In Acts we see the gospel spreading rapidly through the Mediterranean world where Greek and Roman gods had been worshipped and the name of Jesus Christ had never been heard. At that time believers paid a price for making Jesus their Lord and Savior: persecution, suffering, and even death.
It was clear that people at that time were not drawn to Jesus because they were promised earthly blessings like health, wealth, success and temporal happiness. Rather they came because in Him they could have eternal hope beyond this life. As beloved children of the Father—the Almighty Creator of the universe with whom they had a personal and intimate relationship—they would live forever. Because of the hope of glory they were willing to risk loss, suffering and persecution in this life.
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…
Wherever the gospel comes to settle in a certain area as it did, for example in Europe, it will influence the culture of that region. First, moral standards of the populace will go up. Material and economic blessing will follow as a natural result for the entire nation, for God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Church history tells us that modern scientific inquiry was born in the era following the Reformation as God-fearing scientists endeavored to understand the physical laws underlying God’s wondrous creation. Along with scientific understanding came amazing advances for the benefit of the people in every area of their lives—advances absent in countries dominated by the darkness of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, idol-worship and witchcraft.
Sadly but inevitably, however, as the gospel became embedded in the culture of European countries after the Reformation, it morphed into “Christianity”—the predominant religion of Europe. Eventually people called themselves “Christians” simply because they were born into it, or you went to church because it was the fashionable thing to do as a respectable member of European society. In short, people were “Christians” because of the various temporal benefits it offered in life.
The contrast between why the early disciples followed Jesus and why post-Reformation Europeans called themselves Christians could not be more stark. The early disciples followed Jesus because He was the only way to eternal life.
John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
The early disciples were willing to undergo suffering, loss, and persecution because they were convinced of who Jesus was. The post-Reformation Europeans were Christians because it was the thing to do according to their culture. Eventually of course the Europeans took advantage of the scientific advances following the Reformation and used it in one way or another to conquer and lord over much of the Third World as colonial master. This of course had nothing at all to do with the gospel that Jesus commanded his disciples to preach. Sadly, however, the colonial history of “Christian” European nations has become a very serious stumbling block to the preaching of the real gospel to those Third World peoples who had been colonized by them.
Over two centuries ago the Constitution of the United States was framed by men who feared God. Americans were guaranteed the freedom to pursue happiness in this life on earth. This has resulted in technological and economic advances resulting in a very high standard of living and comfort for Americans unmatched anywhere else on earth.
However, when the gospel becomes part of the culture as it has in America, it inevitably morphs into the mainstream religion called “Christianity.” As we have noted above, the earthly benefits are clear. But what are the consequences for the gospel?
Persecution against believers in America—in stark contrast to the sufferings of the early Church—is (or was) non-existent. To adapt to this change, churches are forced to preach a different message to draw people who have been accustomed to expect to enjoy the American Dream: “God loves you and wants to bless you in heaven—and here on earth as well.” We can have pie in the sky, and enjoy it even now. Sadly we mostly neglect the primary purpose of the earthly blessing—as children of Abraham we are blessed to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:2-3, Galatians 3:14, Acts 1:8).
Having diluted the message of the original gospel, much of the Church has become devoid of the miracle-working power witnessed in the early Church in Acts. Lacking the miracles as evidence that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth and the life, some leaders are led to market the Church’s message with the gospel of success and prosperity to people with itching ears. It’s a circular downward spiral. The teaching on repentance, personal holiness and obedience is minimized. Some outsiders will see through the schemes not infrequently preached on “Christian” TV and turn away to become progressive liberals, atheists and God-haters. The enemy is already using them to begin anew the persecution against the Church. (Might persecution actually in some way be good for the Church and the spreading of the gospel—recalling Acts 8:4 which informs us that “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went”?)
As the gospel is diluted more and more to make it attractive to a materialistic culture which naturally embraces the anesthetizing message of prosperity and success, Jesus Christ and what He stands for is increasingly removed from the offensive message. There is no such thing as sin. Therefore there is no personal responsibility and no accountability for sin. Personal holiness is unnecessary and even irrelevant. The significance of the cross disappears. Since there is no God and therefore no hell where sin will be punished, the forgiveness of sin is meaningless. All that is left is “love and tolerance” for any perverted lifestyle such as that espoused by the LGBTQ movement in the West. This is the mainstream culture in America today. This is the inevitable result when Christ and the cross are removed from the gospel: the religion of “Christianity.”
The diluted gospel as preached by not a few churches in America today is a dying (if not dead) gospel. Again, this outcome is an inevitable consequence when Christianity becomes part of the mainstream culture. When this happens as it has in America, Christians are no longer “strangers on earth” as Hebrews 11:13 declares we in fact should be. What has happened? The gospel has already been sown here in America, the primary harvest has already been reaped (although some final gleaning is still taking place or yet to take place), and therefore the primary focus of the gospel has now shifted to the vast swathes on earth inhabited by billions of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers who have not heard the original gospel even once. What is left in America and the West is the religion of “Christianity”—if even that.
This has already occurred in Europe, now considered post-Christian. It is now taking place in America as well. The remnant of the Church in America must therefore now focus on those nations and people groups in the world which have never heard. And when we have preached the gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).