Why I Believe in the Gospel of Prosperity
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
(3 John 2).
We all want to enjoy good health and we all want to prosper, so what is wrong with the prosperity gospel? Surely the good news of Jesus Christ, as evidenced in the quote above, is that we shall enjoy these things? The backlash, and the interest in my articles on Creflo Dollar, has been phenomenal. The Destiny/Dollar Fall Out Continues There are many comments, accusations, misunderstandings and questions. I think that the key one is the request that I provide some teaching on what the difference is between the Prosperity Gospel and what the bible actually says about prosperity. After all it is clear that riches are not always a curse!
I believe in the gospel of prosperity. I believe that our heavenly Father richly provides us with all things to enjoy. I believe that health, wealth, peace, sex, wine, music, relationships, government, art, food, and many other things, are gifts from God given that we may richly enjoy them. (1 Timothy 6:17). I believe that along with Christ, God graciously gives us all things (Romans 8:32). In other words, in answer to the somewhat accusatory question, “Don’t you believe in blessing?” the answer is, “Yes, I do Believe!” I believe in the Gospel of prosperity and blessing. Let me also say that I consider it a great privilege and blessing to be rich – and in terms of most people in this world I consider myself to be rich – and am thankful to the Lord for it. Confessions of a Rich Pastor
Whilst wrestling with this, my psalm of the day put it well:
Psalm 128; 1-2
“How blessed are all who fear the Lord,
Who walk the way that he has shown.
Success and blessing will be yours,
You’ll eat the fruit that you have grown”
All of Gods gifts are good, but if they are perverted, abused or infected then they become destructive idols.
The Healthy Church
I believe that God wants his church to be healthy. That is why I do not believe in and indeed oppose the so-called Prosperity Gospel. Sometimes in Scotland we have been infected with legalism, other times (and especially today) with the deadly disease of theological liberalism. Even as I write I do so with sorrow having heard of yet another ‘Evangelical’ who has sold his gospel soul for a mess of liberal porridge. But there is another infection that is just as deadly to the Lord’s Church in our beloved land – and indeed to the ends of the earth – that is the Prosperity Gospel. In the air it is fed by God TV and other Christian media organisations who promote the likes of Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and the House of Bethel etc. On the ground, it is promoted both by some established churches but more often than not by new ‘apostolic’ networks whose empire building ambitions seems to know no limits.
To be honest, I think this prosperity teaching is even more deadly than liberalism or legalism, because it appears so attractive to Christians who are fed up of the deadness, coldness and lack of success they have so often experienced. It offers life, warmth and power. It brings full churches, dynamic worship, mercy ministries, international impact and success. What’s not to like?! It is often brought to us by charismatic (in the non-theological sense) leaders who have endearing personalities, winsome ways and whose teaching contains some great gospel truths which help us and feed our souls. Admittedly there are some things we are not over comfortable with, but then the Lord never meant us to be comfortable, did he? He challenges our Scottish reservedness and brings us into pastures newer and greener. Anyone who challenges this ‘new apostolic movement of the Spirit’, is tied into an old narrow, traditional denominationalism and is in danger of opposing the work of God. God is doing a new thing. God is raising up a new work. God is doing a greater thing now than he has ever done before. Don’t you want to be part of it?
It all sounds so great. But there is another side.
I have been contacted by people in the past week who have been through the whole process. Yesterday I sat with a man who told me of the damage that had occurred to him after attending one of these Prosperity Gospel churches. He told me that every one of his friends within it had since left and some had left the faith. They were tired of the spiritual authoritarianism and the abuse – not least in the Ponzi scheme of finance. The journalist who contacted me was a former member of one of these churches who lost his faith once he came to understand how rotten at heart the whole scheme was.
The spiritual authoritarianism occurs when a church leadership, desperate for new revelation, turns away from the bible. Of course, they never actually say they are doing that. In fact they say the opposite, but the reality is different. The bible is old. It is not contemporary enough. It doesn’t really speak a direct word to my needs, unless it is adapted and twisted beyond all recognition. Once a people reject the bible, or more likely just use it as an illustration book from the past for the ‘current word from the Spirit’, it means that the pastor/prophet with ‘the apostolic anointing’ becomes THE authority. What he says, God says. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to disagree with the anointed leadership. I recall listening to a sermon from a leader of one of these churches who spent 5 minutes telling people that God forgave them for their adultery and 25 minutes warning them about the deadly sin of going against the Lord’s anointed (i.e. his church leadership!), for which there was apparently no forgiveness. It is a system guaranteed to bring spiritual abuse. In 35 years of ministry I have come across far more Christians badly wounded and damaged by this kind of spiritual authoritarianism, than I have anything else. If it is not checked it leads to a kind of charismatic cultism that is spiritually oppressive rather than liberating.
And then there is the finance.
