Any careful student of church history knows how easy it is for truth to give way to error, for orthodoxy to collapse into heterodoxy. They would also know that every cult and heresy which has arisen contains a tantalising mix of truth and error.
Indeed, that is what makes them so appealing – and so dangerous and deceptive. They offer a bit of truth on the surface, but deep down they have the deadly poison of error. Hardly any cult or heretic offers straight-out error and falsehood. There will usually be a mix of some biblical truths with some doctrinal error.
Such groups need to be avoided like the plague of course. Drinking a nice refreshing cup of coffee with a bit of poison in it may taste nice, but it will still kill you in the end. That is why Scripture warns so often and so strongly about false teaching and false teachers. We are to stay well away from both.
I mention all this because of a recent comment which came my way. It could not be printed because the person refused to give his full name, as my rules require. But this person obviously does not know his church history, since he was quite critical of me for daring to publicly expose the Prosperity Gospel.
Like so many critics, he thought I was quite out of place to reprimand these teachers and their dodgy doctrines. He said in part, “Those who preach what you call the prosperity Gospel preach a great deal of truth, and point people to Jesus Christ. Do you throw the baby out with the bath water? You must be more specific about exactly what is wrong and right, proclaim the truth.”
Um, what exactly have I been doing in my 32 articles thus far devoted to this movement? I have been pointing out heaps of its many specific errors. If I have not mentioned too many of its good bits, it is for the simple reason that I cannot find many good bits.
As I said above, you don’t hang around with cults or heretical groups hoping to get some good stuff – the poisonous false doctrine will do you in every time. So you stay away altogether and don’t get contaminated by such deceptive teaching. In many ways we should approach the Health and Wealth Gospel in similar fashion.
Learning from church history
Many heresies and cults arise because they are reacting to some unbiblical extreme, so they end up going into another unbiblical extreme themselves. This happens all the time, and that is why the study of church history and doctrinal theology is so important.
As an example, some groups or parts of the church may radically downplay the reality of evil, of a personal devil, the existence of demons, and so on. To do so is to clearly depart from basic biblical teaching. There most certainly is a devil and the demonic, and we most certainly are called to engage in spiritual warfare and be wary of demonic assaults.
So that is one faulty and unbiblical extreme. But as is so often the case, in order to correct this, some groups will go way too far in the other direction. They too will make a huge mess of the biblical balance. Thus they may see demons under every rock, and see every illness or psychological problem or what have you as a demonic stronghold that needs to be exorcised.
They too end up going off the deep end in the other direction. Their intentions may have been good – to correct an extreme teaching. But they end up with their own extreme teaching which is equally far from the biblical truth. We see this occurring on a regular basis in church history.
It is the same with so much of the HWG. In many ways it is a reaction to parts of the church which have gone wrong on a number of things or in a number of areas. So they start emphasising things which have been underemphasised.
Thus plenty of basic truths can and should be highlighted and emphasised:
-Sure we can all use more faith – although this is not to be mere man-made, hyped up faith; it is not our great faith in God that matters, but our faith in a great God.
-Sure, we can do more by way of claiming God’s promises to us – although not the basically physical and material promises made to ancient Israel as in its blessing and curses in Deuteronomy 27-28, but the spiritual blessings as in Ephesians 1.
-Sure we can sometimes have a poverty mentality – although we must not go to the other extreme and promote opulence, luxury and the best of everything while a good bulk of mankind goes without daily needs.
-Sure we can believe and trust God more – although not to the point of turning him into a celestial butler who merely exists to do our every selfish bidding.
Thus there are some aspects of truth which are pushed in the HWG. But sadly they have gone so far in the other direction that most of these preachers and teachers have basically turned all this into an unbiblical cult, if not a damnable heresy.
Indeed, there most certainly are clear heretical teachings associated with too many of these teachers. To mention but one: many of these guys push a completely false and unbiblical teaching about how we are in fact “little gods”. It fits in nicely with so much of their name it and claim it mentality, but it is quite wrong biblically speaking.
But leaving that and other genuinely heretical teachings aside, it seems the easiest way to assess this whole movement is to simply examine its fruit – exactly what Jesus told us to do. What we have here at the end of the day is a frightening substitution: a substitution of the biblical gospel which is God-centred for a spurious gospel which is man-centred.
Instead of a gospel which speaks of Christ sacrificing everything and dying for lost sinners to bring them back to right relationship with God, so that they may self-sacrificially serve others, we have a gospel which is primarily about greed, materialism, comfort and luxury.
It is all about satisfying human wants and lusts, not just needs. It is all about avarice, the good life, and justifying our insatiable cravings for more things, more stuff, and more wealth. That has never been the gospel of Jesus Christ and can never be. It is a false gospel appealing to our most base and carnal appetites.
It is not Christ-exalting; it is man-affirming and coddling. As such it is an unbiblical movement which we must be very wary about indeed. The little good it offers seems to me to be far outweighed by the enormous harm and damage it is causing.
So in this case I don’t find much of a baby in there – mostly just dirty bathwater which certainly should be tipped out. And the sooner, the better.