Prosperity Problems

Throughout most of Church History the spiritual current, especially of the Catholic and Orthodox churches has been that the most spiritual possible lifestyle is to be poor. Keying off of Scriptures like “Blessed are the poor…” and “Sell everything you have and come follow me,” the mindset has been that in order to truly follow Christ you must impoverish yourself. Now, of course, at any given time only a few are willing to do this at one time, and so they are considered the most Spiritual. This promotes a general sense of guilt among the middle class and of pride among the self-impoverished. Moreover, it creates a universal rejection of Earthly wealth for Christians, leaving it to be pursued by either those of other faiths (such as the medieval Jews) or by Christians who do not really believe the Gospel. This promotes a general place of powerlessness for the church, and of “scraping by” for the average person. Ironically, which teaching its people to be poor, the church itself held greater riches than most kings, building increidble edifices to promote itself. The outcome of promoting poverty then, was to have a rich clergy and a poor laity.

In the wake of the great healing revival of the 1940’s and 50’s two things happened. First, the healing crusaders like Oral Roberts and Jack Coe and others had built huge and very costly ministry empires which required a remarkable amount of money was needed. Secondly, the anointing waned on many of these men, depriving them of the power which would both draw people to their services and money to feed the ministry empire. Largely because of these two factors, the doctrine of “Faith” which they had developed with regard to getting people healed began to grow into a doctrine of Wealth. Slowly the ability to get out of a wheelchair was replaced with the promise to get material goods. Instead of “if you have faith, you can be made whole”  it was “if you have faith, you can get out of debt.” Now at the time, I believe the shift was subtle, but a generation later, what had happened became clear — the power of God had been traded for money. We live under a system of “prosperity” now, where ministers promise that giving (to them) is the way to wealth, and implicitly that if you do so you will become rich like them. These rich ministers are the ones who had “faith” to get wealth, and by “sowing in” to their ministries you can get the same thing. The great irony again is that this has not produced a race of billionaire Christians, what it has primarily produced is the same exact thing that the old Catholic “poverty mentality” did — rich ministers and poor laymen.

Does this mean that God does not want his children to prosper? By no means. I believe that God desires to give His children great wealth so that we can “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, and then “they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) In other words, we are given the financial resources to advance His Gospel and reach every living creature. If that is your heart and practice with your wealth, God wants to give you the increase. What these “prosperity” preachers are doing is just the opposite, however. They are taking huge sums of money which otherwise would be putting others into ministry to spread the Gospel and helping those in need and spending it on lives of difficult to imagine luxury.  And they feel no pangs of conscience about it because in their system being rich is a sign of being blessed.

Anyone can get rich by telling you that by giving them money, you will get rich. That is what they call a “pyramid scheme” and rightly so. It’s the devil’s method. Take from the many to enrich the few. Real prosperity, then is the business man who uses his God-given talents to bring wealth into the Kingdom. God does not tell such a man he must live on nothing. He tells him that if his heart is in the right place, he’ll want to give greatly to the cause of the Gospel. If you have a business or hold a job, God wants to give you the increase, but it’s not going to come by giving more money to a “prosperity” preacher. It’s going to come by your God given talent, the favor of God on your life, and by giving to reach the ends of the Earth with His message.

We’ve come to a place where we think that having a private jet is a sign of the anointing. It may be a sign of the anointing, but a sign that the anointing has been misused. We need to fear the Lord, because he does not take use of positions in His house for personal gain lightly. This is not unlike the sin of Gehazi. He saw that he could get a couple of talents of silver and some robes from Elisha’s anointing and look where it took him? He became a leper. The sons of Eli thought their spiritual inheritance was best used to gain better portions of meat from the people’s sacrifices. God killed them. It’s amazing how in every reformation of the church from Jesus, to Luther, to our time, that one of the great issues is the abuse of money. I believe the Lord has winked at many in our time because they legitimately believed they were helping the people, but a time is soon coming when He is going to reform the church again.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for this.

    I think the name it an claim it.. or blab it and grab it ‘gospel’ is one of the most dangerous for the flock to here.I think it is heresy and plugs into the sin or greed.

    Having said that I believe that God does look after us and that wealth is not wrong,I am wel paid for example. But it is a resoce for me to use for the ‘kingdom’ in the following ways

    1. by giving into the work of my local church
    2. By looking after my family in a Godley way providing them with food and shelter
    3. supporting the work of the church internationally
    4. giving to the poor and need

    All for the Glory of God.

  2. Drum — thanks, that agrees with the basic thrust of what I wanted to say here. God giving his people great resources is quite a different thing that ministers getting rich off of it.

    1. How should one take this then if they are operating in the Will of God, yet have very little in the way of monetary resources? Does this mean that I am not operating from a right heart position before the Lord, or does it simply mean that I am placing expectations on God as to what things should look like– and because it isn’t panning out the way that I feel that it should I have done something wrong?

      I think that God is more concerned with what is being built internally in me than he is with any external thing. His moving and bringing about reformation in his church can only be done as his people come to a New place of understanding and revelation of HIM and who he is– this is what will bring about the reformation that we as believers long for.

