There is a temptation to add to the gospel supplementary reasons why Christ Jesus came to earth, namely teachings on prosperity and social justice.
Does the gospel necessarily include prosperity or an inherent calling to improve the world through working to heal the environment or eliminate poverty. It might be a spirituality but I do not believe it is part of the gospel.
Within the traditional Christmas passage is Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:76-77,
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins…”
In a nutshell, vv. 76-77 state the purpose in the ministry of John the Baptist. What stands out here is: “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” The gospel is exactly this. Salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Theology would be much simpler if we stick with this essential gospel teaching.
My fellow believers in both prosperity-based charismatic churches and mainline churches propagate an extrinsic side to the gospel, adding to it, non-core issues, and then calling it the gospel. One author called the gospel as having a “hole in the gospel,” which implies that something is missing in the gospel, namely, an extrinsic activism in the world.
These dear brothers and sisters in the environmental and anti-poverty movements will sometimes conveniently ignore forgiveness of sins to the detriment of the gospel, preferring social activism or prosperity over teaching forgiveness of sins. To critique this doesn’t mean that I’m against environmental protection. I believe in a cleaner environment. It doesn’t make me a non-charismatic if I do not buy into prosperity-teaching. I believe in the charisms of the Holy Spirit.
I challenge my fellow believers to prove to me that the bible promises prosperity or an ideal environment or perfect physical health. Yes, in the redeemed new heaven and earth, I would agree; but in the current world, this is where I beg to differ.
Did Jesus come to authorize us to create an ideal global-earthly environment or promise us financial prosperity in this lifetime? Is this what the Scriptures teach? I have my doubts. Did Jesus truly come to preach and teach a gospel that includes prosperity or the social gospel? I’m not so sure.
If we were to ask some of our believers in some war-torn and impoverished countries if they believe Jesus came to bring such things, I wonder what they would say?
Jesus teachings can be interpreted to include some of these social issues but they were not clear and direct teachings of Jesus. I’ve heard some distortion of teachings to included with biblical references and all; however, I haven’t been convinced by their interpretations. It all comes down to interpretation or misinterpretation doesn’t it?
There is also a real spiritual injury to adding extra-biblical teachings to the gospel. When people experience suffering or lack financial prosperity or good health in their personal lives or in society, they blame God. This opens oneself up to doubt and can result in a walking away from the Church’s holy faith and/or toward a works-based religion. We see this in some of our Word of Faith charismatic churches and mainline/United/Methodist churches.
Am I against the betterment of society in this world. No. I’m all for a cleaner environment, benevolence, and bettering one’s life in this world now.
I am just purporting a clear division between earthly works and the gospel. Keep the gospel the gospel, and keep our earthly works as earthly works. Never the twain shall meet, otherwise, we confuse works as gospel. Such a confusion can create a false religion.