Tag Archives: prosperity gospel

That Time I Accidentally Preached at a Prosperity-Gospel Church

My policy has usually been to preach anywhere if given the opportunity.  Why wouldn’t you bring the gospel anywhere you can?  Still, I’m not sure if I would have accepted the invitation to preach at this church if I’d known ahead of time what kind of church it was.  I do have some limits.  But there I was and God made it work out in a surprising, almost funny, way.

It was 2008.  The church I was serving in Canada had a couple of members who were working at an orphanage in Mexico.  The elders had me go down there for a visit to see how these members were doing and provide some teaching/encouragement.  Also, a neighbouring congregation was interested in doing mission work in Mexico and they asked to scout out this particular city for opportunities to do Reformed church-planting.  This wasn’t going to be a holiday at the beach – the city in question is in the dead-centre of Mexico, about as far away from a beach as you can possibly get.

Before leaving, I’d been told by one of the members that I might have the opportunity to preach at a church or two in Mexico.  So I made sure that I took some sermon notes with me – just in case.  Pastors often have their favourite sermons – we call them “sugar sticks.”  Without thinking much about it, I just took one of my sugar sticks with me.

Towards the end of my stay in Mexico, sure enough, I was invited to preach at a church.  It was just a small congregation located in one of the poorest suburbs of this city.  As we pulled up to the building, it was hard to tell that it was even a church building.  Actually, it wasn’t.  It was just someone’s house and the church worshipped in a room at the back.  The “house” was just a rough brick structure.  By the time we arrived, the sun had gone down and a few electric light bulbs dimly lit the space.  In the worship space, the walls were painted a gaudy pink and a large yellow poster dominated the front wall.  At the center of the poster was a cross with the word “Cristo” running across the horizontal beam.  At this point, I thought this was just your run-of-the-mill Mexican evangelical church.

After everyone was seated in the white plastic chairs, the pastor took his place behind the pulpit.  Actually, if memory serves me correctly, he was the junior pastor, the son of the senior pastor.  The pulpit was just a little lectern sitting on top of a table with a pink and yellow table-cloth (nicely matching the walls).  That evening, the gringo contingent was not only me, but also a group from Manitoba volunteering at the orphanage.  To ensure that all of us could understand, there was a translator who could do both Spanish-English and vice-versa.  She’d also translate my preaching into Spanish.

The service started off with some singing in Spanish.  There was no band, no musical instruments at all, so the singing was done a cappella.  That’s how you know this was a super-poor church.  After the singing, the pastor started speaking.  Through the translator, we found out that there was about to be a collection.  This is where it became obvious.  The pastor said something like, “Do you want to know why you’re poor?  Do you want to know why you live in this neighbourhood and we have to worship like this?  It’s because you don’t have enough faith.  You have to sow the seed of faith.  You can do that now with the offering.  If you give five pesos, God will give you ten pesos.  If you give fifty pesos, God will give you one hundred pesos.  You have to give in faith and then God will reward you.”  Then I knew what kind of church this was.  Even though it was in a poor neighbourhood, this was a prosperity-gospel church.

What is the prosperity-gospel?  Though it started in the United States, it’s a global phenomenon.   I’ve encountered it everywhere.  It’s most well-known representatives are people like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland.  They teach that the good news of the Bible is that God wants to make us prosper here on this earth.  They teach that Jesus Christ is all about our prosperity here and now.  If you suffer, it’s because you don’t have enough faith.  If you trust God enough, you can name whatever blessing you want, and he’ll give it to you.  This is a total perversion of the biblical gospel.

And there I was in a prosperity-gospel church in Mexico.  The offering concluded and then Pastor Wes from Canada was invited to come up and share his message.  I hadn’t planned on what I’d preach.  I didn’t select the message ahead of time thinking that this would be appropriate for this particular church.  But there I was and I asked everyone to open their Bibles to the text for my sermon:  Psalm 73.

Psalm 73 has Asaph in a bind.  He sees a problem that confounds him:  the wicked prosper, while the righteous believer suffers.  He can’t make sense of it and it threatens to undo his faith.  After finally coming to the temple and seeing the sacrificial system in action with all its blood and death, he’s reminded that the wages of sin is ultimately death.  The wicked may prosper here, the righteous may suffer, but God is just.  The suffering believer can trust in him.  You can read my sermon notes on this passage here.