It’s always about the money. This is what we mean by the Ponzi scheme. You tell people that if they give generously and sow their financial seed they will reap a great harvest. So people give large sums of money because they expect to get lots back with the added bonus of blessing the Gospel. The church (and the paid leaders within it) benefit but ultimately it is the poor who suffer (apart from those who get the mega publicised charity handouts from the dregs of the offerings).
That is another thing I hate about this teaching and its practice – the way that they use the poor to raise funds for their own salaries. Is there anything more nauseating that Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer etc. posing besides starving, sick children whilst asking you for money to help these kids – knowing that some of the money goes into ‘administration’ and will be used to pay for their inflated salaries, private jets and $18,000 commodes! Instead of Creflo Dollar asking his congregation for $65 million for the latest private jet so that he would not have to be too inconvenienced by having to go on a donkey/greyhound bus/commercial plane, why not give the money to the poor, or to church planting? This is a satirical site but there is truth in humour – Creflo Dollar Denies Self
I know of people who have mortgaged their houses, sold their goods and given sacrificially to the church. In one sense that is completely admirable but not a) if they have been fooled and b) if they give because they think it is some kind of investment. Sow your seed and you will get much more back. As I heard one woman ‘prophet’ proclaim in Kirkcaldy, “You put £10 in the bucket, you will get £100 back.”
One disillusioned former member told me of how he questioned the constant emphasis on money, only to be told that every time they preached on money the giving in the church went up 20%. Don’t get me wrong. We should teach about money (I think I err too much the other way) and we should encourage sacrificial giving, but we need to do so in a biblical, humble and God honouring way.
Which brings me to the Word of God.
I do believe that God speaks today but not in the, “I am the Lord, I am with you, you have something wrong with your bladder,” type of banal ‘prophetic’ utterance which one so often hears. Usually this is a combination of Isaiah and a list of bodily parts, relationship dramas and pithy clichés – brought together with the 1950’s Hebrew ‘Ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong, shabba, shabbathani…’ gobbledygook that passes for the spiritual gift of tongues. I am convinced that God is sovereign and he can speak in dreams, visions, tongues etc. but that his normal way of speaking to us is his Word – the Bible. It is not some dry-as-dust book that needs to be jazzed up with our embellishments and additions. It is the ‘more certain’ living and enduring word of God, which is as direct to us now as it was it the days of Moses, David, Jesus and Paul.
So in that respect I turned to the Word after a weekend of getting battered, being told to keep quiet, warned publically about speaking in public (the irony of that seemed to be lost on the warner!) and feeling I was out of my depth. And there I read 1 Timothy 6 which warns us about teachers who think that ‘godliness is a means to financial gain’…which exhorts us ‘if we have food and clothing we will be content with that’ and that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’. How does this apostolic injunction fit with this?
I also read Ecclesiastes 6 which talks about the futility and fickleness of wealth – this from the richest man in the world of his time.
“Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied.”
Public statements have been issued by those who are, apparently unashamedly, bringing Creflo Dollar here to the effect that 1) those who are criticizing are ignorant and 2.) we have all been urged to listen to his wonderful teaching.
Well, I made a mistake. I had heard enough but decided to go back for more and once again I was fed with entertaining, well presented, nice sounding, spiritual garbage. Creflo’s favourite illustration of the moment appears to be that of God being like the power company that provides the electricity to your home. All you’ve gotta do is flick the switch.
“God heals and delivers everywhere, every time like gravity. It’s a law. All you gotta do is flip a switch….. if you don’t flip the switch you gonna stay sick and broke.”
So all you sick people out there….all you poor people out there….all you dying people out there….its all your fault. It’s your sin and your refusal to believe that prevents you being healthy and wealthy. Of course some of you may not know about this teaching, so that’s just ignorance. But if you come and hear this life giving, faith affirming, teaching from Pastor Dollar you will receive – of course it will cost you and will help his ministry by demonstrating that he too can be rich!
I turned from this muck to a real teacher of God’s word – John Flavel. I am reading through volume 5 of his works at the moment and as it happens I have just read two of his sermons to seamen, talking about prosperity. It is balanced, biblical, compassionate, realistic, heart-warming, Christ-centred teaching – here are some gems from it. Enjoy the champagne of Flavel and leave the poisoned sugared water of Dollar….
The first sermon was on Deuteronomy 8:17-18 “17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
So that it is an undeniable truth, that prosperity and success are not to be ascribed to our abilities, but to the blessing of God upon our lawful endeavours….
Though Providence do succeed and prosper your earthly designs, yet this is no argument at all of the love of God to your soul: you may be the object of his hatred and wrath for all this. No man knows either love or hatred by all that is before him Ecclesiastes 9:1. How weak an evidence for heaven must that be, which millions now in hell have had in greater measure than you have? The least penny of grace is a better pledge of happiness, than the greater sum of gold and silver that ever lay in any man’s Treasury. Externals distinguish not internals? You cannot guess what a man’s spiritual estate is, by the view of his temporal.
