The Prosperity Gospel vs. The Social Gospel
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
“God never promised we would be healthy, financially secure, vindicated, or happy. He promised to never leave us and His grace would be enough to get us through anything.”
Recently I posted this on Facebook and Instagram, what I didn’t expect was the response to be so colossal. Having a social media ministry, I post several times a day. But this meme went viral, going on to be shared thousands of times. Most were agreeing with the quote, however, a small percentage got very upset. I even had to block one person because they wouldn’t stop attacking me. I gently responded a few times, but the idea that God never promised to grant all our wishes like a magic genie made them really mad.
This person attempted to use Scripture to back up God’s desire to make everyone rich, instantly healed, and effervescent all day long. Each passage was pulled way out of context. This is the result of the prosperity gospel being preached. It’s very enticing.
The blame doesn’t lie solely on the prosperity gospel. There’s an antithesis preached which is just as bad, the social gospel. I’ll get to this in a moment.
The prosperity gospel tells us God will make every situation turn around for the better and if it doesn’t it’s our fault. We didn’t have enough faith, tithing, obedience, church attendance, or pastoral respect. We weren’t “on fire” enough. We didn’t “fully sell out.”
“If you want to break the curse then stop robbing God! Sow your seed! Use your faith!”
“Name it, claim it! It’s yours!”
“There’s your confirmation from God that it belongs to you!”
Although this give-to-get, butter-God-up snake oil is terrible, in my opinion the social gospel might be worse. At least the prosperity gospel is focused on having a positive mental attitude, albeit misaimed. If I was an unbeliever that rah-rah stuff in itself would be very appealing to me.
I want to be perfectly clear: Neither is the gospel.
The social gospel says you’re not allowed to have anything nice, “We don’t believe in that blab-it-to-grab-it garbage!” It says you can’t be comfortable financially, or physically, or emotionally. Martyrism and woe is me floods the halls of their churches. There are no boundaries. People-pleasing, codependent behavior, and abuse is rampant. Your church can’t be too big, all other churches are against you, and you need to give most of your possessions away if you want to look good. Covenant mixing theology is foundational and unselfish behaviors will “prove” your holiness. Seminary degrees are more important than being led by the Holy Spirit and you will be attacked with cobra-like strikes if you express how you feel. Deacon boards determine your worth, not God. Pulpits are “protected” by an elite group who are confused about what the Cross has actually accomplished.
False humility is the flapping flag of the social gospel. “Look at how humble they are,” others will say, as a person continually talks bad about themselves.
“What a godly man.”
“What a strong Christian woman.”
The Pharisees were masters at this. While constantly trying to appear humble in public, behind closed doors they enjoyed prosperity a whole lot more. Most of our prosperity teaching comes from pulling Old Testament Scripture out of context and slapping the American Dream on it. A person with excellent sales skills up on stage, good looking, gifted communicator, funny, able to pull our heart strings; they sell us a bill of goods and use Bible verses written to Jewish people under the Law to close the deal.
It makes for really good sermons, people clap and shout–people feel good–and when you feel good you’ll give more money to the church. The formula is simple but the audience is clueless. Myself included for many years.
In context, Israel, the Jews, they were informed they’d be rich, healthy, and prosperous if they obeyed the Law of Moses (see Deuteronomy 30:9,10). This does not apply to Christians, nor Americans. Our country is not even 250 years old whereas these Scriptures are thousands of years old. We were never given the Law, so we can’t copy-paste the words written to the Hebrew people and apply it to getting ourselves out of debt or “expanding” our territory (see Ephesians 2:12).
Yes, God will give us wisdom but not from the Law. We have no relationship with the Law. Our only access to anything having to do with our Creator is through the Spirit. It’s fine to know the Law, but even gleaning from it is foolish and immature (see Romans 6:14, 7:4, Galatians 2:19, 3:1-3, 1 Corinthians 13:11, 2 Corinthians 3:7-17).
Truthfully, even for the Jews, this was an all-or-nothing deal. The Law, 613 commandments, had to be obeyed perfectly in order to be blessed by God. They were doomed from the beginning and true Law prosperity would never be achieved. That goal–being prosperous–like today, was meant to get them to lean toward faith in God alone (see Deuteronomy 4:2, Galatians 2:16, 3:10).
