Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Plague of Prosperity

Sometimes while we’re watching a bit of television, I will, to the complete annoyance of my wife, flip to the religious channel. I won’t go to just any religious channel – we receive 3ABN (7th Day Adventist), EWTN (Roman Catholic), and TBN. I will usually stop at TBN because, similar to a car accident that you see happening in slow motion, I just can’t look away. I know that there is going to be a lot of mangling and much harm done to anyone involved…but I just can’t look away.

I don’t watch a lot of 3ABN because I weary of their misunderstanding of the Sabbath; the fact that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, and we find our Sabbath rest in him. Also, the promotion of the annihilationism (God “snuffs” out the condemned, so they will not be punished eternally) as well as the teaching, and I believe that I’ve seen it more than a few times, that worshiping on Sunday is what the Bible speaks of when referring to the mark of the beast. I also don’t watch EWTN because I just cannot handle the devotion to Mary that this channel so saturated with. I mean, there is nothing like hearing titles and powers ascribed to Mary such as Mother of All Peoples, the New Eve, Co-redemptrix, and Mediatrix of all graces, Advocate, and others that make my idolatry “hackles” stand on end.

With all that said, since I am neither a 7th Day Adventist nor a Roman Catholic, I don’t quite feel the need to defend against what is going on there or confront the false teachings in nearly the same way as I do with what is broadcast on TBN. Why? TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, positions itself as the premier place on television for all things Protestant and Evangelical. Virtually all of the preachers that I have ever seen attempt to more closely resemble the model and ideas of Biblical and true Protestant Christianity, even though they quite often do a horrible job of it. For instance, I find it funny (you either laugh or you cry) that one of TBN’s heaviest hitters is a man who denies the Triune nature of God. Call me quirky, but I would have thought that this would be a prerequisite for association, but I guess that’s not the case. Also, I am sure that there are as many charlatan preachers in other movements in and around Christendom, but my focus tends to be more on the assortment displayed on TBN because these are the men and women that are most difficult to distance myself from because they embody much of contemporary American Evangelical Christendom.

One of the most frustrating heresies that is so rampant on this network is that of the prosperity gospel. It is called the prosperity gospel, but it “is really not another [gospel]; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:7) Those who preach this twisted view of Scripture argue that God wants all Christians to be healthy and wealthy to the virtual exclusion of speaking about the cross. And when the cross is referred to, it was done so that we could live an abundant life. What does that mean? Here’s what Joel Osteen says about the cross giving us an abundant life,

“… Not a barely-get-by life, not a life filled with bad habits and addictions, and lack, and mediocrity. No, because of the price He paid, we have a right to live in total victory. I want you to get that down on the inside. Not partial victory, to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. That’s not total victory. If God did it for you in one area, he can do it for you in another area. Get a vision for it. Don’t’ get stagnant. Maybe God’s blessed you; you have a good family and a good job, but you’ve had pain in your body for years and years. You used to stand against it, you used to believe that you could be free but now it’s been so long that you’ve decided, ‘This is my lot in life. Joel, I guess this is my cross to carry.’ He has paid the price so that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions. Free from worry. Free from discouragement and depression. Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self-esteem. You need to start seeing yourself in the right way. You are not a sick person trying to get well, you’re a well person fighting off sickness. God made you healthy and whole….”1

This sickening and cheap portrayal of what Christ accomplished on the cross is the same type of stuff that you will hear from the majority of people on TBN. The various preachers will have their own styles and things that they specifically emphasize, but the main heartbeat is health and wealth. Did you notice anything missing? There was no mention of sin at all. In fact, the statement, “God made you healthy and whole” seems to directly deny the doctrine of original sin or, for that matter, any doctrine of sin and depravity at all.

