The Heresy of the Prosperity Gospel

Credit: New York Times

A distressed parishioner arrives at the offices of the church where he is a member. Today he has an appointment with Pastor Jim to discuss some problems that he and his family have been having. “Pastor Jim, I just don’t know what to do. I have been praying hard for God to bless my family but we just can’t seem to keep our heads above water. We are living paycheck to paycheck and some months the ends don’t even touch.” Pastor Jim ponders Joe’s problem for a moment and says, “Well, have you been giving your tithe to the church?” “Well, to tell the truth, we haven’t been able to afford to do much. We normally at least put a twenty in the bucket…”

“But that’s not enough! You have to give to the Lord’s church! You have to bless Him in order for Him to bless you!” Joe looks startled at Pastor Jim’s response and, with tears in his eyes, makes a promise to be better at putting more money in the offering bucket. “We will give until it hurts! I may have to skip a meal in order to afford to give as we should but if that’s what I have to do in order for God to bless us with a lot of money I will do it.”

Pastor Jim smiles. “Good! There’s also a prayer you can pray and other words you can speak over yourself and your family that will cause God to open the flood gates of His blessings! They’re all in this book. Give the secretary a check for $29.99 as you leave.” Soon after Joe leaves, Pastor Joe leaves for the day and heads home in his Mercedes to his million dollar mansion, both bought and paid for by the church.

The above is a completely hypothetical situation but it is one which likely plays out in churches all across our country and, increasingly, the world. Well meaning people, mainly people who are below or near the poverty line, want God to bless them. However, their idea of a blessing from God is in the form of making them rich, giving them every little thing they ever wanted, big houses… all for the glory of Jesus. They feel that if they are good enough, give enough and speak certain prayers or “declarations” over their lives that God will be forced to grant them their every want. Unfortunately this is the heresy being taught in these churches by many self-appointed men and women “of God” who prey on these vulnerable people who are hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families by the power of Jesus’ name.

Some call this “name it, claim it” theology” Some call it “the prosperity gospel” or “word of faith.” No matter what name one gives it, I call it heresy. The purveyors of this false theology are nothing short of predators who take advantage of at-risk people and laugh all the way to the bank while the poor stay poor. The result of this is a rich “pastor” and parishioners of their churches who are becoming increasingly angry at God for not giving them what they feel is their blessing.

There is no doubt that you have seen books of people such as Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar (note: This is not an attack on these particular people, rather I take issue with what they teach) and many others who claim that one can become successful and blessed by praying certain prayers, “speaking” blessings on your life and by giving money to their ministries that God will bless you with riches beyond your wildest dreams. This is nothing new, of course, but in these days of “want and woe” there seems to be more of this heresy invading everyday life. I can’t go a day without logging on to social media and seeing people quoting these books in hopes of themselves receiving blessings in the form of an increased bank account or a new toy. My first experience with this crock was when I was in my first year or college. It was during this time that the Prayer of Jabez, found in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, became famous.

Jabez was more honored than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I bore him in pain.” Jabez called on Israel’s God: “If only you would greatly bless me and increase my territory. May your power go with me to keep me from trouble, so as not to cause me pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 CEB)

An author by the name of Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book based on this scripture. Wikipedia says:

In the book, Wilkinson encourages Christians to invoke this prayer for themselves on a daily basis:

I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

The book became an international bestseller, topping the New York Times bestseller list[1] and selling nine million copies. It received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Book of the Year award in 2001.

So let me get this straight: By praying this prayer, Wilkinson claims that one will never want for anything or have any bad experiences? I call shenanigans. Life experience tells me that this is not true. The only thing this did was make Wilkinson a rich man from selling books as well as items such as keychains, art prints and even mouse pads.

This teaching does nothing but relegate God to the role of a genie whose job is to grant our every wish. Scripture is twisted to make their context fit the agendas of those who preach it. And what do they do? Laugh all the way to the bank.

This false doctrine harms people and makes a mockery of God. God is not going to grant our every wish just because we want them. God does provide for our needs and wants to bless us but this does not mean He wants to make everyone rich. Material wealth is not an indication of one’s relationship with God. The fact that someone is poor does not mean that their faith is not strong enough, that they have not prayed the correct prayer or that they have not given enough money to their local megachurch. Adherents to this teaching are made to feel inadequate and unloved by God if their bank account is not big enough or their car not flashy enough.

I thank God that He is in the business of granting something much more important and more valuable than a large bank account or a new SUV. He grants us something we do not deserve and something that can not earn by giving money to a preacher or buying his book. He may not give us our ever whim but He does give us grace. Grace, grace, marvelous grace. I am more thankful for this than I ever could be for something I could ever hold in my hand or spend. I am happy that He loves me and you enough to make us into a new creation with His unlimited supply of grace.

Our worth in God’s eyes is not measured in dollars and we should not measure how blessed we are by the size of our bank account. Instead, we should take just a moment and simply say: “Thank You, Lord,  for Your grace.”

If you want to read the article that does a much better job at explaining why the prosperity gospel is heresy, check out this posting by Pastor Rick Henderson on The Huffington Post.

Jonathan

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