R.C. Sproul, in one of his numerous teaching series at Ligonier, taught a lecture which he titled The Pelagian Captivity of the Church. Pelagius was a fifth-century monk who was born in Europe. He was a highly pious and moral man. Pelagius is best known today for his heretical teaching now known as Pelagianism.
Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin. He taught that grace is not necessary to attaining eternal life. To Pelagius, grace is merely helpful. The exercise of one’s free will is enough. A man can choose not to sin by his own power. And, because of Pelagius, we are burdened in every generation with the need to proclaim the truth about salvation afresh, that salvation is a work of God from start to finish.
Another perhaps lesser known captivity currently plaguing the church in the 21st century is one that I call The Results Captivity of the Church. This captivity is closely tied to the health and wealth gospel that is becoming increasingly noticeable in our churches. It is popular among certain charismatic circles (and even non-charismatic ones). I have come to see that there are varying degrees of the prosperity gospel and the results gospel is probably just a milder version.
The results gospel assumes that God is mainly interested in the things that work. In other words, the proof of God’s abiding presence in a believer’s life or of a believer’s obedience to God’s commands must be seen in tangible, physical and measurable forms. If it works and the results are glaring and intimidating to the onlookers, then it’s the way that God wants it—He is at work.
I have taught this doctrine before. While in the University, I was a leader in my campus fellowship. I was the Academic Coordinator for two years. My responsibilities included the planning and overseeing of tutorials for the students of the fellowship, praying for the academic success of believers, and I basically catered for the academic needs of the student fellowship at large. So I got to speak once in a while on the subject of academic success.
Being a fairly bright student myself, I believed that I was walking in the supernaturally elevated status of all the children of God. So I was often heard saying, “God wants you to prosper in all areas of your life, your academics not left out. It’s a shame to be a child of God and still fail your exams. God is never glorified in your failure.”
Now I see that my view of academic success was a mild form of the prosperity gospel. I equated a good GPA at the end of a semester with the Lord’s blessings, made available through redemption. However, I was never able to answer two questions well. The first was why unbelievers (mainly Muslims) often got better GPAs than the believers. And the second was why I still managed to almost always lack something. The GPA was always good, but the bank account wasn’t. I got many answers, attempts to explain why such things happened to Christians, a popular answer being that believers often failed to obey spiritual principles.
One of such said principles is that of tithing. I was told that the way to escape poverty was to tithe. The way to walk in supernatural provision was to give God his portion in order to ensure that he blesses the other 90% and our businesses. Oftentimes the discussion over tithing is met with emotionally charged arguments rather than biblically based ones. It worked for me. Large corporations tithe. Muslims tithe. Everything about tithing and it’s purported results is almost always hinged on Malachi 3. I have rarely seen a faithful treatment of the subject of tithing from the people around me. The logic behind tithing is simple: it is mentioned in the Bible, it works for me, hence it is correct and should be binding on the Church. Because it works.
I sat in a certain church one time when a pastor told his people, “If a comedian who doesn’t even go to church can say that he tithes and it works for him, who am I not to tithe?” I wondered when comedians or business moguls became our authority as Christians. But it’s not really difficult to see why—they possess the results that we desire. If they are successful, then their principles are working. And we want to be successful. Principles trump faithful biblical interpretation and instruction.
The obsession with seeing physical, measurable results is causing a lot of damage to the church. We discard the command of Jesus to have treasures in heaven and we want it all now. We are often eager to embrace dangerous teachings because they work. We forget that the first Christians mostly had none of the results that we seek today. I am able to write about some of these issues because they are the things that I have believed and taught in the past.
At the heart of the results mentality, I believe, is a lack of faithfulness to the entire Bible narrative. You can pick the book of Genesis and teach all sorts of things from there. But Genesis is not meant to be interpreted alone. The Bible is made up of books for a reason. All the individual books form a message. The beauty of God’s word is that all the individual books come together to paint a beautiful mosaic.
If we’re faithful enough to bring all 66 books together, then we will see how dangerous a results oriented Gospel can be. We will see how dangerous the prosperity gospel really is.
How can we say that God is merely concerned with results when he allowed a messenger of Satan to torment Paul? Did God change when he lifted the head of Joseph from the prison and allowed that of John the Baptist to be cut off?
At the heart of all that God does is the glorification of His name. He created man for His own glory (Is. 43:6-7), He chose his people for his glory (Eph. 1:4-6), He even instructs us to do everything for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). God is more concerned about His glory than He is about results.
Above measurable results in this life (which are ironically temporary), let us be more concerned about the glory of God in all that He does, and actively seek to glorify Him in all that we do. If church tradition is anything to go by, then we know that the same God who was glorified when John survived the boiling oil and died naturally was also glorified when Peter was crucified upside down (John 21:18-19) and all the other apostles died violent deaths.
There is an alternative to the results gospel—the genuine gospel.