Once in a while you may be fortunate enough to hear Rod Parsely, Benny Hinn, or another prosperity preacher present a pretty clear presentation of the actual gospel (i.e. you’re a sinner, repent and place your faith in Christ for salvation from sin and it’s end result in hell), but these are few and far between. More often than not, the message that is sent out to the world is that Christians can (and should) be wealthy and that we could have all of the stuff that we want. And this is the message that is exported from the United States to other countries labeled as the gospel.

I have heard stories about how the prosperity (or other non-gospel messages) preachers are making their way and having a lot of influence in non-Western countries. I also saw this on a different scale when I went to Africa in the summer of 2000. When I was in Kenya, I saw all of the worst parts of western culture splashed across the city of Nairobi. From Brittney Spears to the latest movies, that is what my Kenyan friends saw and understood about the United States (and the West). The most tragic part of it, though, was when one of the men from the church that I was working with began talking about the very good teaching that he had been hearing over either the radio or television (I’m not sure which). I was still pretty green as it relates to the false teaching that is so prevalent inside of Christendom, but I still asked him who he was listening to. His response gave me no pause at the time, because I hadn’t heard of the man, but he looked at me and said, “Benny Hinn.” I knew that Benny Hinn was a preacher on TBN, but not much more than that, so I didn’t think much more about it until a year or so later. But now that I know the kind of chicanery and horrible teaching that goes on with his ministry, I am so very grieved. I found that the following words from John Piper articulate so much of what this perversion of the glorious and saving gospel of our Lord brings out from my own heart.

“I don’t know what you feel about the prosperity gospel, but I’ll tell you what I feel about it. Hatred. It is not the gospel. And it is being exported from this country to Africa and Asia selling a bill of goods to the poorest of the poor. ‘Believe this message, and your pigs won’t die and your wife won’t have miscarriages. And you’ll have rings on your fingers and coats on your backs.’ That’s coming out of America! People that ought to be giving our money and our time and our lives, instead selling them a bunch of crap called ‘gospel’. And here’s the reason it is so horrible: When was the last time that any American, African, Asian ever said Jesus is all-satisfying because you drove a BMW? Never! They’ll say, ‘Did Jesus give you that? Yeah? Well, I’ll take Jesus.’ That’s idolatry, that’s not the gospel. That’s elevating gifts above Giver. I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful. It’s when you smash your car and your little girl goes flying through the windshield and lands, like I was with a little girl on 11th avenue two weeks ago, dead on the street, for three hours before the police would let her go, and you say through the deepest possible pain, ‘God is enough. He is good; He will take care of us; He will satisfy us; He will get us through this. He is our treasure. Whom have I in heaven but You? And on earth there is nothing that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart and my little girl may fail but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. That makes God look glorious, as God, not as giver of cars or safety or health. Oh, how I pray that Birmingham will be purged of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Indeed America would be purged. And that the Christian church would be marked by suffering for Christ. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”2

It is this kind of false teacher that Peter’s second letter warned us of when we would have teachers in our midst, “will secretly introduce destructive heresies,” and that there will be many who “will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;” (2 Peter 2:1,2) If this type of perversion does not cause us outrage on behalf of our glorious Savior, then I do not know what will. Will it take persecution and calamity to purge the Christendom in the West of this plague of prosperity and with it unleash the true gospel in it’s glory as testified to by saints with their blood, not their Rolexes? My week and faint heart hopes that God will not send judgment on the church in the West but still purge this infestation from among the redeemed. But my spirit is not so optimistic about the future of Christianity in the West. Christendom may survive and flourish, for a false presentation of Christ is no threat to the devil. But Christianity, wherever the gospel message is pure and Christ is exalted as He should be, I fear will not be unscathed.

May God give us grace and courage now to use what freedoms and resources we have to preach the gospel. And may God give us grace and hope and love for the future for when those freedoms and resources are stripped away from us. May You cause me to cling closer and more firmly to You and Your Word, Lord.

In all things, soli Deo gloria.

1 I personally transcribed the quote from an uploaded video of Joel’s sermon as posted on youtube.


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