Waving hands with arms raised and singing loudly “Jesus!” in a church do not in themselves make one a true follower and lover of Christ. False gospels and teachings abound these days. One pernicious variant is of course the notorious ‘prosperity gospel.’ It stems from a movement known as Word of Faith and linked to New Thought in America. A more recent version of prosperity teaching known as dominion theology is associated with the New Apostolic Reformation. A number of slick, funky, populist, affluent non-denominational churches fall under that umbrella.
As I reflect on this pernicious movement in Christianity, I had a chilling vision of the God that seems to be held up in prosperity gospel circles. He looks a lot like a casino kingpin who entices with poker machines and Russian roulettes desperate customers looking for a quick buck (or as one might put it, a “breakthrough”). Once in a while, someone hits the jackpot or places the right bet and wins a handsome pot of cash. Mostly, their attempts at winning just go down the tube. All in all, in any case, players get addicted to the fruitless game deliberately set up to entrap them in a vicious cycle of “try it and crack it.” A lack of reflexive awareness shot through with hypnotic hysteria.
This is reminiscent of prosperity preachers enticing the crowd with promises of wealth and health if one believes in their peculiar concoction of faith, which is really dressed-up kool-aid. Once in a while, unsuspecting believers might hit the jackpot and win a prize. Materially speaking, it’s a prize. Yet, they remain carnally satisfied (for a while) but inwardly untransformed. Mostly, their spiritual growth is either non-existent or severely truncated.
Seduced into a false paradigm of prayer, they wallow in the shallow waters of “blab it and grab it” declarations where true relationship and conversation with God is absent—suffering is avoided, emotions not fully processed in prayer, and deep pain denied in favour of slick and sloppy bold ‘positive declarations’ in hope of the next big win. Worse, they are led to believe in a God who is not. A god who is really mammon.
Rather than faith in the King of kings who teaches us a cruciform and incarnational life, they are lulled into believing in the casino king who promises untold success and prosperity. A counterfeit god. An idol. Mammon in disguise. This is not good news. In fact, it is very bad news! Bad news of a dangerously cultish kind.
Friends, let us be mindful of this seductive deception woven by the god of this world. This god is not the God of the Bible, the sovereign Creator and Redeemer who is One and Three and whose communion dance of Love is the life of our souls. The prince of prosperity is no Prince of Peace. This idol has twisted our hearts and twisted Jesus to conform to our twisted desires. Instead of surrendering to the Lord of our lives who is providential over all that we are, we have fashioned a god of our own image who is there to pander to our insatiable wants. Jesus has become instrumental to our desires and a battery for our old unredeemed lives.
Hedonistic satisfaction, influence, and possessions are not signs of our faith. Moving closer towards the New Jerusalem when heaven meets earth in a radically restored creation does not mean we are going to be more and more glorious in health, wealth, soul-mating, baby production, youthfulness, longevity and the like. If anything, the eschatological tension is only going to get more marked and intense. Unimaginable brokenness and deepening darkness juxtaposed with unimaginable grace and light of God. Creation groans for Christ.
And this juxtaposition cuts across church and the world. Just as sin abounds inside and outside the church, grace superabounds inside and outside the world. No, believers are not automatically getting brighter as the world gets darker. This gnostic-like dualism is not biblical. Rather, light and dark are equally present in the world and in the church. With the virus of prosperity teaching infecting large swathes of the church, and with the Spirit active even in the darkest places in the world, we will see the already-and-not-yet juxtaposed across usual boundaries and categories. No, the church is not the only beacon of light. No, the world is not the only place of darkness. Yes, there is light and renewal in the church. And yes, there is light and renewal in the world too. The biblical perspective is far more nuanced and multidimensional than some teachers would have us believe.
Empire building is not kingdom building. Megachurch “success” is no unequivocal sign of being blessed by God or indeed as having come from God. Empire born of ego and evil binds. Kingdom born of Spirit frees. God is the One who builds His kingdom, not us. We offer up the work of our hands as raw ingredients for Christ to weave and fashion them into His glorious kingdom beyond anything we can imagine. Our brief lives and humble efforts have eternal ramifications and they echo throughout eternity. For now, let us not succumb to mesmerising hubris and fall into the lull of carnal comfort that stultifies the spirit. Reject the prosperity pseudo-gospel and wake up to true salvation!