Do not be proud of outward prosperity and success; for providences are very changeable in these things; yes, it daily rings the changes all the world over.
Exercise fear in prosperity, and think with yourself, when your heart is most affected with it, that while the boast is on your lips, the scene may alter, and your happiness be turned into sorrow.
Oh consider, when God has prospered your estates abroad, and you return successfully home, how you have an opportunity of honouring God, and evidencing your sense of his goodness to you, by relieving the poor with a liberal and cheerful charity…
Let not your heart be satisfied with all the success and increase of the world, except your souls thrive as well as your bodies, and your eternal concerns prosper as well as your temporal. 3 John: 2
And then this one entitled – The disappointed seamen from Luke 5:5 – 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
In warning about the dangers of material prosperity Flavel states:
How soon would sensuality and earthiness invade their hearts and affections? Much prosperity, like the pouring in of much wine, intoxicates, and overcomes our weak heads and hearts. Earthly, as well as heavenly objects, have a transforming efficacy in them; there is much danger in those earthly things that give or promise us much delight. Can a Christian keep his heart as loose from the smiling, as from the frowning world?
How soon would it estrange them from their God, and interrupt their communion with him? He’s certainly a very mortified and heavenly Christian, whose walk with God suffers no interruption by the multitude of earthly affairs, especially when they are prosperous.
He had rather you should miss your desired comforts in these things, than that he should miss that delightful fellowship with you, which he so desires.
And then in speaking about the evils of wealth…he talks about how material prosperity often brings about the following:
1) irreligious and atheistical neglect and contempt of God and his worship, especially in those that have been enlightened, and made profession of religion.
2) Injustice and fraud – how much have we seen that in the Prosperity churches.
This is not the way to feather, but to fire your nest. A quiet conscience is infinitely better than a full purse; one dish of wholesome, though coarser food, is better than a hundred delicate, but poison dishes.
3) Oppression is a blasting sin to some men’s estates and employments..
4) Falsehood and lying is a blasting sin to our employments…. The God of truth will not long prosper the way of lying; one penny got in by a laborious hand is better than great treasures got by a lying tongue: take heed you seek not death by seeking an estate this way. It is a sin destructive to society; for there is no trade where there is no trust, nor no trust where there is no truth; and yet this cursed trade of lying creeps into all trades, as if there were no one living without lying: but sure it is better for you to be losers than liars. He sells a dear bargain indeed that sells his conscience with his commodity.
5) Perjury, or false swearing is a blasting centre.
He then goes on to prove that material wealth is not an infallible mark of the Lord’s blessing, just as poverty is not a mark of his curse.
And, in the first place, if you be one who fears God, consider, that disappointments in earthly things fix no mark of God’s hatred upon you
Yes, we often find success and prosperity following the wicked, while the rod of God is upon the tabernacles of the righteous
It is not the increase of an estate, the blessing of God upon a competency, that makes our condition comfortable to us. As the estate enlarges, so does the heart.
Reader, I advise you, under all disappointments of your expectations, to bless God for any comfortable enjoyment you have. If God give you a smaller estate, and a contented heart, it is as well, yes, better than if you had enjoyed your desire. The bee makes a sweeter meal upon two or three flowers, than the ox that has so many mountains to graze upon..
It is interesting that Flavel does argue for Gospel prosperity but in a very different way from Dollar and our contemporary prosperity preachers. He does so on the basis of something that they have long since rejected – the principle of the Sabbath.
Isaiah 58: 13
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honourable,
and if you honour it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Of course in Dollar’s world the fourth commandment has long ago been relegated to the category of by gone law that we need no longer apply (after all it would get in the way of our shopping, sports and other activities).
I have noticed that the prosperity of which the Bible often speaks includes many things but especially just being in the presence of God and vindicated by him.
“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues: you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues.”
Finally I want to apologise.
There are those Christian brothers and sisters who have been really upset by what I have written. In their view, although they don’t agree with Dollar and don’t think Destiny should have invited him, they think it is a minor disagreement that should be kept in-house. They don’t want to speak out and they think I am wrong to do so. I apologise for anything I have said that is wrong, or not from God. I apologise for the manner which sometimes people perceive (rightly or wrongly). I plead with you not to look at the messenger but to hear the message. Weigh it. Consider it. And do so not because of the personalities involved or the feelings you have – but weigh it by the Word of God.
As for me, I am compelled. I cannot do anything else. I believe and witness the devastation that this teaching wrecks on the church and fellow Christians within my own country. I am appalled that we (I can no longer just blame the Americans) are exporting it elsewhere – to India and Africa. Again it is the poor who suffer and it is the rich who reap the rewards and then claim that it is the blessing of God. This is not the Word. This is not the Gospel. This is a perversion and distortion of the Word. We must not drink or teach such poison, no matter how sweet it tastes. And we must not implicitly endorse it by our silence.
2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear
(2 Timothy 4)