Jerry C. Brewer
In the circus of life that is modern America, denominational religion is its cotton candy. Those big balls of fluffy stuff that are eagerly consumed by circus-goers promise a lot, but have no real substance. Cotton candy is fun to eat—while it lasts—but provides no substantial nourishment. That’s a fair description of the denominational industry’s version of “Christianity.” It’s all about preaching a “feel good” religion for the moment, with no spiritual substance for life. But that’s not the kind of religion Peter preached. He preached what folks today would call a “feel bad” religion.
Consider Peter’s words in the first sermon recorded in this dispensation. He began his discourse by explaining the phenomenon the multitude had witnessed—the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, accompanied by the sound of a rushing mighty wind and the appearance of “cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:2-4, 14ff). Astonished at those events, many among them charged the apostles with being drunk on new wine (Acts 2:13). After explaining that they were not drunk, but those things fulfilled Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:17-21; cf Joel 2:28-32), he reminded them of events which they already knew—that Jesus of Nazareth had been approved of God by the mighty works He did among them (Acts 2:22).
Having reminded them of that, he immediately charged them with murder in delivering Jesus to be crucified. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Peter’s aim wasn’t to make his auditors feel good about themselves as is the case in today’s denominational industry. His purpose was to lay before them the bare facts of their sin, Christ’s sacrifice for their sins, and to bring them to repentance for their sins. No “cotton candy religion” here.
Then, after proving from their own scriptures that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and had ascended into heaven, he capped his message, saying, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The Gospel message Peter preached had its desired effect on those who heard him. “When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Answering their anguished cry, “…Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins… and with many other words, did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:38, 40). Responding to Peter’s words, the record says,
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:41-42).
That’s a far cry from the “cotton candy religion” preached by today’s denominational preachers.
Had Peter been a modern spokesman for the denominational industry, his speech and their response in Acts 2:14-42, might have gone something like this:
Men and brethren, there is some validity to your belief that some of us may be drunk because we are social drinkers. And though we have diversity of opinion on this matter, we can continue to be brethren because I believe we can find strength in diversity and in our love for each other. Indeed, most of us have been drunk at one time or another, or at least done other things that were just as indiscreet. But I cannot condemn any of my colleagues, nor would I presume to judge any of you for thinking we are drunk because we have different interpretations of this event and there is certainly room for diversity among all of us. In fact, a scholarly study by professors at Gamaliel Jewish University (GJU) indicates that Solomon was drunk when he wrote that “wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging.”
However, though we have different interpretations of this event, that is not a salvational issue, and I can still call you “brother.” What you have witnessed today is a great revival of Holy Spirit renewal that some ancient scribe researched and wrote about in a scholarly work that the rabbis often attribute to Joel, but may have been written by an unnamed Hittite.
Now listen, all you good Jewish brothers! I have some good news for you! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by the love He showed in recent years by feeding the hungry, washing feet, and generally being nice, as most of you are aware, Him, being approved of God, even though some may have made mistakes in judgment about Him, was crucified on a cross. But that is in the past. We all make mistakes and you are no worse than anyone else. After all, we are all sinners. But now the great news is that the Holy Spirit has come to tell you God knows all of that and wants you to feel good about yourselves just as you are.
Now when they heard this, they tingled and felt good about themselves and cried out to Peter and the others, Men and brethren, glory hallelujah! Tell us what else to do. Then Peter said unto them, Do?! Do?! There is not one whit you can or need to do. Jesus did it all. We are just telling you the good news. Just ask Jesus to come into your hearts, be nice to each other, love each other, tell the Romans, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod that you love them, and make sure your kids have plenty of food, fun and fellowship.
Get involved in a blood drive in your communities, let the Holy Spirit direct you to parking places. And with many other soft, kind, sweet, and gentle words did he testify and exhort saying, Form Family Ministries, Youth Ministries, Outreach Ministries, and Children’s Ministries. Send your kids to camp, let Youth Ministers take them to Six Standards Over Jerusalem, and busy yourselves with lots of programs to make everyone feel good.
Then they that gladly received his word really felt good about themselves, and had their self-esteem raised, and about 3,000 formed their Church Family that day. And they continued to shout and clap their hands, and they formed an a cappella singing group that could make sounds with their lips just like the harps and lyres of the Romans. And they accepted all into the Church Family and called all men “brothers” who called God “Father” and recognized Jesus as a BFF and a good buddy and they all dwelt under the umbrella of egalitarianism, singing Kumbaya, and playing basketball in the temple gymnasium which they called their Family Life Center.
No, none of the apostles wanted men to “feel good” in their sins. Sin is tragic and causes souls to be lost in eternal hell. The religion of Jesus Christ is not designed to make men feel good as sinners. It is designed to make one sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 7:10). The man who feels good about himself while remaining in sin is lost, and will be lost in hell, unless he genuinely sorrows for his sin, repents of it, and is baptized for the remission of sins. Peter did not sugar-coat the Gospel of Jesus Christ on Pentecost. He plainly pointed out that those in his audience were sinners who had murdered the Son of God and told them how they could be forgiven of their sins.
The “feel good religion” of today’s denominational industry is daily sending millions to a devil’s hell. What the world needs is more “feel bad” religion as Peter preached on Pentecost. To preach an I’m OK, You’re OK, “cotton candy religion” is like telling a man in a burning house that he is safe and needs to do nothing.
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23) and, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). That’s not a “feel good religion,” but that’s what the world needs to hear. To genuinely feel good one needs to first feel bad about his sinful condition, then believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 8:24), repent of his sins (Acts 2:38), confess his faith in Christ (Acts 8:37), and be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16).
Having done that, one can then truly feel good that his sins are forgiven and, as the Ethiopian nobleman did in Acts 8:39, he can “go on his way rejoicing.”