Friday, May 10, 2013

The Prosperity Gospel and why it isn’t the Gospel



When they came to arrest Him in the Garden:

  • Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns." (Luke 22:52-53)
It is also in the darkness that the cults reign. None of them encourage the light of reason. If anything, they discourage it lest their manipulations come to light, and lest it be seen that their teachings fail to match up with Scripture. Those who lead false revivals often have counseled that the use of the mind is at odds with the operation of the Spirit. One visitor to the Anaheim Vineyard church reported this admonition:

  • “And above all, don't try to rationally evaluate the things you will see. God isn't trying to reach your mind; He wants to reach your heart. Analyzing spiritual phenomena through the grid of human logic or religious presuppositions is the quickest way to quench what the Spirit is doing. Subjecting the revival to doctrinal tests is the surest way to put out the fire. Don't try to find reasonable explanations for what is happening; just turn your heart loose and let the Spirit flow through your emotions. Only then can the Spirit have His way in your life.” http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil//articles/laugh.htm
According to this Vineyard church, our minds are worse than a hindrance; they are an insurmountable obstacle to God’s purposes! However, the false revivalists conveniently leave out a number of verses like the admonition to love the Lord with all of our minds (Mat. 22:37) and to exercise discernment – testing all things (1 Thes. 5:19-21).

The prosperity ministry – the name-it-claim-it preachers – would have us simply ignore or dismiss the truth. Joel Osteen had taught:

  • “Our words are vital in bringing our dreams to pass. It’s not enough to simply see it by faith or in your imagination. You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it.”  “Just look in the mirror and say ‘I am strong, I am healthy. I’m rising to new levels, I’m excited about my future.’ When you say that, it may not be true. You may not be very healthy today, or maybe you don’t have a lot of things to look forward to, but Scripture tells us in Romans we have to call the things that are not as if they already were.” (CRJ, Hunter)
Scripture never gives us the license to play fast-and-loose with the truth. All truth is God’s truth. It belongs to Him and we are not at liberty to tamper with it. He tells us that He requires truth in the depths of our being:

  • Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)
Our Lord wants us to reside in the light – in the embrace of wisdom. Using our tongues to distort the truth is simply not part of His program for us. Telling others that we don’t have cancer, when we do, is a refusal to walk in His light. It will also bring disrepute upon the church!

Instead, our tongues must be servants of the light – the truth of God. Therefore, they must always speak the truth, as James instructed:

  • Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
When we use our tongues in a presumptuous manner by claiming that we will get rich through trading or that we will obtain a certain blessing that is not Scripturally guaranteed, we speak evil and “boast in arrogance.” Instead, what we say must always conform to the truth. According to James, we are a mere “vapor.” Therefore, we are in no position to make arrogant claims about the future!

Osteen claims that Romans 4:17 gives us the license to speak as if we have things that we really do not as yet have:

  • God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did. 
Indeed, God has the power to call things into existence by speaking. However, there is nothing in this verse to suggest that we are endowed with such power. Instead, James claims that we are not so endowed.

Prosperity preachers also resort to Proverbs 18:21 to prove that we have been given this power:

  • The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
However, this verse falls far short of affirming that our tongues have supernatural power to call things into existence. Yes, the tongue does have “the power of life and death,” but this is a psychological or interpersonal power. Our words can build people up or tear them down. We can instruct others in the way of truth or the way of deceit.

Prosperity preachers also misdirect their audience away from the true Gospel. They encourage us to seek the wrong things, as James claimed:

  • When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
What are wrong motives? Self-gratification! This is not to say that our God will not provide gratifying blessings. He will! But this should not be our focus. Instead, our focus must be His kingdom and righteousness. As a consequence, He’ll give us everything we truly need (Mat. 6:33).

Instead, prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar defined the Gospel this way:

  • “What’s the Gospel to those who are poor? Prosperity! What’s the Gospel to those who lack? Prosperity! And if you don’t preach it, then you won’t be able to do anything about it, then you won’t be able to do anything about the poverty situation.” (Hunter, CRJ, 24.)
However, the Gospel is not a matter of prosperity. The Book of Hebrews informs us that, often, the exemplars of faith fell far short of prosperity:

  • They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:37-38)
Instead, according to Paul, the Gospel is about contentment:

  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:6-9)
Contrary to the prosperity gospel, Paul wrote that the desire for prosperity is “harmful” and can “plunge men into ruin and destruction.”

The prosperity ministry also fails to recognize the need for suffering and brokenness. Paul wrote that:

  • Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. (2 Cor. 4:16-18; NKJV)
According to the Gospel, trials are necessary for growth into Christ-liken-ness. Our “renewal” can only take place as we look in faith towards the heavenly and not the hope of earthly prosperity.

The prosperity ministry is popular, but will it build up the body of Christ? Does it arm us with truth or a set of unrealistic expectations? More importantly, is it faithful to our Lord and His Word? Let Scripture by the judge!

2 comments:

  1. There is alot of truth in what you're saying, but a couple of misunderstandings. The Bible says "Let the weak say I am strong". It is true that when we say we don't have cancer when we know we do, that is a lie and misleading. But it is also a truth to say, "God is healing me" when people ask how you are doing, and say nothing more. I do believe the power of life and death is in the tongue. When you change your words, it is a form of cognitive therapy. If you can't stop your fear about your illness, you can at least stop speaking about your illness and confess that God is healing you. And then He can decide on whatever way He wants to heal you. When I was having fibromyalgia symptoms, I started saying, "God is healing me". It enabled me to get my mind off of my problems. It enabled others to have conversations with me that weren't about my illness. And I found that when I stopped thinking about my symptoms and started having fun for a couple of hours, all my symptoms left. This is a particularly important strategy with pain. To stop talking about your pain and start engaging in other things very, very often lessens your pain level. So the issue you are writing about is a complicated one. I have also found very messy theology in the Vineyard. But I don't know if I would go so far as to call either the Vineyard or prosperity theology a cult. There is truth in some of what they say - just not the whole truth. And they do not starve people and do mind control, as cults do. This article that you have just written also does not represent the whole truth about the subject, as written in the verses "Let the weak say I am strong" and "the power of life and death is in the tongue". I don't think you are trying to start a cult. People are human and they make mistakes. That doesn't make them a cult.

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  2. Tammy,

    God had been very gracious to you, and you learned to not to use your tongue sinfully, in a way that opposes His Word. For this, I am glad. However, I don’t think that God gives us license to tell untruths, whether to ourselves or others. You cited:

    • Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

    However, there is no reason to think that this power is supernatural. The tongue does have power. We can build up or tear down others with our tongue. We can honor God with it or dishonor Him with it.

    You also cited, “"Let the weak say I am strong." Without looking at the context, I would simply observe that we are indeed strong in the Lord (2 Cor. 12:10-11). Therefore, to say this, we are not bending the truth. This is in accord with our faith.

    God wants truth in our deepest recesses (Psalm 51:5). To use our tongue untruthfully is to bring dishonor upon the faith.

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