Is There Really a Such Thing as a "Prosperity Gospel"?

Greetings.

It’s a snowy day here in New Hampshire. Not only is it very pretty, I like the mood it puts me in.

“Chill”.

No play on words intended. OK. Maybe a little.

This article is a fuller response to a good friend that asked a few really good questions concerning the “Prosperity Gospel” and/or “Word of Faith” teachings.

Once I read them, I was immediately thinking, “These are great questions and would be a really good springboard to share a few thoughts and observations!”

The more I started to write, the more this took on its own “life”. I developed my thoughts more fully than originally intended and I was able to discuss these observations from many different angles. Expounding a little more here, changing and editing a little there, this may very well turn into a small book. Take your time going through this. There are lots of great lessons within this one big one.

It's taken me about three months to be happy enough with the article to publish it. And I am sure more tweaks are to come. So don't be in a hurry. There's enough in here to keep you thinking for awhile.

So…here we go!

Opinions Are Like…

Before we start investigating in depth the matters I want to discuss, it's going to be necessary to let you "get in my head" on a few things. Specifically, my deeply held convictions that the Word of God must be honored, and that it is not in our powers to edit what we do or do not like concerning what God has said. That we not compromise the Word of God and His standards; and when folks are manipulating and twisting things to say what they do not, something should be said.

I'll expect you to use this first section as a filter for the later parts of the study. And at some point, I'll make sure to remind you, "Hey, remember what I said at the beginning of this article?"

Everybody has something to say about everything it seems. With Google and the internet at large, certainly there is no shortage of those espousing their own qualifications and self-evaluation of greatness to bluster upon anything from politics and religion to diet and whether we are going to be returning to another ice age.

Theology certainly has no shortage of its “parking lot prophets” and exegetists willing at a moment’s notice to proclaim their insights and then with careless abandon, attach the Lord’s name to their meanderings as a personal guarantee of its correctness. And since every cake needs its icing…to ridicule and demean those who do not see things as they do.

No doubt, there certainly are “revelations” that come down the pike that can be so "out there" it seems the easiest thing to do would be to mock and have some fun with what is being taught and the people believing those things. I must admit that I am "guilty as charged" at doing that occasionally. But all of us need to be careful. We must have the filter and even restraint to be able to disagree with someone without claiming they are Beelzebub ascending from the seventh level of hell because they don’t see things quite the same as we do.

To insult and indict someone’s very Christianity because they may believe differently is foolish and certainly not going to help anyone. To do that is to imply that any other interpretation than what you believe is to the point of being heretical and of necessity should be demeaned. It shuts down a discussion before you can even start one!

"...but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good." I Thessalonians 5:21

No doubt, I get pretty stirred up when strange ideas of the Lord and His kingdom show up. I don’t apologize for that either. The Ephesian Church was commended by the Lord in the Book of Revelation, for calling out so called “apostles”, that actually weren’t apostles. They vehemently resisted the Nicolaitans as well, whom Jesus Himself didn’t have much tolerance for.

Just because something shows up in Charisma Magazine or Christianity Today, and I read both by they way, doesn't necessarily and automatically mean it is doctrinally sound. The Apostle Paul has already granted people are going to say and teach things that must be examined, and that not all of it will be correct.

I take a long time to consider and meditate and pray over what I believe (hint: you should too by the way!). We should be willing to explore the Word of God to extract even the slightest blessing from the Scriptures. But the balance, and you're going to hear this word a lot in this article, for any of us is to remember that the deepest Thinker of all (Jesus, if you hadn’t figured it out) continually simplified the concepts of His creation! So much so, He summed up access to His kingdom in, “Let the kids come and jump on my lap. This is how it’s done and it's not any more complicated than that. You don't learn this lesson on childlike faith, you won't get very far!” (Matthew 19:14).

When someone shows up on the scene claiming to have some new revelation which only complicates and confuses people, clouding our ability to walk with Christ with a childlike faith, you bet I will take issue and say something. It’s in my job description as a Pastor.

At the same time, and why I took the last couple paragraphs to say what I did, I don’t reflexively indict and then affix the “heretic” tag on the person’s forehead and question the genuineness of the person’s faith in Christ, simply because I may take issue with some of what they teach!

Remember, even the Apostle Peter had to change his theology midstream when God had granted salvation to Cornelius and the Gentiles with him. A necessary adjustment in belief and doctrine in no way means someone was previously reprobate! (see Acts 10:1-11:18)

It is in this previous context I believe we should take some time to discuss the connotations of the above terms i.e. “Prosperity Gospel” and/or “Word of Faith”, which more often than not are used as slang and contempt towards other genuine believers.

Is it possible that misusing and misapplying those terms have implanted bias's in our thinking, causing us to miss out on some really great information? Or are these folks charlatans feeding off the misfortune of gullible people looking for immediate relief or a get rich scheme God Himself came up with?

