Discipleship Considered (Preface)
I was raised in a Welsh valley at a time when most people treasured a ‘good name’. They valued integrity, honesty, sincerity, goodness, fidelity, courage, justice, industry. It was important to be considered virtuous and kind. They had this in common with much of the U.K. and to some degree it was a reflection of Christian values. But now, in many ways, things have changed, especially in business. It seems for the majority of people, it is now thought more important to be successful, rather than virtuous. The wise man of Israel, Solomon, suggested that people usually pursue power, pleasure and possessions. Certainly, there are some who deem themselves successful leaders, and who measure it in these terms. The public often consider successful living in these terms also, although pleasure and possessions are highest on the list. Unfortunately, this culture has invaded the Church. Some ministers, who themselves seem to be successful, preach a gospel that suggests a Christian should be healthy and wealthy. They sometimes offer a God who will be your personal banker, doctor and counsellor and suggest there are actions that you can take that will unlock untold riches for you. There are experiences available that will turn you into a super-successful individual. And, in many cases, the people that offer these benefits have personality – they are good communicators; but some are not far removed from the charlatans that sold indulgences in the Middle Ages. At that time, and in that culture, sins could be forgiven for a sum of money. Make a few changes to that ancient heresy to accommodate the differences in culture, that is, don’t offer forgiveness but replace it with prosperity and the doctrine is still around today.
One of our problems is that some of the flourishing churches with the largest following are led by people who, while they are personable and project a successful image, are morally weak. In those countries where the ‘health and wealth’, ‘name it and claim it’, doctrines have had their most fertile ground, evangelists arose who made large promises in return for a contribution towards what was loosely called, ‘the Lord’s work’. But, in the view of many, it was style without substance. Some have had very public falls. They had got by on personality for decades while inherent Christian character was lacking.
God looks at the heart
The problem, of course, is not new. Jesus complained that the Pharisees were totally concerned with appearance while neglecting inner righteousness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27, 28). So serious was this hypocrisy that a case could be made to argue that it was the root cause of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. Certainly, both Sadducees and Pharisees pursued power, pleasure and possessions to the detriment of honesty, integrity, virtue, honour, and fair-play.