In his last message as pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper condemned prosperity preachers for enticing worshippers into a faith that’s not real Christianity.
“If you entice people with wealth, … ease, health, chipper, bouncy, light-hearted, playful, superficial banter in your worship service posing as joy in Christ, you will attract people, oh yeah, you can grow a huge church that way. But Christ will not be seen in his glory and the Christian life will not be seen as the calvary road that it is,” said Piper on Sunday.
After 32 years of preaching at Bethlehem in Minneapolis, Piper handed the baton to Jason Meyer, who will be installed on Jan. 20. While Sunday’s sermon was not likely Piper’s final message, it was his last on an official level as pastor for Preaching and Vision. In his last official message, Piper wanted to convey to the congregation “what the world needs from the church.
” What it needs, he preached, is “our indomitable, invincible joy in the midst of suffering and sorrow.”
He wasn’t speaking of a “chipper” or “bouncy” joy that he sees in many church services but true rejoicing in the face of suffering and sorrow.
“I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds chipper and frisky and high-spirited and chattering and designed evidently to make people feel light-hearted and playful and bouncy,” he said. “I say, don’t you know there are people dying of cancer in this room? Don’t you know some are barely making it financially? … And you’re going to create an atmosphere that’s bouncy …? I just don’t get it. It’s not who we are.”
Of course, the world does need to see happy Christians but that happiness has to be a “Christ-bought, God-wrought happiness in pain,” Piper stressed. “Otherwise, what we offer them isn’t anything they don’t already have. They know how to be happy in good times.”
“What they need is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow … These people are not playing games here. They’re not using religion as a platform for the same old hyped-up self-help that the world gives them every day. They need the greatness and grandeur of God over them.”
So many pastors today try to attract people to Jesus with their lavish houses, cars and clothes, Piper lamented. But that’s not the way the Apostle Paul did it as recorded in the New Testament.
“You shouldn’t ever attract anybody to Jesus like that because if they get attracted they’re not coming to Jesus. They’re coming to the stuff and the one who can provide it. Thank you very much Jesus for giving me what my fallen, selfish heart always lived for anyway,” he said. The Apostle Paul made it clear that the Christian life is not without suffering such as beatings, hunger, imprisonment and sleepless nights. But in the midst of those hardships, Paul’s spirit was never broken and all he could do was rejoice because he had Jesus.
“We’re commending the value of Christ and we’re doing it exactly the opposite of the way that prosperity preachers do it,” Piper noted, preaching from 2 Corinthians 6. What Paul does is show that knowing Christ and having eternal life with Christ “is better than all the worldly wealth and prosperity and health that there is.” “We commend our life in ministry by afflictions, … calamities … It means that Christ is real to us, more precious than sleep, health, money, life … Wouldn’t you want a Christ that precious?
“If not, Christianity is not for you.”