I can’t remember who was being referred to, or by whom (which is probably just as well). But I was recently told of someone who described one of their own spiritual gifts as the ability to discern error and heresy. Well, that is of course an essential requirement, as even the vaguest study of the NT and of church history demonstrates. But I have to say that it did rather send shivers down my spine. I mean, yes, we all have to be discerning and on our guard. The most vulnerable Christian has to be the most gullible Christian. But to make a big deal of it, almost as if taking pride in it? Well that is certainly a very risky business. If you think you are standing firm, take care that you do not fall.
You see, I was acutely conscious of the dangers of spiritual pride after talking about the prosperity gospel the other day. As I said at the end of original talk, there are plenty of things that those who reject prosperity thinking fall into. Which is why it was very helpful to receive this tip from Emma Park: Our Secret Heresy Revealed, an article by John Sandeman in Sydney, Australia. For the irony is that what we reject with our lips, we subtly subscribe to with our aspirations:
Study hard, keep your nose down, go to university, work even harder, make a respectable but not vulgarly excessive amount of money: that’s the Sydney Anglican unspoken prosperity doctrine. And it has one chief advantage over the more Pentecostal prosperity gospel. It works, almost all the time. Unlike the happy clappy version this prosperity thinking is no doctrine. We don’t claim a Bible justification for it. Rather it is the triumph of pure pragmatism.
…It comes out clearly in the messages sent out by high profile Anglican institutions that have the money for marketing. “Leadership” is the headline for as campaign run by our highest profile Anglican school. Yes, parents want their boys to be leaders, to end up in charge of other people. That’s what Mrs Zebedee wanted for her boys, too. It is good marketing that like all good advertising plays on at least one of the still deadly seven sins. Yet if we were truly Biblical wouldn’t there be a “servant-hood” advertisement too?
Read the rest – it’s heady, provocative stuff. I fear that London Christians share more with their Sydney fellows than we should. For the article has reminded me that our need for discernment comes not out of the mindset of heresy-hunting, but from humility rightly borne out of our own temptations and gullibilities. It is perhaps because I see myself so wanting the prosperity gospel to be true that I am so aware of its peculiar dangers. If I’m honest, I would obviously prefer a pain-free and successful existence. I don’t want to suffer – it’s just that I can’t avoid the realities of this present age. But it is only because of confidence in the realities of the age to come, as well as the firstfruits enjoyed in the present, that this is at all faceable.
In case you’re worried about what Mrs Zebedee has to do with this (because, dear reader, this has nothing actually to do with the Magic Roundabout), check out her story here.