This is exactly why Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to make it to heaven (see Matthew 19:24). This has nothing to do with us having too much money, as the social gospel preachers will claim. Jesus said this to a devout Law-follower who had been taught all his life to do everything Moses commanded, and if he did, he’d be rich and righteous.
We’re not righteous–and we don’t enter God’s Kingdom–because of the size of our net worth, or lack thereof. Jesus was just asked a Law-based question so He gave a Law-based answer.
“You gotta put God first and truly surrender!” is wrong and small thinking. We Christians haven’t just put God first, we’ve become one spirit with Him. Further, there’s no need to surrender to someone who’s loving us (see 1 Corinthians 6:17, John 3:16).
The same applies to the passage in which Christ said, “What good would it be to gain the whole world, yet lose your soul?” (See Matthew 16:26). This was before the Cross, and the disciples, who were under the Law, they were being taught the true cost of placing their faith in Him. Too much financial success was not the frame of reference.
Mosaic Law prosperity falls flat when we look at how a person is rich after coming to faith in Christ:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)
Spiritually. We are blessed spiritually. Paul, who had tasted both feast and famine, contentment in Christ in him was his strength (see Philippians 4:11-13,19). Christians are like Bill Gates when it comes to being blessed in our spirits. Why? Because we house the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! (See 1 Corinthians 6:19).
Anytime Jesus referred to abundance, or life, or having what we need, He was talking about Himself, His very Spirit. How much more wealthy can a person be than to have God Almighty inside of them?
If God fixed everything instantly, healed everyone at our asking, made us all filthy rich, and nothing bad ever happened, what would be the need for heaven? What would be the need for a new physical body? What would be the need for faith in Christ at all or any relationship with our Creator?
We would need football stadiums for churches because everyone would be there for stuff. Not Jesus, but just stuff.
Can God heal people? Yes. Can He cause a person to become rich? Yes. Can He vindicate us in front of others? Absolutely. There are many stories in Scripture to back this up, but for Christians, these things are not the authentic focus of our faith. These things may or may not happen, so we don’t worry about them. We pray, trust, and hope, but we know that we have all we need by way of God’s grace, Christ’s Spirit within.
We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing!
For many years I followed prosperity preachers, mainly because I just didn’t know any better. Motivational speaking mixed in with Jesus? Count me in! This was how I thought because of my immaturity. Although I felt really good after a sermon–motivated to achieve my dreams and God backing me up–it was all vapors. There’s no substance in prosperity preaching. Why not? Because the focus isn’t on Jesus Christ. It’s on more.
Jesus came to give us rest, but there’s no true rest in prosperity preaching. Expansion is their obsession. We are taught to reach for the dangling carrot of “being as successful as the pastor,” but we can’t all be pastors so how is this possible? What if we just have a normal life?
If you don’t like what they have to say, leave. You’re a drop in the bucket. No, the pastor isn’t going to return your email, he’s too busy. But you can sign up for a hand-shaking event in three weeks. Their bodyguard will be there too, so you behave, of course.
Prosperity preaching is accessed through a revolving door of emotionalism. I’m all for emotions, but we have to mature into realizing emotions are not the foundation of our faith. Our foundation is in Jesus and we have Him in full as believers from the moment of salvation. There’s no need to whine and beg God for what we already have, or who we already have. You can’t get “more” of God, no matter how many songs you sing about it.
The Holy Spirit won’t allow prosperity preaching to sit well with us for very long. For a time? Sure, but not permanently. We don’t need to attack prosperity preachers or even be sarcastic about them. We need to treat them with love and respect. We need to express the truth, gently, not slander their names. They could very well be saved, just confused, as we all are at times. We must show them grace. We must understand that God can use error to save people and to get them to a better place in their lives.
Paul said the same:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18)
Paul didn’t care if Jesus was being preached about by selfish and competitive people in a pretentious way, as long as Christ was proclaimed. Another Bible translation says, “as long as Christ is preached.”
