American Christians today live in a time of unparalleled threat to our nation’s freedom and faith. Yet, like a person eating a cupcake while standing in quicksand, American evangelicals embrace the cult of Pentecostal-born “prosperity teaching.” This heresy says that, next to salvation itself, God’s most urgent message to His earthly children is this: “Just as you like to give toys and good things to your children, so I want to give my kids wealth, happiness, and success! You will glorify Me by living a life of destiny!”
Prosperity doctrine teaches that the atonement of Christ not only saves from sin but also from poverty and sickness. When God’s children are sick or poor, this reflects poorly on Him as Healer and Provider. We must fulfill our destiny of success—by a variety of cunningly chosen good works, guaranteed to fill the pockets of prosperity preachers—or we will embarrass God.
The prosperity televangelist demands both faith and works. If we have enough faith (which they falsely define as beliefs and affirmations that deny our present, pain-filled reality) then God will come through for us. It’s also necessary to do good works. First, we must financially support faith ministries whose great success and material abundance prove they are most favored and blessed by God. The more money we sacrifice, and the more it hurts, the more God will reward us. Secondly, we must control our thoughts! Televangelists remind us that the Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Thus, our thoughts and words are incredibly powerful for propelling us toward fulfillment of our destiny of health, wealth and miracles. God wants us to repeatedly say, think and visualize the things we want to acquire. Such affirmations, called “word of faith doctrine,” have supernatural power to actualize our dreams. By turning thought control into a virtue and a spiritual demand, prosperity preachers get the congregation to repress all rational, critical thoughts—and also lay a heavy burden guaranteed to create anxiety and stress, thus further driving people into dependence on their guidance.
This is the essence of the Pentecostal prosperity doctrine that dominates most evangelical television broadcasting today. Its most persuasive spokespersons, in the tradition of Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart, include Paul and Jan Crouch, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, and Creflo Dollar - although John Hagee, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are powerfully influenced by it. A number of these and other televangelists, featured on the Trinity Broadcasting TV network, are staggeringly rich as a result of its manipulation. It is also preached in the podcasted sermons of younger pastors of the emergent church, whose theology is pragmatic, Oprah-infused and scrubbed of the true gospel.
What does this teaching, supposedly from God, actually do for the average believer in the pew or in front of the TV? Much of the audience of prosperity preachers are low income evangelicals, yearning to discover the “secret” of opening God’s windows of blessing. The prosperity preachers are not shy about flaunting their mansions and biz jets, saying “My message really works! If I can do it, so can you!” The Christian the prosperity preacher addresses may be on public assistance with unpaid bills. Still he sends the last of his monthly welfare check as his seed tithe in hope that such extreme faith will at last cause God to bless him.
Yet what are the demonstrable spiritual and physical rewards?
There are none.
This heresy places no emphasis or value on the real riches of life in Christ after the gift of salvation: a new nature. The New Testament describes an array of gifts from God, such as faith, love, peace, longsuffering patience, gentleness, goodness, faith. (Galatians 5:22) Ephesians 5:9 adds “all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Scripture describes the acquisition of the above virtues as the real, lasting and transcendent riches of the gospel. Why are they so valuable? Because when we have them we are empowered to spiritually survive and spiritually prosper, blessing God, ourselves and others. Such virtues help us not only endure the hardships of life but triumph joyfully in them. Next to salvation itself, they are the most important blessing God could give us.
In a world which is most threatening, not to our bodies but to our souls, Jesus predicted that in the last days even God’s very elect would be deceived if possible. That time is now, and money, good health and personal fulfillment will not prevent such deception. But maturity and spiritual perception will keep Christians from being carried away by the delusions of the end time. From this we can see that spiritual understanding, maturity and patience, because of their very great power to protect our souls and facilitate the salvation of others, are the real riches of God. Yet, tragically, a church used to spiritual cotton candy has little taste for spiritual meat. Yes, prosperity gospel may indeed stimulate hope and ambition and enthusiasm for material success, but teaching people how to succeed in their careers is not what Christianity is about. What Christ really wants to do for us is to remove our sin nature and bring our instincts and appetites into harmony with a God who is holy. That happens when we repent and give our lives and souls back to our Creator, actively trusting Him daily.
