Is Prosperity Theology Sound Doctrine

Posted Wednesday May 10, 2017 by Moderator

Recently researching the topic “prosperity theology” I’ve pulled statements from various sources with a bit of my own editing to produce “Is Prosperity Theology Sound Doctrine?”

Prosperity theology (sometimes called the prosperity gospel or the “health and wealth” gospel) is a Christian doctrine which claims the Bible teaches that financial blessing is “the will of God” for Christians. The doctrine teaches that through faith, positive speech, and laws of giving & recieving, you will increase one’s material wealth.

Some of its proponents teach that the doctrine is an aspect of one path to Christian dominion or over society, arguing that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today. Others view a path of greater anthropological influence over society, thus adopting the theology. The doctrine emphasizes importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. The atonement is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith.  The doctrine tends to view the Bible as the “contract” between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver his promises of security and prosperity. Confessing these promises to be true is perceived as an act of faith, which God is obligated to honor.

Wealth is often interpreted in prosperity theology as the blessing from God, obtained through the activation of spiritual laws, by the use of positive confession and visualization. This process is often taught in almost mechanical terms; Some hold that prosperity is governed by laws, while other teachers portray the process in formula. Journalists David van Biema and Jeff Chu of Time have described prosperity teachings about prosperity as an inviolable contract between God and humanity.

Prosperity theology teaches that the Bible has “promised” prosperity for believers, so positive confession means that believers are just speaking in faith what God has already spoken about them. Positive confession is practiced to bring about what is already believed in; faith is used during confession, and speaking it brings it into reality.

Prosperity theology teaches that God “empowers” his people (blesses them) to achieve the promises that are contained in the Bible. Because of this, suffering does not come from God, but rather, from Satan. Some of it’s proponents have stated, the idea that God uses suffering for our benefit is considered to be “a deception of Satan” and “absolutely against the Word of God.” Additionally, if someone is not experiencing prosperity, it is because they have given Satan authority over their lives. God will not do anything at all unless the person invites Him to.

Some holding prosperity theology argue that Jesus and the apostles were also financially wealthy, owning homes, having monetary resources and businesses. The following arguments have been offered for this claim:

  1. Jesus’ ability to travel without apparently working to earn a living for three years
  2. Jesus and the apostles references to owning homes
  3. Jesus had a treasurer (Judas Iscariot)
  4. Jesus consorting with the upper echelons of society
  5. The businesses that each of the apostles apparently owned/worked in

Some proponents teach that modern believers have access by faith to the “blessing” and if the “blessing” comes upon them, may become financially wealthy. It’s teachers assert the Prosperity Gospel is validated by the teachings of the Apostle John: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2). One teacher assirts,  “as the seeds of prosperity are planted in your mind, in your will and in your emotions…they eventually produce a great financial harvest.”

Theological criticism

Mainstream evangelicalism has consistently opposed prosperity theology and prosperity ministries have frequently come into conflict with other Christian groups, including those within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Evangelical pastors have argued that prosperity theology has little in common with traditional Christian theology. Prominent evangelical leaders, have harshly criticized the movement, sometimes denouncing it as heretical. Jesus’ teachings indicate a disdain for material wealth.

R. Kent Hughes notes that some 1st-century rabbis portrayed material blessings as a sign of God’s favor. He cites Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:25 that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (KJV) as one evidence to oppose such thinking.

The General Council of the Assemblies of God criticized the doctrine of “positive confession,” noting examples of negative confessions in the Bible (where Biblical figures express fears and doubts) that had positive results and contrasting these examples with the focus on positive confessions taught by prosperity theology. The statement also criticizes the doctrine for failing to recognize the will of God: God’s will should have precedence over the will of man, and Christians should “recognize the sovereignty of God”. The statement further criticizes prosperity theology for overlooking the importance of prayer, arguing that prayer should be used for all requests, not simply positive confession. The Council noted that Christians should expect suffering in this life, as Jesus’ disciples did. They urge readers to apply practical tests to positive confession, arguing that the doctrine appeals to those who are already in affluent societies but that many Christians in other societies are impoverished or imprisoned. Finally, the paper criticizes the distinction made by advocates of prosperity theology in the two Greek words that mean “speaking”, arguing that the distinction is false and that they are used interchangeably in the Greek text. The Council accused prosperity theology of taking passages out of context to fulfill its own needs, with the result that doctrine of positive confession is contradictory to the holistic message of the Bible.

Jim Bakker, who spent five years in prison for defrauding Heritage USA investors, says he has had a change of heart about the prosperity gospel.The same man who once told his PTL coworkers that “God wants you to be rich,” now says he made a tragic mistake. “For years, I helped propagate an impostor, not a true gospel, but another gospel,” Bakker has said in his 1996 book,  “I Was Wrong.” ” The prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of the Scripture,” he said. “My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray.”

In the book Health, Wealth and Happiness, theologians David Jones and Russell Woodbridge characterize the doctrine as poor theology. They suggest that righteousness cannot be earned and that the Bible does not promise an easy prosperous life. They argue that it is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus and propose that the central message of the gospel should be Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jones and Woodbridge see Jesus’ importance as vital, criticizing the prosperity gospel for marginalizing him in favor of a focus on human need. In another article, Jones criticizes the prosperity theology interpretation of the “Abrahamic covenant,” God’s promise to bless Abraham’s descendants, arguing that this “blessing”  is spiritual and should already apply to all Christians. He also argues that the proponents of the doctrine misconstrue the atonement, criticizing their teaching that Jesus’ death took away “poverty” as well as sin. He believes that this teaching is drawn from a misunderstanding of Jesus’ life and criticizes John Avanzini’s teaching that Jesus was wealthy as a misrepresentation, noting that Paul often taught Christians to give up their material possessions. Although he accepts giving as “praiseworthy”, he questions the motives of prosperity theology and criticizes the “Law of Compensation”, which teaches that when Christians give generously, God will give back more in return. Rather, Jones cites Jesus’ teaching to “give, hoping for nothing in return”. Jones and Woodbridge also note that Jesus instructed followers to focus on spiritual rewards, citing his command in Matthew 6:19–20 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth… But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (KJV). Jones criticizes the doctrine’s view of faith: he does not believe that it should be used as a spiritual force for material gain, but seen as selfless acceptance of God.