Having introduced these things, let’s get right into our subject.

Really?

"Prosperity Gospel"

Is there a real such thing?

The answer is no. Absolutely not. That term is fabricated and pulled out of thin air. You will not find one single time that the writers, specifically in the New Testament, used the term “prosperity gospel”.

OK, where did it come from then?

Well, it is generally used in one of two ways:

- As a malicious term used by some to describe the belief and teaching (which they obviously disagree with) that God wants His people to be well, have more than enough to enjoy and share freely with others, and that God can be trusted to be a Source of refuge and deliverance throughout our entire lives in EVERY adverse circumstance. That God delivers us from adversity, He is not the cause of it. That He creates to share, and that freely and abundantly! He has a big family in Christ, and He has no qualms having lots of good things under the tree for His kids! (It was the Christmas season as I started to write this, and that illustration seems appropriate)

A few names with the biggest bulls-eyes on their back being aimed at by these theological sharpshooters and assassins are folks like Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, and Joel Osteen.

So, what is wrong with believing that God is overwhelmingly good and that He loves to demonstrate in tangible ways that goodness, you ask?

Hey, don’t ask me. I will never figure out how there are those that almost in a meth like hysteria will ambush anyone believing with childlike faith that God really is good all the time and that He is continually looking out for the welfare of His people. That you can have a good life in this life, enjoying the benefits of a Father who just so happens to be God as well! (And by the way, not just in America, but wherever His children are found. Do we think for a second that God needs a record high stock market to bless someone in the most remote parts of the earth? I'll explain more later in greater detail. We will discover that "relative", is an important principle to grasp if we are going to understand these things)

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of those that equate suffering as the primary means and medal of a truly “spiritual” person. And run far and wide from any hint that God always wants to fulfill His promises to heal, save, and deliver. I'll let you in on a little something. Suffering may be the result of spirituality, but it is not necessarily the cause of it. I have been as “spiritual” having tons of stuff as when I had nothing!

- Secondly, “prosperity gospel” or “Word of Faith” thrown in there for good measure, is a term/terms used to label those who are genuinely out of balance and have misinterpreted the Word of God concerning wealth and wellness. Their interpretations are extreme and have left a wake of those hurt at best, shipwrecked in their faith, at worst. They represent our Father as Someone at our beckon call if we just put the coin in the machine with enough giving and confessing. And this particular subject, “health and wealth”, seems to draw more of this than the bugs glued to the fly traps hanging in the barn I used to own in New Hampshire in the heat of the summer!

Either way, when the above terms are used, more often than not, the phrases imply bitterness, disdain, and judgment of other brothers and sisters in Christ and complete dismissal of their beliefs.

I don’t think that is profitable, so I’ll make a couple points on why.

How Much is Too Much?

I don’t like doctrinal extremes. OK…full disclosure…I despise them!

At best, confusion about God and theological disarray result. At worst, this can be the breeding ground of cultish ideas and leaders attempting to sustain their insatiable appetites for power and control, or just plain stupidity, upon the gullible.

As a Pastor of almost 30 years, I have seen faiths shipwrecked, disciples discouraged, and the local church wounded terribly by these things. I stand amazed that it can seem at times the weirder and “out there” some ideas or “revelations” sound, the more folks run after them with the same fervor I did the neighborhood ice cream truck in July when I was five years old!

Some new guy gets talked about in Charisma Magazine, and now the race to follow the next fad begins, at the expense of discarding at times even the most fundamental and established doctrines recognized for thousands of years, that a local pastor has worked hard to instill into God’s children.

My personal “go to” solution, “filter” is a good word, is to remember the KISS method (Keep It Simple Saint).

There are multiple extremes out there. Whether it’s “health and wealth”, that is if you just have enough faith you will never get sick and God wants all of us to be gazillionaires. Or the laptop peruser sitting in their beds at two in the morning convinced they are qualified to rain brimstone down upon all they do not agree with, even upon the most influential ministries in the nation and the world. Both are out of balance and unscriptural (and in very poor taste by the way).

So stop it!

(This is totally off topic, but if you haven't seen the Bob Newhardt skit called "Stop It!", you gotta check it out. Funny but insightful as well...but I digress.)

It’s important to remember. Whether it’s about money, the power of faith, or anything else in the Scriptures, for the most part, there is always a balance. And we need to find balance in those things we believe and are trying to walk in.

I don’t like the preacher promising Cadillacs to the first five hundred givers any more than most others do. In the same breath, the idea God is all doom and gloom, or He has a personal vendetta against Cadillacs for that matter, is just as wrong. That your day cannot start until you have repented over sins you don’t even know about and have rolled around in the mud in sackcloth and ashes, is as misrepresentative of Him and His Word as thinking no one ever gets sick, or being broke is always some indication you have no faith.

