“The early church was married to poverty, prisons, and persecutions. Today the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.” – Leonard Ravenhill.
If you adhere to the teachings found within the prosperity doctrine, please allow some room to consider my words. And I pray that the Bible will act as an arbiter between us and allow you to see the problems inherent in this doctrine. In fact, the teaching frequently goes by the descriptor, “the Prosperity Gospel”. I do find this to be ironic, considering it is a self-condemning name. It seems to distinguish itself from the Biblical gospel, as if it recognizes that it has some fundamental divergence from God’s word.
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed”. (Galatians 1:8 KJV)
Accursed is strong language. It suggests to us that some time should be taken to understand the ramifications of this teaching, and to determine if it passes the Biblical litmus test. If it doesn’t, it is a false teaching given by a false teacher. If it detracts from our relationship with God, it is condemnable and heretical.
Now, I do not wish to overstate this, prosperity doctrinaires are not all lost. There is a sliding scale of error within the doctrine, and many genuine believers can be found dipping their toes in the doctrine’s waters. The danger with error is that it tends to compound, leading to deeper error. And once we accept what a false teacher instructs, we will inevitably devour any other scriptural perversion he utters, leading us deeper into the water. Several of the teachers of this doctrine have already drowned in their own prideful misreadings.
But let’s define what we’re talking about here. And let’s let the Wikipedia assist us for this task:
“Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one's material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.
The doctrine … proposes that it is God's will for his people to be happy. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession”.
Now I have read the Bible: Many times. And I can tell you that it does not say anything remotely similar to what the Wikipedia is purporting here. Infact, the Scripture’s consistent teaching runs at odds with the said doctrine. Allow me to be frank; I speculate that a prideful leniency resides in this doctrine’s proponents. It is teaching that the accumulation of wealth, whether garnered scrupulously or unscrupulously, isn’t merely correlated, but the direct causal agent that not only defines, but measures one’s righteousness. Did you catch that? If your holiness is directly proportional to your health or wealth, than the richer you are, the closer to God you are. Does that sound right to you? Is Bill Gates a super saint? And yes, I said the wealth could possibly be gained unscrupulously, because it seems to me that if the measure of one’s relationship with the Almighty is directly tied to his bank statement, then there are strong indicators that no infraction was committed. “If God was against my unscrupulous business deals, then why did He bless them”? Well, He didn’t. You sinned if you stole the money. It was an unrighteous act and it angered the Lord. And it goes without saying, but if this teaching dissuades you from repenting of your sin, then it is not from God. Moreover, it should be troubling when a doctrine’s logical endpoint puts it in direct opposition to the Law of Moses. And while Bill Gates isn’t a Christian, I think you can see the point I am trying to make.
How contrived it is. A billionaire preaching from the pulpit, that his ministry is verified because he is wealthy. Authoritative teaching can be garnered several ways. Recognized expertize on a subject is indicated by a doctorate degree. The apostles’ words were highly regarded because they were tutored directly by Jesus. Yet prosperity doctrinaires would validate their authority on the subject by pointing to their tax statement.
“Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim 6:2-5 ESV)
Did you catch that? 1 Timothy 6 just punched prosperity doctrine in the face.
And what of health? The doctrine teaches both health and wealth after all, which seems to bring about an uncomfortable predication. For our health depreciates as we age, inevitably ending in our deaths. Is the doctrine proposing that we are holier when we are young? And that we gradually grow more iniquitous as we age? So much for Christian sanctification. You can see that following the logic to its natural end point can raise some startling implications.
“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:1-4 NLT)
His infirmity was not caused by sin, but had a divine purpose. His health had nothing to do with his faith. Even Paul had a “thorn” of physical affliction in his side (2 Cor 12:7). Timothy (1 Tim 5:23) had stomach problems. Trophimus was so sick that he couldn’t travel with Paul (2Tim 4:20). Epaphroditus was so sick he almost died (Phil 2:27). Do not cast a shadow on a man’s character based on his physical health, lest you partake in the sin of Job’s “friends”. The Bible teaches us that there are many reasons that a man can grow ill. Read a book on it and you’ll see how complex the subject truly is.
