Is There Really a Such Thing as a "Prosperity Gospel"?
It’s a snowy day here in New Hampshire. Not only is it very pretty, I like the mood it puts me in.
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.
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.