Well, as you can imagine, afterwards the pastor wasn’t just a little awkward with me.  He tried to be gracious, but my sermon had undermined what he said before the offering.  I didn’t have to mention the prosperity-gospel.  I didn’t have to mention the pastor’s error.  I didn’t plan on that ahead of time and I didn’t.  I just preached what I’d prepared and God’s Word spoke for itself.  There’s a lovely word that describes what happened:  serendipity.  It was pure serendipity.  Often that word is used for a “pleasant chance happening.”  But this wasn’t by chance!  God had it all marvelously planned out ahead of time.

Now I wish I could end the story by telling you that my sermon was the turning point for this little church being led down the garden path.  Truth is, I don’t know.  I often think about those poor people in that church.  They weren’t just physically poor — they were getting stones for bread from their pastors.  I pray that they heard something different from the Bible that night that made them think.  Maybe the pastor had second thoughts too.  Two things I know for sure:  first, God is providentially in control of all things; second, if change is ever going to happen with people deceived by the prosperity “gospel,” it’ll happen through the Word of God.


What’s Wrong With Hillsong?

Hillsong is one of Australia’s most well-known exports.  They’re known not only for their praise and worship music brand, but also for attracting celebrities like Justin Bieber.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently spoke at a Hillsong Conference.  He’s a member of a church that belongs to the Australian Christian Churches, to which Hillsong also belongs.

Hillsong is not just a church – it’s a global phenomenon.  Around the world, over 130,000 people attend Hillsong each week.  That could be a great thing if Hillsong was faithful to the Scriptures.  If they were faithfully preaching the gospel and following the Word of God, Hillsong could have a powerful impact.  But are they?

Last week, the ABC featured a piece on modern Pentecostalism in Australia.  This is how it opens:

It is Sunday morning at Hillsong’s megachurch in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria, and Pastor Natalie Pingel pauses mid-sermon to conduct an impromptu Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson look-a-like contest.

She selects a group of buff parishioners and members of the band to line up on stage. Each takes turns flashing the crowd the actor’s signature raised eyebrow, to approval and gushing laughter.

Pastor Pingel then leads the congregation in prayer, the band plays anthemic rock music and the big screens either side of the stage light up with suggestions for what people can pray for.

The suggestions include financial stability, luck with job applications and visa approvals.

In these few words, there’s plenty indication that things are seriously wrong with Hillsong.  Even though they’re Pentecostal and, as such, claim to give more attention to the Holy Spirit, in reality they’re missing some key things the Spirit says.

Let’s start with the pastor.  The Holy Spirit says in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”  Yet Hillsong flouts the Holy Spirit’s teaching and has a woman delivering a sermon.

What about the “look-a-like” contest?  Search the Spirit’s book to see if any such thing was ever done by the apostles.  In the Bible, did the apostles pursue “approval and gushing laughter”?  Surely not.  Instead, the apostles preached the Word of God and left these sorts of comedic antics for the theatre.  They followed the leading of the Holy Spirit who said, simply, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) – they didn’t add or take away from that.  They simply preached the Scriptures.

Next, notice the stage and “anthemic rock music.”  What associations do we commonly make with such things?  Entertainment.  Together with the comedy act, this doesn’t portray serious Christian worship in the presence of the Holy God, but an entertainment event.  What is this but “the itching ears” described by the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy 4:3?

But most concerning of all in the ABC article is the portrayal of Hillsong as a purveyor of prosperity gospel teaching.  This is well-known.  Hillsong teaches that God wants believers to experience prosperity in this life.  This can manifest itself in different ways:  financial, health, relationships.  Becoming a Christian opens up access to all these blessings.  Christ died and rose again victorious to give Christians these blessings.  From time to time, they may still talk about the cross and give something of the true biblical gospel.  However, the emphasis falls on prosperity and success as the good news.

Even though the Spirit says it (Isa. 45:7, Lam. 3:38, Ps. 60:1-4, Ps. 66:10-12, Ps. 119:71), the idea that God would send adversity into the lives of believers because he loves them and wants to shape them is foreign to prosperity gospel churches. The Holy Spirit made most of the Psalms laments, but the prosperity gospel doesn’t know what to do with them.  In the New Testament, the Spirit-filled Jesus told his disciples that they would have to take up their cross and follow him (Matt. 10:38).  In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas told the early Christians, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  But the idea of bearing the cross before wearing the crown doesn’t register in the prosperity gospel message.  Instead, it’s all about glory here and now.

