A heresy encroaching upon the Church is leading millions away from Christ.
We petition God for many things. We ask Him for health, comfort, and security. These requests are not inherently bad. The natural instinct of the human body is to gravitate towards these things and acquire them. We want to see ourselves and our loved ones safe and well-fed; indeed, the Bible tells us to “eat and drink and be joyful” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). But many charlatans throughout history have used this message to convince people that the gospel’s main purpose is worldly abundance. From the false prophet Simon’s attempt to buy the Holy Spirit with money (Acts 8:9-24) to the Catholic church’s sale of indulgences in the 16th Century, there have always been those who have tried to “peddle the word of God for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Men have constantly invented belief systems that seek to turn the Creator into the money-maker.
These hideous strains of thought have led to two very unfortunate mutations of Christian philosophy today. One is the so-called prosperity gospel. The name-it-and-claim-it movement. This is the belief that God materially rewards Christians in proportion to their faith. Popularized by the “Smiling Preacher” Joel Osteen, who heads the largest “church” in America, and buttressed by a line of regrettably titled books (notably “The Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne), the prosperity gospel has gained a large following in America as of late. About half (52%) of Protestant and Evangelical Latinos believe that God grants health and wealth to people who have faith, and the number goes even higher among Pentecostal Hispanics (65%). Indeed, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is strongly associated with the prosperity gospel–which spells trouble for the bible-believing world, seeing as both churches make up more than half of the Protestant population today (584,080,000). The implications for the true church of Christ are dire. These figures essentially state that the majority of those who profess to be Christian deny clear teachings in the Bible about wealth (1 Timothy 6:10), and have replaced heavenly aims of salvation and Christlikeness for visions of material gain.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil.” – (1 Timothy 6:10)
What is most terrifying about all this is that the cross of Christ is rarely preached in prosperity gospel circles. Open a book authored by Joel Osteen–a crucified Savior is nowhere to be found. Instead, one will be regaled with happy tales of big bank deposits and clinched parking spots, as if these things were of value or importance in God’s plan for humanity. “God” Himself is not very present for an omnipresent being in prosperity literature. According to Osteen, he is merely a mechanism through which we can unlock greater potential in our own lives by faith. “This is going to be a good day!” he writes in his book devotional. “I believe my dreams are coming to pass. God has great things in store. He always accepts you.”
He always accepts you. In a book not specifically written for bible-believing Christians, that line is an arrow from the very quiver of hell. This is the last thing any preacher of Christ wants to tell a popular audience, especially in a book primarily concerned with acquiring good parking spots and “my dreams.” God does not accept sinners as they are. He does not look kindly on the unregenerate. He sent His only Son to die for them and He yearns for their repentance so that they can be restored to Him. Christ came to reconcile foolhardy, wretched people to God through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20), and the Bible makes it crystal-clear that all men must repent and accept Jesus as Lord before they are to have any hope of a right relationship with God (Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9). Any “preacher” that does not outline these concepts in a book about God targeted for the masses is leading people into heresy.
“The Bible makes it crystal-clear that all men must repent and accept Jesus as Lord before they are to have any hope of a right relationship with God.”
The priority of the prosperity gospel–which, it must be said, is no gospel at all–is success in this life. Not forgiveness, not salvation, not humility; but success. Joel Osteen cannot be bothered to devote a single line in any of his books to the truth that men are irredeemable apart from Christ (Acts 4:12), born in sin (Psalm 51:5), dead in trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), and are at this very moment under the wrath of God (Romans 1:18) and headed to eternal destruction (Revelation 20:13-14). But he does manage to touch on the fact that God is intensely concerned about your life now. “God wants you to be a winner,” he says. “God didn’t make you to be average. God created you to excel.” Therefore, “if you will start acting like it, talking like it, seeing yourself as more than a conqueror, you will live a prosperous and victorious life. Amen?”
“Amen!” shouts the Devil from the pews.
It is no wonder that Christianity has become so anemic and joked about in the United States. Massive amounts of people professing faith in the most self-sacrificing human being who ever lived are using His name as a get-rich-quick scheme for their own desires. Osteen is just the tip of the polluted iceberg melting into the spiritual aquifers of the Church. There is Creflo Dollar, the prosperity preacher who asked his vast television audience for donations so that he could travel around on a $60 million dollar private jet; Oral Roberts, who promulgated the prosperity message more than any other and made millions by claiming that donations to his empire would be redoubled back into the hands of his donors by God Himself; and Kenneth Copeland, who claims that wealth is a sign of spiritual maturity and the Gospel is “the good life.” These peddlers of filthy lucre have amassed staggering viewership on cable television and radio, and their social media accounts dwarf those who preach the true message of the Bible. It is a heartbreaking success for Satan.
