The Prosperity Gospel

This is going to be a rather short post, as I don’t feel this heresy is worth much exposure; however, I had a co-worker state that they adhered to the Prosperity Doctrine & that wealth is a sign of God’s favor/faith in God so I thought I would do a small rant on that. There isn’t much need for me to explain in my own words, as there are plenty of Christian scholars who summarize quite nicely.  Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a thorough book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford University Press) that moves beyond conventional wisdom to tell a more complex story about the movement. Part history, part theological analysis, part sociology, part ethnographic study, Blessed explores how this movement came to be, analyzes its central teachings, traces its networks, and notes its appeal. So if you are seriously interested in the most scholarly account in recent years – that’s the source for you.

The prosperity gospel exerted tremendous influence on American religious life, in part, because its largest congregations captured a significant portion of the spiritual market share. In 2010, approximately 1,300 American churches gathered 2,000 or more weekly attenders, a distinction that earned them the title of “megachurch.” [1] Faith churches crowded the upper echelon of national megachurches, claiming a high concentration of America’s largest churches. Prosperity giants like Joel Osteen and T. D. Jakes led the first and eleventh largest churches, respectively, with Osteen’s Lakewood Church doubling the attendance of its nearest competitor. Thirty percent of country’s 50 14 biggest churches followed Faith teachings. One fifth of these contained more than 10,000 attenders. (Bowler, 2010)

The Faith movement’s place at the top gave it surprising reach. The sociologist Mark Chaves of the National Congregations Study demonstrated that roughly 45 percent of worshippers attended the largest 10 percent of churches. Since the 1970s, Americans have gravitated toward the biggest churches, placing more worshippers and financial donations in fewer houses of worship. The top 1 percent alone contained 15 percent of America’s churchgoers.[2] As seen in Table 1 below, prosperity megachurches dominated the upper tiers of megachurches nationally, with more than 60 percent of their congregations exceeding 5,000 members, as compared with 12 percent of all megachurches. The average prosperity church grew comparatively larger, granting it a hefty portion of the nation’s worshippers. As the smallest 50 percent of congregations drew only 11 percent of all American churchgoers, the majority of the resources were left to super-sized congregations.[3] With a combined annual income of seven billion dollars and vast electronic audiences, American megachurches rivaled seminaries, denominations, and religious publishers as a major influence in American religious life. Hence, when the Faith movement won the pulpits of many of America’s largest churches, it gained extraordinarily wide influence.

Table 1: Prosperity Megachurch Distribution by Size Compared to Megachurches Nationally.[4]
Number of Attendees Percentage of Prosperity Megachurches Percentage of All Megachurches
2,000-2,999 16.2 53.8
3,000-3,999 12.8 19.1
4,000-4,999 9.3 11.1
5,000-9,999 40.7 12.0
10,000 or more 21.0 4.00

So what are the core tenants to these teachings?

1) Positive Confession: The Theology of the Spoken Word (Rhematology), or thought actualization, is commonly known as positive confession. It stresses the inherent power of words and thoughts. Each person predestines his own future by what he says verbally and by how well he uses spiritual laws. As such, it is as if we live in a mechanistic universe instead of a personal one[5]

2) The Gospel of Health: Isaiah 53 is used to justify blanket coverage for the physical healing of every Christian who has enough faith. “…it is the plan of our Father God in His great love and His great mercy that no believer should ever be sick, that every believer should live his life full span down here on earth and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus”[6]. Hagin also denies having a headache for forty-five years, labeling such as “simply symptoms rather than any indication of a headache”.[7]

3) The Gospel of Wealth: A central tenet of the prosperity gospel is that God wills the financial prosperity of every Christian. If a believer lives in poverty, he/she is living outside God’s intended will. “You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper”.[8]

These are the core tenants of the Prosperity Gospel, basically propagating that wealth and health are a sign of God’s favor; at face-value that sounds nice, as obeying the one “true” god should be rewarding right? Wrong. Theologically speaking, this life is meaningless as far as material possessions go & health decays as time lapses by default. Not only does it go against the common logic behind most of scripture, but it is rather heretical in face of scripture.

1 Timothy 6: 3-10

Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.[c] Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that[d] we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

The Prosperity Gospel is so easily deemed heretical by anyone who can actually perform an educated, objective exegesis that even the Christian Research Institute came out in a public statement against it, also exposing more fundamental concepts to this kind of theology.

