The Prosperity Gospel: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Modern day Christendom is under invasion by a false teaching. The teaching is very attractive to a society whose members want to call the shots, desiring to accumulate for themselves increasing wealth and material possessions; a society in which the primary focus is achieving happiness in this life.

“You have a Bible right when you plant a seed to expect the God of the universe to give you a harvest; to give you a debt-free home, debt-free cars, jobs; to give you financial interest, to make you a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” ~ Televangelist Todd Coontz as featured on bennyhinn.org.

Known commonly as the “Prosperity Gospel”, this teaching and those who promote it are deceiving Christians all over the world into believing that God exists to meet our physical and emotional needs and wants in this temporal life, most notably physical healing and the accumulation of wealth. They attempt to support their doctrine with Scripture, albeit via significantly errant interpretations of several key passages of Scripture.

Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary David W. Jones wrote a piece entitled 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel for The Gospel Coalition. Jones states that the prosperity gospel has its doctrinal roots in God’s covenant with Abraham discussed in the book of Genesis.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to Jones, Prosperity Gospel teachers misinterpret God’s covenant with Abraham to be about blessing him and his descendants with material wealth; that God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendants was simply that they would be rich! Both Orthodox Christianity and Prosperity Gospel proponents teach that all believers are children of God’s covenant with Abraham; thus, we all participate in the blessings that God promised in this covenant. Prosperity Gospel proponents err in their understanding of what construes a “blessing” in this context. This blessing is not about material wealth or personal happiness. The blessing is about our perfect rescue from the eternal consequence of sin; sin that each one of us commits daily. Sadly, teachers of the Prosperity Gospel have reduced God’s covenantal promise to nothing more than a large bank account. As a wise man once said, “you can’t take it with you.”

The Prosperity Gospel is a completely backwards understanding of God’s relationship with His creation. The “name it and claim it” ideal in Prosperity Gospel teaching says that one must have faith in order to receive the blessings of God – material wealth, physical health, and other temporal gifts. With enough faith, all one must do is “claim” or “expect” the blessings he desires and God will provide them. If the blessings don’t follow the claim, then the faith of the believer is said to be deficient – sort of like trying to buy a can of soda from a soda machine using a counterfeit coin. Since the coin is counterfeit, the machine won’t dispense the drink. Does that sound like the God of Scripture to you? God is not our cosmic granter of wishes. We exist to give praise, honor, and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Prosperity Gospel preachers tend to be very skilled in presenting their message. They speak with authority and charisma, often accompanied by colorful light displays, booming sound systems and emotional music. Todd Coontz, in preaching the message quoted earlier to a roomful of screaming admirers, was accompanied by organ music under full vibrato, as if that somehow validates his message. The package is quite attractive and the message is compelling on its surface; thus these teachers draw huge crowds. Jesus warned us about such teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15 ESV

Is calling Prosperity Gospel teachers “false prophets” and “ravenous wolves” a bit harsh? I don’t think so. In preparing this piece, I visited the websites of several known Prosperity Gospel teachers, including Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and others. Each website I visited offers a link to the teacher’s statement of faith. In a quick read, everything they say in their statement of faith appears copasetic with an orthodox teaching, but digging a bit deeper reveals the falsehood of their gospel. Benny Hinn’s statement of faith, for example, includes this statement,

“…all believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (bold text added for emphasis)

Sound good? Sure, it does! We Americans are some of the most “entitled” people in the world! No wonder people are flocking to this message in droves! Tie this statement of Hinn’s to his featuring Todd Coontz screaming “You have a Bible right…” on his home page and you have the Prosperity Gospel in a nutshell.

I have been burdened for the Christian Church in America for quite some time. As I read and learn more about the Prosperity Gospel, my burden is increased. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 ESV

Many good and decent people have been drawn into the falsehood of the Prosperity Gospel. My heart breaks for them, for the true promise of God – the promise that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross and that we believers will spend eternity in His presence – is not the focal teaching in Prosperity Gospel churches today.

What is your church teaching you? Is it teaching you that God wants you to be rich, and that your faith entitles you to wealth? Is it teaching you that lack of wealth and lack of good health are the result of a deficiency of your faith? As Coontz stated in the quote above, is your church teaching that you can be “…a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel?” Friend, if your church is teaching these things, please hear me loudly and clearly: That is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! If this is the teaching of your church, run through the nearest exit and never look back.

Here is the true Gospel: God created man in His image. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and has pervaded our existence ever since. Sin separates us from God, and because God is holy, righteous and just, He must punish all who are guilty of breaking His laws. But God is also loving, kind and merciful. Because He loves us so much, He sent His Son to die as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. Only through faith in Jesus are we washed clean from the guilt of our sins, and only through Him are we given the hope of eternal life in God’s holy presence.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

Jesus sacrificed Himself for you and for me, not so we can build wealth and gain earthly health, but so we can be saved for all eternity. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If this is the teaching of your church, you’re in the right place.

Ponder This: Which is truly the greater blessing: Health and wealth in this temporal life or life eternal in the presence our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your name is to be magnified through all the earth. Forgive our sins and grant us saving faith in the redemptive sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ. Open our eyes and our ears to Your Word. I pray for all who sit at the feet of those who preach a deceiving message. Give each of us discernment to recognize false teachings and lead those false teachers to true repentance. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Sources:

The Gospel Coalition

Got Questions.org

BibleStudyTools.com

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