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June 25, 2012


The Prosperity “Gospel” v. the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Have you ever prayed with someone who “claimed” or declared that God would heal you or work some miracle or provide some material benefit?

Have you ever expressed discouragement or sadness only to be shushed up by a well-meaning believer worried that your negative words might interfere with God’s blessing?

Have you ever been told that sickness, poverty, or pain is “never” of God?

Has someone ever suggested that your negative circumstances are the result of your “lack of faith”?

If so - and I’m guessing you’ve answered “yes” to at least one or two of the of the above questions - you’ve had a taste of the “prosperity gospel”.

The prosperity gospel is a serious distortion of the real gospel but it can be difficult to spot because many prosperity gospel claims and propositions are subtly couched in biblical language and supported with biblical texts.

Because the prosperity message has so much in common with “positive-thinking” spirituality and self-motivational techniques which appeal to basic human longings for success and happiness, promoters of the prosperity gospel like Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Benny Hinn, and the Trinity Broadcasting Network enjoy great prominence and popularity in Christian circles and beyond. And because of its pervasive contemporary influence many Christians - including no doubt many Anglicans - have innocently and unknowingly adopted some prosperity gospel thought patterns and prayer habits.

I’ve done my best to lay out the major distinctions between between the real gospel and the counterfeit prosperity gospel below. The first section outlines the prosperity gospel in 7 points. The second section contrasts the prosperity gospel with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Prosperity Gospel:

1. God wants you to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and emotionally happy all the time and he has empowered you to be so.

2. You can have health, wealth, and happiness by using the power by which God himself calls all things into being and that power is “faith”.

3. “Belief” or “faith” is a positive energy force that you can direct by the sheer power of your will in order to claim and receive what God wants you to have (see #1).

4. Through “faith-filled prayer” you lay claim to your faith dreams. Pray for health, wealth and/or happiness and then “believe” (see #3) you’ve already received what you’ve prayed for.

5. If you have enough “faith”, then “prayer” (see # 4) will be successful and you will get whatever you asked for because “the prayer of the faithful man availeth much” (James 5:16) and Jesus promised that “whatever you ask for” in his name he will give to you (John 14:13).

6. An essential characteristic of true “belief” is “living victoriously”. The one who lives victoriously will give far more money to the church than he can afford because he has “faith” that God will return his investment tenfold. For the same reason, he will purchase things he cannot afford “on faith” that God will “provide the increase”. And he will promise to do things he physically cannot do because, of course, God will heal all his infirmities.

7. If you’re not healthy, wealthy, and emotionally happy it’s because your “faith” is too weak. You have not laid claim to your inheritance. You must work harder at #‘s 3,4, and, especially, 6.


Here are some of the many conflicts between the prosperity gospel and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

1. The prosperity gospel presents Jesus as merely the means to the greater ends of material health, wealth, and happiness. Jesus claims that he is our health, wealth and happiness. He is the ultimate end and satisfaction for all our desires and longings (Matt 6:19-21; 13:44-46; John 6:35; 14:6). True health, wealth, and happiness cannot be found in this world.

2. The prosperity gospel claims that suffering is never God’s will. But Jesus himself suffered and calls his disciples to take up the cross, forsake the world, and be prepared to suffer as he suffered (Matt 16:24-28; John 15:18-20). Moreover, the Apostolic writers tell us that God often ordains suffering as the means by which he sanctifies his people (2 Cor 1:3-10; 1 Peter 4:12).

3. The prosperity gospel teaches that faith is a positive force. The New Testament teaches that faith is trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. It is his power and promise upon which we lean not the power of our faith (Romans 3:26-28, Ephesians 2:1-8).

4. The prosperity gospel teaches that praying in “the name of Jesus” assures that you will get what you ask for - as if using the literal name of Jesus mechanistically forces God’s hand. But the New Testament teaches that praying in “Jesus’ name” means praying for things that accord with his revealed will and purposes (1 John 5:14). Since the prosperity gospel replaces God’s revealed will with worldly prosperity the prosperity system does not produce prayer in Jesus’ name.

5. The prosperity gospel encourages adherents to give in order to get. The New Testament presents generosity as a gift in and of itself - an outpouring of the love of Christ. Disciples do not give to get they give because they have already “gotten” the greatest treasure of all (2 Cor 8:1-7).

6. The prosperity gospel teaches that God’s miraculous work is necessarily tied to the strength of human belief. The Gospels show this to be a lie. While Jesus at times requires that people trust in his power to heal before healing, at other times he simply decides to heal regardless. Dead people, for example, do not have the power to name nor claim anything, and yet Jesus raises them (Luke 7:11-17). And he decides to heal people who neither ask for it nor believe it can happen (John 5:1-9). God’s power to heal and deliver does not depend on human faith.

