The peddlers of the prosperity gospel promise a short-cut to the joys of heaven that will bypass the trials of earthly life and deliver a near paradise on earth to the impatient Christian.
What these slick sellers of sanctified success don’t tell you is that their short-cuts really short-circuit your spiritual growth. Rather than calling you to forsake all and follow close to Christ they unload piles of promised possessions on your path crowding your way and prohibiting you from progressing further.
At best prosperity gospel teaching is a dangerous distraction to well-meaning Christians which chokes out and stagnates their spiritual growth.
At worst prosperity gospel ignores core gospel truths and misdirects beguiled followers down a convenient and gratifying path to hell.
So let’s get to it, here are 5 ways the prosperity gospel short-circuits spiritual growth!
1. It focuses the heart on temporary things
Somehow prosperity gospel preachers have convinced their followers that to pursue God you must pursue things! For example Jesse Duplantis tells his listeners that they must “yield to the anointing of wealth” he goes so far to say that faith is really about getting things for yourself.
It’s hard to pursue God’s eternal purposes when your heart and mind are weighed down with the pursuit of momentary material gain.
And that sown into the thorn bushes is this: the one hearing the Word, and the anxiety of this age, and the deceit of riches, choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful. -Mat 13:22
This over emphasis upon perishable products and brief abundance will not lead you closer to God but rather further from Him. This is exactly why Jesus exhorted his followers not to lay up treasures on earth but instead to lay up treasures in heaven. (Mat 6:19-20)
According to Jesus pursuing wealth as a main goal in life doesn’t just indicated a lack of wisdom, it’s straight out idolatry! (Mat 6:24)
2. It minimizes the role of suffering
All you have to do is look at a bookshelf filled with books from the most prominent prosperity Gospel preachers to recognize how far they have sidelined the role of suffering.
Here’s a few examples:
- “You’re Supposed to Be Wealthy: How to Make Money, Live Comfortably, and Build an Inheritance for Future Generations” -Creflo Dollar
- “Your Best Life Now, 7 Steps to Living Your Full Potential” -Joel Osteen
- “The Laws of Prosperity” -Kenneth Copeland
These types of books could only come from pens of uniquely wealthy men living in a uniquely wealthy and pro-Christian nation who have never personally known the cost of following Christ!
Church history tells a different story.
For the past 2,000 years suffering played an integral part in the life of the Church. Early believers knew that making a public confession of faith in Christ ment their lives would be difficult from that moment on. They may lose their jobs, key relationships would be strained if not broken, they would experience ridicule, encounter legal problems, find themselves in lonely places, and possibly lose their life!
For much of Church history suffering was not an exception, it was a norm, and accepted part of Christianity. Believers understood suffering not simply as an undesirable side effect of faith in Christ but as one of God’s chosen means of spiritual growth.
Therefore, since the Messiah suffered in a mortal body, you, too, must arm yourselves with the same determination, because the person who has suffered in a mortal body has stopped sinning, so that he can live the rest of his mortal life guided, not by human desires, but by the will of God. 1Pe 4:1-2
Dear friends, do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, because you are participating in the sufferings of the Messiah, keep on rejoicing, so that you may be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 1Pe 4:12-13
3. It burdens believers with false guilt
It’s common for prosperity preachers to tell their followers that God’s financial blessings and healing are fully dependant upon their level of faith and readiness to yield to God’s favor upon their lives.
For instance Kenneth Copeland’s teaching on how to receive healing from God states:
“When it comes to the question of whether or not Jesus will heal you, the Bible makes it clear: The choice is yours. Will you let your doubt and unbelief keep you from complete healing and wholeness, or will you be like the people who followed Jesus, pressed into Him and sought Him out wherever He went?” 1)What Can Stop Jesus Healing Power?
What then if God doesn’t heal? How should the believer respond when he can’t pay a bill because the market crashed, he lost his job, or he lives in a 3rd world country where there are little to no opportunities.
