Is There A "Prosperity Gospel"?
"Give to my ministry" announced the Televangelist, "and Lord will cancel all your debts!" These and other claims by 'Prosperity Preachers' are also suspiciously linked to the size of the "seed" someone "sows" into their ministry. In more recent times this prosperity teaching has even been linked to the collapse in the sub-prime mortgage market and the eventual global economic melt-down! But if the Prosperity Gospel was only about money, we could perhaps tolerate it. But it encompasses much, much more dangerous dogma than that!
In a recent Time Magazine Online article, it questions the influence of Word of Faith preaching on the Sub-Prime Mortgage collapse. Before this article appeared though, many pastors, Bible teachers, and theologians were screaming from the roof-tops about some of the dangers of the "Prosperity Gospel". But such roof-top screaming fades into a whimper compared to the massive media resources available to the super-preachers of the Prosperity Gospel. This "Gospel" not only baptises materialism and avarice but it denies some of the most essential Christian doctrines and replaces them with what can only be described as cultic teaching and practice.
The Prosperity Gospel is also known as "Word of Faith" theology, or the "Health, Wealth, Happiness Gospel". Its most public proponents are all televangelists who appeal to their audiences for donations- with promises of God's miraculous financial blessing according to the amount donated. All of these preachers have testimonials from people who have given to their ministry and allegedly miraculously prospered as a result. There are some televangelists who are probably charlatans because they have discovered that Christians are gullible cash-cows. But many of these Prosperity Preachers are sincere, genuine, and nice people- its just that their theology is fatally flawed with dangerous errors!
WHAT THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL TEACHES
The Prosperity Gospel teaches -
Giving to a ministry results in guaranteed financial gain for the giver - you "give to get"
Financial generosity toward a ministry will unlock God's blessing on relationships, material gain, debt reduction, and healing
Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh
Any born-again man could have redeemed mankind through the atonement of his own death (not all Word of Faith teachers teach this, but sufficient evidence will be given to show that those who pioneered this teaching certainly did)
Jesus Christ became Satan on the Cross (again, not held by all Word of Faith preachers)
Jesus Christ won salvation for the world by defeating Satan in Hell
God can do nothing in the earth unless He is granted permission through the faith-filled words of a Spirit-filled believer
Any born-again believer is a son or daughter of God and is therefore equal to the Son of God and is therefore a god
The first two of these aspects are the most well known and well used aspects of the Prosperity Gospel. Jesse Duplantis states this link between the Gospel and Prosperity in a way that generally sums up the Prosperity Gospel position-
The very first thing on Jesus' agenda was to get rid of poverty! Would you like to know why some people, including ministries, never get out of poverty? It's not because they aren't smart. It's not because they don't have windows of opportunity. It's because they're not anointed. If you're not anointed, poverty will follow you all the days of your life. His first objective was to get rid of poverty. Obviously, He considered poverty a worse problem than blind eyes.
Jesse Duplantis, relating the account of Jesus reading from Luke 4:18 and from this text), Nov. 1997 Voice of the Covenant, p.5
But these sort of claims by religious preachers are not new. Throughout the Dark Ages the Medieval Papal Church offered the forgiveness of sins and the pardon of deceased loves ones trapped in Purgatory if hearers would "purchase" indulgences. This was flagrant commercialising of pseudo-christianity. But abusing the pulpit for personal financial gain is something that plagued the early church as well and the apostle Paul addressed in his epistles.
They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
But this is not even a New Testament phenomena. The Old Testament prophets condemned (false) prophets who preached for "profit" by saying that they were not truly profiting by such practices.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit.
