So, Sunday School. When Darin called me to ask me to teach on Wednesday, he confused me a little, because he tried to tell me that the planbook said that Galatians 1 was about there being another gospel than the Gospel. So, I did what I normally do when I teach Sunday school: chuck going with some nit-picked verse, take the chapter at hand [and maybe the next chapter if it suits me], see what it makes me think of, flip around the OT and the NT for points and counterpoints, and generally go about my business. This morning, I even … made notes.
Now, when I teach Sunday school, I’m prone to harp on four things:
- The Gospel isn’t about you in particular, but about Shepherd Jesus bringing sheep to God’s fold.
- The sum total of the Old Testament is this: When God’s people, the Hebrews, were faithful, God rewarded their faithfulness. When they got lazy, God rewarded their laziness in kind.
- Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, and thank God for that. Grace is the only way we can make it into Heaven, no matter what your doctrinal leanings.
- If you think that you’re a law-abiding person, just look at those Ten Commandments and see how many you broke last week.
I like using the 10C’s because it’s easy—most any kid from 6th through 12th grade has defied their parents at some point in the last week, and if not, then definitely in the last month, whether willfully or not. I riff on that in probably two out of every three sessions, no matter what the liturgical reading is . Amazingly, I didn’t touch on them today.
What I did harp on were the first and third topics inside the context of discussing other gospels.
No Other Gospel
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
I asked if they knew of any other gospels, ones that distorted the Gospel of Christ Jesus. They looked at me blankly—they’re eighth-graders; they have a tendency to do that—so I brought up two contemporary rows within the church: Prosperity gospel, and God Always Loves You gospel.
The canonical reference for Prosperity gospel is Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. [Insert dry-heaving sound effect here.]
If you were so fortunate as to miss the craze, Wilkinson perverts two verses in Chronicles into this grand scheme for Prosperity gospel, which seems to forget that the Old Testament way of things—be faithful and God rewards that faithfulness; be faithless and God rewards that, too—was on a corporate level. The preponderance of the evidence is there for the corporate argument, but I like pulling out an oft-quoted-out-of-context bit from Jeremiah:
“[F]or it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.
“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Corporate, corporate, corporate. Clergy, laity, greeting card writers, and calendar sloganeers all like to quote 29:11 a lot—“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV) is most done—and that strips it of all its context. Plucked from a prophetic letter Jeremiah sent to the elders in Babyon, this little verse seems to promote Prosperity gospel, but given the context, it falls far short.
I went on to use examples of how early Christians were martyred, tortured, and otherwise killed—apostles and disciples, it didn’t matter. I asked them rhetorically, “If Prosperity gospel were true, would Jesus have not worked hardest to save those closest to them?” I think they got the point.
Then I went to a second point, the gospel that “God Loves You … No Matter What” that’s seen locally on the signs of Impact Ministries. I pass by this place most every day, and I think I 🙄 each time. I gave a possible out-of-context pro-Lovey-Dovey gospel citation from Romans 8:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I read the italicized bit a bit more loudly and forcefully than I did the rest [it was late in the hour, and I was pressed to finish my point], and I asked, “Doesn’t that make it seem like you can’t do anything to make God mad?” They all nodded their heads. “But y’all know that’s not quite true, right?” They nodded their heads again. Maybe that was a Sunday school answer, but I pressed forward.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
“So, if you’re going to roll”—or TP, or toilet paper, or whatever you call it in your area—“someone’s house, you don’t do it at noon, right?”
“No, that’d be dumb.”
“Why would it be dumb?”
“You’d get caught!”
“Exactly.” I then went to quote the next three verses: ” ‘For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.’ So, when you’re rolling someone’s house, you’re not exactly being a child of the light, eh? We’re being disobedient of the laws of our society, and we’re not doing real well with that whole ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ bit, either. Sounds like we’re the sons of disobedience then…”
“… and they get the wrath of God.”
With that, it was pretty much over, although I went back and re-iterated the bit from the beginning of the hour from Galatians one more time, because I think it really does drive the point home.
There are other gospels that pervert and distort the Gospel of Christ Jesus, to be sure—even denominational and doctrinal infighting would leave us saying that some of our brothers in Christ are prone to that from time to time. 😉 But I hope that I brought it to them in a manner that they could understand it; in teaching it, I got it just a little firmer in my head. Oh, if only for more firmness in my heart, that I truly lived as a redeemed man.
 I know that a Sunday school lesson isn’t technically a liturgical reading, but in the UMC, it often is tied together in some way with the suggested liturgy for that season of the liturgical calendar … at least at the churches I’ve attended. YMMV.