The paper-thin prosperity stuff never really got to the root of my issues. I needed to learn my identity and grow in Christ, not just attend an “amazing service” with lights and fog. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the lights and fog, I enjoyed the creativity. It was first-class all the way and it helped me feel better. But I became addicted to “needing” church and wanting the autograph, notoriety, and approval of celebrity pastors. I was wrong. I was immature. I love them to this day, but it was time to move on.
When I was still stooped in the prosperity stuff, one thing I noticed was that the social gospel always attacked the prosperity gospel. These people hated all prosperity preachers. Yes, hated. Large churches were treated as if they were nasty nightclubs. If you were a “true” Christian you’d sit down, shut up, be stiff as a board, and God forbid you have a concert-style worship service.
They spout, “God is not here to entertain you!” and no, not necessarily. But He’s also not here to make people fall asleep in the pews.
If you dressed nice, had a nice home, or if you had a nice car, you’re just trying to look better than others. Therefore you better purchase the shanty house, dress like you just got off the Oregon Trail, and buy the brown beater. Pastor will call you out in his sermon if you refuse. And don’t you dare try to have any type of ministry apart from the church’s approval.
The social gospel is preached by pastors who simply don’t understand the struggles of 99% of the population. They live in a religious bubble and can’t relate at all to what we deal with; and if they do struggle, they lie about it, sweeping mishaps under the rug which would actually make them relatable. They always use themselves as their best example of holiness, not Jesus. Bomb-shelters which protect their patrons from the world is more of what their church is about. We disgust them even though their own families mess up and we know about it.
You’ll get kicked out for even asking certain things, “How dare you question Pastor!”
They don’t really want to deal with you unless you’re “acting” like a Christian. They’ll stroll by you in Walmart, look you in the face, say nothing, and keep walking. They believe passive-aggressiveness or the silent treatment should straighten you out.
They just want to have church and they want you to be sure you commit every waking moment to their church, then they’ll be friendly with you. You’re a backslider and you’ve lost your salvation and/or fellowship if you don’t do what they say. They come from holiness and their family has always been doing stuff for God. Catch up, if you’d like to try.
Jesus? Oh yeah, Jesus. They’ll bring Him up occasionally but just like only “dreaming big” is the center of the prosperity message, church, church, church, church, churrrrrrrrrrrrch is their main focus. Don’t pick on the church, don’t stop coming to church, or Jesus will getcha.
Both, the prosperity and social gospels are wrong. Neither are the gospel. The gospel is the gospel of grace.
That’s what Paul called it in Acts 20:24. The gospel is not about how much worldly success you can achieve, nor is it about the exact opposite. It’s about God’s grace. Paul wasn’t hung up on how much money he could earn, but at the same time, he wasn’t focused on being a patsy. God’s grace was always his calling card:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (See Hebrews 13:9)
It’s not official that Paul wrote Hebrews, the last passage from above, but even in that book which was written to the legalistic Jews, grace was the focus (see Hebrews 10:29). Jesus Christ is grace. We can replace the word Jesus with grace, and grace with Jesus, all throughout the Bible and the same context would be the result!
So today, my friends, know this: The gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many Christians all throughout the world who live in poverty, they’re sick, shunned socially, and ostracized from their families. They’re not happy. They have joy, but not happiness. These people have prayed countless times and begged God for change, yet their situation remains. It’s not their fault. It’s not because of sin or lack of faith. It’s not because they didn’t tithe on their birthday money. In some countries, many Christians don’t even know how old they are or the day of their birth. The fault is the fact that we live in a fallen world, we have flawed DNA, and unregenerate people along with the enemy’s army runs rampant. This is not our permanent home. Rich, poor, or in-between, healthy as an ox or on our deathbed, well-fed or hungry, we have all we’ll ever need in Jesus. His grace is enough.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you so much for teaching me about the value of your grace. This truth has set me free in my mind in so many ways. Your amazing grace is the world’s answer for every problem. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them are confused because of certain styles of teaching. Thankfully, your Spirit is the ultimate Teacher and you’ll guide them into all truth, gently, and with grace. We thank you for your Spirit of counsel. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!