The Prosperity Gospel





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by Greg Williamson

The fastest growing segment of professing Christianity in recent years has been among churches connected with the Positive Confession movement or Word-Faith movement.

by Greg Williamson

Prosperity Gospel & The New Age

The fastest growing segment of professing Christianity in recent years has been among churches connected with the Positive Confession movement or Word-Faith movement (all part of the modern Charismatic movement). It has involved two distinct but closely related factions:  the Norman Vincent Peale/Robert Schuller Positive-Possibility thinkers/Positive Mental Attitude, with their roots in New Thought; and the Kenneth Hagin/Kenneth Copeland Positive Confession and Word-Faith groups, which have their roots in E.W. Kenyon, William Branham, and the Manifest Sons of God/Latter Rain movement. Well-known names among its leaders are E.W. Kenyon, Charles Capps, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Frederick K.C. Price, Robert Tilton, and David [Paul] Yonggi Cho.

It does not yet constitute a new denomination, but it certainly represents innovative teachings outside of mainstream Christianity. The situation is so serious now because of the dominance over the so-called Christian media achieved by the teachers of Positive/Possibility Thinking and Positive Confession.

As the name “Positive Confession”/”Word-Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. The term “positive confession” refers to the teaching that words have creative power. What you say, Word-Faith teachers claim, determines everything that happens to you. Your “confessions,” that is, the things you say — especially the favors you demand of God — must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer. Word-Faith believers view their positive confessions as an incantation by which they can conjure up anything they desire: “Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth. That is the principle of faith. You can have what you say” (Charismatic Chaos, pp. 281, 285).

This is at the heart of the Positive Confession movement today, also known as the “name-it-and-claim-it” gospel. The Positive Confession movement is nothing but a charismatic form of Christian Science. This can be substantiated by simply comparing the similarities in their common beliefs. Positive Confession is basically warmed-over New Thought dressed in evangelical/charismatic language.

Positive Confession leaders have a wrong view of faith: Instead of trust in God as its object, it is a metaphysical force they trust. They have a wrong view of God: He is not sufficient in Himself, but can only do what He does by using this universal faith-force in obedience to certain cosmic laws. They have a wrong view of man: He is a little god in God’s class who has the same powers as God and can use the same force of faith by obedience to the same laws that God also must obey. They also have a wrong view of redemption and the cross of Christ.

Word-Faith teachers owe their ancestry to groups like Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Theosophy, Science of Mind, and New Thought — not to classical Pentecostalism. It reveals that at their very core, Word-Faith teachings are corrupt. Their undeniable derivation is cultish, not Christian. The sad truth is that the gospel proclaimed by the Word-Faith movement is not the gospel of the New Testament. Word-Faith doctrine is a mongrel system, a blend of mysticism, dualism, and gnosticism that borrows generously from the teachings of the metaphysical cults. The Word-Faith movement may be the most dangerous false system that has grown out of the charismatic movement so far, because so many charismatics are unsure of the finality of Scripture (Charismatic Chaos, p. 290).

Linked to the Positive Confession movement is the concept of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA). PMA has become the major link between sorcery and Christianity. It is the human potential movement that incorporates the age old Eastern mystique that all men can acquire godhood, that “we can achieve anything we conceive.” But the Bible says: “With God all things are possible.” PMA, however, declares: “With man all things are possible,” which means either that we do not need God or that we are God. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.” The New Age/PMA “Christ” is a state of consciousness rather than a historic Person.

The Christian has a positive attitude not because he believes in the power of positive thinking, but because he is trusting in God. The PMA that is promoted in today’s New Age, however, is based upon humanistic psychology’s first article of faith: “Human potential is infinite!” The real Christian is happy and positive in all circumstances because he believes that God, who alone is infinite, loves and cares for him. These two concepts — Christian and PMA — are mutually contradictory, in spite of the sincere people who believe they are the same thing expressed in different language.

Those directly responsible for bringing PMA into the professing church are Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone, the originators of the PMA concept, talk about “God” in their books, but their “God” is a metaphysical “Divine Power” that can be tapped into through mind-power techniques (from visualization to positive self-talk and other forms of self-hypnosis and self-image psychology). Hill and Stone don’t substitute PMA for faith, but promote an even more dangerous idea: that PMA and faith are one and the same, that believing in the power of the mind is somehow the same as believing in God; that the human mind is some kind of magic talisman that wields a metaphysical force with infinite potential because, somehow, it is part of what they call Infinite Intelligence. This is the “God” of the mind-science cults and of the New Age.

Note: There are many faithful believers who live modestly and will never have more than the basic necessities of life. Yet they are content to have what they have. The prosperity teachers ridicule such and say that they only have that little because they don’t trust God for more; the fact of their contentment (which is highly regarded by God) is looked upon as a lack of faith. And they are chastised because they haven’t got the faith to get more so they can give more. Ultimately, the giving is expected to go into the coffers of the prosperity teacher; they may give to others, but not apart from also giving to the prosperity teacher.

All the prosperity teachers use a particular fear tactic to establish their rule for giving — if you don’t give, God will be dissatisfied with you. Many also teach that if one wishes to use the prosperity gospel for selfish ends — to acquire personal wealth without giving — it isn’t going to work. If, however, one uses the prosperity gospel with the intention of acquiring wealth for unselfish purposes (i.e., giving to the prosperity teacher, no doubt), God’s promise is that He will shower abundant financial blessings upon him.

