Tonight’s question has to do with the so-called Prosperity Gospel, as taught in the Word of Faith movement. “Is this sound teaching?” I am asked. Or, as I would like to put it, “Can we take it to the bank?” This teaching is spread by numerous televangelists, such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagen, Kenneth Copeland, and T. D. Jakes. The question I received asked about the aptly-named Creflo Dollar, who pastors a 20,000 member church in Atlanta, so I want to focus on his teaching.
According to his websites,1 Creflo Dollar believes in total life prosperity. This means that those who trust in God will “prosper economically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and physically.” It is, he says, God’s will for you to have financial prosperity. He argues this from the fact that we are called God’s heirs, and by citing passages like Psalm 35:27, which says that God, and I will cite the King James Version, “hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” On this basis, Dollar exclaims, “Claim it NOW! You possess the blessing to seize and command wealth and riches to come to you.” Later, he writes, “Owning corporations is a part of your destiny as a believer,” citing as proof the large catches of fish Peter was able to make after he had joined up with Christ. According to Dollar believers also have power to heal themselves and others, to ensure their ability to bear healthy children, and even to raise the dead by their own command.
I want to respond by citing just a couple of passages from Scripture that did not make it onto Creflo Dollar’s website. The first that comes to my mind is Matthew 6:19-21, in which Jesus told his disciples:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Dollar packages his teaching in a Believer’s Bill of Rights. Jesus, however, taught in strikingly different terms. In Luke 9:23-25 he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
Just these two citations not only debunk the Prosperity Gospel, but also show that it relies on a selective presentation of Bible texts. Viewers are constantly being told to take God’s Word at face value, while passages are presented without context or comparison to other Bible verses. A key principle of Bible interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. If Jesus says you are not to devote yourself to storing up money on earth, then broad and general statements about God’s blessing cannot mean that he intends us to all enjoy earthly riches.
In addition to their selective use of Scripture it is important to know the Word of Faith teachers’ concept of faith. Without doubt, one of their key texts is Hebrews 11:1, which says, again in the King James, that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” That is a verse to which they constantly refer. According to them, this means that by faith you have power to possess practically anything. Dollar writes, “Words are nothing but containers.” God speaks in order to create and so can we, causing things to take substance by the power of faith. This is where the expression, “Name it and claim it,”comes from, the view that faith is a divine power capable of shaping reality, a teaching that fits in quite well in with the dominant pantheistic and mystical attitude of our age.
But faith is not a power. By believing something, you do not possess power to make it happen. Believing might make you more confident, the way a baseball player is more likely to hit the ball if he believes he can. But faith does not grant to you the attributes that God possesses as Creator. Christian faith is powerful not because of itself but because of its object. Our faith is generally weak, but the Savior we grasp by faith is strong. The power we gain from him is for godliness, for self-sacrifice and service, for endurance in poverty and difficulties.
The third aspect of the Prosperity Gospel I want to point out is perhaps its most pernicious. According to teachers like Dollar, if you lack prosperity in any area of your life, if you are suffering in any way, if you are poor or sick, if you are unable to have children, if your child is sick or perhaps has died, the reason is that you just didn’t believe hard enough. This is their fool-proof answer to the evidence against their teaching. It is also a cruel and godless manipulation that is mainly used to draw money out of peoples’ wallets as a sign of their renewed commitment to faith. In one article, Dollar lists twelve things you must do with your money to show the kind of faith needed to make you rich. Giving to teachers like him is placed ahead of providing for family and children, paying bills, and giving to the poor.
I want to conclude by returning to the question I received. The writer seemed to realize the problems of the Prosperity Gospel. But he is afraid of “saying or viewing God's anointed teachers in the wrong way.” The problem with this is that false teachers generally promote themselves as “anointed.” But the Bible plainly tells us that we must be on guard against false teachers. Jesus said in Matthew 24:24 that “false Christs and false prophets will appear,” and even anticipates their deceptive use of purported miracles. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul describes the false teachers who will arise in the church as“lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive … treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power.” I cannot think of a better description of Creflo Dollar, or Benny Hinn, or Kenneth Hagen, or T.D. Jakes. Paul concludes his description with advice we need to follow: “Have nothing to do with them.”
Given the certain threat of false teachers, it is the duty of every Christian to obtain a sound grasp of doctrine from the Bible so as not to be, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:14, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Standing firm upon God’s Word, we are to shun and oppose false and anti-Christian teachers who rise up in the church, “speaking the truth in love” (v. 15) for the protection and edification of weaker brothers and sisters in Christ’s fold.
1The citations in this document are drawn from www.creflodollarministries.com and www.projectchange.com.
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