Prosperity Gospel: A distorted View of Man’s Greatest Need

What is Man’s biggest need? Is it food, shelter and clothing? Or is it good health, wealth and prosperity?

This is a tricky question to start with, but can I challenge you to think of people who have every access of these basic needs and yet they are unsatisfied? I remember sharing with a brother who worked in a hospital, seeing and interacting with people in their deathbeds, and how the experiences made him to be convinced that man’s greatest need is far greater than the daily felt needs.

Our daily basic needs always scream for our responsiveness, with most of us falling prey to the consumerism and materialistic modern world as we seek for comfort and pleasure in this life. The reality of materialism becomes not only a dragon but also a god that demands our attention and loyalty.

There are countless delusions of prosperity in our modern materialistic world. Technology is playing a major role in dispensation of prosperity messages with every screen screaming for our attention on the ‘How To’ guides of a good life.  Sadly, pastors instead of exalting Christ by preaching the true saving gospel of the Bible, they preach prosperity messages with some grains of biblical truth and appealing to our natural human desire. This kind of preaching has wealth and health messages at the core, neglecting to point out the sinfulness of man’s heart and our need for a savior.

Just as doctors need to identify a patient’s disease to be able to diagnose it well, preachers of the Word too need to get the right diagnosis of man’s greatest need to offer the right solution to the man’s greatest problem.

And what is this problem? It is a problem that made God to send Jesus into the world, which was not to deal with our physical, financial, and relational struggles, to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). We need to identify our biggest problem that although we know God, as Paul notes in his letter to Romans, we do not glorify him as we should and in fact, end up giving the glory of the Creator to what he has created (creature). This idolatry is the heart of sin and our greatest need is to fix the problem of sin.

One of the authors of a book against Prosperity Gospel notes that,

“My biggest problem is far worse than being hungry or broke! If I understand that the Almighty and Holy God is angry with me, then my financial struggles, relationship stresses and career ambitions can no longer be my first priority. My sin problem becomes the priority. ” (Quoted from Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel,)

If we come to Jesus and follow Him for the material and prosperity blessings, then we are not any different from thousands who followed him after the miracle of feeding of the 5,000 men. True and faithful followers of Jesus are not after material advantage, but believe on him to receive eternal life (John 20:30-31).

We need to grasp that all the pains of life are symptoms of our real disease; our God-defying sin. Knowing sin is our biggest problem will help us seek a gospel that addresses not just the symptoms but the root cause. We need to be aware of any gospel that downplays human sinfulness and the eternal benefits of the gospel. The true gospel calls us to believe in Christ for forgiveness of our sins and hence escape God’s wrath.

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Prosperity gospel: Trades God to a ‘God’ man can Use and Command

“A Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has 
cultivated the knowledge of God.    (Quote by A.W. Tozer)

Prosperity gospel is a false teaching and a dangerous heresy that has erroneous concepts that are found in its theology. As noted in an earlier post, Prosperity Gospel: A dangerous lie wrapped in a covering of a religion , this gospel has crucial distortions of biblical gospel in that it proclaims a small God, fails to identify man’s greatest need, empties the gospel of its power and robs God of his glory.

Prosperity preaching turns Christianity into idolatry and trades the glory of God for a cheap substitute by making health and wealth the goal of our salvation. This gospel deviates from the true gospel which is about an infinitely great God, an eternal King who reigns in all the earth as the Psalmist notes (Ps 47:8, 93:1, 97:1) who offers Himself to us sinners so that we can know Him and enjoy him forever. Christ suffered so that He might bring us to God as Peter notes (1 Pet 3:18). There can be nothing better than knowing God!

Sadly, prosperity gospel waters down and destroys such Good News, making many to pursue false and unsatisfied god of material prosperity. This new gospel, as Ken Mbugua notes in the book Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel, reduces God to a sugar daddy by treating material gifts as the purpose of the gospel. He adds that this gospel emphasizes temporary benefits of material prosperity as the reason Jesus died to win for us forgetting that these are inferior gifts compared to fellowship with Almighty God.  

