The gospel of prosperity is rampant in many churches in a subtle and deceptive manner.
There are many flavors of the prosperity Gospel from the overtly obvious to the deceptively subtle. On the extreme end there is the obvious prosperity Gospel that we see being fed by the likes of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Paula White and many others. It should be no surprise that these leaders have such a large following of people who are eating up every tasty empty morsel, there are many warnings in Scripture about false teachers and how many will be deceived. The heresy is obvious to those who read the Bible and are discerning but if you look at the website of Osteen’s church you will find a statement of beliefs that is shallow but mostly sound in appearance and he also speaks with smooth authority so his followers assume he is teaching the truth, it is also easy to trust because it is what they want to hear…
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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 4:2–4
The extreme end of prosperity theology is extremely heretical and deceives people into thinking they are saved while they are probably not. There is however a more subtle side of prosperity theology that has crept into the church which concerns me even more because it is just as appealing and even more deceptive.
Churches and Pastors are feeding cotton candy to their people and telling them its nutritious.
I am sure just about everyone has at least once in their life experienced cotton candy. Cotton candy is simply liquid sugar mixed with food coloring that is spun and allowed to form into cotton like fiber when it is cooled. Cotton candy has no nutritional value at all, the empty calories simply confuse your body into thinking it is being fed while causing harm that you cannot see. What is the purpose of cotton candy and why do people eat it? It is fun and sweet. I doubt anyone eats cotton candy thinking they are consuming something that is good for them or nutritious in any way nor making it a staple in their diets.
Many people are being fed cotton candy that is re branded as health food. There are churches and Pastors that are feeding their people something that tickles the ears and makes them feel good but is void of nutrition and deceptively harmful.
This softer prosperity gospel is present in many churches and crosses all denominations. This is a shift from a God centered gospel to a man centered (or self-centered) gospel that can appear very subtle, but the distinction is very important. A man centered gospel highlights our worldly needs. It teaches that our greatest problem is living with the consequences of a fallen world and other people’s sin. It also teaches that our joy comes from being rescued from that trouble and that a lack of conflict is our peace. A proper God centered gospel describes our greatest problem as being our own sin and our joy comes from being forgiven and reconciled to God, who is our peace.
My goal here is not to call out any particular church or denomination but to take a moment and highlight some common errors I have seen and experienced and how to recognize them. It is a great blessing that there are so many churches in the U.S. to choose from but that blessing of religious freedom has also created a “church shopping” mentality where we get to pick the church that is a best fit, feels right, or meets our needs. This is important to consider and be discerning because many of those needs are very real and the Church should look to meet them, however the meeting of these needs is meant to point us to God, not replace Him. When we elevate these needs and cures and place them on the throne where only God belongs, they become idols. Below are some flavors of prosperity theology that are mixed through many churches and ways to spot them.
The Gospel of Freedom: This can have many variations but is all rooted in the false idea that Jesus has set us free to live our best life or to be happy. Patriotism or individualism are common elements of a false Gospel and ring true for those celebrating freedom from worldly trouble. This false belief tends to believe that we have been set free and have no master at all and that the Bible was provided by God as a road map to a better, safer, and more peaceful life. In a subtle way, it avoids any ideas that suffering is a part of the Christian life. The teaching and overall message may also have a constant focus on joy and peace in this world. God shows us in His Word that we are not set free to ourselves in order to seek our own joy and happiness but to follow God and give Him glory – “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Co 6:19–20.
Much more could be said about this but in reality, this world is not our home and we should not expect it to feel and look like it is. Jesus created the world and yet even He was grieved at living here in the flesh (Matt 17:17, John 11:35, Isaiah 53:3). Our reward in this world and for eternity is God Himself and we can have joy in Him alone in spite of the troubles of the world.
The Gospel of Community: This is another great gift that we can turn into an idol. Many people go to church because of the community, sense of belonging and for friendships. These are all great things and we are told in Scripture to live in community as the church, in fact we were built for it but when community and friendships are seen as the reward, we have elevated them wrongly. You can recognize this improper teaching and belief because when community is elevated wrongly you will rarely see real accountability, the confession of sins, or repentance. Community wrongly becomes the end goal and a savior. Community is meant to compel us to follow God and help one another along the way, not to replace Him.
The Gospel of Experience: This is most often linked to worship, but it can also be the overall setting including the lighting, video, and so on. These things have turned from being an element that can help support teaching and worship to becoming an element that produces the feeling of worship. Worship is not something that is restricted to Sunday mornings, it is an outpouring of our hearts when we understand our position as adopted sons and daughters of God through the blood of Jesus. When we are instructed and hear the word of God and the good news of the gospel it ought to cause us to worship God (Psalm 32). A way to recognize emotionalism or experiential churches is to watch for things that are intended to set a mood and lack clear teaching from the Bible.
These are just an example of a subtle prosperity theology that shifts from being God centered to man centered. As followers of Jesus we are to love what God loves and hate what He hates. This means that attending and participating in the body of a church (Which God loves) is partly a sacrificial act and not one of ease and complete peace.
By the way, the machine that made cotton candy popular was invented by a dentist.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jn 3:27–30