Jesus: The Cosmic Santa Claus

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #5)

I was licensed to preach in October of 1992 and formally ordained into the ministry in February of 1993. Upon my ordination, I began my first pastorate. This means that I’m in my 25th year as a pastor.

Over the course of those years, I have watched and listened as the so-called “prosperity preachers” and “health-and-wealth preachers” of the Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations have absolutely dominated religious programming. Seriously, it can be hard to find any other type of message on religious television, especially Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

That message has been described as “name it and claim it” or “gab it and grab it.” It also goes by the titles the “word of faith” and “positive confession.” Whatever you call it, what it does is turn Jesus Christ into a cosmic Santa Claus. Do you need healing? Jesus is your man. Do you want to be rich? Jesus can get you there.

You see, according to the proposed logic, it’s already God’s will for you to have these things, even before you ask for them. The only reason you don’t have them now is that Satan has stolen them from you, and you must reclaim what is rightfully yours. To do that, all you need to do is put your trust in Jesus, claim your request by speaking it to Him in faith, and then sit back and watch Jesus do for you.

Now, to be fair, these preachers do cite various passages of scripture in their attempts to justify their doctrine. It’s not like they don’t use the Bible in their preaching. The problem is, they can only find texts that can be twisted, distorted, or misapplied to back up their faulty system of theology. All other texts are pretty much deemed not worthy for discussion. Here is a list of ten of the classic passages these preachers use (each passage as it is translated in the New King James translation):

  1. John 10:10 (used to show that Satan has stolen our health and prosperity): “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
  2. Isaiah 53:5 (used to claim healing in Jesus’ name): But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
  3. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (used to claim that Jesus wants us all to be rich): For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
  4. 3 John 1:2 (used to claim that Jesus wants us all to be wealthy and healthy): Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
  5. John 14:13-14 (used to claim that all we have to do to receive our desires is to ask for them in Jesus’ name): “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
  6. Mark 11:23-24 (used to claim that miracles simply have to be claimed, spoken into existence, and believed for): “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
  7. Luke 18:29-30 (used to claim that sacrificing for Jesus produces material rewards on earth): So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
  8. Proverbs 18:21 (used to claim that a word spoken in faith has special powers): Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
  9. Luke 18:40-41 (used to claim that the question Jesus asked of the blind beggar is the same one He asks each of us): So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
  10. James 4:2c (used to claim that all we have to do is ask Jesus in faith for what we want): …Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

While every prosperity/health-and-wealth preacher knows these passages (and some similar ones), there is a bit of diversity in how the core doctrine is presented. For example, Kenneth Copeland and others teach that each Christian is nothing less than a “little god” (Copeland’s term) whose words spoken in faith carry the creative power of the divine. On the other hand, there is Richard Roberts, who focuses on “sowing a seed” in faith to claim your miracle. By the way, sowing that seed typically involves sending a donation to the Roberts ministry. And then there is Joel Osteen, who focuses on the power of positive (or “possibility”) thinking. As Osteen has said, “When the negative thoughts come — and they will; they come to all of us — it’s not enough just to not dwell on it. You’ve got to replace it with a positive thought.”

Just between you and me, I don’t like speaking or writing against the prosperity/health-and-wealth gospel. I don’t like it because it makes me sound like I think Jesus wants every Christian to be poor and sick. I don’t believe that at all. But we simply cannot run off so wild with this line of preaching and its pet verses that we get out of the banks of the Bible. And, for the record, here are ten Bible facts that flatly contradict the prosperity/health-and-wealth gospel:

  1. Jesus was not wealthy during His earthly life. (Luke 9:57-58)
  2. Jesus warned against the dangers of wealth. (Matthew 6:19-20; 19:23-24)
  3. The apostles lived lives of poverty. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
  4. The early Christians were often poor. (Revelation 2:8-9)
  5. Paul warned against the dangers of wealth. (1 Timothy 6:3-10)
  6. James warned against the dangers of wealth. (James 5:1-6)
  7. Paul was not cured of his physical infirmities. (Galatians 4:13-15)
  8. Paul left Trophimus sick. (2 Timothy 4:20)
  9. Even Jesus didn’t heal everyone with whom He came into contact. (John 5:1-1-3)
  10. Satan isn’t the only cause of sickness and physical ailments. (Exodus 4:11)

In the end, as with most things about understanding the Bible rightly and serving Jesus correctly, what we need is balance. Like I said, I don’t believe the Lord wants every Christian to be poor and sick. Likewise, I’m sure that He wants us to keep a positive attitude about our walk with Him, make our requests to Him in faith, and look to Him to fix our problems, whether those problems be physical, monetary, or something else. But to turn Jesus into a cosmic Santa Claus that is required to grant our entire wish list as long as we bring it to Him in just the right way? No, that’s not scriptural. And how do we know it’s not scriptural? We know it because because the same Bible the prosperity/health-and-wealth preachers use to promote their doctrine can be used just as easily (even more so) to prove that the doctrine is false.

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