Article by Torben S¢ndergaard
Last year, the movie American Gospel: Christ Alone came out, and has since gone viral, bringing forth many discussions, on Facebook, etc.
I would like to share something very important about the movie and about the discussions out there.
I share this with fear and trembling, knowing this most likely will give me enemies on both sides of the camp. But I truly love God and I believe this will help many people out there.
First a little about the movie
In the movie we see interviews and clips with many well-known preachers, such as John Piper, Costi Hinn, Paul Washer, John MacArthur, Phil Johnson and more, talking about the gospel and criticizing some well-known prosperity preachers like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland and more.
The main cast in the movie though, are a few less-known people, sharing how they left the prosperity movement and its preachers, realizing they were not preaching the true Gospel.
The whole movie is a big attack on what is known as the “prosperity gospel”, or the “name it and claim it gospel”, and its preachers, who are known for their focus on money, love message, and weird theology and practices. The movie is at the same time a big promotion for the more hyper-conservative, Calvinistic, intellectually-oriented church, and its preachers, as those who hold the correct understanding of the gospel.
The movie American Gospel: Christ Alone makes it look like there are only these two camps, and that you have to choose between only these two (on one side, those who preach total heresies, having no idea what the gospel of Christ is truly about, and on the other side, those who supposedly know the gospel, have the truth and are building on Christ and Christ alone).
I can relate to the movie. But…
When I saw the movie I could really relate with many of the things they were pointing out as big problems, and also with the direct heresies in the “prosperity gospel”, a movement I myself left over 15 years ago, for some of the same reasons you see in this movie.
But even while I agree with many of the things they are saying, I still think the movie is not fair with the way they portray it. They often take things out of context, and even use video clips that are 10-15 years old. I’m sure we have all done or said things 10-15 years ago that we now regret, things we would not do or say today. I know I have, and I am thankful that with God, there is forgiveness for those things. If only the church could learn to do the same. So I think they are unfair when they use such old clips that are not even needed.
In general, I would have really liked a more honest and fair approach from the people behind the movie. They also give the idea that some of the prosperity preachers never preach about sin, repentance and the cross, but that is simply not true. But I do fully agree that it is a big concern that there are preachers out there living a luxurious lifestyle that is far from biblical, even the way they talk about money, and manipulate people to give.
What is missing in the American Gospel: Christ Alone movie?
But the reason I write this article is because of a big concern I see in this movie, in BOTH camps, and all over America and the world. I will now continue and answer the big question stated in the title, “What is missing in the American Gospel: Christ Alone movie”? Yes, the thing that is missing is for me a far bigger concern than everything else. The thing that is missing in this movie, is the whole Gospel, and the life of Christ the early church was preaching and living.
I know what I am writing here will provoke and challenge many of you out there, but before you also attack me, as if this is heresy, take your Bible and see for yourself if what I am sharing here is not the truth. Yes, all too often we blindly follow our leaders, preachers, or the church denomination we are a part of. We think those preachers know better, and we don’t see what is missing. We don’t take the time to see if they are preaching the same as those in the Bible did, and if they are living the life the early disciples were. Yes, it is one thing to stand behind a pulpit and preach. It is something else to live it out.
If you look at the movie American Gospel: Christ Alone, you see, as in so many other places today, that the gospel they are preaching is NOT the whole gospel as they were preaching in the early church. And the life they are living, in this movie, is also NOT the same as we read in the Bible. The life of the early disciples was a life led by the Holy Spirit – a life where they saw healings, casting out demons and speaking in tongues. No matter how you turn and twist the Bible, these things should still also be for today. If we look at the gospel, then the movie does give a very good and clear understanding of our state as sinners – that we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that we can be justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24). That it is by faith in Jesus, and not by works that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). It also gives a beautiful picture of how Jesus truly is our Passover Lamb, that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and that He is the only One who can take our sins away.
‘Don’t take my word for it. Take out your Bible and see if what I am saying here is the truth.’
But then it sadly goes wrong, as it does in so many other places today. Because when it comes to how we receive this free gift, the movie goes wrong. Yes, they talk about the cross of Jesus and the gospel. But they totally forget how Jesus, after the cross, rose again, ascended into Heaven, and has now sent His Holy Spirit down to His people. They forget the life of the Holy Spirit we read about in the book of Acts.
They seem to be stuck in the mindset that people only need to “repent and believe”, as stated in the four gospels, and they forget what happened when the Holy Spirit came down here. Yes, that life of the Holy Spirit is also missing. They don’t understand that the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t give the whole picture. These four gospels all took place before the cross, and no one there got born-again the way we see happening after the cross, and like we should also see today.
