Grumpy cats, ALS ice bucket challenges, kids going to school, and Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon videos are not the only videos to grace the presence of Facebook lately, but a video has been circulating the social media world of Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel Osteen, sharing a brief message followed immediately by a clip from The Cosby Show of Bill Cosby saying… “That’s the DUMBEST thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” Many are posting this video as the video reveals what has been known as The Prosperity Gospel or The Health and Wealth Gospel, and showing their disapproval of it. Indeed, I myself have joined in the fun of sharing such a video. However, after a church leadership group posted the video to Facebook, they received a mixture of harsh criticism and resounding praise. Upon engaging a few critics I came to learn that comedic videos about the prosperity gospel such as the one with Victoria Osteen and Bill Cosby mashed together fail and don’t ultimately accomplish the end to which people posting the video in the first place hope to achieve.
(If you haven’t watched the video, you may watch the video by clicking here.)
What do I mean?
I mean, Christian, you can do better on the internet. The problem lies in the fact that if Christians are trying to elucidate the error that someone is making, they ought to do one thing and not do another.
First, they ought to show the error. We can’t assume that people know what is wrong, we must show them and explain to them with patience and clarity and truth how they are wrong. Think of a teacher in a classroom with a student learning the ABC’s for the first time and the student writing the ABC’s in sequence after B writes A again, then the teacher comes over and simply says, “No! You’re an idiot!” Now, that isn’t particularly helpful at bringing the student along to learning the truth of what does actually come after the letter B, and it is doubly unhelpful at making a mockery of the student in the process. If the student is shown how they are wrong, then they can learn how to be right.
Secondly, they ought to not make a mockery of the person they are seeking to correct or rebuke. If the purpose of posting the video is to have a group comedic therapy session with people who think exactly like you, congratulations! If the purpose of posting the video is to show how something is wrong, well, you’ve pretty much failed at that. Example: The student who was learning the alphabet in the example above was mocked, but they were not shown or told how they were actually wrong. The example with the video isn’t simply telling someone that they are wrong, but it is going beyond that to telling them that something is dumb but without going further than that. Now, the video is quite humorous to those who are in agreement to what is dumb and why it is dumb, however, for those who do not know and those who may actually have fallen prey to the heresy depicted in the video it is utterly unhelpful and decidedly not funny. It merely appears that someone decided to be insensitive to respectable and well-known preachers, and not merely someone, but Christian someones.
My point is that we can do better than name calling as the church. Yeah, it seems harmless. It’s lots of fun to laugh at false teachers who are promoting heresy and causing massive numbers of people to abandon the true Gospel of Jesus Christ for the false gospel of prosperity/health and wealth. It’s lots of fun to laugh at massive numbers of people who will go to Hell for believing the false gospel of prosperity while forsaking Christ. Let me ask you, when has it become cool for the church to laugh at and mock those who are in need of hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to laugh at and mock them for not believing? Doesn’t sound much like the church to me, and I know that I am guilty of this flippant, unthoughtful, unloving behavior. I am a sinner saved purely by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
My point isn’t that we shouldn’t show how the prosperity gospel is false, but if we are going to point it out, we had better do it and do it with love. It is not enough to say something is wrong, we had better learn to back up our comments with truth from Scripture and show exactly how and why a false gospel is indeed a false gospel, lest those who follow a false gospel believe that our motivation is to boast in ourselves and our desire to get a quick laugh at the expense of others instead of using discernment and pointing out the error by way of Scripture in order to reconcile those who are far off or to rebuke those who are harming the church.
Now, what is the prosperity gospel and why is it such a bad thing? How does it differ from the true Gospel?
The prosperity gospel essentially takes John Piper’s famous phrase, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” and changes it to, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in us.” It is one word, but it makes all the difference. One word can mean living for our own personal pleasures and joys, or finding joy in God and living for Him. The error of the prosperity gospel doesn’t hold weight against a true Gospel where God sent His Son into the world to suffer and die on a cross for sins. The prosperity gospel has little to say about the book of Job or how the Apostle Paul suffered throughout his ministry while pursuing God’s calling on his life to share the Gospel with the gentiles. Indeed, the early church faced great persecution and immense suffering, but the Bible calls those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel blessed and doesn’t ever speak of Christians avoiding suffering as much as having the strength to persevere by faith in Christ through any suffering the world brings. The prosperity gospel struggles to make sense of passages about not storing up treasures on earth but storing up treasures in heaven because the prosperity gospel is all about earthly treasures and living your best life now. The prosperity gospel has trouble with a Jesus who says to “…deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” The prosperity gospel is all about not denying yourself and doing whatever you please because supposedly God is pleased with you when you are pleased with you, but this is a message that God is simply not on board with if we are to go by the Bible.
The Christian life isn’t about becoming a “better you,” but a transformed and redeemed you which can only come about by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life isn’t about “your best life now” because the Christian life looks with eager longing and anticipation for the life that awaits because being with Christ in the New Heavens and New Earth with our eternal inheritance far outweighs any temporary shiny treasure this world could possibly offer. The prosperity gospel would make the entire Christian life and church completely about the individual and remove the beginning, means, and end of the Christian life in God so that God is an afterthought to the self. The prosperity gospel is dangerous because it takes partial truths, “God wants you to be happy,” and twists them into outright lies, “Do it all for you and make you happy, forget about God, He wants it too.” The prosperity gospel merely replaces God with the self, the individual. You are no longer serving God with the prosperity gospel, but you are serving yourself if you follow that false gospel. What could be more anti-Christian than a selfish false gospel? Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, counted others more significant than Himself that He was willing to suffer and die on a cross for sins that He never committed (Philippians 2).
The truth is that God is not glorified in the prosperity gospel because the prosperity gospel glorifies the individual. It sees God as a potential means to your own end, as opposed to God being the beginning and the end and the means. By, in, through, and for Christ are all things because Jesus is the Creative Word of God, the Savior, the Sustainer of all things. The prosperity gospel has small god in view and a large self, the true gospel has a small, humble, sinful, broken self with an infinitely massive and amazingly glorious God. The true Gospel isn’t about getting material things, being successful in life, just being happy, or putting on a little behavior therapy to be a better person with self-help books or talks; but the true Gospel is ultimately about God the Father sending Jesus Christ the Son into the world to save sinners who believe and trust in God through Jesus Christ from their sins by way of death on a cross and the resurrection, wherein, the power of sin was destroyed by Christ and death was destroyed by Christ, so that all who believe might have the wrath of God removed from them and put on Christ at the cross and then receive everlasting life in Christ and the forgiveness of sins, and all of this being for the glory of God. This is a most glorious Gospel because it is the true Gospel. The true Gospel isn’t about trying to change yourself, but the true Gospel says you are so utterly sinful that you are incapable of doing anything to save yourself from your sins (i.e. the entire history of God’s people in the Old Testament and the New Testament). The Gospel says we don’t need to simply change the way we live and smile more, but we need new hearts and that heart surgery can only be done by the Master Surgeon – the Holy Spirit of God.
So, let’s be more gracious in our conduct on social media sites like Facebook, blogs, and other places on the internet. Let us not settle for petty name calling, but let us show the error in false teaching, how it is wrong, and then let us share the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in showing how the true Gospel is true.
It is not enough to point at an error. It isn’t enough to point and then remove the error with a scalpel. We must remove the error by the grace of God according to His Word, but we must also implant the Truth and that Truth must be applied not with brute force, but with a gentle salve of the love of Christ to soothe the wounds of the soul.