The prosperity gospel. You know it. You probably despise it.
Just the thought of some loud, sweaty, Armani-wearing “preacher” telling you that sending him $100 as “seed faith” money guarantees an increase of three, ten, or even a hundredfold…well, the veins start pounding in your forehead and you’re wishing you could reach into your TV and slap the guy a good one.
“God wants you rich!”
“If you can envision it, you can have it by faith!”
“If words of death come out of your mouth, you’re going to reap death. Speak words of life!”
“Why ask God for a Ford when you should be asking for a Lexus?”
“You don’t have to live with disease if you have faith in God.”
“The power of wealth creation is in your tongue, so speak out that wealth!”
“You’re a child of the King, and you’ll never see a prince or princess enjoying anything less than the best the world has to offer.”
Now I made all those up. I’ll bet, though, that at some time or other a prosperity gospel preacher said something pretty darned similar. In fact, we could almost make a game of it by coming up with outrageous claims by prosperity teachers who teach a gospel without a cross, without sin, without holiness, and without—unbelieveably enough—Jesus.
These “preachers” of prosperity sucker millions of dollars from millions of people. Naifs who fall under the spell of these slick-talking, Bible-waving, perfectly coiffed “evangelists” often come to a sad—and savings-less— conclusion. Those prosperity preachers like to call everyone “Brother ” or “Sister,” and they often go by titles like “Apostle” and “Bishop.” And sadly for the rest of us charismatics, they claim Pentecostal and Assemblies of God backgrounds.
I feel for the people taken by these manipulators. For the most part, many of the fleeced are poor to begin with. Or perhaps it’s better to think of them as the working poor, especially in America. They have jobs; they’re just not good jobs.
Consider a mom and dad who collectively bring home about $16 an hour with no decent benefits. They have a car, but it costs more to keep it running than it’s worth. Things break in their home and they can’t afford to repair them. Doctor? Who can afford one when there’s no insurance and a simple office visit costs a day’s wages (and there’s always more days at the end of the month than there are wages). Taxes keep going up. Energy keeps going up. Prices for everything are up, up, up. Yet for these folks, wages stay the same. They’re the ones getting destroyed in this recession.
And every day they see themselves sinking further and further down with no hope of recovery. Think they’re going to latch onto anyone who can give them hope of getting out of their predicament?
The two question I ask amid all this is Where are we and what hope do we give them?
And that’s a problem for us Evangelicals who gag every time we think about the prosperity gospel.
Here’s a clue for us suburban McMansion-dwellers in our newly-erected, mega-community-churches: Poor people don’t like being poor.
It stinks to be poor. When your kid needs glasses and you can’t secure a pair because you’re too “rich” for government aid yet you’re not rich enough to afford them outright…well, it stinks even more.
I live in a not-so-rich area. Many of the houses on my road aren’t houses; they’re trailers. The state of the economy is putting a terrible squeeze on these already-squeezed people. So when they start putting faith in the prosperity gospel, I’m not surprised. The real Church hasn’t given them much other hope. Billy Joe Jim Bob Preacher Boy with a Gilt-fendered Escalade was there when the real Church wasn’t.
Do we remember Acts 2 & 4?
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
I would contend that if we in the Church actually lived as those four verses describe, there wouldn’t be any need for anyone to rush to prosperity teachings for hope. But when we simply ignore those passages, especially in light of those parents who don’t know how they’re going to pay the hospital bill for their kid’s broken arm, then we’re assisting the prosperity message through our inability to live by the Bible so many of us call inerrant.
But you want to know the craziest part of all this? As bad as these prosperity preachers are, as little as they care about the cross and bearing it, they’re not wrong on everything.
Psalm 112 says this:
Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!
Well, is that true or not?
That passage embodies many of the teachings found in the prosperity gospel.
And what of this?
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Do we believe that or not? The scary thing is that the prosperity preachers do.
And that’s a problem for us. Because there’s little difference in the eyes of the Lord between someone who preaches the wrong kind of faith and someone who has no faith at all.
Recently, I visited a few sites where people who believed God for healing terminal diseases came under fire from commenters. That made me livid. While it may be true that the commenters were wise enough to see through the phony promises of prosperity preachers who took money from the sick in exchange for a promised healing, is that any worse than not believing for healing at all? When I read those commenters, this quote struck me:
“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
Isn’t that the voice of resignation? Isn’t that the voice that says to give up? Isn’t that the voice that says to just make peace with the suffering?
Isn’t that the voice of the Enemy?
To which Jesus replies:
“Do not fear, only believe.”
I’m convinced that when we get right down to it, for many of us, our so-called faith is a sham. We may pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but which of us actually lives from one day to the next dependent on God to provide that day’s food? Can’t we buy our way out of almost any trouble we encounter? Why do we need God for anything?
Sure, Christ died and with His blood secured eternity for us who believe. No, we couldn’t do that ourselves. But beyond having faith that He will take us to heaven at some future date, how well do we live in the dark moments before then?
What happens should we find ourselves on the tight loop of the downward spiral? That time when we can no longer afford medical care, even if we have insurance? What happens when we confront some expensive-to-deal-with disease. Will we have faith then that God will come to help when before we counted on our money to make it all better?
Or will it all be suffering?
Prosperity preachers don’t like suffering much. In fact they pretty much hate suffering in every form. Boo on them, because we should expect suffering in life, right?
Funny thing is, the Scriptures tell us that one of the reasons Christ came was to relieve suffering:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Isn’t our Gospel supposed to be Good News to suffering people? How then did we turn it back into being about suffering? Isn’t the Kingdom of God a Kingdom that drives out that wicked kingdom filled with suffering? I mean, if we should be content in our suffering, I guess all those sick folks and families of demon-possessed people had it all wrong when they cried out to Jesus to come and take away their suffering.
And while we’re at it, what is so wrong with speaking positive things by faith? The prosperity gospel people always talk about making a positive confession:
From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
True or not true? Obviously, I believe it’s true. Why then do so many act as if it’s not? I’ve got to believe the world would be a better place if Christians, especially here in the States, showed their faith more effectively to the world by speaking words of life rather than so many deadly words that only drive the lost further from Christ. And even in our own lives, how many times do we condemn ourselves by the negative words we speak with regard to our own lives? If a man truly reaps what he sows, what is reaped by the negative things we say about ourselves or our neighbors?
So as much we say we despise these prosperity preachers for filling desperate people with naive hope while draining their wallets, I look at my own life and the lives of a lot of other Christians who oppose those charlatans and wonder if our faith is even visible at all.
Now which problem should concern me most?