It is our considered opinion that this teaching, at least in its complete form as expressed by the above men, is at best extremely aberrational and at worse heretical. (We use the term “aberrational” to refer to teaching which is decidedly unbiblical and damaging to authentic Christian faith, but which is not quite so heretical that its adherents must be considered non-Christians.) CRI has attempted to meet with these men and dialogue with them concerning their teachings, but most of them have refused. We were able, however, to meet with some of them and discuss a few of our concerns. We are continuing our efforts to engage these men in dialogue.

In brief, the teachings of these men may be summarized as follows: God created man in “God’s class” (or, as “little gods”), with the potential to exercise the “God kind of faith” in calling things into existence and living in prosperity and success as sovereign beings. We forfeited this opportunity, however, by rebelling against God in the Garden and taking upon ourselves Satan’s nature. To correct this situation, Jesus Christ became a man, died spiritually (thus taking upon Himself Satan’s nature), went to Hell, was “born again,” rose from the dead with God’s nature again, and then sent the Holy Spirit so that the Incarnation could be duplicated in believers, thus fulfilling their calling to be little gods. Since we are called to experience this kind of life now, we should be successful in every area of our lives. To be in debt, then, or be sick, or (as is often taught) be left by one’s spouse, and not to have these problems solved by “claiming” God’s promises, shows a lack of faith.  While certain aspects of the above doctrine may vary from teacher to teacher, the general outline remains the same in each case.[9]

Simple Problems for the Prosperity Gospel

Honestly, the teaching is so easily refuted it can be thwarted without complicated logic. Firstly, the theology does not address non-believers who are successful/healthy; this would be problematic considering a large majority of the world’s 1% are liberals, if not out-right nonbelievers. Hollywood needs an explanation as to its success! Disciples are called to leave all their possessions in Luke so that goes against prosperity.   The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount also go against the mindset that the Prosperity Gospel maintains – as Jesus describes virtuous life traits as a means to be rewarded, not “seed” faith.  Job is a rather old school example that God blesses, as he was rich with much livestock & family, and God also destroys everything you love – a rather contradictory story of faith, but good in symbolizing that wealth is not correlated to faith/favor for if it was, Job’s wealth would not have been effected for he was still in favor with God while being tested.

On to the ethical aspect of this whole thing; after seeing the astounding number of people that follow these teachings it seems like a real scam to know there are millions giving money they probably don’t even have in order to reap the prosperity of their “seed” faith.  This gross abuse of human willingness to hope in things needs to be exposed, and reduced in its influence; as usual I feel lack of education among the religious, in particularly education to theology. It is typically the ignorant masses that are taken advantage of, and it is becoming rather difficult to sympathize with individuals who choose to be so easily taken advantage of by such an avoidable belief system.

Lastly

Lastly, I leave you with an amazing video that not only does a fantastic job at targeting the Prosperity Gospel, but also another topic I hope to one day discuss – Tax Exemption among Religious Entities. John Oliver does a solid job destroying these religious scumbags and is pretty hilarious. I highly recommend the watch if you have not seen it.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Televangelists

Footnotes

[1] Mark Chaves, Congregations in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 17–21.

[2] Thumma and Davis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 5–6

[3] The total number of prosperity megachurches was meager in comparison with the total of megachurches (and the 335,000 of all American congregations). Thumma and Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 2.

[4] All national megachurch data used for comparison drawn from Thumma and Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 8 (see Table 1.2).

[5] See, Kenneth Copeland, Laws of Prosperity, p. 15; Charles Capps, The Tongue A Creative Force, pp. 117-118; Releasing the Ability of God, pp. 98-99, 101-104.

[6] Hagin, Seven Things You Should Know About Divine Healing, p. 21

[7] In the Name of Jesus, p. 44

[8] (Copeland, Laws of Prosperity, p. 51).– Source: Word-Faith Movement, “Other Doctrines,” a Watchman Fellowship profile

[9] CRI SPEAKS OUT ON THE ERRORS OF THE “WORD-FAITH” MOVEMENT (partial text)
1st Edition, Copyright March 1991, Christian Research Institute INTRODUCTION by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

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