One offshoot of charismatic theology, the Word of Faith Movement, claims that it is God’s will for every Christian to be materially and financially prosperous. Not all who embrace charismatic theology accept this premise. In fact, most charismatic leaders reject it as unbiblical. This teaching, however, is flourishing in many churches and parachurch ministries, involving millions of Christians who — to varying degrees and often without realizing it — have bought into the destructive lie of prosperity theology. As such, it is a topic which needs to be addressed.
Who Is Teaching What?
What are prosperity preachers teaching?
- “Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. Invest heavily in God; the returns are staggering. Every man who invests in the Gospel has a right to expect the staggering return of one hundredfold” (Kenneth Copeland, Laws of Prosperity, p. 67).
- “Poverty is caused by sin and disobeying the Word of God” (John Hagee, Praise-A-Thon, TBN, April 16, 1993).
- “Cash is king! The hundred fold works. ‘If I give $50 you mean God will give me $5000?’ Yes! If you give $1000 in the offering this morning, will God give you $100,000 by tomorrow? Yes!” (Jesse DuPlantis “The Choke Hold,” The Church Channel, January 24, 2004).
- “Poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous” (Benny Hinn, TBN, November 6, 1990).
It has been said that the devil will put a teaspoon of truth in an ocean of lie. This is what makes all forms of heresy so dangerous; they contain an element of truth. What makes prosperity theology seem credible is that the Old Testament often links material wealth to God’s blessing (Genesis 13:1-7; 1 Kings 3:13; Job 42:10-17). But God also warns of the dangers of wealth (Deuteronomy 8:7-18), as well as noting that sometimes the wicked prosper more than the righteous (Psalm 73). Solomon was praised by God when he asked for wisdom instead of riches (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). Prosperity preachers never seem to quote verses such as:
“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Proverbs 23:4-5).
“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men — a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires, but God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction” (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2).
We live in a culture which is materialistic and narcissistic to the extreme, and now we have a theology to accommodate our greed. If material wealth is a sign of God’s approval, then despots such as Hitler, as well as drug lords and immoral rock stars, are on God’s A-list. And if (as prosperity preachers assert) poverty is a result of sin, then Jesus, the apostles, and Paul must have been wretches. Jesus had no home (Matthew 8:20), and those who would follow Him must be prepared to give up everything (Matthew 16:24-25). Paul suffered the loss of all things in order to follow Christ (Philippians 3:7-8; 2 Corinthians 4:11-13). The Christian life is the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrifice — not the jet-setting high life.
Did You Know?
Based on a study by Dr. Carol Nickerson, those people with high financial aspirations are typically less satisfied with life two decades later–no matter what extent of monetary gains they’ve acquired.
On Whose Authority?
Prosperity theology is not known for its accurate interpretation of Scripture; its methodology is highly subjective and arbitrary. Leaders habitually appeal to extra-biblical revelation received directly from God to support their teachings. If their teaching conflicts with Scripture, then the preacher usually assures his audience that he has it on good authority, directly from God, that his teaching is the right one. By comparing their “revelations” with the Word of God, one finds that the source is all too human. Passages are frequently pried from their historical context and manipulated to fit the prosperity message. Not only does prosperity theology deny the sufficiency of Scripture, it implicitly rejects the sovereignty of God. Instead of man existing to serve God, God exists to serve man by granting him his every demand, provided the demand is accompanied by sufficient faith. God is relegated to a divine butler who is obligated to fulfill our every desire.
God or Man-centered?
In the book of Job, Satan asks God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9).
Prosperity theology envisions God as a tool to be used and manipulated as a means to a worldly, materialistic end. At its core, prosperity theology is man-centered — seeking the exaltation of man, not God. We make all the demands and God provides all the service. Apparently, God’s reason for existing is to give us what we want. It encourages self-indulgence, not self-sacrifice. It incites covetousness, not contentment. The faith of less prosperous believers is called into question, and they have heavier burdens placed upon them.
Prosperity or Perversion?
The Apostles Paul and Peter had hard words for those who supposed that the gospel was a means to material gain (1 Timothy 6:3-6). The Bible tells us to be content with food and shelter, but prosperity preachers say otherwise. The love of money and riches is condemned by God, yet these teachers praise it (1 Timothy 6:8-10). Peter warned of false teachers who “in their greed they will exploit you with false words,” and “entice by fleshly desires” (2 Peter 1:3, 18).
These purveyors of prosperity pray on the desperate, the gullible, and, for the most part, the uneducated. They offer a “get rich quick” scheme with little or no effort on our part. Just send your money to them, (not your local church), and presto-changeo, you are on easy street. Prosperity theology totally changes the motivation for Christian service and giving. The motivation becomes one of tit-for-tat, quid pro quo, give to get, rather than a means of worship.
I was once watching a TBN fundraising event where the viewers were being asked to call in and pledge their debt. If they sent TBN the amount of their debt, then they were promised God would pay off their debt, all backed up by viewer testimonials of course! This kind of manipulation and exploitation is immoral and predatory.
The Christian View of Wealth
When compared to the rest of the world, the poorest of Americans are wealthy. When we are faithful in our giving, God is faithful to bless us. This is an undeniable teaching of Scripture (2 Corinthians 9:6). However, God does not bless us with wealth in order to live extravagant lifestyles, as do all the prosperity preachers. If we faithfully sow the seed which God has given us, He will cause it to multiply so that we might have more to sow, not consume (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).
The means which God has ordained for the growth of his church, not our personal portfolios, is the faithful stewardship of his servants. Prosperity theology is not Christian, and the message it preaches is “another gospel.” The Christian’s true riches await him in heaven.