The Prosperity Gospel is also known as "The Health, Wealth and Happiness Gospel". It promotes the idea that God wants His people to be healthy, wealthy and happy. Prosperity Preachers have a well worn text to support their gospel-
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
While it is true that the Scripture presents good health, sufficient wealth and peace with contentment (happiness) as the blessing of God, this is different to saying that it is the will of God for these qualities to be displayed in the believer- in the sense that if someone is not enjoying these blessings then they are logically out of the will of God. Suffering, lack, ill health, has no place in the scheme of the Prosperity Gospel. Yet, these qualities are also sometimes the blessing of God.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance
THE ROLE OF FAITH IN THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Faith takes on a different persona within the Prosperity Gospel. Rather than faith being the gift of God to believe, "faith", to the Prosperity Preacher, becomes a force that believers can harness to exert spiritual power over their circumstances. While faith is the force, words are the containers of that force. Prosperity preachers call this "positive confession". Hence, they are also identified as Word of faith preachers because of this novel teaching about faith.
If the apostle Paul had received a revelation about the power of faith, some of them have argued, he would never had suffered and certainly he would never have been imprisoned. What the apostle Paul didn't know, apparently, was that he could use faith as a force to change his circumstances by speaking it into existence-
"The force of faith is released by words. Faith-filled words put the law of the Spirit of life into operation."
Kenneth Copeland, "The Force of Faith", Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1983
According to Benny Hinn, Christians can use faith to prevent sickness (because it is never God's will for people to be sick, according to the Prosperity Gospel).
The teaching about faith by Prosperity Teachers is wrong. Biblical faith is not a force. Faith, according to the Scriptures is a gift from God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
Biblically, the object of faith is not the circumstance that the believer needs changing, but: God. The believer's faith is meant to be in God not in the ability to change their circumstances! Yet prominent Prosperity Preacher, Marilyn Hickey, teaches that "faith" can be used to "create money". She says that believers should use their faith to speak to their wallets ("bill-folds") and command them to be filled with money!
What is often presented as "faith" is often nothing more than wishful thinking based on certain presumptions. This includes the idea that if a large loan is taken out, God will help us to make the repayments- when in fact, God may not do anything of the kind and may even leave the debtor to learn a lesson about wise stewardship!
Yet, there is a gift of faith that Romans 12:3 and First Corinthians 12:9 talks about. In this instance it seems that God gives someone the gift of faith so that they can be faithful in a particular task/project/ministry. Without this kind of Biblical faith there are countries that would never have been evangelised, hospitals not built, schools not established, churches not planted, and lives not reached. Not only does our Sovereign God ordain the election of His chosen ones, but He also ordains the means by which His election will be carried out. The role of faith in this process leads to God being glorified and this is the point of faith: the glory of God.
THE "GOD" OF PROSPERITY
The traditional Christian concept of God encompasses His supreme sovereignty, His transcendence over creation, His unique magnificence, and His exclusive attributes (eternality, immutability, omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience). As such, God cannot be defined by the parameters of our dimension. That is, we experience the dimensions of space (height/width/depth) and time, but we cannot define the infinite God with such finite (limited) terms. But this is not the view of God presented by the Faith/Prosperity teachers. Their God is a very finite being.
"He [God] doesn't even draw a distinction between Himself and us...You know what else that's settled, then, tonight? This hue and cry and controversy that has been spawned by the Devil to try and bring dissension within the body of Christ that we are gods. I am a little god!...I have His name. I'm one with Him. I'm in covenant relation. I am a little god! Critics, be gone!"
Paul Crouch, "Praise the Lord" program on TBN [7 July 1986]
|God can do nothing unless he receives the permission of a believer, Fred Price:
"God can't do anything in this earth realm except what we, the body of Christ, allow Him to do. Now that statement is so--that's so--that's so foreign and so contrary to tradition that, like I said, if they could get their hands on me right now most evangelicals would burn me at the stake and dismember me and feed me to the crocodiles, because they'll consider that statement to be just heresy."
Frederick K.C. Price, "Ever Increasing Faith" program on TBN [1 May 1992], audiotape #PR11. Cf. chapter 6, 85.
Because the Prosperity Preachers' God is no more powerful than a spiritually enlightened man, the faith-filled believer can "command God" to do our beckoning, they teach-
"As a believer, you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on the Word, you are commanding God to a certain extent because it is His Word."