At this point the prosperity doctrinaires will begin pointing to their proof texts. And this is what I meant earlier about a prideful disposition. The logical ramifications of the doctrine are overlooked, and stretched, out of context verses are sought to bandage the hemorrhage. “I must have faith. I must believe” is the mantra. But belief in what? The Bible instructs us to believe in the Good News, in our incarnate Lord dying for our sins and rising again from the dead. Not to believe that material wealth follows God’s servants. The object of their belief has been nuanced away from its proper destination.
But let’s get back to the prideful disposition charge. Allow me to ask you a rhetorical question, how old is the prosperity gospel? This is relevant. You see, while there was some hinting’s of it starting in the 1950s (as the teachings of `New Thought’ began to infect quasi church goers), it didn’t really come into prominence until the 1980s. The entirety of church history is silent on this new `gospel’ and its teachings: for 2000 years! The church fathers missed it. The protestant reformers missed it. Infact, all of the greatest theologians and all of the greatest Christian minds in history missed it. Does that sound right to you? Do you really want to align your beliefs to be at enmity with this colossal mountain of evidence stacked against you? Do you at least have a doctorate in theology to base your dissidence on? And even if you did, you stand against hundreds of thousands of Christianity’s greatest scholars (both historical and contemporary). My Jewish brothers would call that chutzpah. Myself, I’ll call it pride.
If all the greatest minds in Christendom missed this teaching, who then comprises this new elite that’s redefining Christianity and reinterpreting our relationship with God? If you look up one of these prosperity doctrine televangelists in the Wikipedia, you will inevitably find they are uneducated in biblical studies or theology. Yet, they claim to deliver a new gospel that everyone missed. The sad truth is, most seem to lack any formal education from any recognized seminary or theological Bible school. They purport to be experts on a topic but lack any credentials. And many are now using fake degrees and diploma mills to gain credibility. Benny Hinn at least states in his Wikipedia that he never finished high school. That is better than TD Jakes that holds a fake doctorate from a dubious institution. Osteen has a degree in radio and TV communications, not theology. Copeland was a pilot (which is the closest to God he’ll ever get). Paula White only finished high school. Even Oral Roberts (who founded Oral Roberts university) never finished his undergraduate degree from Bible school. Yet now his university gives out honorary doctorates to some of these new `teachers’. I could seriously go on, but I think you see the pattern I’m trying to illustrate here. These people are not Christian scholars. None of them even seemed to attend a reputable seminary. They don’t even have a bachelor’s degree or a diploma on the topic. In truth, their teachings expose an appalling biblical ignorance which only makes sense in light of their lack of education. Understand that they have no credentials to back up any of their outlandish claims. And while I don’t think credentials are necessary to be a good pastor, this only holds true when the entirety of the educated Christian world around you is not calling you out as a false teacher. Did you know that Jakes used to be a Trinity denier (or a heretic as they’re historically referred too)? This is because he was poorly read and educated on the topic (not because he was evil). But I would like to give him credit, for when he was called out on it, he apparently bent to orthodoxy. I applaud a man that learns when exposed to truth. But what a sad day we live in when one of America’s largest pastor’s didn’t know anything about God!
