Saturday, 9 January 2016

Prosperity ... and the Gospel that Isn't

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1: 6-10; NIV)

I have often meditated upon that passage from the Apostle Paul. While historically there have almost always been false prophets teaching their "different gospel," and while Paul most likely had the Judaizers (*see footnote) in mind when he penned that, I've often wondered if one of the best known "different gospels" of our day isn't Prosperity Gospel, or as it's also known, The Word of Faith Movement. Still, Paul repeats himself by twice saying of the offenders "let him be eternally condemned." Was that the same as telling them in the modern vernacular to "go to hell?" Ouch! At the very least his repetition does seem to suggest how seriously Paul viewed such things.

Today I saw a post in which author Rick Henderson said the following:
If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you. It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.

What came to mind as you read that? As I read that post I imagined what some people might be thinking, such as (that often misquoted) "do not judge" of Matthew 7:1. But is airing the proverbial "dirty laundry" of others necessarily wrong, and especially if they're church leaders? No, we are not to judge in a condemnation sort of way, but we are to judge in a discernment kind of way, and especially, I would argue, when it comes to leaders of the church who have the power of influencing others with their teaching/preaching.

It all reminded me of another post, one that I wrote several years ago, and which I entitled On Critically Testing Church Leaders. Part of the reflection in that post centred on Revelation 2:2, which in the Amplified says, "I know your industry and activities, laborious toil and trouble, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot tolerate wicked [men] and have tested and critically appraised those who call [themselves] apostles (special messengers of Christ) and yet are not, and have found them to be imposters and liars" (emphasis mine). As I meditated further on that verse I mused,

What I noticed here is that Jesus commends them for testing and critically appraising. This may sound harsh, but Jesus is not against them for this, but rather commends them for taking such action. Jesus does rebuke the church at Ephesus for something else, but He first commends them for testing those who called themselves apostles. The result of the test is that these so-called “apostles” were found to be impostors and liars. If this was true already back then in the church of Ephesus, does it not stand to reason that the same thing could be true today? Of course it would, and maybe even more so today.

At the risk of offending some still further with this post, and based upon Jesus' words to the Ephesian church, could it be that calling out the likes of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer (popular as they are), and others like them who would espouse a "different gospel," is actually also somewhat commendable? Taken one step further, if doing so saves a sister or brother from potential spiritual ruin, is that then really wrong? What, if anything, should we say to someone dear to us who may have been exposed to a "different gospel?" If, out of our desire for political correctness we say nothing, and if they end up becoming spiritually lost, are we then also guilty by default if (heaven forbid) they end up also being "eternally condemned?" Have you ever wondered about such things? At the very least, perhaps it's something to think about.

Finally, in case you missed it in Henderson's post, here again is the video he featured by John Piper on the Prosperity Gospel. If nothing else, it ought to make us all sit up and say, "Hmm."

For Discussion:
  • Is there a parallel between Paul's "different gospel" in Galatians and the Prosperity Gospel? Why or why not?
  • Should church leaders be "tested and critically appraised" and called out if they're believed to be in error? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with John Piper's views on the Prosperity Gospel? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Patrick Marione, Flickr Creative Commons

*Judaizers: Basically the Judaizers were a group of people who attempted to impose the laws and standards of Judaism upon the early church. This included such legalisms as requiring Gentile coverts to be circumcised and to keep the Mosaic law. At the risk of causing offence, I would argue that any "Christian" with legalistic or religious tendencies is basically also a Judaizer by nature and as such the same harsh words from Paul may apply to him or her. But that's just my humble opinion.

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