“For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” Titus 1:10-11
We live in a country where you can achieve a vast amount of wealth. There is nothing wrong with achieving wealth, pursuing dreams, innovation, or success. Anyone who has enjoyed these successes should not feel guilty, but nor should they be your end.
In our highly successful American culture there is a great heresy afoot. Layering Christianity on materialism. Materialistic Christianity or the prosperity gospel continues to gain ground in not just the big TV evangelical circles; it is rooting itself into small and medium churches across the country guised in translucent theology.
There is something horrifically wrong with using Christianity to promote gaining wealth. Jesus died to save people from hell, not to ensure they have two cars and house. American culture should not be imposed on Christianity. Christianity must come to bear on American culture.
The leader of Christianity died on a cross. Eleven of his twelve followers died martyrs. The first century Christians were burnt on torches for Nero’s pleasure. The second century Christians were beheaded. The third century Christians found short-term favor with the political elite and ensured the continuation of the faith through deep battles over theology. The tenth century Christians guarded the faith and our beloved Bible as the western world fell into chaos. The thirteenth century Christians gave us direction. The sixteenth century Christians gave us reformation. The seventeenth century Christians brought the west modern science. The nineteenth century Christians gave us hope in a world gone crazy. The twentieth century Christians gave us mainstream heresy.
I despise the prosperity gospel. It is not the message of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Fifty of the 260 largest churches in America fall under prosperity theology. (“Bad Religion” Douthat, Free Press, Pg. 192) Unfortunately, thousands of churches are picking up this peculiar teaching with gentle infusion.
Prosperity theology takes some truth and elevates it to the most important thing about truth. This is heresy.
“It (idolatry) means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing,” Tim Keller.
Baptizing the pursuit of wealth began in the 1800’s. Much of this theme starts with Victorian Social Darwinists Russell Conwell, a Baptist minister whose famous ”Acres of Diamonds” sermon proclaimed, “It is your duty to get rich, and to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” (“Acres of Diamonds” New York Harper and Bros 1915)
Mary Baker Eddy took “New Thought” (healing and wealth come with positive thinking and recognizing the divine within yourself), to the next level. Your success would come when you got in line with the divine spirit of the universe. E. W. Kenyon set the ground for the modern men of prosperity preaching like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen. A read of their books draws a clear connection in their theology.
The prosperity preachers would have us believe that we suffer simply because of a failure of piety, willpower, or weak prayer. If we are suffering they tell us to believe something better is coming in this life. Tell that to John the Baptist.
Jeremiah 29:11 is elevated as the most important piece of truth:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We distort what prosperity means, what hope is, and fail to properly define the future.
The gospel is offensive to the world as Christ said it would.
"You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." Matthew 10:22
Prosperity preaching does not stand firm. It is self-serving. It demands God bestow material success as a measurement of His blessing and this group elevates those of influence, wealth and beauty.
The message is a world away from the Apostle Paul's words in Romans 5,
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)
What is this hope? Romans 8:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
The prosperity gospel treats our suffering as something we should not experience or that through enough positive thinking, nice actions or giving we may rise above. Worse, that we should have the hope of being wealthy, well fed, and admired.
Where are the stories of Daniel who was a slave and a bureaucrat all his life yet nothing negative is said of him? Where are his stories of Ezekiel who for a year lay on his side and was told to cook his food with dung. Where is Jesus who suffered to death? Where is Paul who was imprisoned, beat and beheaded? Where is the story of Polycarp being rammed onto a stake, hung in Nero’s garden and set aflame? Where are the stories of the monks in the dark ages that died guarding the books of faith? Where are the stories about decades of missionaries in Africa having whole families poisoned and killed?
To compound this is the “put on” the positive attitude. In other words pretend, act as the stoic. John Calvin spoke to this type of behavior:
“Such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain.
It is not as the Stoics of old foolishly described “the great-souled man”: one who, having cast off all human qualities, was affected equally by adversity and prosperity, by sad times and happy ones — nay, who like a stone was not affected at all. . . .
Now, among the Christians there are also new Stoics, who count it depraved not only to groan and weep but also to be sad and care-ridden. These paradoxes proceed, for the most part, from idle men who, exercising themselves more in speculation than in action, can do nothing but invent such paradoxes for us.
Yet we have nothing to do with this iron philosophy which our Lord and Master has condemned not only by his word, but also by his example. For he groaned and wept both over his own and others’ misfortunes. . . . And that no one might turn it into a vice, he openly proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Faith in God does not make demands of Him. It is thankful simply for salvation. It is obedient out of gratefulness. It gives cheerfully and does not demand something in return. It seeks the moment we are in the presence of Christ.
When my children professed faith in Christ I advised them that their lives would never be the same. I told them they would have trouble, pain, and be hated by many. I told them one day they may have to suffer or even die for this faith. I did not give them one ounce of the prosperity gospel. I felt an eternity with God is gift enough.
In our home hangs a frame with the last words of Dr. Bob Moorehead that he wrote the night before he died for his faith in Christ (1980, Rwanda):
“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed, the die has been cast, I have stepped over the line, the decision has been made- I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed vision, worldly talking, cheap giving & dwarfed goals.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up for the cause of Jesus Christ.
I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till everyone knows, work till He stops me & when He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me because my banner will have been clear.”
Calvin again speaks to the reality of the Christian life:
“Then only do we rightly advance by the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its goods are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by many intermingled evils. From this, at the same time, we conclude that in this life we are to seek and hope for nothing but struggle; when we think of our crown, we are to raise our eyes to heaven. For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it is previously imbued with contempt for the present life.”
These are the words of a man whose impact on the faith surpasses anything any modern preacher will ever give. Are you struck at all by the stark contrast of a hero of the faith to modern teachings?
How do we put our prosperity in line?
We have a responsible to labor. Tim Keller does a great job aligning this in “Every Good Endeavor” without turning to prosperity heresy. The Bible is clear that we have duties:
“But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8
“What is the Christian understanding of work?…It is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties…the medium in which he offers himself to God,” Dorothy Sayers.
If we receive great reward for our work, we can be thankful for every good thing from God. However, the prosperity here is not the goal. This is to miss the Christian life entirely. To elevate health and wealth above all other teachings in the Bible is to miss the full content and context. It is to turn health and wealth into idols.
You will lose your wealth, and at some point your health fails you and you leave this world. Why demand God to provide such short-term items when He has provided life eternal? Why spend time in His presence expectant of temporary gain?
I challenge these health and wealth teachers to take their message into the oncology unity at Harris to those in stage 4. I challenge them to take their wealth message to the people South Darfur. No, they take their message to our prosperous cities to offer comfort food for those of us that are well-to-do and those that covet their neighbor’s wealth.
The prosperity gospel is a very American thing. It does not resonate with the majority of mankind. It is idolatry of something incredible we have achieved in our great nation, but deserves no honor in our theological thinking.
“Want” should not allow us to add the prosperity gospel to our theology. "Guilt" should not allow us to add it either.
When you head to work tomorrow, give it all you got. Do great work because we are called to serve the Lord in all we do (Colossians 3:23) If you are an entrepreneur, pursue your vision with passion. Use your God given creativity to impact and provide for others. If you gain wealth, be wise with what you are given. But however successful you are, do not offer the hope of material gain in place of, or in connection with the message of Jesus Christ. That would be to lead someone away from Him, no to Him.
Be reminded that material gain does not gain you favor with God :
"For there is no respect of persons with God," Romans 2:11
The message of Christ, his death and resurrection, the need for faith and the hope of heaven are the needs of our culture.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14