The Prosperity Gospel, the Wrong Gospel
Many church leaders in the twenty-first century have aided in the oppression and bondage of the scripturally illiterate masses by promoting material worship through the “prosperity” gospel. Advances in technology, such as the advent of television and internet, make the preaching of a false gospel more devastating as it is able to quickly reach large audiences. These false prophets promise prosperity and healing, often in exchange for an offering or a fee. Prominent twenty-first century televangelist and Pastor Frederick K. Price is quoted as saying on his Ever Increasing Faith television broadcast that “The Bible says that he (Jesus) has left us an example that we should follow in his steps. That’s why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.”
Likewise, televangelist and Pastor Juanita Bynum is quoted as telling a massive viewing audience on the Trinity Broadcasting Network Praise-a-Thon, “You watching me in television land and you saying all I got is $900. But I hear the Lord saying, I double dare people that are watching me right now, this one is for you, I double-dare you to empty your checking account. If you got $79.36, empty it out. Empty it out, at the voice of the prophet.” The statements made by these preachers sound characteristic of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the ones he rebuked saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:25).
Finding Balance Between Social Justice and Evangelism
Christians should continue their plight for social justice. Dr. Martin Luther King summed up beautifully the Christian response to the social evils that plague this world:
The Kingdom of God as a universal reality is not yet. Because sin exists on every level of man’s existence, the death of one tyranny is followed by the emergence of another . . . Although man’s moral pilgrimage may never reach a destination point on earth, his never-ceasing strivings may bring him ever closer to the city of righteousness.
In North America, Christian abolitionists—evangelicals—used political means to bring about an end to slavery; Baptist preacher Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well, became politically active in his plight for civil rights for black Americans; and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez urged the Church to use political means to bring about liberation for the peoples in the countries of Latin America, where “the situation of injustice and oppression is characterized as a sinful situation” because the oppression is so great.
Unfortunately, many of the Church’s recent movements for liberation have abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ, the fountain from which her good works should flow. These Christians have instead allowed gospel killers to inform their theology. Many Christian social justice proponents have become overly concerned with materialism and balancing material wealth among peoples as a means for providing justice to the poor. They do little in “balancing the scale” with their own wealth; yet in the name of justice, they use the powerful arm of government to rob Peter to pay Paul.
They have done the very thing that Christ warned not to do, seek after worldly possessions and covet others wealth. They fight the sin of oppression but stumble into the sin of materialism. In doing so, they have inadvertently deepened inequalities and dependency, victimization and suffering. Again, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offers his wisdom by advising his Christian brethren that laws do not change a man’s internal feelings. Government cannot make a man love his neighbor or give to feed the hungry—religion and education must do that—but government can and should control the external effects of sin; it can control a man’s efforts to lynch and kill, enslave and abuse. Dr. King suggests that one way Christians in America, who as citizens are afforded a voice in governing, can continue the struggle for justice is through gaining control of the ballot box—by promoting legislation that will restrain the effects of sin.
The happenings of the nineteenth and twentieth century should inform the twenty-first century Church that she should not discount the great sufferings in the world on account of human sinfulness—such indifference can lead to apathy and skepticism among those in whom the gospel seeks to influence. Christians should follow the example left by Christ and exhibit care and concern for their neighbors, because “to know God is to do justice.” One aspect of Christian life is charity—feeding the hungry and giving to the poor—charity is a necessary aspect of God’s message of love.
The Apostle James emphasized further God’s intentions for his people to not only believe him but obey him when he said, “Faith divorced from deeds is barren.” (James 2:20). Christian’s should not be merely concerned with external worship while ignoring God’s commandment to “love your neighbor.” Social justice has a passion that seems right; yet the Church should be warned—she is no more than a self-righteous social movement if the heart of her aspirations and the object of her adoration are not centered on Christ.