Prosperity Idols –
While not made of stone or wood like the idols that ensnared the Israelites, false gods are still worshiped in our churches today. When the children of Israel entered Canaan, they found a fertile land bursting at the seams with the best of creation’s bounty: a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9; 27:3). But this wasn’t all that the Israelites found: The native Canaanites introduced them to the local fertility god, Baal, to whom they credited the overwhelming prosperity and success of their land. Baal was worshiped as the lord of the weather, the giver of the dew and the rain, which brought forth the earth”s vegetation (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 134). Baal’s lordship over the weather made him lord of the economic arena as well because he was the source of fertile soil and, therefore, of financial security. This situation presented new questions and temptations for the Israelites: Would the Lord be able to provide for them as Baal supposedly had provided for the Canaanites? Could they serve both God and Baal?
The Israelites should have known the answers to these questions. Every day they heard their national call to worship, which commanded them, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The command allowed no room for additional gods. Later, Jesus also answered this question when he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Mathew 6:24).
If we examine ancient forms of idolatry closely “if we strip away the archaic trappings and superstitious rituals”it becomes clear that the economic incentives of idolatry are timeless. American materialism easily could be interchanged with the fertility idolatry of Canaan. Just as the ancient Israelites were tempted to serve God and the prosperity idol Baal, we today are tempted to serve God and Money (Matthew 6:24). But this is idolatry, and we would do well to recall God’s command to the Israelites regarding their new home:
‘Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.” (Deuteronomy 12:2-4)
“Their way” of worship was a form of manipulation. The Canaanites hoped to receive rain and good weather from Baal in return for their worship (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 175). Their offerings and sacrifices were not made out of love or gratitude but rather were carefully designed to appease their god’s anger or to guarantee a plentiful harvest.
A growing number of evangelical Christians today find this kind of worship appealing. Many of us are attracted to the idea of a “prosperity gospel.” Made famous by certain television preachers, this system of teaching blends Christian theology with ideas from “self-help” programs aimed at attaining personal peace, prosperity and the American Dream. One such prominent preacher from Texas announced to his congregation, “We believe that 2006 will be our best year so far. We declare it by faith …
Today’s sermon is about how gratitude can save a marriage, save your job [and] get you a promotion” (David Van Biema and Jeff Chu, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” Time, September 18, 2006).
It is almost surprising how much this prosperity theology of the modern church parallels the manipulative practices of the ancient fertility cults. Prosperity pastors teach that we should give to the church in order to receive more material blessings from God. However, just like the ancient Israelites, we actually are called to a different kind of giving. In stark contrast to the ancient pagan practices, God called the Israelites to give “because the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 12:7). In the same way, our motivation for giving should be gratitude to the Lord, not a desire for more gain.
The apostle Paul frequently warns against greed, and twice he calls greed “idolatry” (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). Idolatry’s wickedness lies in its denial of our love and trust to God, which are his right as our Creator and Savior. Additionally, God calls his people his bride, and so when we turn to idols, it like committing adultery against him and defiling ourselves through promiscuity (Ezekiel 6:9; 20:18; Hosea 1). Greed defiles our relationship with God by making wealth”instead of God” the object of our affections.
Just because we do not personally adhere to the prosperity gospel does not mean that we are safe from the sin of idolatry. We become idolaters when we trust in God’s good gifts like jobs, wealth, possessions and opportunities instead of the One from whom all blessings flow. Jesus called us to imitate his own sacrifice on the cross (2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 John 3:16-18) a call that is difficult to follow while running after gain for ourselves. When we learn to imitate Jesus’ life, our actions will be characterized by unswerving trust in God’s provision and selfless generosity to the poor.
Word-Faith Movement (Prosperity Theology)
The terms “prosperity theology” or “health-and-wealth gospel” refer to a system of teaching made famous by a number of television preachers. Also known as the Word-Faith movement, its basic idea is that it is God’s will for all Christians to experience earthly prosperity. If one has adequate faith, so the argument goes, then the Lord will bless that person with good health and plenty of money. Specifically, if in faith one “sows” a financial gift to a Christian ministry, then that person is guaranteed to “reap” a hefty financial return for himself. If on the other hand one is suffering sickness or poverty, it is due to a failure of faith on that person’s part. Not surprisingly, this unbiblical teaching has some Christians excitedly giving their money to ministries and others angrily up in arms, because it has to do with the very meaning of the gospel. It is a subject of great confusion in the church today.
Related Passages:Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8; 1 Samuel 12:21; Psalms 115:3-5; Isaiah 42:8; 44:16-17; Luke 16:13-15; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:5; 1 John 5:21