Kenneth Copeland, "Our Covenant with God", Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications, 1987, 32
But not only is the God of the Prosperity Gospel no more powerful than a mere human who understands how to use the force of faith, he is, according to one of the leading proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, Kenneth Copeland, "the biggest failure in the Bible".
"I was shocked when I found out who the biggest failure in the Bible actually is...The biggest one is God...I mean, He lost His top-ranking, most anointed angel; the first man He ever created; the first woman He ever created; the whole earth and all the Fullness therein; a third of the angels, at least--that's a big loss, man... Now, the reason you don't think of God as a failure is He never said He's a failure. And you're not a failure till you say you're one."
Kenneth Copeland, "Praise-a-Thon" program on TBN [April 1988]
While such a statement is staggering for its magnitude of obtuseness, the following statement by Kenneth Copeland is either obtuse or culticly dangerous when he declares that God could have used him (instead of Jesus) to redeem mankind!
"The Spirit of God spoke to me and He said, 'Son, realize this. Now follow me in this and don't let your tradition trip you up.' He said, 'Think this way--a twice-born man whipped Satan in his own domain.' And I threw my Bible down...like that. I said, 'What?' He said, 'A born-again man defeated Satan, the firstborn of many brethren defeated him.' He said, 'You are the very image, the very copy of that one.' I said, 'Goodness, gracious sakes alive!' And I began to see what had gone on in there, and I said, 'Well now you don't mean, you couldn't dare mean, that I could have done the same thing?' He said, 'Oh yeah, if you'd had the knowledge of the Word of God that He did, you could've done the same thing, cause you're a reborn man too.'"
Kenneth Copeland, Substitution and Identification, K. Copeland Ministries, 1989, audiotape #00-0202, Side B.
Contrary to the Prosperity/Word of Faith Teachers, God is not merely spiritually enlightened. Biblically, He is infinitely powerful, infinitely magnificent, infinitely wise and infinitely good. He is able to do whatever He pleases and He in no way requires our permission to do anything!
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Even though we are created in the image of God, we are in no way equal to God!
¶ “God and I are not equals; I can’t bring a case against him.
We’ll never enter a courtroom as peers."
Job 9:32 THE MESSAGE BIBLE
THE ATONEMENT OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Biblically, our salvation is the result of the work of the unique, incarnate, Son of God: Jesus Christ. This work of Christ culminated on the Cross. Our salvation incorporates the facets of atonement, forgiveness, cleansing, justification and redemption. All of this was achieved by Christ's humiliation and death on the cross. This is why He said, "It is finished" just before He gave up His life (John 19:30). Yet the Prosperity Preachers reject this view of the atonement. They claim:
there was nothing unique about Christ
"My, you know, whoosh! The Holy Ghost is just showing me some stuff. I'm getting dizzy! I'm telling you the truth--it's, it's just heavy right now on me...He's (referring to Jesus) in the underworld now. God isn't there, the Holy Ghost isn't there, and the Bible says He was begotten. Do you know what the word begotten means? It means reborn. Do you want another shocker? have you been begotten? So was he. Don't let anyone deceive you. Jesus was reborn. You say, 'What are you talking about?'...He was reborn. He had to be reborn...If He was not reborn, I would never be reborn. How can I face Jesus and say, 'Jesus you went through everything I've gone through, except the new birth?'"
Benny Hinn, "Our Position in Christ, Part 1", Orlando, FL: Orlando Christian Centre, 1991, videotape # TV-254
our atonement is not the result of the Cross
"Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell and to serve time in hell separated from God...Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence."
Fred K.C. Price, Ever Increasing Faith Messenger, Newsletter Crenshaw Christian Centre, Inglewood, CA. June 1980, p.7
Christ was actually speaking "words of faith" when he said it was finished because there was still much to be done to achieve the salvation of mankind
"When Jesus cried, 'It is finished!' He was not speaking of the plan of redemption. There were still three days and nights to go through before He went to the Throne...Jesus' death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption."
