The Anatomy of the Prosperity ‘gospel’

We need the grace of God to deal with the life & death stuff.

The heartbreak of broken relationships, the devastation of disease, the anxiety of economic hardship, the pain of abuse, the sorrow of death … thank God, the hope of the gospel in Christ is big enough for the life and death stuff.

Though this world is broken because we are sinful, God will restore it because He is gracious.

We live life in between the “already” of what Christ accomplished at the cross and the “not yet” of what He will accomplish with His return. We need God’s grace for suffering.

The Scriptures continually reveal that God is with us to comfort us and strengthen us with His grace through our suffering.

But what happens when the scriptures are wrongly interpreted and the church is taught that suffering is abnormal for Christians?

What happens when those who were taught that divine health & wealth are God’s will, find themselves struggling with their health or never amass wealth – no matter how much praying, confessing and financial ‘sowing’ they do?

The gospel is not a set of spiritual principles that we access, activate or set into motion. The gospel is good news that we believe, rest in and are changed by.

Now before I continue, I want to be clear that this is not an outside academic critique. Sadly, I am well versed in the teaching I am about to criticize, because I taught it years ago.

I’m not writing this because I am angry, but because I am burdened.

I’m burdened by the hurt and confusion that lingers in the hearts and minds of those deceived by the prosperity ‘gospel’.

My intent here is to quickly highlight the fundamental problem with this teaching so that those who are burdened by it can be freed from the guilt and confusion it produces. I also hope that anyone who is unknowingly raising their children in this teaching will see it and run from it.

A Historical Snapshot of the Heresy

EW Kenyon was a pastor who attended the Emerson School of Oratory in Boston in 1892 to improve his oratory skills. The New Thought Movement was in full swing during the time he studied at Emerson. Kenyon’s later teachings on positive confession, faith & healing borrowed heavily from New Thought influence. [a]

You are probably unfamiliar with Kenyon, but you would be very familiar with the prominent teachers who adopted his doctrine, popularized it and monetized it. Some examples would be Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, John Osteen, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and Robert Morriss, to name a few.

Kenyon gleaned from metaphysical cult ideologies on positive confession, healing and deism – the idea that the spiritual world could be bent in favourable ways toward you through the power of positive thinking. These ideas became his filter for how he understood the incommunicable attributes of God in scripture, and so he wrongly applied them to man.

For example, Kenyon asserted that the creative power of God’s speech meant that our speech had creative power – because we were made in God’s image. The scriptures teach that God spoke things into existence (Heb 11, Ps 33) but Kenyon and his followers taught that man could speak things into existence through confession – like healing.

Orthodox Christian scholars rejected Kenyon’s views because they maintained the creature/Creator distinctions outlined in scripture, but the notion of being mini gods drew many people embrace Kenyon’s ill advised conclusions on the power of human speech acts. The “positive faith confession” was born.

The Christian Supermen: divine health

Kenyon claimed to have ‘continued revelation knowledge’ via open visions. He believed that God revealed a special teaching to him that was not given to the apostles in scripture. This new teaching would create ‘spiritual supermen’.

To quote Kenyon:

“..when these truths really gain the ascendancy in us, they will make us spiritual supermen, masters of demon and disease … it will be the end of weakness and failure. There will be no struggle for faith for all things are ours…we go out and live as supermen indwelt by God.” [2]

I will take a moment to quote Kenyon describing how he claimed to have received his teaching gift. I do this because his further work reveals that this ‘direct download’ method was how he claimed all his future ‘revelations’ outside scripture were true:

I’d been lying down. I walked across the parsonage to get a drink of water. When I returned from the living room, something dropped down inside me. It just clicked down inside of me like a coin drops inside a payphone. I stopped dead still. I knew what it was. It was a teaching gift. The anointing to teach dropped inside of me. I said, “Now I can teach.” [3] 

Suffice it to say, the scriptures do affirm that we serve a God of miracles. However, His miracles have always been and remain to be, by His will.

Does God heal and do miracles today? The scriptures allow us to say yes, but God is certainly not obligated to respond to our faith or our positive confession. God moves according to His will, not man’s.  To read more on healing, I have provided a link at the bottom of this article. [3b]

Kenyon’s unorthodox teaching lead to the birth of the ‘Word of Faith’ movement. The foundational teachings of the movement were that both healing and prosperity were always God’s will. The only thing that stood in the way of a Christian becoming a spiritual superman was their lack of faith.

The proponents of the movement maintained that believers who had enough faith, kept a positive confession and gave a minimum of 10% of their income to their churches would walk in divine health and have divine wealth. [1] This baptized American dream gained significant momentum in the 70’s & 80’s led by Kenneth Hagin who popularized Kenyon’s teachings, captivating an entire generation of young preachers who were attracted to the message.

