Friday, May 17, 2013

The Prosperity Gospel: a new heresy

   This is the fourth in a series on the influence of capitalism on our daily lives and that of others

While Chrapitalism is a product illicit union of the Christianity with capitalism, the prosperity gospel is the result of the unbiblical marriage of Christian theology with capitalism. The prosperity gospel is a heresy because it is a distortion of the gospel. It uses bad theology and a faulty interpretation of the Bible.

The prosperity gospel is known under a variety of names: Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology. It emphasizes that believers do not have to wait until they get to heaven, but that God's promised generosity is already available in this life, and they can claim it for themselves. The core teaching is simply that "God wants all Christians to be very rich in this life, stay healthy, and the key is giving through tithes and offerings."

Although the prosperity gospel  uses many biblical texts to support its theology, its signature text is probably John 10: 10: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." There  are many more texts, such as Malachi 3:10, Matthew 25: 14-30, Philippians 4: 9, and 3 John 2 that are used -- or more accurately misused -- by the prosperity gospel.

In a poll sponsored by TIME magazine, 17% of Christians said they consider themselves part of such a movement, while 61% believe that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31% agree that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.

The prosperity gospel movement is centered on faith, which is conceived of as an "activator," a power given to believers that binds and looses spiritual forces and turns the spoken word into reality.

It depicts faith as visibly demonstrated in wealth and health. This can be measured both in the wallet -- one's personal wealth -- and in the body -- one's personal health -- and makes material reality the measure of the success of immaterial faith. It expects that faith is marked by victory which no political, social, or economic circumstance can stop. 

The origins of prosperity gospel can be found in the Pentecostal deliverance and healing ministries in the 40s and 50s. The power of positive thinking of Norman Vincent Peale also played a role. It reached maturity by the late 70s as a robust pan-denominational movement that has since then spread to many parts of the world.

Three evangelists are commonly viewed as founders of the prosperity gospel movement: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Frederick K.C. Price. One of the oldest and best-known proponents of prosperity theology was Oral Roberts. Other names associated with the movement include Benny Hinn, Frederick Price, T.D. Jakes, Robert Tilton, and the appropriately named Creflo DollarJoel Osteen is often included, although he dissociates himself from it somewhat.

In the 60s, prosperity gospel teachers turned to televangelism and came to dominate religious programming in the US.  Trinity Broadcasting Network later became very prominent. Schools, such as Hagin's RHEMA Bible Training Center, also helped to spread the message, as did many books, such as Bruce Wilkersons' The Prayer of Jabez.

Nigeria became a breeding ground that helped to spread this unbiblical teaching, based on money, greed, lust, deception and materialism, all over Africa. This false gospel targets especially the poorest, weakest, most hopeless, helpless and desperate members of African society. The primary beneficiaries are the prosperity teachers who have become super-rich, while millions of their followers and givers live in abject poverty and lack the basic necessities of life.

In Nigeria, the prosperity gospel is preached not only in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches but can be heard today in many mainline churches as well, including the Anglican Church. I guess that these mainline pastors figured it was better to jump on the prosperity bandwagon than lose all their flock to other churches. It doesn't help that, even in the mainline churches, Nigerian pastors tend to be poorly educated.

The prosperity gospel is built upon a number of erroneous theological arguments, of which I can provide only a summary (adapted from "The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel" by David Jones):
  • A faulty understanding of the covenant with Abraham. Christians share in this covenant, but for the prosperity gospel this includes not just spiritual blessings, but also includes material ones. Moreover, these blessings are unconditional.
  • A faulty understanding of the atonement based on a misinterpretation of 2 Cor. 8:9, where Paul in no way teaches that Christ died on the cross for the purpose of increasing anyone’s net material worth.
  • A faulty understanding of the biblical teachings on giving. This is built upon faulty motives. One ought give in order to get a great return. Edward Pousson observes those who espouse this message are held captive by the American dream.
  • A faulty understanding of the biblical teachings on faith. Faith is not simply trust in God, but a spiritual force that is directed at God so that he will bless people.
  • A faulty view of the relationship between God and man. If the prosperity gospel is correct, grace becomes obsolete. Then God becomes irrelevant, since man is the measure of all things.
  • All of this is the result of a faulty hermeneutic. Biblical texts are repeatedly  misinterpreted. 3 John 2 is an example. This text is a greeting, and should not be used to derive doctrines. Also, the Greek word here, which is used only four times in Scripture, does not mean to prosper in the sense of “gaining material possessions,” as the prosperity gospel teaches, but rather means “to grant a prosperous expedition and expeditious journey,” or “to lead by a direct and easy way.”