“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Mat 15:14 NIV)
It seems to me, that one can only esteem this doctrine if they ran out of steam reading the Bible. The entire biblical narrative, from start to finish, talks about our Savior (Jesus Christ). And what is particularly damning, is our Savior lived a life that disproves prosperity doctrine! He was born into humility. And while prosperity teachers fly in private jets and sleep in expensive mansions, Jesus walked and was essentially homeless. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Mat. 8:20). Many if not most reviled him. And it can’t go unnoticed that He died by crucifixion, after being flogged and beaten. Yet Jesus was without sin. He had perfect faith. He was perfect in every way. Health and wealth indeed! Could the central figure of the Bible be at odds with what these `teachers’ identify as essential doctrine? Apparently something must have gone horribly awry. Or did it? If you think about it, Paul likewise lived similarly. Even John the Baptist lived in poverty eating locust. In reality, I could go on endlessly citing faithful servants from throughout the Bible that are exceptions to the prosperity doctrine’s rule set. What this elucidates is the shallow reading of scripture that these teachers formulate their thoughts around. Let’s recall a quote I mentioned in the beginning:
“The early church was married to poverty, prisons, and persecutions. Today the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.” – Leonard Ravenhill.
This was the reality of the early church. They didn’t live for wealth. They lived for God. And like the apostles that gave up everything to follow our Lord, they did likewise. Doesn’t the prosperity doctrine seem superficial and near sighted in comparison? They only view the world through their generation’s perspective, completely ignorant of anything that transpired more than a couple generations earlier. Completely oblivious of the suffering the Church has endured and still endures around the world. Seemingly unaware that the Bible teaches the Church will be persecuted and suffer. Few things have more reverence than a Christian martyr. Yet, prosperity doctrinaires would desecrate our brothers and sisters that died for our Lord. Like Job’s supposed “friends”, they would be forced to speculate that a lack of faith caused the saints to suffer, and that if they had simply believed harder and “tithed seeds of faith”, they would have materially and physically prospered. Martyrs don't have enough faith? This is the logical consequence of their teaching.
Do you remember what the devil tempted Jesus with?
- · “And the tempter came and said to Him, `If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Mat 4:3)
- · “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you … so that you will not strike your foot against a stone”. (Mat 4:6-7)
- · “The devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, `All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” (Mat 4:8-9 NASB)
`Use your power to feed yourself. Don’t worry about your health. Worship the devil as your master, and you’ll receive the world’s wealth’. The devil promised prosperity and health. These are the same promises of the prosperity gospel. It further begs the question, why would the Lord use the temptations of this world as an indicator of the genuinity of our holiness? Great wealth is not a spiritual blessing, it is a stumbling block.
And yet Benny Hinn taught as the Hinnites listened, “I don't need gold in heaven, I gotta have it now”.
“Yet Jesus taught as the Christians listened, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. (Mark 10:25 BSB)
Do you really think the Bible teaches us that popular culture is correct, that joy is to be found in the accumulation of riches? Do you really think that spiritual health is akin to material wealth? Only the biblically illiterate could live in this bizarro theological setting. Do people go to Church to meet God, or to get rich? What is our purpose for serving God? This teaching treads dangerously close to Simon the Sorcerer.
“And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” (Acts 8:9-24 NIV)
Simon the Sorcerer offered money to receive God’s Holy Spirit in his life.
“Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money”
Are you trying to purchase the gift of God with money? Could a Christian who takes this doctrine to heart, work diligently to make lots of money as proof that they have secured the gift of God in their life? Is our wealth and health the key to our eternal destiny? Take heed of this, for the danger of false doctrine is the creation of false Christians. And this proposition, that wealth and health follows the true believer, is only the beginning of the error found in this movement. For those who follow these false teachers in search of gold only find fool’s gold.
“A time will come when people will not listen to accurate teachings. Instead, they will follow their own desires and surround themselves with teachers who tell them what they want to hear. People will refuse to listen to the truth and turn to myths”. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NOG)
Osteen:“God created you … to walk in divine health. To have good relationships. To have plenty to pay your bills. … (we are created to be) free from poverty and lack. Whatever the bank account looks like … I know I am going to be blessed and not cursed. Whatever I touch is going to prosper and succeed”.
Leroy Thompson:“God said: `it is time to tell the money you don’t belong to the wicked, you belong to us … Money come to me now!”
"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted [craved] after, they have erred [been seduced away from] the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Tim6:10 KJV)
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