The truth is sometimes Christians suffer health and financial problems that are no fault of their own, telling them this is the result of their lack of faith can do serious damage to their faith.
4. It settles for superficial happiness
All the happiness and joy in the world can be lumped into 2 exclusive categories: conditional and non-conditional.
Conditional happiness is dependant upon outward conditions that by nature are temporary and changing. As I mentioned in my first point, prosperity gospel focuses nearly entirely upon these temporary conditional elements of life.
Let’s be honest, a new car, resolution of health problems, and success at work can all bring us happiness. But if our happiness is dependent upon their presence then when they disappear so will our happiness.
Too many Christians today are giving up on the pursuit of eternal joys and are settling for a superficial, short-lived happiness created from their external conditions.
“I have never heard anyone say, ‘The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort.’ Nobody says that. It isn’t true.” -John Piper 2)Why We Can Rejoice in Suffering
The truth is seeking God’s lasting, internal, non-conditional, joy will most likely be a rocky road with great difficulties along the way and not a ride on cruise ship.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But you must let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4
5. It turns faith into an exercise in willpower
Many prosperity preachers use extra-biblical practices like “positive confession”3)I highly recommend reading this article about positive confession from Christian Research Institute http://www.equip.org/article/positive-confession/ which marries Eastern mysticism with Western egoism creating a faux faith which lacks scriptural support.
In his book “Your Best Life Now” Joel Osteen states:
“If you develop and image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold these things from you.” 4)“Your Best Life Now” Joel Osteen, page #4
In this system the source of faith springs from an individual’s desires which result in a mindset followed by verbal confession and pursuit of those luxuries upon which the mind has been set.
Faith no longer finds its foundation in the clear truths of Scripture but rather begins to claim right to whatever fancies the eye. If you want that house, which is well out of your financial means, then you assume that God will give it to you, talk like you own it, and act like it’s yours.
Listen as Kenneth Copeland explains how God told him “I want you to confess the billion flow” and how that positive confession made him a billionaire!
6. It twists the plain meaning of Scripture
A clear understanding of God’s Word is central to the growth of every Christian. Unfortunately prosperity gospel constantly distorts and twists plain Scripture to make the fit a theology that is man centered and earthly focused.
Commonly specific promises made my God to Abraham and the nation of Israel are often applied to the individual believer with the caveat “If you have enough faith God will give it to you.”
Also popular with these preachers is Jesus promise to the disciples in Mark 10:29-30. In this passage Jesus tells them that those who gave up much to follow Jesus would receive much in return. Prosperity preachers use this promise as a giving formula which seems to specifically apply to their ministry.
“Donate a 100$ and God will give you a 1,000$ in return.”
Conveniently they forget that Jesus wasn’t talking about donating to any ministry or even donating funds to Jesus himself. He was talking about the cost of discipleship and what you will have to leave behind to follow closely after Christ.
Also conveniently they forget to mention that in addition to receiving more in return (he was talking about the blessing of the Church) Jesus also says you’ll receive persecution. How many of these preachers tell their followers that they’ll be persecuted as a result of donating to the ministry?
7. It distracts from the main task of preaching the Gospel
In my opinion one of the most subtle and yet destructive aspects of the prosperity gospel is how distracts the believer from the task of preaching the true Gospel. It down plays the sinfulness of man and side steps the glories of a God who redeems not man’s savings account but his soul!
Evangelistic passion amongst prosperity devotees has more in common with a multi-level marketing scheme than it does with the preaching of Peter and Paul. Gospel preachers of the New Testament and early church often received prison sentences, floggings and were stoned to death as a result of their message a far cry from the luxury homes and Rolexes of modern day prosperity gospel preachers.
Could it be that the difference is in the message?
Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall cut you off, and when they shall reproach you and shall cast out your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. For behold, your reward is great in Heaven. For so their fathers did according to these things to the prophets. Luke 6:22-23
What other dangers might there be in the prosperity gospel?
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