On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther boldly posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. In that document, Luther listed numerous grievances against the false doctrines forced by the Catholic church upon the ignorant masses, chief among them being the selling of indulgences–a papist fundraiser that claimed that absolution of sins could be bought with silver. Luther outraged that the work of Christ was spit and trampled upon by those who claimed to be the church, composed his grievances and posted them for the world to see, essentially rendering his life forfeit. By the grace of Guttenberg, the document spread across Europe like a wildfire and reformer’s life was spared, and it ignited what has come to be known as the Protestant Reformation, finally dethroning the wicked tyrant of Roman ignorance that had for centuries forbade that God’s people worship him in Spirit and in truth.
Despite the great victory that the Church of Christ achieved through the Reformation, the victory was merely that of a battle, not the War. For while the papist reign of ignorance was defeated by faithful men and the printing press, ignorance about God’s Word abounds nonetheless. Unlike the time of Luther where ignorance was cultivated by a lack of information, we in our day are flooded with information and have countless translations of the Scriptures into English. All of us in America can place our hands upon a copy of the Scriptures at a moment’s notice, be they printed or on the internet, and yet many in our churches are ignorant of the Faith regardless.
If the Church of Christ was emancipated by the spread of information afforded by Guttenberg, why then are those who profess Christ bound by ignorance in a day where information abounds? The reason is that our Adversary is a sly and brilliant foe, and where he fails in deception on one front, he regroups and excels on another. For while information abounds today, a new tyrant has taken control where the former tyrant was dethroned, and that tyrant is Prosperity. Where the tyrant of Misinformation could not succeed, the tyrant of Prosperity excels, and his rule is perpetuated by false teachers whom we call pastors, elders, and bishops. And together, Prosperity and false teachers are throwing souls into hell by the thousands.
How is American prosperity the new tyrant of ignorance? It is such because of the grip with which it holds its victims. It looks upon the hearts of men and sees their desire for wealth and luxury, and it whispers to them, “What is wrong with having nice things? Are not these things a blessing from God? Do you not give your tithe to the church? Of course you do. The rest is yours to do with as you please.” He whispers these things and twists the truth of God but a little, and the human heart does the rest. The human heart, with the smallest of promptings, gives itself license to love whatever it desires, insofar as attaining it does not obviously break one of the ten commandments and does not deter one from giving his tithe. And thus men sanctify their use of money.
After this sandy foundation has been laid, the rest is a slippery slope. Men go to church and give their tithes, yet they desire more and more of what the world has to offer. They find that they are discontent with their present state, and so they seek to remedy it. They look upon their houses and their cars and look at the houses and cars of others that are better than theirs, and they long for those better things and work longer and harder to get them. They may resort to stepping on others to gain a promotion, or they may simply work more hours or pick up another job–all with the intentions of bettering their present state so as to have that which others have or to entertain themselves the few hours that they are not laboring for wealth.
And what has this to do with ignorance of God’s Word? Everything, for men are so consumed by their desire for the American Dream that they neglect the Word of Life that gathers dust upon their shelves. They simply do not have time to invest in knowing the Word of God, and the only time that they set aside for instruction is on Sunday mornings from a preacher who is just as consumed by the love of wealth as they are. And even if they are religious and read the Scriptures every day, they are so hardened by the love for the world and by false doctrine that they cannot perceive the errors of their ways, just as Isaiah declares to hardened Israel, “Keeping on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Is. 6:9). Their god is American wealth, and no Scripture will sway their allegiance.
And this wealth-imposed ignorance of the Word of God is perpetuated by preachers who fill pulpits at churches who do not preach the Word of God. And though they may make their sermons from portions of the Scriptures, they do not preach the whole Counsel because they are either consumed with the love of wealth themselves or they fear men rather than God. And thus, they, like the shepherds of Israel, starve their sheep, as Ezekiel prophesies:
Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them (Ez. 34:2-10).
These who call themselves the shepherds of the church, feast upon the Word of God themselves while they starve their people. They, consumed with their need for a paycheck and with making a name for themselves, neglect feeding their people with the teachings of our Lord, and thus allow their people to live contently worshiping their golden calf, the American Dream, and they, like Aaron, are more than willing to make it for them (cf. Ex. 32). They care nothing for their people’s souls, for if they did, they would declare to them the warning of the apostle:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1Jn. 2:15-17).
And what better description is there for the American church but that they live for the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride in possessions? The church has long forsaken her first love, and like the Pharisees condemned by Christ, they tithe their mint, dill, and cumin but forsake the weightier matters of the law, namely loving God and loving their neighbors. They neglect the widowed and the orphaned by lavishing themselves with their wealth, and they despise the nations by muzzling missionaries. They care nothing for the least of these and even despise them for their lack of initiative. They think themselves righteous because they have labored for their luxuries, all the while Christ declares to them:
Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. … [For] truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Mt. 25:41-26).
We, therefore, in America need a new Reformation. We do not need a reformation from the tyrant of Rome (as was required in former days), but we need a reformation from the tyrant of American Prosperity. Far too long have we be enslaved by our love for the world and the pleasures it offers, and far too long have we been taught by teachers and preachers who are content to lead their sheep to the ledge of the fiery pit of hell. May God now, five hundred years removed from Wittenberg, raise up prophets and preachers who fear God instead of men and love God instead of money and, in turn, raise up a church that loves him by despising the world and loving the weak and needy in it.