The truth is that the movie American Gospel: Christ Alone is busy criticizing others for a lack of the gospel, but not realizing they themselves aren’t preaching or living the whole gospel either. They themselves are not preaching the true gospel preached by the early church. They themselves are not experiencing the life with the Holy Spirit lived by the early church.
Yes, I know this will be hard to swallow for many, but don’t take “my” word for it. Take out your Bible and see if what I am saying here is the truth. If you take your Bible and read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there are many things you don’t find there. First, you don’t find anyone baptized in water in the name of Jesus, and you don’t find anyone receiving the Holy Spirit like we see in the book of Acts. Why? Because the four gospels were all happening when Jesus was walking here on earth. The four gospels all happened before the cross and therefore before the new covenant really began. In the four gospels you don’t find anyone getting baptized in water in the name of Jesus, as we see later. Those who got baptized at that time, all got baptized with John’s baptism, and then later got rebaptized in Jesus’ name. See Acts 19.
You also don’t find anyone in the four gospels getting baptized with the Holy Spirit, like we see after the Cross. The reason again, is that Jesus at that time was still walking here on earth. It was before the cross, and they did not pray in Jesus’ name, or baptize in Jesus’ name, as we see later. Jesus had also not yet ascended to Heaven, so He hadn’t sent the Holy Spirit down here on earth, like we read later in the book of Acts as well. Therefore, if we only preach and live the life we see in the four gospels, as many do today, we are not preaching a New Testament Gospel and we are not living by the Holy Spirit as the early church was doing.
“Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
So don’t make the mistake many are making, being stuck on Good Friday, only focusing on the cross, but forgetting the resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If we only focus on the four gospels, we don’t have the whole Word of God. We are then missing the life and power we are meant to have with the Holy Spirit. After the cross, after Jesus went to Heaven, and after He sent His Spirit down here, we, for the first time, see the whole Gospel preached, along with what we need to do in order to receive this new amazing life!
When Peter there stood up, he did not say ONLY “repent and believe”, as we see again and again through the whole movie.
No, we read: “Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.’” (Acts 2:38-39)
In the movie they never talked about baptism in water or about the Holy Spirit. It was all missing. But if you take out your Bible and see how they did things after the Cross, when the new covenant began, you will see that baptism in water was the first step of obedience. It was something they did as a response to the gospel, immediately, for the remission of their sins. You will also see that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to everyone. Sometimes, people received the Holy Spirit before baptism, like in Acts 10:46, with Cornelius and his house, where Peter heard them speaking in tongues and praising God, and then they got baptized in water afterward. Other times, they got baptized in water first, then received the Holy Spirit afterward when they were prayed for, speaking in tongues and prophesying, like we see with Paul in Acts 19. We also see this today with many people, all over the world, but that is all missing here in this movie.
What did the early church preach?
The four steps we see, again and again, through the New Testament, are: repentance, faith, baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Yes, this is what the early church preached, as what people needed to do, to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, when we talk about the importance of water baptism, we often hear people say water baptism is not important, and use the example of the thief on the cross. But, once again, the thief on the cross was also before Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. When people use this example, it shows they don’t know how to rightly divide the Word of God. They don’t understand when the old covenant ends, and where the new covenant starts. And this is where many go wrong, including those you see in the movie American Gospel: Christ Alone.
If you take the time to study every verse in the Bible about water baptism, you will see that people in the Bible were baptized right away, immediately after confessing Christ. You will also see that baptism in water is NOT just a symbol, but an actual part of our salvation (Mark 16:17 – 1 peter 3:21). Baptism is where we bury the old man and put on Christ, as Paul expresses here in Romans 6:3-4:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
Yes we are all the children of God by faith, but when do we truly enter into that faith? Read the next verse:
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
Yes, we are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ because when we get baptized into Christ we put on Christ.
Faith and works
The problem we see today with the Bible is that many people don’t know the context it is written in, or how to rightly divide the Word of God. They often forget, as I said, where the new covenant began. They also forget that the letters were written to those who were already believers – believers who had gotten born-again as we read in the book of Acts – people who got baptized in water and who had received the Holy Spirit.
So, when Paul warns us not to go back to works (works by the law), he is NOT talking about baptism in water like some think. Those he was writing to had all already gotten baptized in water, right away, when they came to faith. To quote Paul or others and say baptism in water is “works”, like many do, is really twisting the Word of God.
Do you have the Holy Spirit?
