One of the greatest desires of my heart is to see Christ and the Gospel as widely revered and accepted as it ought to be. But as I look about on the state of things, I clearly see that the battle will be mostly uphill at this point.
It's not because of the culture of the country, although that is certainly somewhere around 180 degrees different at this point than God would have it. No, the real issue is a credibility problem in the one place that a credibility problem should not exist: The popular pulpits in America.
There are many ways in which this is manifested, but among the most egregious is in what is commonly known as "prosperity gospel." For those somehow unaware, the prosperity gospel is the utterly, incomprehensibly false and unscriptural notion that God expects all his followers to be wealthy, living in the lap of luxury. Anyone who is not, they opine, "does not have enough faith."
One such televangelist sent out a brochure along with a bar of "prayer blessed soap." The brochure said, "We are going to wash away all Bad Luck, Sickness, Misfortunes and Evil." Inside was a personal letter with a full page of instructions on how to use the soap for healing or a "money miracle."
"Now, after you wash the poverty from your hands ... take out the largest bill or check you have," it said, "that $100, $50, or $20 bill ... hold it in your clean hands and say 'In Jesus name I dedicate this gift to God's work ... and expect a miracle in the return of money.'"
He then conveniently provided the address of his own organization as an appropriate place to send that "clean money."
Literature produced by these hucksters includes such titles as "How to Write Your Own Ticket With God," "Godliness is Profitable," "The Laws of Prosperity," "God's Formula for Success and Prosperity," "God's Master Key to Prosperity" and "Living in Divine Prosperity."
Recently, one of the most popular prosperity pulpiteers said, "I can't be a big blessing if I'm poor and broke."
Investigative journalists for years have looked into the gold-plated habits of well-known "prophets for profit" of the world and often found them ethically lacking, if not downright illegal.
The problems with what these prosperity barkers all commonly teach are as follows:
* It is unbiblical. Nowhere does God give a universal promise of prosperity to his followers. In fact, Jesus himself had "no
where to lay his head," and many heroes in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 were described as "destitute."
* It removes the focus, by light years, from where God commanded that it be. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19:10, and the great commission as given in Matthew, Mark and Acts deals with our need to preach repentance and salvation from sin, not deliverance from poverty.
* It diverts precious resources away from missions and from helping the needy.
* Worst of all, it allows the lost world -- who usually have enough sense to see through the vacuous veneer of the prosperity practitioners -- to view all preachers and preaching as self-serving and false. "After all, if the famous preachers are like this," they reason, "surely all lesser known preachers are the same." Thus, even the honest preacher, giving of himself while receiving little in return, has his message ignored and his character impugned.
A church should always take very good care of its pastor. And there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, even for a preacher. If I ever somehow get rich, believe me, I will enjoy every minute of it. But to claim that prosperity is a guarantee of God to those that have faith is a lie and damaging to the cause of Christ.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., and the author of several books, which are available at wordofhismouth.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.