Seven million TV program viewers broadcasted across over 100 nations, 10.5 million weekly podcast downloads, 2.69 million Twitter followers, 7.1 million on Facebook, 55 million in book sales, a 16,000 seat church filled to max capacity(1). These are the statistics on Joel Osteen, alone, from 2015; one of the most prolific prosperity teachers in America.
What is the prosperity gospel? It is a false gospel that says if you have enough faith, God will grant you health, wealth, and happiness. Often it uses the “name it, claim it” mantras that encourage envisioning your success – claim it in the name of Jesus, and you will receive it. Millions of people, across the globe, have been deceived by this hurtful and damning doctrine. Why is this doctrine deadly? Because it distorts the true Gospel, the Gospel that has the power to save. It emphasizes one’s own happiness and physical/material wellbeing over the wellbeing of their own soul. It says to someone that God can be used as a tool in their lives, instead of us being used by God for His glory. It says that we are basically good and God wants us to just be happy, instead of the truth – we are dead in our sins, bound for hell, and in need of a savior.
Sometimes I think to myself, “People know this already, why am I talking about this? This has been exposed, what’s the point of bringing attention to it- again.” But the numbers don’t lie. There are millions being deceived by just this one ministry, not even mentioning the hundreds of other HUGE ministries that propagate the same thing or a variation of it.
So what other variations do we see? You can see subtler distortions of the true Gospel amongst equally popular ministries. Maybe they aren’t Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, or Joyce Meyer. Maybe they are young, trendy, and talk about things that a younger generation cares about: fulfilling your potential, reaching your dreams, being true to yourself, becoming a better you, or even how to regularly experience the miraculous. They might allegorize a text instead of simply teaching what the text says. They may preach pseudo profundities that sound appealing at first, but are really just hyped up common sense – or even don’t make any sense upon further inspection. Their messages aren’t centered on the Gospel of Christ, instead the main thrust remains the same – self.
Often times the attributes of God aren’t preached, so we don’t know the true God. The messages are plucked from random scripture passages and contorted to support the topic of the pastor’s choosing; relegating the truth of scripture to a self-help reference guide. The scripture passages that are taught are taught in a way that glorifies man and man’s potential, instead of Jesus and His saving work. They teach us that the Bible is written about us, not about Jesus.
Why does this matter? What is the harm? The harm is the amount of people that believe they will be with God in heaven, who will actually spend an eternity in hell. The harm is those who wander into churches, looking for eternal hope, only to be bridled with burdens on how to make themselves better or how they lack the faith to make their wishes become reality. The harm is the fact that these teachings, ideas, and strategies are quietly seeping into the unsuspecting local church.
So what do we do? How do we protect ourselves, and our brothers and sisters, from these deadly doctrines? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have scripture – which does.
Know the Gospel
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 6:23)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
The Gospel is this…
We are all naturally, spiritually dead. All of us. We all naturally hate God, our creator, and love our sin. Even in the midst of our love for sin, God sent his Son, Jesus, God in human flesh, to redeem His people. People that he foreknew before the foundations of the world. Jesus lived perfectly in obeying the commands of God, something as lovers of the darkness we could never do and have never done. Jesus was crucified and while on the cross, paid the full penalty of our sins – absorbing the wrath of God earned by us. After giving up His spirit to death, he was buried and raised to life again 3 days later, further proving his deity and his conquering of sin and death. By trusting and believing what Christ has done for us, we have Christ’s righteousness as our own and therefore can enjoy a right relationship with God. Additionally, when the Spirit regenerates His peoples’ hearts, upon hearing the Gospel of Christ, we are raised from death to life and are enabled to cherish and obey his commands – which are summed up in loving God with all your strength, mind and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself. We are preserved as believers and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit until the day we die or Jesus returns.
Read and know your Bible
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart; the commandments of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, being altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them indeed Your servant is warned; in keeping them is great reward. Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Keep Your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless and cleansed of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.(Psalm 19:7-14)
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:15-17)
Test everything against Scripture
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1John 4:1)
Reject false teaching and false teachers
but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.(1Thessalonians 5:21)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)
Get involved in a local church that teaches the true Gospel
And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Make disciples (and teach them how to be discerning)
You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.(2Timothy 2:2)
If you find yourself realizing that you have been a partaker of a false Gospel, repent and believe! The Gospel is an open invitation to all and without it, you are without eternal hope. No matter how good the false teaching sounds, how deep you are involved, or how confused you might feel, you have an opportunity to forsake it and grab hold of Christ. Don’t delay, for our lives are like a mist – here one moment and gone the next, but eternity is forever.
If you need help, email us. We can point you to resources that can aid you in growing in discernment, Bible study, and finding a solid local church. We have a dedicated resource page and you can also find Bible Study tips on this blog post.
We pray that you will believe the Gospel, grow up into maturity in Christ, and point others to Him. Stay on guard, brethren.