Updated: Sep 10, 2020
What does the Bible say is the root of all evil? Right…the love of money. There's nothing wrong with money. Money is value neutral…commerce is value neutral…the economy is value neutral. Money is like tofu. Just as tofu takes on whatever flavor is added to it, money takes on whatever value we add to it.
People need money. People need to go out and earn money. Hey, sometimes people win money. However it's gotten, money is an important part of life. Amen?
I think free-market capitalism is the best economic policy in a broken and fallen world. I think private property ownership is the best way out of poverty for developing countries. Before socialism/communism/ totalitarianism gripped many African countries, Africa was a net food exporting continent. Here in America, I think the only difference, economically, between Democrats and Republicans is that while they both want to spend our money, Republicans want to spend it at a slower rate. I think free and open markets lead to a robust economy. They provide the best opportunity for most people, most of the time.
"The Godfather" has one of the best opening lines in a movie, ever. Vito Corleone says, "I believe in America, America is where I made my fortune…" There is so much right and wrong in that one short sentence. Money is important to life. But it's not the most important thing in life. Are you with me on that?
So today we're going to talk about money. But not in the context of raising a budget or kicking off a stewardship campaign. Today we're going to talk about money in the context of a false teaching that has gripped America and is now being exported all over the world. Like every other generation of Christians, we need to push back against false teaching. Today, men and women are adding a heretical teaching to the gospel. And remember, whenever you add anything to the gospel, you lose the gospel. Many are getting their ears tickled by hearing things they want to hear rather than things they need to hear. As 2 Timothy 4:3-4 reminds us, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."
Our first place to turn is to a letter in the New Testament that is so short, it isn't divided into chapter and verse. Only verses because there's only one chapter. It's the letter written by Jude. Jude was the brother of James and Jesus. His purpose for writing was to encourage believers to contend for the one true faith by resisting false teachers and following the truth. Because the gospel was under assault, Jude had some things he needed to address. I know, we'd rather talk about good things, and avoid pointing out error. We want to be hopeful and positive. Critiquing false teaching hardly feels positive and hopeful. But sometimes a false teaching becomes so pervasive, it has to be addressed. I think that's where we are with the prosperity gospel.
The final verses of Jude sum it up best:
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. | Verses 17-23 |
Before we get into the wickedness that is the prosperity gospel, let's first look at three kinds of people who get caught up in deception.
First, there are doubters. Doubters are waverers. They like their seat on the fence. These are often the people who say they think there's a higher power; they'd like to believe in God but they're just not there yet. Jude calls us to practice patience and forbearance with doubters. Be careful not to push them away. But also remember that they could get caught up in an
easy faith or a faith that embraces cultural religion. They can also be
susceptible to fads and overly-emotional appeals.
Second, there are the deceived. These folks are convinced they have the truth. Years ago, a woman who said she was a Christian, also believed in reincarnation. She told me she felt no conflict in her mixed beliefs. These are the folks whom Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to seek and to save from the wolves who mean them harm. And so must we.
Third, there are the dangerous. Hence, Jude 23 says to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. The dangerous proudly fly the flag of false doctrine. Paul describes them well in Romans 16:18:
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
While these dangerous pastors, leaders, and teachers undermine Jesus Christ and his gospel, we are to be merciful toward them, as they, too, are in need of salvation. But remember, being merciful doesn't mean we ought to embrace or overlook their beliefs.
It is the doubters and the deceived who are most susceptible to the false gospel of the dangerous.
Speaking of the dangerous, there's one side note I need to bring up. While I believe that some prosperity preachers are con men, hucksters, and frauds, others are so blinded by the American Christian idea of success that they fail to see their own false teaching. Let me be very clear here. While God and God alone is judge of their eternal destiny, we must practice sound judgment and discernment about what teaching we'll allow into our hearts and minds. I do not doubt for a minute that there are prosperity preachers who get some things right. That's what draws so many in. They are sharing some truth. Which is why it's so important to recognize false teaching, so it won't become part of your life. Some of what these folks teach is Biblical truth. You just have to discern what's wrong or bad or misleading and then decide if you want to avoid it altogether.
So with these things in mind, let's turn to what the prosperity gospel is.
The prosperity gospel finds its roots in a metaphysical movement begun in
the late 1800s. The movement was founded on the idea that the mind is the key to unlocking your true reality. Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking is a grandchild of this movement. The philosophies of this movement wormed their way into Christian theology. That's where you get the weird offshoot of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd. I once heard one of these preachers tell the story about being late for the airport, so he prayed and put out positive thoughts and proclaimed over and over for the plane to be delayed. And miracle of all miracles, it was. Name-it-and-claim-it. Let's call it for what it is…witchcraft. How many times do we say or hear others say things like, "Sending positive vibes," or "Sending positive thoughts"? What does that even mean?
It's not a far step from there - how our thoughts can bring good things into our lives - to the notion of planting seeds of faith. In other words, I give financially, even sacrificially, to you so God will pour all sorts of good things into my life. And thus begins the fleecing of the sheep.
To counter the prosperity gospel, we need to examine the purpose of the true gospel. What is the trajectory of the Christian life? Is the Good News all about you and your stuff? Is the Good News all about never having any pain or sickness or suffering or sorrow? Is the Good News about making life easy? Is it about attaining the American dream?
Ephesians 2:4-10 captures the fullness of the gospel:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
A thorough reading of these verses raises a few important questions. Is the gospel about the gifts or the Giver? Is the gospel about the redeemed or the Redeemer? Is the gospel about earthly riches or eternal reward? Is the gospel about monetary gain or the glory of God? Is the gospel about achieving my materialistic desires or using what I have to do good works for God? Easy answers, right?
The prosperity gospel distorts the Biblical gospel by making the Good News all about you and all about material things. Make no mistake. The abundant life promised by Jesus isn't about our comfort, health, and prosperity. It is about sacrifice and service in this life and the security of your soul for eternity.
While much more can be said about the prosperity gospel, here are three concise observations about the prosperity gospel:
"While we should seek to understand what drives so many unto this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is - a false and failed gospel."
"The road to hell is paved by the prosperity gospel."
And finally, from Costi Hinn, once a believer in the prosperity gospel, whose extended family is still deeply enmeshed in the prosperity gospel: "The prosperity gospel is a disease."
So, what do we do about all this?
A few simple conclusions:
Be careful who you are reading and what you are listening too. Fine tune your gospel radar so you can tell the difference between truth and deceit.
Some people are attracted to the prosperity gospel because it's within our sinful nature to embrace materialism and consumerism.
We have deep sympathy for the emotionally and spiritually vulnerable, who are abused and preyed upon by prosperity preachers.
We never give up on lost, deceived, and deceiving souls.
Whenever faced with false teaching or concerned that we are being caught up in a false teaching, always remember 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.