A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from a solid Christian businessman I’ve known for years. “Clare, in a nutshell tell me what you think of Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel.”
First, I want to be clear; I have almost no use for the prosperity gospel for a number of reasons. And its been years since I’ve heard or read anything by Joel Osteen, who appears to me to be a bit more solid theologically than many others I’ve heard or heard about. So this blog is not about Joel, but addresses some of the confusion surrounding the prosperity gospel.
1. It’s not the gospel! The gospel is that Jesus Christ, son of God died for your sins and everyone who repents of their sin and pledges their highest allegiance to him and his kingdom agenda is saved. That is the core gospel of scriptures. And anything that calls itself the gospel is truly “fake news.”
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
To be fair, the prosperity gospel preachers I’ve heard don’t generally call what they are selling “the gospel.” That’s a descriptor given to pastors who tell people, “If you demonstrate your faith and bless God by sending my ministry a generous gift, he will bless you with prosperity – even more money.” And their favorite verses appear to be;
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. ‘Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 3:10-12
However, that promise was made by God, specifically to the people of Israel and cannot be “claimed” by New Testament Christians. But neither can it be dismissed. It informs us about this general principle; that God expects us to be faithful and generous with our gifts.
2. Christians ought to give to bless others, not to prosper themselves. Think about it; if I give so I can get, it’s not a gift! In business terms, it’s a transaction, an investment. There’s nothing wrong with investing and making a profit, but don’t ever confuse investing with sacrificial giving. The first is a transaction for personal gain. The second is an act of kindness toward others with no expectation of getting a financial return.
3. Prosperity gospel preachers are out of balance. By most estimates, the Bible’s teachings on money is less than 3% of all teaching in the Bible. It’s an important teaching to be sure because if God said it, it’s important. And Jesus really zeroed in on money, but mostly about loving it too much, which is exactly what prosperity gospel preachers are selling! But the few times I’ve turned on the TV to view a prosperity gospel preacher, my impression is that 50% or more of their teaching is on money. That’s way out of balance. Pastors are to teach the “whole counsel of God” which means there is 97% more teaching that isn’t being taught when you major on money and giving.
4. Prosperity pastors almost always want you to send “them” your gifts. They are not instructing their listeners to give to the poor, to take care of widows and orphans, or give generously to their local church. No, no, no! Send your gifts to our ministry! If they actually believed the prosperity gospel themselves, it wouldn’t matter who you blessed with your gifts, as long as you gave generously. Now, I’ve heard these pastors talking about how their “church” or ministry uses some of their gifts for the poor, but why not just give directly to the poor? The answer is clear. They need majority of the funds to keep their ministry machine going, including to pay for T.V. time to ask more people to pay for more T.V. time!
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
Summary: Turn these pastors off. Find good godly teaching like Tim Keller, Alistair Begg and Chip Ingram and immerse yourself in theologically accurate and balanced teaching.
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