The comparison above is not and cannot be exhaustive. Nailing down the prosperity gospel is notoriously difficult, like nailing jello to the wall, because there are so many flavors and strands and there’s no comprehensive confessional or doctrinal material. But the thrust of the prosperity message - God wants you to have your best life now - is easy to spot once you understand it’s basic outline. It’s important to spot since prosperity thinking trades on false hope, luring people toward the mirage of material health and happiness and obscuring the pathway toward the only One in whom true life and hope is found.


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17 comments

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions… (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV)

downer

[1] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 6-25-2012 at 09:57 AM · [top]

Two very different views of happiness. The Bible doesn’t promise us the happiness of fulfilling our desires but rather the joy of fulfilling our purpose, which is communion with God. The Bible also tells us that this is infinitely more wonderful than anything we could think to ask for ourselves.

[2] Posted by Ecclesiastes 1:18 on 6-25-2012 at 10:30 AM · [top]

Humanity has had “itching ears” since the beginning of time.  It does seem much worse these days though.

By the world’s standards, Paul and John the Baptist would not be considered “successful”.  John the Baptist wore animal skins and ate wild honey - pretty weird stuff.  Paul survived numerous shipwrecks and prison stays. 

But they did God’s will - they served God with distinction.  That is what we are called to do, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

[3] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-25-2012 at 11:15 AM · [top]

The Prosperity Gospel and the Name it and Claim it by Faith teachings are two heresies that go hand in hand.  However, it is not necessarily correct that those who are Charismatic are likewise connected.  One can be Charismatic and also biblical centered and as such reject the above heresies.  I am a Charismatic priest who has been refuting the Prosperity Gospel and the name it claim it heresies for years.  Yet, I do embrace the person and work of God the Holy Spirit in the Church today and the Gifts as God chooses to distribute them in His Body today.

[4] Posted by Creighton+ on 6-25-2012 at 12:00 PM · [top]

I am certainly no fan of of the Joel Osteens of the world, but I do think we need to take seriously the words of Jesus like “When two or three are gathered in My Name, I will grant their requests,” or Jame’s statement that “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

IT seems to me that these are just a couple of the promises we have which tell us that the exercise of our faith in prayer will indeed have positive results. Of course, I also firmly believe that our healing may also include our dying, and like Paul, it may not result the curing of our disease.

But we cannot ignore these promises.

desert padre

[5] Posted by desertpadre on 6-25-2012 at 12:11 PM · [top]

No doubt God can heal and Jesus promises to answer prayers in accordance with his will. But we do not know when God will determine to heal someone and we cannot be sure that his will is always to do what we want him to do so it is presumptuous IMO to “claim” a healing or declare a sickness gone or tell someone that if they only gin up enough “faith” God will do this or do that.

There are prayers we can pray with absolute confidence:


Lord please make me more and more like you.

Please help me to want what you want.

Please forgive my sins.

Please give me everything that you know I need.

etc.

[6] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-25-2012 at 12:41 PM · [top]

Some good observations. There are different versions of the prosperity Gospel and spiritual healings. Ernest Holmes, the Fillmores, Quimby, Quimby imitator Eddy, et al take metaphysical approaches which I suspect even they would not consider to be “Gospel” but practical. With Jesus, the relationship is the reward. Promises to fulfill prayer in Scripture seemed to be linked to (1) mission (that is furthering the work of spreading the Gospel), (2) glorifying the Father thru the Son, (3) forgiveness of others and of self (which requires repentance), and (4) acceptance or pre-acceptance of the accomplishment (thanksgiving and release). People, in my opinion, come to church for comfort and not for truth. Of course, there is no real comfort without truth. My view is that we (faithful to the Gospel) need to be compassionate and welcome those seeking comfort and then explain the comfort and peace that comes from truth. There is an opportunity to build upon the many that flow thru those prosperity Gospel churches, for their sakes and for ours. There is a saying in some metaphysical circles that no one is more messed up than a messed up metaphysician. I can personally testify to that.

[7] Posted by Don+ on 6-25-2012 at 01:10 PM · [top]

Nothing that a dose of Simone Weil can’t clear right up.

[8] Posted by The Plantagenets on 6-25-2012 at 02:48 PM · [top]

Matt+
Thy will be done.  I have heard this called the prayer that never fails.

[9] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-25-2012 at 04:03 PM · [top]

Thank you so much for this post. I have been trying for some time to make clear in my own mind what seemed so wrong about prosperity gospel. I got a belly-full of it on the Oprah show, when that was on (my partner loved that show).

The idea that “you create your own reality” (something I observed in action back in the EST days of the 1970’s) means that any hardship, suffering, want or need you experience is your own fault, you are to blame, etc. Heaping further suffering on the already miserable. Comfortless, or anti-comfort, however you might put it. It is really seems to me be a very mean-spirited way of substituting one’s own false god for God.

