Martyrs in a Modern World

Christians — especially those enjoying the safety of the West — often think of martyrdom as a part of the distant Christian past. But a recent barrage of headlines dispels that notion in a hurry. Over the past several weeks, Christians in Iraq suffered a series of church bombings, and experts in the region predicted a virtual evacuation of that nation’s Christian population. Approximately half of all Iraqi Christians have already fled the country. That represents a failure of the American ambition to leave Iraq with a government that would protect basic human rights and liberties. The murderous terrorism against Christians in Iraq amounts to a form of religious cleansing.

Meanwhile, oppression of Christians in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, intensified with a January 1 bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria. Twenty-one worshipers were killed and another 100 were injured. Analysts predicted a rise in the scale of these attacks, since many Muslims seem intent on eliminating Egypt’s approximately 10 million Christians.

In Pakistan, rioters took to the streets to insist that the nation’s draconian blasphemy laws stay in place — effectively allowing only Muslim practice and preaching. As The New York Times reported, “A crippling strike by Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets, and forced businesses to close, to head off any change in the country’s blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.”

There is no way we can determine the exact theological beliefs of these worshipers in Egypt, Iraq, and Pakistan, but there can be no question that they are suffering and dying in the name of Jesus Christ. They deserve our earnest prayers and advocacy. They also remind us by their witness that Christ has enemies — and so do His followers. The blood of the martyrs does indeed cry out their witness for Christ.

We must pray for persecuted Christians everywhere around the world.

“Through prayer we can be saved because of our Lord Jesus Christ, even after we have been punished. This will become salvation and confidence to us at the much more fearful and universal judgment of our Lord and Savior.” Justin Martyr

On Exorcism and Exorcists: An Evangelical View

We should respect the power of the Devil and his demons, but never fear them. We do not need a rite of exorcism, only the name of Jesus. We are not given a priesthood of exorcists — for every believer is armed with the full promise of the Gospel, united with Christ by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

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Bankruptcy in the Cathedral

It turns out that Robert Schuller offers the best analysis of this crisis with his own words. “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems.” The theological crisis in Garden Grove is far more significant than the financial crisis.

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The Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel

The scandals surrounding Atlanta’s Bishop Eddie Long now center on allegations of sexual immorality put forth by four young men who had been teenagers under his ministry. But previous attention had been directed at the financial elements of his ministry at Atlanta’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

Eddie Long is a teacher of prosperity theology, a perverse distortion of the gospel that transforms the message of Christ into a message of secular salvation through wealth and prosperity. Scholars of the movement have studied why it is that poor, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised people seem so drawn to a false gospel that leaves them poor but makes their preachers wealthy. They seem to find encouragement and hope, even a source of pride, in a pastor who preaches prosperity and lives in ostentatious wealth, even as they contribute their own meager funds.

The Bible is clear in warning against false prophets who preach false gospels and those who would use spiritual authority for their own wealth. The world is scandalized by the false promises of prosperity, and believers in Christ should be just as scandalized about this false promise. But Christians should be far more concerned about the eternal consequences of prosperity theology — its false promise of salvation through financial abundance, of health and wealth through the exercise of “seed faith.” Missing from the prosperity gospel is the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone — a salvation that makes every believer unspeakably wealthy in the grace of Christ but does not promise earthly riches or unblemished physical health.

Writing in the “Houses of Worship” column in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, DeForest B. [“Buster”] Soaries, Jr., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, writes of the scandal of the prosperity gospel and its popularity among African American churches:

The prosperity gospel—the idea that God guarantees truly faithful believers physical health and financial wealth—is not new. But cable and satellite television broadcasting have turned prosperity preachers into celebrities that have followings similar to musicians and movie stars. A movement and a theology that once seemed like an aberration among black churches now appears to be mainstream.

He writes further:

Teaching that desire for more material possessions is a sign of one’s religious piety is simply offering a justification for crass consumerism. Prosperity theology elevates greed to a virtue instead of leaving it as one of the seven deadly sins.

Of course, it is much easier for clergy to preach this gospel when they are living proof that the “system” works. Hence the celebrity-like lifestyles of so many religious leaders. The fact that the people most likely to do well in the prosperity gospel movement are the people at the top suggests that it is all an ecclesiastical pyramid scheme.

Soaries seems mostly concerned in this article about the false promises of wealth and the economic effects of these teachings on African Americans. All Christians should share his outrage and know that prosperity theology is found among all races and ethnicities. The television screens are filled with their messages and heresies.

But the central problem with prosperity theology is that is is a false gospel. The prosperity preachers do not promise too much. They promise all the wrong things.

Of course, The Wall Street Journal is an interesting place to find an article on prosperity theology. The editors of that famous newspaper know what leads to financial wealth — that is their business — and they know that prosperity theology leads into deeper poverty. It’s only those at the top who drive the expensive cars and ride in private jets.

Mission and Metropolis: The Church and the City

Evangelicals now face the great challenge of these massive Western cities, filled with populations marked by great diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, worldview, and culture. Thankfully, there are standout examples of faithful church planting and ministry in many of these cities, but the populations remain overwhelmingly secular and unevangelized.

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Marry Outside the Faith? The Logic of Christian Marriage

The sociological research presents a clear case for social concern, but the Christian case against mixed-faith marriage emerged long before the academic discipline of sociology. That case is rooted in the logic of the Gospel itself, and in the reality of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

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When Adoption Fails, the Gospel is Denied

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this — not one of us is worthy of adoption. In our sinfulness, not one of us has any claim on the Father’s love, much less a right to adoption. But, the infinitely rich mercy of God is shown us in Christ, in whom believers are adopted by the Father. And this adoption, thanks be to God, is eternal and irreversible.

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