Moreover, what’s missing is the biblical gospel message which the Spirit gave through Paul:  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).  And what did he come to save us from?  According to Romans 5:9, we are saved by Christ “from the wrath of God.”  That note is rarely, if ever, heard in prosperity gospel churches.

Let me conclude with a question someone is sure to raise:  could someone be genuinely saved at or through Hillsong?  Perhaps.  God can do amazing things despite people.  He does amazing things despite me.  So he could save people through Hillsong too and I sincerely hope he does.  But that’s beside the point.  If a Christian is looking for a more consistently biblical, gospel-preaching church, I’m afraid Hillsong just doesn’t fit the bill.  If a Christian is looking for a church aiming to follow what the Holy Spirit teaches about worship and the offices of the church, one can do far better than Hillsong.


Dr. B.’s Book Buying Guide

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I love books!  One of the best things about the world of books is the sheer variety.  That’s also one of the greatest problems.  If you’re not familiar with the world of Christian writing and publishing, a foray into your local vanilla Christian bookstore could put poison in your soul or, at the very least, theological marshmallows (sweet, but no nourishment).  The same thing can happen as you browse various online retailers.  Therefore, I want to offer some guidance in purchasing good quality Christian books, books that will nourish your faith and walk with the Lord.  Note:  this is not meant as an “approved” list — simply suggestions and certainly not comprehensive.

Bookstores and Online Retailers

The best place to find wholesome Christian books is with retailers who care about more than the bottom line.  There are certain bookstores where, because the owners/operators have a godly zeal for Christian truth, almost anything you find for sale is going to be dependable and worthwhile.  These bookstores are a rare find.  The best Christian bookstore in Canada (that I’m aware of) is located in the little Ontario city of Brantford:  Reformed Book Services.  You can find their website here.  If you’re in the area, check them out.  If not, you can still use their website to order online.  Even if you don’t live in Canada, browse through their website to look for good Christian books and then order them from a retailer in your country.

As far as Australia goes, in WA there is the Pro Ecclesia Bookshop in Armadale.

Publishers

As with bookstores, there are Christian publishers who only publish what they will stand behind theologically.  Other publishers are far less scrupulous  — they may be more interested in what sells than in what is true, good, and genuinely helpful.  When you browse for books, and especially if you don’t know the author, the publisher’s name can help determine whether the book may be worthwhile.  Let me give three categories:

Generally Dependable Publishers

Almost everything from these publishers can be recommended — the odd time they might publish a dud, but they’re usually pretty careful.

  • Reformation Heritage Books
  • P & R (Presbyterian & Reformed)
  • Banner of Truth
  • Reformation Trust
  • Reformed Fellowship Inc.
  • Crossway
  • Christian Focus Publications
  • Evangelical Press

Hit and Miss Publishers

These guys publish some good stuff, but also some that belongs in the recycling bin.  Be extra-discerning with these.

  • Zondervan
  • Baker Book House
  • Eerdmans
  • Inter-Varsity Press
  • Navpress
  • Canon Press

Steer Clear of these Publishers

  • FaithWords (main publisher of prosperity gospel false teachers)
  • HarperCollins (avoid their “Christian” books anyway)

Authors

There are also authors that you can usually count on to put out good material.  These are authors who have a track record of writing orthodox books.  You can watch for their names and, if you see one of their books, normally you won’t go wrong by picking it up.  Here are some authors that I can generally recommend, ones that you might run across in any Christian bookstore.  They still need to be read with discernment, but you should be able gain some benefit from them regardless of whatever their flaws.

  • Sinclair Ferguson
  • D. A. Carson
  • Kevin DeYoung
  • R. C. Sproul
  • Michael Horton
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • J. I. Packer

There are also a few authors that I need to warn against in the strongest possible terms.  These men and women are false teachers peddling theological poison.  Some of them are prosperity gospel proponents — preachers of “another gospel” — and very popular.  These are some of the best-sellers.  Buy and read at your own risk — but if you want my opinion:  don’t waste your time.

  • Sarah Young
  • Joel Osteen
  • Creflo Dollar
  • Joyce Meyer
  • T.D. Jakes
  • Joseph Prince
  • Beth Moore
  • Brian Houston (and his wife, “Pastor” Bobbie Houston)
  • Rob Bell