There is not a single prosperity teacher who can rightly divide the Word of Truth sufficiently to be qualified as a teacher in the Church. They are renegades who present their own theories as absolute, Biblical authority. They allegorize, theorize, and spiritualize the Word of God; the only time they approach it from a literal standpoint is if it fits in with something they just happen to be saying that’s true. Bottom line, the fact is that to deny the reality and to attempt to alter reality with one’s positive words and/or thoughts is witchcraft; it is not Biblical. (Source: Media Spotlight — v.13, #1, 12/92.)

The Prosperity Gospel: Can We Have Whatever We Say?

Both Word-Faith teachers and certain Mind Science cults teach that we can have whatever we confess as long as we have faith. Is this true?

Believe and Receive?
In Mark 11:22-24 Jesus does say, “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be done for you.” Does this mean that faith is a force that makes whatever we believe and say come to pass? No, it does not! According to Jesus’ own words here, it is God, not the believer, who actually brings the thing about. Thus, Jesus says, “it will be done for you,” not “you will do it”; “believe that you have received it,” not “believe that you have taken it.” And this will happen when we pray, that is, when we ask God. So, our faith is to be in God, not in our faith or in our words.

Conditions for Receiving Answers
Elsewhere the Bible clearly stipulates conditions for receiving answers to prayer. For example, we are told that we must abide in Christ and have His Word abiding in us [John 15:7]; that we must not ask with wrong motives [James 4:3]; that we must have our earthly relationships in order [e.g., 1 Pet. 3:7]; and that what we ask must be according to His will [1 John 5:14]. While it is wrong to use these verses as excuses never to ask God for things, it is also wrong to ignore these verses and teach that one can get anything one wants in prayer.

Our understanding of prayer must be based on everything the Bible says. God is a personal, sovereign Father who loves us, who knows better than we do what is best for us, and who works mysteriously through even evil circumstances to bring blessing to us and to others. We cannot twist God’s arm, nor are we little gods who can command whatever we wish into being. We are God’s little children, who must depend on God for everything and trust God even when our prayers seem unanswered.

Towards a correct understanding of Biblical prosperity

Before briefly outlining what we consider the balanced position on prosperity according to the Bible, two things need to be said about prosperity preaching today.

First of all, it would be misleading for anyone to assume that when a prosperity preacher stands up to preach or teach he will automatically speak heresy. To maintain this position would be both misleading and unkind. As a matter of fact, heresy is only possible in a setting where there is also a declaration of truth. It has been persuasive enough to think of the counterfeit as “truth plus or minus something.” It must be pointed here that many of the prosperity preachers must be credited with restoring the church’s attention to what the Bible has got to say on health and wealth. For our purpose in this discussion, these preachers do not go wrong by virtue of calling attention to the subject, rather, it is their bad hermeneutical methods that lead astray and need to be condemned. Indeed, it is important for every Christian to know that God blesses those who give generously. Luke 6:38 says: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” [NIV]

Paul told the Corinthians, “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” He puts this in context when he adds, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [2 Corinthians 9:6-7, NIV]

On the other hand, we must remember that prosperity preaching has actually reawakened concern for the poor of the earth and reminded the church that giving to and caring for the poor via practical material means is a biblical mandate. If we do anything for the needy, it is as if we do it for Christ Himself. This is one way of laying up treasures for ourselves in heaven. It is quite in line with the principle of sowing and reaping. Once again, not think that everything the prosperity preachers teach is wrong. Yet, given a chance to suggest a balance in the biblical teaching on prosperity, a number of things could be said:

First, the Bible does not condemn health and wealth, but neither does it promise that everyone will be healthy and wealthy. Its pages are replete with injunctions and examples to prove this point. God gives Solomon great wealth but denies it of Lazarus who died feeding from a rich man’s crumbs. Abraham was extremely wealthy but Paul had to make tents to earn a living. While Abraham does not work very hard for his wealth, we hear Paul telling the Ephesian church elders, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.‘” [ Acts 20:34-35, NIV]

Job is presented as having tasted both physical and material wellbeing but also some of the worst deprivation of both. Yet, God gave testimony of his uprightness before the arch-enemy of faith, the devil. It may, therefore, be concluded here that God gives something to us for the same reason He might take it away. Job put it well: “… naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” [Job 1:21, NIV]

Second, from Proverbs 30:7-9 we find the ideal attitude for the Christian regarding prosperity as presented in the “Sayings of Agur”:

Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘who is the Lord?’ or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” [NIV]

This is not just an Old Testament attitude. Paul declared in Philippians 4:11-12: “… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” [NIV] It is this that leads him to say in the next verse that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

If only every believer could learn this attitude, we would be the happiest of people on earth.

Third, health and wealth are not a right but a blessing to be grateful for and sought in modesty. While Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 9 that physical exercises are profitable for the wellbeing of the body, it is clear throughout the pages of the Bible that it is God who prospers someone in matters of health. It is quite fitting to pray for such wellbeing. The apostle John wrote: “To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you even as your soul is getting along well.” [NIV]

Lastly, there seems to be an obvious paradox in the New Testament position on wealth and health. While the world considers wealth and good looks as a sign of prosperity, the Bible places a different standard on wealth by emphasizing spiritual wellbeing as a mark of prosperity.  James wrote to the Christians in Diaspora, “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.” [James 1:9-10, NIV]

Jesus even terms wallowing in greed as foolishness and tells the parable of the rich fool to that effect. “…Watch out,” said He, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:15, NIV]

With this balance, it is believed that we can always examine our lives for anything that contradicts the biblical position on this matter. When in doubt of what to believe or do in matters of prosperity, it is not the ideas and opinions of men we should seek but the authority of the Word of God.