In his book, Preachers of a Different Gospel, Femi Adeleye notes that Prosperity gospel has a counterfeit faith that abuses faith from God, to having faith in faith or faith in the ‘Man of God’ who is the commander of ‘God the slave’ who should provide all demanded from him.  He quotes Oswald J. Smith who wrote in his book The God Man Uses;

“In the days we live in and within the church, the ‘modern’ Christian has invented a God he can use. This ‘God’ is supposedly the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but He is also a being whom people, and particularly some preachers, can use and manipulate for their own ends. This God has mass appeal and followership since he can be ordered, instructed or commanded to do whatever we want.”

It is sad to note that Prosperity teachers preach an easily manipulated ‘God’. Femi notes that this gospel ensures that God has no glory left, for after the miracle, the focus of attention and awe is not God, but the ‘Man of God’ who has made God do what the audience wanted. Femi adds;

“God’s holiness and sovereignty matters not for this ‘God’ hardly cares how his followers live.He winks at ungodliness or double standards in lives of followers and promoters. Most of the worshipers can live in sin and seen in worship services hours later ‘commanding’ God to do what they want. ”

David Jones and Rusell Woodbridge  in their book Health, Wealth and Happiness noted that Prosperity preachers demote God, stripping Him of His sovereignty, and place humans at the center of their theological system. They conclude,

“Prosperity gospel has a distorted view of God with some teachers making outrageous and irresponsible statements about God. They make the gospel man-centered due to their faulty view of the relationship between God and humanity reducing God to a ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.”

Prosperity gospel is offering us a little ‘God’ who is no God at all.  It is sad that most of us Christians have lost our art of reverence and awe before God through this new preaching that makes God irrelevant and we become the measure and center of all things.

May God help us to recover the lost ground by rejecting all falsehood of prosperity gospel and return to Biblical truth and knowledge of God of the Bible… the Isaiah 6 God worshiped by the Seraphs,

Holy, Holy Holy is the LORD Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory.

Prosperity Gospel: A New and Strange Gospel

Churches in Africa have become a hub of a new gospel. Most of our churches are no longer preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ but a new gospel that has no cross in it but that which emphasizes health, wealth and happiness. In almost every city, this gospel has already taken root and is spreading like bush-fire to the villages.

The effect of the gospel has come as a result of new technology that has exposed many unsuspecting followers to western false preachers who are propagators of this teaching. Every day, there are hundreds of trending messages of this gospel in every social media that contains some grain of biblical truth, and that is appealing to the natural human desire. Most of us follow them for we have little knowledge of biblical doctrine and thus we are ‘ripe for accepting the distorted teachings.’

The new gospel is frustrating the work of the early faithful missionaries to Africa who preached the gospel simply and uncomplicated, yet powerful. These missionaries put the Cross of Christ at the center of their preaching, calling Africans to deny their barbaric cultures which were not saving at all and to put their faith in Christ Jesus, our only Savior. Our forefathers heard the gospel and accepted it, but we are slowly drifting away from this truth. We now believe a softer gospel that is comforting, satisfying and appealing to our immediate appetites.

In his book, Preachers of a Different Gospel, Femi Adeleye calls Prosperity Gospel a ‘gospel of greed that has no room for the cross and suffering.’ He continues to say that this gospel is silent on pain and suffering because it has no theology for it. It is sad to see people gathering every Sunday to get a user-friendly gospel that has no room for the real Jesus of the Cross. Many prosperity preachers as Femi notes ‘has created a new Jesus whose aim to come to the world was to make people comfortable and to guarantee their security.’

Western prosperity preachers have had large impact on propagating this new gospel in Africa. In their book Health, Wealth and Happiness, Jones and Woodbridge notes that many African believers equate Christian faith with wealth noting that this influence comes from Americans’ affluence and prosperity, hence making many native preachers to take up the prosperity message.

