him and be with him and experience his presence and true joy (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Such a reality reminded me of a story of an orphaned boy who was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, perished in the flames as the boy’s cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drainpipe and came back down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.
Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town’s wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. That would be the promise of a more prosperous life for the boy would it not.
But as they talked, the child’s eyes remained focused on the floor. Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. So, the boy jumped up on and threw his arms around the man’s neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those scarred hands had settled the issue.
Many voices of the American gospel and dream are calling for our attention. Among them is the One– the only one whose nail-pierced hands, remind us that He paid with his blood to rescue us, from sin and its deadly consequences so we can come home to him. Do we really need anything more?