Kenneth Copeland, "Jesus Our Lord of Glory", Believer's Voice of Victory, April 1982, p.10
- Jesus actually became Satan on the Cross
But none of these positions are Biblical. Our atonement is the result of Christ's Cross. Our adoption, regeneration, and position in Christ are also the result of this and His resurrection, ascension, and promised Paraclete. Some will object to these charges and point out that a great many Word-of-Faith preachers do not promote these ideas. However, this simply points out that some Word-of-Faith preachers are inconsistent with the big ideas undergirding the Prosperity-Gospel not that the Word-of-Faith message is not based on these ideas.
FAITH IN THE PROSPERITY MESSAGE
The Time Magazine Online article drew a link between the "faith" message of the Prosperity Preachers and the Sub-Prime Mortgage collapse. At first this might seem like a tenuous link. But the article shows how many of these Faith/Prosperity Preachers encouraged their donors to borrow "in faith" which led many of them to borrow way beyond their means. This type of encouragement would not be our of character for Prosperity Preachers. But this representation of "faith" is not what the Bible teaches. Far from Biblical faith, the "faith" advocated by Prosperity Preachers is more akin to Positive Thinking, which in itself is a virtue (it's called optimism and is commendable) but it needs to be distinguished from Biblical faith. If the Prosperity Preachers' faith was merely positive thinking, Time Magazine wouldn't have a case. But unfortunately it goes beyond positive thinking and becomes presumption.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Despite what the Prosperity Preachers teach, Biblical faith is not a mystical force and God is always the source, cause, and object of such faith.
One of the main features of the Word-of-Faith message is the place of confessing. Romans 10:9 is often cited as a proof text for confessing Scripture to activate it in the life of a believer. But the context of the New Testament passages about confessing has to do with acknowledging either the Lordship of Christ or our sins. There is nothing in the Scripture which suggests that God's Word only becomes activated after a believer "confesses" it.
A BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF PROSPERITY NEEDED
In examining the Prosperity Teachers we shouldn't throw the bath on the baby. Prosperity is spoken of in Scripture as the blessing of God.
And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.
This kind of prosperity is where our needs are met, we are able to share with others (generosity), and we are able to leave a legacy (at least an inheritance for our children).
But this is not the kind of prosperity being promoted by the Word of Faith/Prosperity Preachers. They promote, by their teaching and their lifestyle, that prosperity looks like opulence (living a lavish lifestyle and having the best and most expensive of everything), and giving to those who already have more than enough with a motive to get back even more.
The Bible presents poverty as the result of chance (
Matt. 5:45), laziness (
Prov. 19:15), wickedness (
Prov. 22:16), ignorance (
Prov. 24:4), or even foolishness (
Prov. 21:17). Despite these causes of poverty we are called to be defend, support, and be generous to the poor. The Bible does teach us that God blesses those who treat the poor well (Psalm 41:1; Prov. 14:21) and it seems that any such blessing from God is also meant to be stewarded wisely. That is, we are blessed to be a blessing.
Prosperity can be the result of God blessing the generous, diligent, wise or faithful. The Book of Proverbs seems to say this repeatedly.
The Bible does talk about finance being like seed and that it can be sown (
2Cor. 9:10). It also commends generous giving that enables the Gospel of Christ to be preached (
refer to Phil. 4:17-19). It even lists giving as one of the ministry gifts that Christ has given to His Church (Romans 12:8).
There are thousands of sincere, lifestyle-simple, godly, ministers around the world who struggle to make ends meet while they quietly, humbly, serve Christ in reaching out to a lost world and being ambassadors of His Kingdom through showing care. These ministries and ministers are often hamstrung because of their lack of finances and support. So as we reject the message of the Prosperity Preachers as a faulty Gospel, we acknowledge that there is nothing ungodly with prospering per se - especially when it is stewarded to the glory of Christ through wise generosity. In fact, rather than supporting the extravagant lifestyle of prominent Prosperity Preachers, those who are prospering might regard their resources as the blessing of God to be stewarded generously to further the cause of Christ.
© Dr. Andrew Corbett, 22nd October 2008, Legana, Tasmania, Australia
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