Sadly, the many followers of prosperity gospel get realities of life but remain lost in their sins since this gospel has lost the emphasis of repentance in believer’s life. The new gospel has replaced the gospel that emphasized contrition and repentance with ‘self-esteem.’ As an effect, there is a new breed of strange Christians who have lost awe in the presence of God. Everyone can preach, and no emphasis on character and conduct. Many live in sin from Monday to Saturday and yet lead others in worship on Sunday. It is OK to lead in worship and continue in sin.

Prosperity gospel is a short cut to good things of life and contradicts the essence of biblical faith. There is no better way to recover lost ground than rejecting all falsehood and returning to Biblical truth. May this be the commitment of every preacher, and of course of every member of any church!

(This is the first post in a series on Prosperity Gospel)

PHILEMON: Substitution Simply Applied

A story of one man, Saint Maximilian Kolbe is an interesting story, first raised to my attention by John Stott in his book, The cross of Christ, in his explanation of ‘substitution’. he died2During Second World War, Kolbe was arrested for hiding Jews and sent to Auschwitz detention camp.

One morning, one of his fellow detainees escaped and the authorities decided to starve 10 of the detainees to death. As they walked out, one of the culprits sobbed, ‘My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?‘ When he uttered this cry of dismay, Kolbe stepped forward silently, stood before the commandant and said, ‘Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.‘ What a man, Kolbe, volunteering to die in place of a stranger.

In my reading about Kolbe, I was moved by the statement of the man whom Kolbe died in his place.

“I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream? I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise.”

As a Christian, I can relate to this. Someone was substituted and died on my behalf. The notion of substitution is that one person takes the place of another. This is what Paul does in his letter to Philemon, as he tries to reconcile him with his runway servant, Onesimus. In verse 18-19, he tells Philemon:

If Onesimus has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back to you… (Philemon 1:18-19)

Every time I read these verses, I am moved! What does Paul say here, that he is ready to pay everything Onesimus had stolen from his master? This is a great sign of commitment in reconciling these two brothers in the Lord.

Paul here drives home an important point for all Christians- Substitution!  We all need to appreciate and should be forever grateful to God for substituting our wrath with Jesus, making one who had no sin to become a sin for us, the righteous dying for the unrighteous. He paid our debt; he laid his life as a ransom for us.charge that

Paul shows Philemon what it means to lay down one’s life for another. “Charge everything he owes you to me,” he says confidently reminding Philemon that he preached gospel to him too.

There is no other better and simpler way to say it than that Jesus died on our place, he took the wrath we deserved and imputed on us his righteousness. We, just as Onesimus can stand before Philemon, owe our righteous standing before God entirely to the cross of Christ, through whom our sins are forgiven.

At the cross of Christ, we have our pride broken, our guilt removed, our love kindled, our hope restored and our character transformed. We join Isaac Watts in saying,Us and Cross

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

(This is the third article on a series on Philemon, click the link to find the others: Philemon: A letter worth a thought and Philemon: A Rich Prison Epistle)

By Kenneth Irungu
iServe Africa apprentice placed at DOVE Christian Fellowship, Kawangware.

 

 

 

Philemon: A Rich Prison Epistle

Philemon is one of Paul’s ‘prison epistle’—a letter written while he was imprisoned for preaching Jesus Christ as Lord. Even in the face of persecution, prison bars could not contain Paul’s zeal for the gospel. letter penIn this letter to Philemon, as we noted in last post here, he pleaded for mercy and forgiveness for a runaway slave.

Paul urges Philemon to accept back his servant Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, though he was once useless to him. Useless since he probably have stolen from him some large amount of money and then ran away. From this letter, we note few things.

God’s Sovereign Choice

First, we see God acting sovereignly in separating Philemon and Onesimus so that the latter would meet Paul, and be transformed by the gospel. The separation of the master and the servant, even before the latter had finished his term of service to Philemon shows God’s sovereignty in everything. It is through the separation that Onesimus meets Paul, who preaches the Good News of Jesus Christ.