The Christian Super Rich: divine wealth

Kenneth Hagin followed Kenyon’s teaching so closely, some of Hagin’s early writing was nearly verbatim to Kenyon’s. Like Kenyon, Hagin also claimed to have open visions. This new revelation added the divine promise of “wealth” to Kenyon’s divine promise of “health”: Hagin wrote …

“The Lord said to me, which is not for my benefit but for yours, if you learn to follow that inner witness, I will make you rich. I am not opposed to making my children rich. I am opposed to them being covetous. I have followed that inner witness and He has done just what He said He would – He has made me rich.” [4] 

In July, 1985 the leaders of the Word of Faith movement gathered together to form a Network of Christian Ministries (NEM). There was a growing excitement to spread this newly revealed health & wealth ‘gospel’ teaching across America.

Later that same year in a publication entitled ‘New Wine’, Kenneth Copeland encouraged all the Word of Faith teachers who were now coming together, to accept one another’s ‘revelations’ from God. Copeland wrote:

There is a place of revelation and revival that none of us can get to until we get together. We have a revelation of different truths that God has restored to the body of Christ, but there is a deeper revelation to come because no one has ever seen Him in the fullness of His stature.” [5a]

Now, if one consults the scriptures, they will find that we have seen Him in the fullness of His stature:

“Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” ~ Jesus (John 14:9)
“For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells.” (Colossians 2:9)

(Copland continued) ... “I’m going to need your faith to help me get what else God has for me. You’re going to need my faith to get what else God has for you.” [5b]

What ELSE?

What else is God going to reveal to His church other than Christ, the subject of all scripture (Luke 24) and in whom the ‘fullness of diety dwells’ ?

Religious Entrepreneurs with Business Plans

I’ve intentionally gone to the roots of the movement because like a virus, it continually mutates. Modern teachers attempt to use more palatable language but at the root, they teach precisely the same thing.

For example, one of the newer voices of the movement, Robert Morris does this. While his teaching shares it’s doctrinal origins with Hagin, he uses words like “provision” not “prosperity” and “blessed” not “rich”.

Hagin had no problem telling you that God wanted him to be rich.
Morris softens it and prefers, blessed.

He begins his “Blessed Life” series by saying that the blessed life is more than money, but then dedicates nine more teachings to explain that you can’t get God’s blessing without giving Him your money.

Like his theological predecessors, Morris confusingly mixes the Old and New covenants together. He shares lengthy testimonials about people whose lives turned around after giving money to the church, and the stories do a good job of distracting the listener from the contextual error in the texts he uses as the premise for his teaching. When his verbal shells game stops and he calls the church to action, his underlying doctrine is identical to Hagin, Copeland, and every other prosperity preacher before him:

God wants you to have health & wealth, but God readily curses your health and wealth – unless you tithe. Morris further warns his church that God’s curse extends from their bank account to their marriage, their kids and their health.

Does the New Covenant teach that Christians live in a place of constant, pending curse if they don’t keep the tithe as per the Mosaic worship law? No. Paul actually went to great lengths in a few of his epistles to teach that Christ fulfilled that law and we are no longer bound by that law. In Christ, it has been altogether retired.

Ironically, Moriss’ “Blessed Life” is propelled by avoiding “Heaven’s Curse”.

If a person, from sheer thankfulness for the gospel of grace, chooses to give 10% of their income freely to preserve the preaching of the gospel by establishing the church, that’s wonderfully generous – but that is not what the proponents of the rebranded ‘provisional gospel’ are teaching.

The insistence that the church is bound to keep part of the Mosaic law in order to keep God’s curse at bay is an announcement of ignorance. The Old covenant is clear: keeping part of the law is not keeping it. Theological consistency would mean that if you require your church to tithe, you must also require they keep the whole law.

Morris appeals to Abraham to argue that the tithe is still required because it was before the law – which it was. That is also a self refuting argument because he is now requiring the church to do something that was not a law when Abraham did it, but is somehow now a law, after Christ fulfilled the law.

Again to reiterate, tithing in and of itself is not wrong. To tithe freely is generous but to require it from fear of punishment and the desire for reward is false teaching, entirely erasing Christ’s work of fulfilling the law and ignoring the implications of the New Covenant.

The proponents of the movement were successful in getting the masses to believe that their tithing was directly responsible for their continued health and wealth, which led to more perverted teaching around finances. ‘Faith’ offerings targeted those who desired breakthroughs in their health or wealth.