Also, when Paul reminds the people in Ephesus how they received the Holy Spirit when they believed (Ephesians 1:13), remember who the PEOPLE are he’s writing to. He was not writing to people who had just “prayed the sinner’s prayer”, because that did not exist at the time. He was also not writing to a baptist church, a reformed church, a pentecostal church, or any other church we see today, because they (with all their tradition) also did not exist at the time. He wrote to those who when they (not you or me) believed, received the Holy Spirit right away. Today though, we have catholic, baptist, reformed people, and so on, who all read the same letters, and out of them teach that you automatically receive the Holy Spirit when YOU believe, but that is simply not true. If you read Acts chapter 8, you see how people there heard Philip’s preaching and believed, repented and got baptized in water right away. But they still had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is possible to believe without receiving. (When a person comes to Christ, it is because the Holy Spirit draws that person (John 6:46), and when a person sees their sin, it is also because of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). All of this is a work by the Holy Spirit, but this is not the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Acts 8:16, John 14:17, Acts 19:2)).
But there we also read how Peter and the rest came and laid hands on them, and they then received the Holy Spirit, just like many do, in this same way, today.
Yes, I have personally seen thousands receive the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues, and so on, like we see in the Bible. But where do you see that in this movie? When you see the movie, you will see that all of this is missing. They only preach “repent and believe”, and not as we see in the Bible after the cross – repent, believe, and be baptized in water and the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Acts, we see what the early church preached, and how those who heard the Word responded to it. We see how they got baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. (When we talk about the baptism with the Holy Spirit, we are talking about a one time experience and not a wrong understand called “baptism in fire” or “anointing”, something I will address another time.)
Read it for yourself.
Remember that the Bible was meant for the common man. You don’t need to go to seminary or have a theology degree to understand the Bible. People who go to seminary often come out with the same religious glasses on, seeing things only the way they have been taught there. Then they end up blindly leading others.
Many of those today are totally blind when it comes to the book of Acts. They say Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but by their life and preaching, deny what we read in the Bible, like it is not for us today. But if Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever, then the Holy Spirit is also the same yesterday and today and forever. People are still in their sin, and they need to hear the whole gospel, and to be born-again. There are still demons and we need to cast them out. There are still sick people and they need healing.
The book of Acts shows not only how the early church was preaching and living, but also what people did when they gave their lives to Christ and were born-again. It shows a life where they went through persecution and hard times. But we do still see how God took care of His people’s needs, and filled them with joy in the Holy Spirit in the middle of the hard times. We also see healing and deliverance happening by the hands of the disciples (not only the apostles. See Acts 9, with a disciple named Ananias).
You need Spirit and Truth
My message to you out there is that you don’t need to choose between the two sides you see in the movie American Gospel: Christ Alone. Many years ago, when I left the “faith movement” as I often call it, I was for a long time listening to some of the preachers you see in the movie. I even met some of them. And what I heard, I really loved. It was so good to finally get some good, solid Bible teaching (some of it), that I had been missing where I came from. I loved the focus on the fear of God. I loved the focus on the Cross. Yes, many things I had been missing, I got from there. But after a short time, I started to feel dry, like something was missing. I felt something was really wrong, and then the Holy Spirit stopped me. He showed me how I had just gone from one side of the road to the other. And I had now started to deny the work of the Holy Spirit. And I am so thankful that God stopped me there. Don’t make the same mistake I did, by leaving one wrong side to go over to another. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we need the Word and that is important. But we also need the Spirit. We can not live without both. We should worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24).
Take your Bible and read it for yourself. You need to build on the Word of God alone, no matter what your traditions say. You also need the Spirit of Truth to teach you the whole truth, to set you free. Again, it is the Spirit and Truth. Don’t get lost in the Word like many do today, and like the religious people at the time of Jesus did. They studied the Word daily waiting for their Messiah, but when He stood there in front of them, they could not recognize Him. The Word without the Spirit had blinded them, as we see so often today.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)
You need the Word, but the Word needs to lead you to Jesus so HE can give you life by the Spirit. You now have both the Word and the Spirit to teach you the whole truth.
The normal Christian life is what you find in the Word of God – a life following Jesus – a life free from sin (free from porn, lying, stealing, fornication, etc.. ), filled with the Holy Spirit, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, casting out demons – an amazing life, full of joy and full of persecution.
Yes, Jesus never promised us an easy life, but He has promised us that He is with us through it all. If your life doesn’t look like what we read in the book of Acts – if the way you preach the gospel and the way people respond to the gospel doesn’t look like what you see there, then there is something wrong, no matter what others tell you.
May you seek Him until you find Him.
God bless you!
The Last Reformation