OK, it is the New Year, so no sense in beating around the bush. I have resolved to keep promoting truth in 2014, regardless of how many people take offense and/or break fellowship with me. Time is short, truth matters, and far too many people are being led astray.
Sure, we are to speak the truth in love, but we dare not shrink back from proclaiming truth in a culture that hates truth and despises any sure word. This is just as true in our churches as in the world. So let me again offer warnings and words of exhortation.
In the past I have not been averse from telling an entire room full of Pentecostal and charismatic students that the prosperity gospel is a damnable heresy. It is one of the most pernicious and destructive false gospels making the rounds today, and I have no doubt it is high up on Satan’s list of doctrines of demons.
It has led many astray and caused many to shipwreck their faith or abandon it altogether. It appeals to the flesh, and wars against the spirit. It is about as opposed to the message of Christ as you can get, yet millions worldwide are being deceived by this, and plenty of huckster preachers are getting rich off it.
The prosperity gospel is a great reflection of modern hedonistic “me-first” consumerist culture, but is a lousy reflection of the gospel message. We are here to serve and worship our Lord, not to see what material benefits we can weasel out of Him.
I have written about the prosperity gospel often before. Here I wish to note that although this diabolical seduction of the gospel originated in the United States – not surprising: perhaps the most materialistic and consumeristic nation on earth – regrettably it has spread far and wide, and caused untold damage in the developing world.
Poor believers without food and running water are being told there that they can have a Mercedes in every driveway. Of course they don’t even have driveways, let alone a roof over their heads. Yet fraudulent Western preachers are coming there telling these folks if they have enough faith and give their little bits of money to the preachers, they can be rolling in the dough.
One leading charismatic leader who has been often to Africa has had a gutful of this deplorable and harmful gospel. J. Lee Grady says this: “I’m often asked to describe how God is moving in Africa today. Since I’m an optimist, I usually tell of the large churches, the passionate praise and the intense spiritual hunger that characterizes African Christianity. But there is also a dark side, and I think it’s time we addressed one of the most serious threats to faith on the continent.
“I’m talking about the prosperity gospel. Of course, I know a slick version of this message is preached in the United States—and I know we are the ones who exported it overseas. I am not minimizing the damage that prosperity preaching has done in my own country. But I have witnessed how some African Christians are taking this money-focused message to new and even more dangerous extremes.”
He goes on to list five ways in which this false gospel is damaging the continent of Africa today. Here are some of them:
“2. It fuels greed. Any person who knows Christ will learn the joy of giving to others. But the prosperity gospel teaches people to focus on getting, not giving. At its core it is a selfish and materialistic faith with a thin Christian veneer. Church members are continually urged to sow financial seeds to reap bigger and bigger rewards. In Africa, entire conferences are dedicated to collecting offerings in order to achieve wealth. Preachers boast about how much they paid for suits, shoes, necklaces and watches. They tell their followers that spirituality is measured by whether they have a big house or a first-class ticket. When greed is preached from the pulpit, it spreads like a cancer in God’s house.
“4. It works against the formation of Christian character. The prosperity message is a poor imitation of the gospel because it leaves no room for brokenness, suffering, humility or delay. It offers an illegal shortcut. Prosperity preachers promise instant results and overnight success; if you don’t get your breakthrough, it’s because you didn’t give enough money in the offering. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him; prosperity preaching calls us to deny Jesus and follow our materialistic lusts. There is a leadership crisis in the African church because many pastors are so set on getting rich, they can’t go through the process of discipleship that requires self-denial.
“5. It actually keeps people in poverty. The government of Malawi is currently under international scrutiny because of fraud carried out by top leaders. The saddest thing about the so-called ‘Cashgate’ scandal is that professing Christians in the administration of President Joyce Banda have been implicated. One of these people stole millions of kwacha from the government and hid the cash in a teddy bear! Most people today in Malawi live on less than $1 a day, yet their leaders have been known to buy fleets of cars and huge plots of land with money that was not theirs. Sadly, the prosperity gospel preached in Malawi has encouraged pastors and leaders to follow the same corrupt pattern. As a result, God’s people have been financially exploited.”
His whole article is well worth reading. As he says, believers in both the West and non-West are being greatly damaged by this. It is a complete inversion of biblical Christianity. It puts self and greed at the centre, instead of Christ and self-denial. It is truly a doctrine of demons, and those peddling this pernicious teaching need to repent and turn away from this poison.
As Michael Horton writes, “We exist for his pleasure, not he for ours; we are on this earth to entertain him, to please him, to adore him, to bring him satisfaction, excitement, and joy. Any gospel which seeks to answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ has it all backwards. The question is, ‘What’s in it for God?’”
Oral Roberts University professor Charles Farah echoes this idea, noting that prosperity theology “represents an unwitting return to the old liberal theology that exalts man at the expense of God. A man-centered theology must ultimately fail, because truth finally triumphs; and the truth is, God is not here for our convenience, we are here for His purposes.”