So, have I proven yet I don’t like charlatans any more than anyone else? It's going to be real important you remember this as we move on.

But come on my friends…

These abusive, greedy, extreme and misdirected preachers and believers on both extremes are such a vast minority compared to the millions of those just trying to honorably serve God, disciple those whom the Lord has placed to serve beside them, and trust Him in their lives that God is good and there are benefits to serving Him.

To jump on the Jeremiah judgement train and dismiss deeply entrenched principles in the Word of God because of abuses is not wise.

Now. Are there some things Scripturally, that there is no leeway and nothing really to balance, that just “are” or "is"? Absolutely. Of course.

Here’s one:

"Hell is hot and there is no thermostat to turn the heat down!"

The reality of heaven and hell just “is”. Nothing there to balance. Like God is love, “is” and “You must be born again”, “is”.

Other than similar examples like this, there is usually some room for practical, even generational consideration’s and modifications. Eating meat or just vegetables. Married like the Lord’s apostles or going solo like Paul. Enjoying a Cabernet with your rib eyed steak or not. “Agreeing to disagree” is just fine and totally acceptable. And neither of you are burning forever in hell because of your differences.

You Smell That?

Negativity.

We all know folks that are negative, and all of us have been that way some times in our life. It's human nature. And I have an illustration which perfectly describes this in context with what I am discussing.

Negativity is like throw up. You can be in another room in your house, yet get one good whiff of the stuff, and you’ll be as sick as if you were right next to it!

In context with this article, let me define what I mean by “negativity”, and why the above illustration I used was meant to be as graphic. This is important. I’m not talking about a Charlie Brown Pigpen "woe is me" type cloud of depression around someone. Here, I define negativity as the denigration and insulting of those whom we do not agree; specifically, as far as doctrine is concerned. This type of person carries around their own “prophet rocks”, ready to condemn and stone anyone who does not fit inside their personal framework of what is God.

This type of negativity, usually masked and self proclaimed as some type of “discernment”, too often has a magnetic attractiveness to it. Sad to say, it seems that criticism and nay saying are much easier to evoke an appetite for than love, joy, peace, etc. that we are clearly instructed to filter our attitudes through.

Go on social media today, and there will be no shortage of those who having a first-grade level understanding of Christianity at best, yet have little to no hesitation to criticize, demean and dismiss everyone from the Pope to the President to Billy Graham and everyone in between. And the long line of folks ready to join the fray with their “Yeah, that’s right! Darn Christians need to act so and so!”

On the other extreme, apparently genuine Christians who proclaim those who are not aligned with them as the lone “remnant” are “The whore of Babylon and are doomed to wrath and fire and a continual bath in the vomit they returned to!”

At the same time, many of these purveyors (not all, but I'm making a point) of all that is wrong with others, saint and unbeliever alike, can’t hold down a job, are on their third marriage, are too “free” to be members of a local church and attend regularly, and balance their personal lives as well as the ballet dancer trying to do point on a beach ball!

(That was a great visual right there by the way if I do say so myself!)

Soooooooooooooo…why did I take the extended time to talk about negativity in this light and with such snark?

Because those things I just described are the petri dish and breeding ground of the terms of which this article is discussing!

The term “Prosperity Gospel” and all those like it were for the most part developed and defined in the breeding environment of immaturity and out of balance judgementalism. “Come let us reason together” is discarded for the much simpler “Crucify them!”

Have we considered, speaking of negativity and crucifixion, that LOTS of people talked negatively and ridiculed Jesus...and Paul... and most all of the Lord's faithful servants as well!

They were persecuted and even murdered as a result of lots of people speaking negatively about them. You’re not going to get any more “right” than Jesus, and they killed Him for it! A direct result of the bad press and propaganda spread by those who despised Him personally and what He stood for.

Let’s consider that the more "right" something is, and instructs us accurately concerning the things of God; do we not think Satan would bombard that very thing with negativity? Those who do not know how to disregard such things can suffer terrible loss. In the same way gigantic oil spills in the ocean saturate and cripple the wildlife it consumes, the truths of God’s word can be so drenched in religious vilification, that it becomes difficult to see the beauty and power of them. This very thing has left too many Christians in adverse situations they easily could have victory in, they just don’t know it.

“…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” Hosea 4:6

Ignorance has consequences. And if the devil can stop us from even looking at a principle in God's word because we believed the disinformation, it's our loss. And our own fault!

I can think back to one family in particular. They were faithful friends for years. Had been wonderfully blessed and ministered to at GHCC for a long time. Yet, it took just one internet article to begin a downward spiral; tragically ending their blessing to the faith community and severing friendships they had for years.

Just one article!