Seems like the first commandment (of the ten, that is) has always been one of the easiest to mess up. I’m sure I’ve spent a lot of time wanting God to want what I want for myself, rather than asking God to help me want what He wants for me! From there, the path to “prosperity gospel” thinking is pretty doggoned easy to fall into. And PG is another way of falling short when we were asked to “judge not,” though that may be not entirely to the point. Have to mull that one further. So, thanks again for the post. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

[10] Posted by ears2hear on 6-25-2012 at 06:31 PM · [top]

A few nights ago I had trouble sleeping and turned on the TV in the middle of the night. I came across programs plugging “no evil oil” and “miracle spring water” as well as one urging believers to “sow a $1,000 seed.” What about those who don’t have $1,000, or won’t after they pay the rent on the 1st? Does that preacher believe they’re not entitled to be blessed, or was he too busy strutting around in his suit, which appeared to have cost at least $1,000, to answer that question?

I believe the Lord provides and heals and is still in the miracle business, but I also believe He is sovereign. The latter is something “prosperity doctrine” preachers have apparently forgotten.

[11] Posted by the virginian on 6-25-2012 at 06:35 PM · [top]

Matt+, thank you, this is a topical issue in many parts of the world.

The Lord has almighty power to help his people in all kinds of ways.  There is no limit to that power and He exerts it as He wills.

But the emphasis always has to be on “as He wills”.  He always knows best, and no matter how much “faith” we show in a desired outcome, that is no guarantee that He will act in that way. 

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ” [Daniel 3:16-18]

That is true faith - that God can do all things, that He knows what is best, and that He will deliver us if that is the best thing.

[12] Posted by MichaelA on 6-25-2012 at 06:54 PM · [top]

Matt,
There is a name I would add to your list. Joseph Prince is another prosperity gospel preacher with an enormous following world wide. I wrote an article on his distortion of the Law and have finally had to shut down discussion on that thread. Prince is connected to the faith movement. I think his real distortion is to attempt to uncouple the Old Testament from the New Testament by saying the Law is part of the old covenant and no longer in effect. These preachers also want to ignore the traditional teachings of the church.

[13] Posted by Fr. Dale on 6-26-2012 at 06:47 AM · [top]

“.... is a serious distortion of the real gospel but it can be difficult to spot because many .....claims and propositions are subtly couched in biblical language and supported with biblical texts.”

Sounds like an apt description of Calvinism. OR any ism…
This is not about a prosperity Gospel - but about a way of seeing God. Is He sheer WILL or is He Love? Granted there are extremes in every worldview - using the extremes to be the norm is, well, lets just say - not honest. Like me saying AW Pink or John Gill are the best definitions of Reformed thought.

[14] Posted by BrandonS on 6-26-2012 at 05:10 PM · [top]

Hi BrandonS

“Sounds like an apt description of Calvinism. OR any ism”

Nope…that’s a cliche…there are plenty of good and biblical “isms” - Trinitarianism for example. Calvinism is another.

I’m not sure exactly what your point is, but using a cheap slogan to support it isn’t exactly helpful to your cause.

If you disagree with the points above why not martial actual arguments to demonstrate your point?

[15] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-26-2012 at 05:26 PM · [top]

Thank you Kennedy+ for addressing this topic. I’m afraid the prosperity gospel in some form or another is a major (if subtle) problem in every stripe of Bible believing church I’m familiar with (including rigorous Reformed types).

One of the Scriptures that has been really powerful for me on this issue is the prayer that we’re given by God to pray in Proverbs (our Lord repeats this prayer in short-hand in the Lord’s Prayer).
Prov 30:6-8“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
  do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
  give me neither poverty nor riches,
  but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
  and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
  and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Basically, God’s Word tells me to pray for Him to withhold any outward blessings which would hinder my spiritual well-being just as hard as I pray for Him to keep me from a state where I lack my “daily bread” (ie pray for “daily bread”—no more, no less). That meant I had to leave it to God to determines exactly what was too much or too little for me (of course, the Scripture tops this off with many commands of “laboring not to be rich”).

I think a good example (among many) of the need for God to withhold outward blessings is St. Paul—God withhold the healing of the thorn in his side in order for him to not be lifted up (ie spiritual health and prosperity is infinitely more important).

I’m not advocating for people to stop praying for healing, Paul certainly didn’t—just that God knows best what we need, so it’s always best to leave it in His Hands when we pray. We need to know how to be abased as well as to abound (I naturally prefer to focus on knowing how to do the latter properly)—but God still knows what outward blessings need to be withheld/thorns need to be left in for us to have the greatest degree of spiritual health and spiritual wealth. 

God Bless,
WA Scott

p.s. I must say that one of the places the rubber meets the road on this matter to me is in the (embarrassingly) high salaries of leaders in many fine churches and ministries.

p.p.s. I’m afraid my schedule won’t allow me continue contributing to this thread.

[16] Posted by William on 6-27-2012 at 07:37 PM · [top]

As usual, I should have read through my post before sending. Apologies for all the sloppy writing, etc.

[17] Posted by William on 6-27-2012 at 07:43 PM · [top]

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