Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Prosperity Gospel

The so-called prosperity gospel has a bad rap, partly for good reasons and partly for bad reasons.  It enabled a large part of the Christian community in the Western world yet another reason to look down on charismatic Christianity, and allowed large camps of both fundamentalist and liberal Christianity to have a common enemy within "Christendom."  The prosperity gospel grew out of an apparently controversial belief that God wishes his children to "prosper and be in health."  Fundamentalist and liberal Christianity thus formed an even bigger tent with atheists and humanists who believe that if there is a God he was only interested in healing sickness while Jesus was walking the earth as a means of advertising for the "good news."

Even free market advocate Jay W. Richards gets in a dig on the down-and-out "prosperity gospel":
Except for preachers of the misguided “prosperity gospel,” however, many of us still worry about capitalism. Some of the problems result from the word itself, which can conjure up images of greedy and cackling moneychangers.
However, in the wake of a time where many Christians were much more focused on dreams of comfortable living than they were on blessing others with those resources, even many who still believe that God wishes people to be healthy will now shy away from the idea that God wants people blessed with resources.

Seemingly disenchanted over a time of relative financial hardship, in which he was sorely tempted to believe that God wanted prosperity for him, Pastor Rick Henderson criticizes the popular Joel Osteen openly on HuffPost, quoting the following from Osteen:
If you are believing for your child to find God, go help somebody else's child to develop a relationship with God. If you're struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have ... if you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others ... If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well. - Your Best Life Now, pp. 224, 250-51
I think it's interesting that Henderson singles this passage out as dangerous false teaching.  "Joel [Osteen] teaches that we open ourselves to God to get more from God."  Is what Osteen has described here a bad thing?  Isaiah 58 seems to be describing (and prescribing) this very thing for those who have been fasting for deliverance:
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
Sounds very dangerous to me.  People might start helping other people just to get God to bless them when they read this message from Isaiah.
This is not the Gospel. This is a false Gospel. Joel [Osteen] teaches that we open ourselves to God to get more from God. He teaches that we use our words to speak into existence a better reality. This straight from the Word of Faith Movement. This is not what is taught throughout the New Testament. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote.
Henderson goes on to quote Paul's epistle to the Phillipians.  Is that the only commentary by Paul about finances?  Paul speaks elsewhere of God being "able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work." He speaks hear of good works requiring material abundance, and speaks of God wanting his church to be "enriched in everything for all liberality."  He also speaks some words that Pastor Henderson might find objectionable with regard to the "enrichment" that will befall the servant who has been faithful in little:  "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."

Jesus himself tells his disciples, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." What are "all these things"?  Food, drink, clothing.  And he speaks of his disciples being not just being compensated in the age to come, but in the present time as well.  When Jesus says, "Give and it shall be given you," why isn't he worried that the hearers will give just to receive?   And why does Paul enlarge upon this expectation with being "enriched in everything" by telling us that "he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully"?  Sowing for the wrong reason much?

I doubt that any of the modern-day Christians I've quoted here have given everything to the poor in order to follow Christ, expecting to be reap without sowing as the birds of the air.  The timeline in the canonical New Testament writings has the early church starting out in the same "shared purse" existence that characterized the roving band of disciples that followed Jesus around.  Later, presumably as believers realized that messianic perfection would not encompass the earth for some time yet, like the Pilgrims of old, they started tending to their own:
But if any does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8)
Apparently, some people were inclined to take advantage of the generosity of the church, and it was easier to have people providing for their own first and then with the surplus of their household wealth, to demonstrate God's grace through their giving.  

Many want prosperity in lieu of contentment.  According to the New Testament, this is a path of covetousness and envy.  Jesus spoke of the spiritual walk being inhibited by the "deceitfulness of riches."  The illusion that wealth is the answer.  The illusion that one is self-sufficient.  The illusion that wealth is tantamount to the approval of Heaven.  Many want abundance without freedom from the illusion. They don't want "abundance for every good work."  They want "all sufficiency in all things" instead of relying on a spiritual Source, and Jesus warned that Mammon competes for one's ultimate allegiance.  How does one  expect to be enriched for all liberality without a hear that truly seeks first the kingdom of heaven.


Ironically, in a time when the irreligious and humanistic wish to obligate Christians legalistically through a bizarre conflation of church and state, there is an increasing incitement to envy.  The heirs of Marxism have made 'Thou shalt covet' the central commandment of the new state religion, with its own "health-and-wealth" prosperity gospel.  Marxism was materialism, and all collectivism has exalted the material and endorsed envy.  It has exalted Mammon and despised contentment.  Its kingdom is of this earth, and Jesus said that his was not.  

But history has shown that any good idea from the New Testament can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or abused.  It is certainly possible that people can understand various teachings in such a way to try to manipulate blessings from Heaven that their hearts are not ready to steward.  Christians should be mindful to be less covetous, to be as faithful as we can with what we have, to discern real need from false, and to be generous with one's own resources rather than with another's.

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