Paul warned Timothy about such, (1 Timothy 6:3-12). 3. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, [even] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4. He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. 6. But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7. For we brought nothing into [this] world, [and it is] certain we can carry nothing out. 8. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and [into] many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. 12. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

The pursuit of wealth is a deterred path for Christians and one which God warns about: If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus may have taught it, but he did not. The apostles emphasised contentment concerning monetary fluctuation in life’s journey.

Jesus teaches the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:19-34) 19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great [is] that darkness! 24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, [shall he] not much more [clothe] you, O ye of little faith? 31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day [is] the evil thereof.

Jesus” speaking of provision for mankind is simple and reassuring, God provides for what he creates. Verse 30 “O ye of little faith” should not be interpreted as “you lack Faith, therefore you may starve or miss the total abundance available.” Emphasising rather trusting God’s character vs worries and pursuits that the world already seeks. Jesus doesn’t suggest “positive confession” or “giving” as necessary to receive God’s provisions.

Prosperity theology, however, claims itself as the reclamation of true doctrine and thus part of a path to Christian dominion over secular society. It contends that God’s promises of prosperity and victory to Israel in the Old Testament apply to New-Covenant Christians today, and that faith and holy actions release this prosperity. C. Peter Wagner, a leader of the New Apostolic Reformation, has argued that if Christians take dominion over aspects of society, the Earth will experience “peace and prosperity”. Some Latin Americans who have embraced prosperity theology argue that Christianity has historically placed an unnecessary focus on suffering. They often view this as a Roman Catholic doctrine that should be discarded and replaced with an emphasis on prosperity. Prosperity theology advocates also argue that biblical promises of blessings awaiting the poor have been unnecessarily spiritualized, and should be understood literally.

Socioeconomic Perspective

Most churches in the prosperity movement are non-denominational and independent, though some groups have formed networks. Prosperity churches typically reject Presbyterian polity (or governance) and the idea that a pastor should be accountable to elders. It is common for pastors of prosperity churches to be the highest organizational authority figure. Critics, maintain that prosperity teachers cultivate authoritarian organizations. They argue that some leaders attempt to control the lives of adherents by claiming divinely bestowed authority and contend that prosperity theology is used as a tool to justify the high salaries of pastors.

In the United States, the movement has drawn many followers from the middle class and is most popular in commuter towns and urban areas. Tony Lin of the University of Virginia has also compared the teaching to manifest destiny, the 19th-century belief that the United States was entitled to the West. Marvin Harris argues that the doctrine’s focus on the material world is a symptom of the secularization of American religion. He sees it as an attempt to fulfill the American Dream by using supernatural power.

Prosperity theology has become very popular among poor Americans, particularly those who seek personal and social advancement. It has seen significant growth in black and Hispanic churches and is particularly popular among immigrants. Apologists for the movement note its ethnic diversity and argue that it encompasses a variety of views. Joel Robbins of the University of Tokyo notes that most anthropologists attribute the theology’s appeal to the poor—especially in the Global South—to the fact that it promising security and helps explain capitalism. Anthropologist Simon Coleman developed a theory based on the doctrine’s rhetoric and the feeling of belonging it gave parishioners.

In a study of the Swedish Word of Life Church, he noted that members felt part of a complex gift-exchange system, giving to God and then awaiting a gift in return (either from God directly or through another church member). Hillsong Church, the largest congregation in Australia, teaches a form of prosperity theology that emphasizes personal success. Marion Maddox has argued that this message has drawn a significant number of upwardly mobile Australians.

In a 1998 interview in Christianity Today, Bong Rin Ro of the Asia Graduate School of Theology suggested that the growth in popularity of prosperity theology in South Korea reflects a strong “shamanistic influence”. Bong pointed to parallels between the tradition of paying shamans for healing and the prosperity theology’s contractual doctrine about giving and blessings.

Asia’s economic problems, he argued, encouraged the growth of the doctrine in South Korea, though he claims it ignores the poor and needy. During the interview, he stated that he saw the problem beginning to be reversed, citing calls for renewed faith and other practices. Cho Yong-gi, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, has been criticized for shamanising Christianity. This criticism has focused on his healing and deliverance ministries, and his promise of material blessings. Korean Christian writer Yung Hwa has defended Cho’s healing and deliverance ministries, arguing that he successfully contextualized the gospel in a culture where shamanism was still prevalent. However, Yung criticizes Cho’s teaching of earthly blessings for not reflecting a trust in God’s daily provision and for their heavy focus on earthly wealth.

Teaching of the Prosperity Theology

The teaching is often based on non-traditional interpretations of Bible verses, Frequently quoted verses include:

  • (Malachi 3:10:) “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (KJV).
  • (Matthew 25:14–30:) the Parable of the talents
  • (John 10:10:) “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (KJV).
  • (Philippians 4:19:) “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (KJV).
  • (3 John 2:) “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (KJV).
  • (Genesis 1:12: ) And the earth brought forth grass, [and] herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed [was] in itself, after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. (KJV)
  • (Genesis 8:22) While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (KJV)
  • (Galations 6:7) Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (KJV)
  • (Luke 6:38) Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (KJV)
  • (1Kings 17:7-16) “Elijah and the widow womans barrel of meal and cruise of oil”