The New Testament writers spend a great deal of time addressing the heresy of legalism and gnosticism because those were the primary heresies of their day. Incidentally they were heresies that arose within the church. The big heresy that today's American church needs to teach against and guard itself against is "prosperity gospel". A heresy that has also arisen from within the American church.
Prosperity gospel teaches that it is God's will for you to have wealth and to bless you with all the desires of your heart. God desires for us to be happy. Big houses, nice cars, promotions, trips, and other such things will make us happy. Therefore, God's will is for us to have all those things. All we need to do is have faith that God will bless us materialistically, name those things or list those things we desire, focus our prayers and positive affirmations on those things, and wait for God to give them to us. They proof-text and use verses such as Deuteronomy 8:18, Malachi 3:10, John 10:10, and 3 John 2-4 to support their claims.
This all sounds really good and fires us up to claim God's "promises" for ourselves and get in on some of the "available wealth" that we can have if only "our faith is strong enough" or we "want it bad enough". There's just a couple of problems I have with this line of thought.
1) The USA is not the only country with Christians on the planet. There are Christians all over our world (many with much stronger faith than we'll ever have) who live in places where the whole concept of prosperity gospel is completely and utterly ridiculous. There are completely sold-out disciples of Jesus Christ that live in an environment of poverty where the most prosperity they could possibly hope for is "give us this day our daily bread". They could claim blessings and write lists until their pens ran out of ink and most likely will still die never having owned a car, slept in a comfortable bed, lived in a house with air conditioning, made more money in a year than we make in a week, vacationed in Europe, or even had the luxury of indoor plumbing. My point is this false "gospel" can only be a reality in the U.S. or a few other developed countries. So if it is not a gospel for everyone, then it is no gospel at all.
2) I've read the rest of the Bible. Does God bless some with wealth and cool experiences? Sure. He also curses some with wealth and cool experiences. To read the Bible and come to a belief that prosperity theology is accurate is to only read the parts of the Bible that tickle your ears and your greed. Try these verses on for size:
- 1 Timothy 6:3-10(ESV) - If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and depraved of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (emphasis mine)
- And check out these passages: Matthew 6:19-24, Luke 16:13, Luke 18:22-25, 1 John 2:15, Matthew 19:21
3) This kind of teaching turns God into some kind of genie in a bottle. Prosperity gospel is so "me-centered", but the Bible is clear that we are to be "God-centered". It's not about us, not even a little bit. The purpose of our lives is to GLORIFY GOD! Prosperity theology says just the opposite; that the purpose of a relationship with God is for Him to bless us. This is wrong and honestly, just sick. If you're serving God to see what you can get out of Him, you have to be one of the most self-centered, ungrateful, disgusting people to ever walk the planet. Seriously! Think about it - God sent his only, beloved, special Son to this planet for the primary purpose of dying a horrific, painful, humiliating death. He did this because He loves you so much that He didn't want you to have to go through that punishment. Through that ultimate, incomprehensible act of love He has erased your sin record and taken the penalty of that sin upon Himself. But He didn't stop there! He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside of us so that we can be guided to righteousness and feel His presence and love. But He didn't stop there either! He is currently preparing an eternal home for us where we WILL experience eternal prosperity and truly live in His presence! ...and some of us have the attitude of "Well, that's great and all, but really God, I need to be driving a HUMMER." Give me a freakin' break!!!
Properity gospel is not just mis-leading and inaccurate...it's disgusting and evil.
(to be continued tomorrow...)