For me, the issue is not just an idiosyncratic misreading of the Bible, with the faulty theology that results, but something more serious. TIME magazine describes the prosperity gospel as the latest lurch in Protestantism's ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism. After the eclipse of Calvinist Puritanism, whose respect for money was counterbalanced by a horror of worldliness, much of Protestantism quietly adopted the idea that "you don't have to give up the American Dream. You just see it as a sign of God's blessing,"

The prosperity gospel is a baptized form of capitalism. Capitalism has been brought into the church and given a position of honor. Unfortunately, God has been shunted aside. Instead Mammom is being worshiped as if he were the true God. This is idolatry. It is a perversion of the gospel. 

Jesus was born poor and he died poor. If a person's faith could merit material blessings, then he would been the richest man in the world. Instead, at his incarnation, "he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Only later did God exalt him and restore him to his former glory. This is the true gospel of Jesus, not the materialistic version the prosperity gospel presents. 

Jesus died on a cross, not in a huge mansion. The prosperity gospel is also not the gospel that the twelve apostles preached. Nearly every last one of them was martyred for his faith. Contrast the life of Jesus and the apostles with the lifestyle of those who espouse the prosperity gospel. 

This is why the prosperity gospel is a heresy. People are being led astray --  not only believers, who are taught a perverted form of the gospel but also unbelievers who get a very distorted picture of the Christian faith and of the Jesus whom these preachers represent. 

While I commend them for their zeal for evangelism, all too often this is motivated by an even greater zeal for wealth on their part as well as that of the people they are preaching to. Greed seems to be the primary motivation behind the prosperity gospel movement. For that reason it must be condemned. 

Blaise Pascal famously said that God can even use the lesser motives of men. God can use these prosperity preachers, and he does. Thus we should be careful how we judge them. Our judgment is not of them but of their theology. We must leave any further judgment to God.


  1. It is also that, as Christians have been led astray by wild dreams of wealth and perhaps power too, those who are wealthy and powerful see a faith that blesses (read 'excuses') their selfishness and greed and often rampant and ruthless exploitation of others, but because they are 'religious' they can do what they like. This is religion full stop; but it is not Christianity, it is an attractive but very false doctrine, a distortion of Christian faith.

    Of course, does this mean that if you are a poor Christian, or ambitious to succeed in life in some way, does this mean that you have to just accept your lot? No it doesn't in my humble opinion. It does mean however that our ambitions should be taken to God and that if we pursue a better material life we should understand that spiritual blessings are those that last, things like peace, contentment, happiness, harmony with others and so on. We must first ask God to fulfil our need, BEFORE our greed quite simply!

    There are only two kinds of doctrine taught in contemporary churches.

    1. Man-made doctrine, which is heresy. (Mark 7:1-9-13... 9 And He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.....13"making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.)

    Man-made doctrine is found in catechisms, creed books, and church statements of faith.

    2.The word of truth, which is God's word. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.)

    The word of God is found in the Bible and the Bible alone.

    Some believers proclaim that in order to be saved, men must go to a mourners bench, repent and pray until you feel saved. Still other believers assert that men need to go to a so-called altar, in front of the church building, and pray a sinner's prayer in order to be saved. There are those that believe salvation comes from simply saying a sinners prayer, and having a repentant heart. Is this heresy or truth? Where are the Scriptures to support these doctrines? There are no Scriptures, there are only handed down traditions of men

    Jesus said, Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

    Was Jesus a heretic for saying "Is baptized will be saved?" Or was Jesus speaking the word of God?

    The apostle Peter said, 1 Peter 3:20-21....were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    Was the apostle Peter a heretic for saying, "Which now saves you, namely baptism?" Or was Peter speaking the word of God?

    Ananias said, Acts 22:16 'And why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

    Was Ananias a heretic for saying, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins?" Or was Ananias speaking the word of God?

    The apostle Paul said, Ephesians 5:25-27 ...just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, 26 that He might sanctify and cleans it with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.

    Was the apostle Paul a heretic for saying. "sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word?" Or was Paul speaking the word of God?

    The apostle Peter said, Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Was the apostle Peter a heretic for saying, " Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins?" Or was Peter speaking the word of God?

    There are only two choices. 1. Man-made doctrine, or 2. The word of God.

    (All Scripture from: NEW KING JAMES VERSION)

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  4. Paul, Jonh the baptist , Jesus, and all the apostoles where poor,the prophet to Laodecia, the seventh angel REV 10V7 i.e william marion branham was also poor and humble too, please brothers and sisters do not listen to this doctrine from hell, for here we have no continuing city but we seek one to come whose builder and maker is God, what is you have a house like that and Jesus was to come in the next hour you would want him to arry for you o enjoy that house...REAL christians are eagerly waiting for the coming of the LORD.