I will never forget a video I saw titled “A strong rebuke to Brazil.” The video opens with a campfire-like scene, in which a mass of people gathered in the night are listening to a street “preacher.” The preacher’s opening words are, “Who needs a miracle, who needs a miracle?” A woman in a head covering moans “yes, yes” as the group convulses in expectation. Then a young boy and his mother are brought up to the preacher. The mother explains that the boy is suffering from diabetes which is leaving him blind, and also has intestinal cancer and two heart problems. The preacher lays a hand on the boy’s heart and exclaims, “The Little Missionary” (referring to the boy) “will worship, and in this prayer, the boy will be cured!” The groups shouts with raised hands as the words “Touch of Faith” appear on the screen in blocky white letters.
I shut off the video at this point, unable to continue. The false hope, the defiance of medical expectations, the genuine spark of hope in the beleaguered mother’s eye–the whole thing made me sick. I discovered that, in Brazil, such occurrences are common. Many people in poor countries believe that speaking a command to God in faith will result in the injunction actually being fulfilled; prosperity preachers like Osteen promote this idea enthusiastically in their books and sermons. “You’ve got to speak it out,” he says, referring to the desires of one’s own heart. “Your words have creative power. One of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words. There is a divine connection between you declaring God’s favor and seeing God’s favor manifested in your life. You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out.”
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” – (Isaiah 6:5)
I cannot find a single shred of Scriptural evidence to back these absurd claims. Our words have power to activate God’s favor? These were not the words of the prophet Isaiah when he declared in the presence of God, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). The greatest prophet of the Old Testament, the one tasked with the clearest prophecies of the Messiah, openly professed that his own tongue was inadequate before God. But Joel Osteen and his friends in the prosperity gospel would have us believe otherwise. They would tell those struggling with the hardships of this world to look not to Christ, but to their own speech.
Some may ask why I am so caught up in this. Am I angry? I must confess that I’m not very happy. Millions of people whom the world sees as Christians are in reality trapped in a different gospel altogether. The true Gospel never says that God fulfills the desires of sinful people. God does not go out of His way to accommodate the carnal needs of evildoers who need to be restored to holiness. Jesus promised that anyone who believed in His name would have to “deny himself and take up his own cross” (Matthew 16:24). He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Are these the words of a God eager to lavish unrepentant men with money and success? The Lord guaranteed suffering to those who would follow Him out of the world into eternal life. We are to “go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:13), the camp being the world itself, with all its material riches and surface-level satisfactions. Any gospel that does not make these things clear is a lie.
“A watered down gospel is no gospel at all.”
The apostle Paul penned these foreboding words to his son in the faith, Timothy, as he languished in jail: “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” (2 Timothy 4:4). These words describe men and women who, having no interest in the Gospel, find for themselves false teachers who will tell them about the god they want to hear. God is to them a cosmic fairy, a wizard’s wand, Aladdin’s Lamp packed inside of a cross-shaped piece of wood; anything but the God of Scripture, who demands repentance and calls for people to lay down their own lives for His glory. Paul lost everything for the sake of his Lord. He forfeited his status as a respected Pharisee, a teacher, a wealthy Israeli elite, to go into the world and preach the Jesus who ordered His disciples to “lay up treasures in heaven,” not earth (Matthew 6:20). He went from the upper echelons of Jewish society (Philippians 3:5) to the Mamertine Prison, a place of inconceivable squalor and filth, where he awaited execution at the hands of Nero. Yet, to the end, Paul’s message was one of triumph: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). To him, Jesus Christ was everything. This is the Gospel we preach.
I know that some people will accuse me of being overly judgmental. They will claim that calling out false prophets by name is unnecessarily divisive (it is not, Paul himself did it), and that all you need to do to be a Christian is to “believe in Jesus.” They will say that I am contentious and quick to judge. Well, let them. I make no apology for following the Scripture. I do not feel any shame in standing up for the truth of God’s Word. I do not move an inch, a millimeter, backwards so that the Gospel of the cross can be compromised by men with easy personalities. You can have your alliances. You can write out your compromises. I will stand, along with the apostle Paul and the giants of the Christian faith in times past, for the unadulterated words of the Lord Jesus Christ, who reminded His disciples to “count the cost” of following Him into the arms of the Father (Luke 14:28). I will fight for the souls of the deceived, and, to my dying breath, announce to the world that Christ was crucified so that we would “die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).