God is sovereign over all. It is good for us to acknowledge him sovereign over our lives.

Reconciliation between brethren

Secondly, we note that Paul develops the theme of reconciliation in this letter more than any other theme. letterPaul opens the letter by expressing his gratitude to Philemon for his love of Christ. Philemon’s love and faith in God, as Paul notes, was immense and had refreshed many. Paul urged Philemon to open his heart and reconcile with the ‘once useless man’ by accepting him back as a dear brother. Though they had some differences, Paul notes that reconciliation is inevitable, just as Christ reconciled both of them to God.

Once we understand the gospel, it will be easier for us to reconcile with others. Paul banked on the gospel to help Philemon reconcile back with Onesimus.

Believers as Beloved brothers!

No other statement in this letter that excites me than verse 16: so that you might have him back, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother, a brother in the Lord. The earthly distinction between the master and the slave still holds, but more than that, both become brothers. Nothing else but the gospel would make it easier for Philemon to accept ran away servant back. Here, Paul makes it clear that believing in Christ makes both to be brothers in the Lord.

Paul introduces an important thing even for us here and now. Once gospel transforms us, we become brothers in the Lord. We need to be seeing fellow believers as dear and beloved brothers to us in the Lord. Always remembering we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, as Paul notes in his letter to Romans.

Keep posted here for the next article (the third) on this letter

By: Kenneth Irungu
iServe Africa Apprentice- DOVE Kawangware

PHILEMON: A Letter Worth a Thought!

Tucked somewhere in the Bible is a small letter from Paul to his dear friend Philemon. A very small letter, only 25 verses, but loaded with a great gospel message. A letter worth reading and rereading!
A letter we will think of here in a series of coming posts.

Background of the letter:
Paul introduces himself in verse 1 as the author of the letter together with his dear brother Timothy. What is most exciting about his introduction is his emphasis, also found in other of his letters, on ‘whose he is,’ a prisoner of Christ Jesus.letter pen

He writes this letter to a wealthy man whom he evangelized to sometime ago, a dear friend to him and a fellow worker. He then copied the letter to two more people- Apphia and Archippus, and to a home cell fellowship. Though, as we will note later, is a personal letter to Philemon, Paul makes it open letter to other individuals and to the church.

In verse 10, we are introduced to a young man named Onesimus, a man who was once useless regardless of his name meaning useful. It is in verse 16 that we learn that Onesismus was a bondservant to Philemon. However, Philemon and Onesimus separated after the latter ran away.

Onesismus is believed to have fled from Philemon after possibly stealing from him. It was during their time of separation that Onesimus came into contact with Paul, who preached to him the gospel and he believed. The gospel transformed Onesimus, making him useful to Paul by assisting him greatly while he was in prison as Paul notes in verse 13 and 14.

Paul knew that Onesimus had fled from Philemon, and as a bondservant, he need to go back to his master. He therefore gives himself to the task of reconciling servant Onesimus to his master Philemon. He writes him this letter, a dear letter from a spiritual father to a spiritual son pleading him to accept back a transformed servant.

Our Reflection:
What a letter?! Just thinking how Philemon must have received the letter, possibly with pleasure rather than with a frown. A letter from a dear friend, the one who preached the gospel to him, pleading with him to accept a man who had stolen from him, now not as a slave but as a dear brother!

It must have been a joyful moment to Onesimus, reconciling back with his master Philemon better than a slave to him- as a dear brother in the Lord. He must have been grateful to Paul, for even accepting to pay his debt or anything he owed to Philemon. But more grateful to Jesus, just as me and you- for dying for all our sins, past, present and future- and giving us an opportunity to became heirs of God and co-heirs with him (Christ).

 

(Be on the lookout for next Post on Theological Reflections we get in this Paul’s letter to Philemon)
By: Kenneth Irungu
iServe Africa Apprentice 2015/2016
At DOVE Christian Fellowship, Kawangware (Nairobi-Kenya)