“If you’re believing God for something, sow a seed. Got a need? Sow a seed.” I’ve heard it and I’ve taught it. Christ have mercy. Does God release physical healing or financial breakthroughs in response to His people giving Him money? Is that New Covenant theology?

This practice is nothing new. It’s an ancient practice called a pagan votive offerings. If you needed health, wealth, crops, love, wisdom etc… you would go to the temple and give money to the corresponding gods of those blessings.

Sufficient Grace for Those who Suffer

As I said in the beginning, I haven’t written any of this because I’m angry. I’ve written it because I’m remorseful that I used to teach it and burdened that the movement is prevalent, making a mockery of the gospel in this country.

I have spent a lot of time in hospitals over the years with Christians who struggle to find rest in God because this false teaching claims that Christians should not suffer. They can’t rest in God’s strength made perfect in their weakness, because in the back of their mind, the heresy whispers, “You should be in health. You shouldn’t suffer. What have you done? What haven’t you done?”

I’ve attended funerals over the years where believers sat numb, heads spinning, feeling guilt because they think that if they only had more faith, things would have turned out differently. They can’t find peace reflecting on how united to Christ, this life is not all there is. In the back of their mind, the heresy torments them, “If you had enough faith, they’d still be here.”

I know people who grew up hearing about God’s ‘looming curse’ and, being afraid of divine cursing, gave money they couldn’t afford because they feared the curse of this twisted, graceless, Christless interpretation of the Christian God. They felt like second class citizens because though they continued to give, they struggled to make ends meet. They knew unbelievers who were both healthier and wealthier than some of the suffering Christians they knew and they had a crisis of faith.

I know young people who walked away from the church from sheer logic – not because they don’t believe in a resurrected Christ – but because they saw through everything. The spiritual ponzi scheme nauseated them. They looked out at the suffering world around them and decided that if this was what Christian faith was, they didn’t want anything to do with it.

To the Christian who is suffering in their health:

God is not mad at you.
He’s not cursing you.
Your sin didn’t do this.
Sin did this: to the world.

Sin ruined everything & God is restoring everything.
You are in Christ, and His grace & peace is toward you.
God’s love is toward you.
His power is in you – strengthening you, lifting you head.
Even in this.

“… My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ II Corinthians 12:9-10

To the Christian who can’t make ends meet:

A financial breakthrough is not pending the next big ‘faith offering’ you give to your church. Fending off Old Covenant curses and getting financial blessings is not why the New Testament church gives. We give from sheer freedom to celebrate God’s grace. We want to preserve the preaching of Christ in our city by establishing Christ’s church. We freely give generously, even sacrficially – but that’s it.

Look at your budget and give what you can.
If you can tithe, that’s generous.
If you can’t, you can’t.
Christ fulfilled the law – breathe.

There is no curse.
Either Christ took all of the curse or none of it.
He certainly didn’t take part of it.

God did not pour out some of his wrath on Christ and reserve some of it for you if you don’t tithe. That is New Covenant, grace erasing nonsense.

Christ took all of God’s curse so you could know all of God’s grace.

Maybe you’re in a terrible financial position because of the economy, poor decisions you made … or both. Trust God, live responsibly with your finances and above all – know that because you are united to Christ, God is on the other side of every decision you make and He is working it out for your good and His glory.

Take heart – your life is in really good Hands.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spinyet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
~ Matthew 6:25-34

Press on,

Paul

[a] “A Different Gospel” D.R McConnell p.18
[1,2] “A Different Gospel” D.R McConnell p.21
[3] “A Different Gospel” D.R McConnell p.61
[3b] Article On Healing
[4] “How to be led by the Spirit of God” Kenneth Hagin, p.33
[5a,b] New Wine #18, “Equipping the Saints”, Copeland, 1986, p.16

A DIFFERENT GOSPEL:
A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Word of Faith Movement:
http://www.amazon.com/A-Different-Gospel-Updated-Edition/dp/1565631323

2 Comments on “The Anatomy of the Prosperity ‘gospel’

  1. This is a great read Pastor Paul. And very true. I think the long term effects of the ‘prosperity gospel’ (if someone doesn’t get out of that mindset quick and see it for what it is) can be the disenchantment of the true beauty of the ‘Real Gospel’.

  2. Love this. Reminds me of what Andrew Farley said about the prosperity gospel – it doesn’t add more to Christianity, but sells it way short. When we compare the promises of health and wealth compared to the person of Jesus, unfortunately many of us lean towards to the former. Even those promises can’t deliver.

    If we’re not preaching a message that’s incredibly good news for every person in every circumstance, we’ve lost the gospel.

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