When we are so transformed and in communion with God, we have fulfilled our destiny. We are a success. What is made of our lives in a material sense is up to God. His Holy Spirit will show us how we are to be His missionary in the location he leads us into. Meanwhile, even if God calls us to a destiny of faith testing and resultant spiritual maturity which involves sickness, poverty, mental illness or disappointment, we rejoice in the true riches of His spiritual empowerments. Jesus is not ashamed of honest poverty. He said, “Blessed are the poor.” Nor is He ashamed of the sick. The apostle Paul gloried in the fact that God refused to heal him of his loathsome eye disease, a disease God insisted that he possess so Paul could glorify Him through weakness. Jesus and Paul knew that, out of our weakness and need to trust in God’s power alone, we find strength from God as our supplier. As a result, Paul commends the Macedonian church in II Corinthians 8:2 saying how that “in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” By that he means their willingness to give what little they had to others.
How different is this true spirituality from the phony “God wants you healthy and wealthy” message that fills the programming of Christian television today! Paul in I Timothy 6:5 derides those who, like modern prosperity preachers, teach a gospel of material gain. He describes those “of corrupt minds and destitute of truth” that are “guilty of supposing that gain is godliness.” He commands believers “to withdraw yourself from such persons," knowing that "godliness with contentment is great gain.” Paul describes those deceivers who promised deliverance but actually lead their followers into bondage. Similarly, Jesus portrayed the false religious teachers of His day saddling people with burdens too heavy to be born.
This is what Pentecostalism does. It imposes its false requirement of speaking in tongues, positive thoughts, wealth and health as indicators of God’s favor. Fulfilling these expectations is a tremendous yoke of bondage—an impossible bar— for the sincere believer, full of inevitable disappointments. Soon comes the accusation that if you had the faith you should have, God would cause you to speak in tongues. He will heal you. He will prosper you a hundredfold.
But what if you exert as much faith as you can, yet cannot speak in tongues, free your mind from intrusive thoughts, or become financially secure? You give perhaps thousands of dollars of your seed tithes to faith healers, yet you are not healed of besetting illnesses, nor are you made prosperous. Your life is more precarious because you could have spent that money on pressing needs. If you fail to receive what are described as God’s promises, what are you to conclude about yourself? It must be that you are a spiritual failure; something is wrong with your faith. Clearly, you haven't pleased God, and you become one of the have-nots of His church. The next step is probable disillusionment with what you perceive as Christianity. There are countless Pentecostals turned away from Christianity altogether because they can no longer endure the guilt which comes from being unable to perform.
Pentecostalism turns out to be a thorn of accusation, taking peace and joy from countless of its most sensitive followers. Authentic Christianity does the opposite. Jesus said that if you simply look toward Him in faith and come toward Him as a little child, repenting and trusting Him for salvation, He will receive you completely. He will give you His Holy Spirit. All God ever wanted from a human being is trust like that of a baby in its father’s arms, looking up into his eyes, confident that the father loves it and will not drop it to the ground. When we trust Jesus daily for all things, obeying Him to the best of our knowledge and ability, God is delighted. This frees Him to fully inhabit our spiritual house, our eternal soul, no matter how shambling and broken our physical state may be! Jesus promised to come and have supper with us in a lavish banquet of truly good things of spiritual and eternal value that cannot be taken away by the perilous circumstances of life.
True Christianity is not about perfecting the physical—our minds, bodies or bank accounts— but about success in the spiritual, pleasing God where He most desires to be pleased. True faith is not about denying reality or stating affirmations—“I am rich, I am destined for importance in this life, I am loved by everyone”—it is about willingness toward God. It is about trust and complete open-handedness toward God and whatever suffering He may decree for our lives. This true faith enables us to accept physical pain, depression, mental confusion, cancer, aging, debt, singleness, deaths of loved ones, and countless other human trials, without being crushed by them or ever thinking they indicate spiritual failure. Would the gentle Jesus ever add to these pains—which He Himself endured for our sake—by condemning us in them? That is unthinkable.
Christianity is truly a religion of transcendence. It powerfully leads in one direction -- toward spiritual rest and peace of soul, realization of exactly what Jesus promised when He said, "Peace I leave you. Not as the world gives, but my peace I give you."
*This article is excerpted from a larger recorded Bible study and discussion in the "Biblical Answers" section of www.truthtellers.org. For a full understanding of the errors of Pentecostalism, particularly requiring speaking in tongues, I recommend my previous Bible Study.
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