      1. Valid and relevant questions, imho, Teddy. I don’t pretend to have definitive answers, but I can at least be one contributor to an edifying discussion, so here’s my attempt…

        It is possible to operate in the will of God and to need very little in the way of monetary resources, of course; there’s a lot of good stuff that doesn’t cost much to do. In fact I wonder whether some of our church programs are over-elaborate, over-engineered and therefore take up more money than they need to.

        However, whenever I find myself trying to serve in some way but lacking what I need – money or otherwise – then to me it’s a sign that something, somewhere, is wrong. Pharaoh demanded that Israel make bricks without straw, and had them beaten when they missed their quotas, but God is not Pharaoh.

        From what I’ve found, there may be many reasons for this. It may be that I’ve jumped into action before God had finished speaking, for instance, so that my expectations are indeed incomplete. Or it may not be anyone’s “fault” at all – it just needs the support of some like-minded believers pressing through with me in prayer in some specific way. The one core lesson I’ve learned in all of this is to let the Holy Spirit, always, be the judge of what I need and what needs to change, and in what order. It’s all too easy to be led by assumption based on human religious tradition.

        I agree, though, that God is more concerned with internals than externals. If my heart is truly right, after all, then the external fruit will inevitably follow.

      2. Another nice reply, Nick. Maybe you should be moderating this blog 🙂

        Teddy, I agree with Nick’s general assessment here. I frequently encounter Christians with financial trouble, whose trouble can easily be traced back to poor decision making on their part. To find out if that is the case, ask yourself the question, “If I could not depend on God to supernaturally solve this financial problem, what would I do or have done differently?”

        Many Christians are blind to the most basic aspects of making a wise financial decision because we have so spiritualized money. “God is working on my character through financial trial and poverty” is not a perspective I take any more than “God is working my character through sickness” If I don’t have the resources I need, then something needs to change to get those resources. Maybe the ministry is not the right one for me, I’m not ready to do it, or I have not done the proper steps to acquire resources.

      3. Comments greatly appreciated from both of you.

        The thing I find interesting is that it is through this place of lack that God has begun to reveal himself to me and my family like never before. As a result of my external circumstances I have been forced to seek him and draw near to him in ways I have never experienced before. I attribute much of this to a newly found sense of valuing him more than anything that I have ever “had” in my life before. All of those things that I had allowed to take HIS place in my life have been stripped from my grip and have been replaced with a desire to seek him and his ways– just like David spoke of in the Psalms. I am convinced that this new found clarity of sight was a direct result of Gods calling me and causing me to pray those dangerous prayers– “God I will do whatever it takes” or God “Do whatever you need to do inside of me to get me to where you can use me!”

        Turns out I had very limited sight as to what that looked like… 🙂 But I must be honest with you, there is nothing in this world that could possibly take the place of hearing his voice and knowing HIM to the degree that I do now. What I have been learning as I continue to process through my current circumstances is this…. God is close to those whose hearts are concerned with his will more than their own, and he is willing to speak in this season to those who’s desire is to know him like they never have before. Turns out he was waiting for the right response all along in me– I believe that this is the path that I needed to take to see that. Another lesson Gods Sovereign hand I guess…..

        Appreciate the feedback gentlemen.
        Always good to hear another mans perspective.

        God is Good. No matter where I find myself. I will praise him because he is good. nuf said…..

        Teddy

      4. 8 Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

        9 Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. 10 You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11 But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

        After everything that happened to Job his response was this….“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
        and I will be naked when I leave.
        The LORD gave me what I had,
        and the LORD has taken it away.
        Praise the name of the LORD!”

        22 In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

        This has caused me to see my current circumstances in a new light– And Jobs response was (and I love this part) “Praise the name of the Lord.”

        Amazing how Gods word can shift our perspective when we make it, and take it literal…. isn’t it.

        Hope I am not taking up too much of your time with my rambling…..

        Teddy

  3. Christ commended one who divided his loyalty between God n idols as a Good Samaritan because he loved his neighbour as himself but told us that we could not serve both God and money. God considers money as a more dangerous temptation than idolatory. It is ok to have money but materialism is wrong.

  4. I’m always wary of parading scriptures in blog threads such as this, because I know perfectly well that you’ve all read the Bible too. With that caveat, then, I beg to submit two of them…

    Firstly, I think Proverbs 22:16 gives a very stark summary of what happens to the economic balance of a church where prosperity teaching has gone overboard: One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth, and one who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty. In practice one could oppress the poor to get rich and still die a wealthy man. But that’s even more sobering, because if the fruit of my life and teaching is a load of struggling poor people, what is my reward in heaven? Secondly, I have to agree that there really is such a thing as biblical prosperity. My favourite definition thereof is in 2 Cor 9:8: always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.

    You’ve written elsewhere, Will, about how the shepherding movement actually grew out of something well-intentioned. I think the prosperity movement was the same. The truth that God wants to give his sons and daughters everything they need to carry out the work of service had become lost somewhat, and the culture of “christian charity” had been reduced to a very low level, helping the destitute become slightly less destitute. But the professional clergymen (and I use that phrase deliberately) that taught it often failed to put two and two together; so instead of helping God’s people grow into ministry together, a leader would essentially corral them to serve his own ministry. Thence, many of us found our kingdom callings reducing to providing said clergymen with a steady supply of money, labour, and seekers for them to “lead to the Lord” in evangelistic meetings. We weren’t to give to the poor; we were to give to the charitable wing of Pastor So-And-So’s ministry portfolio so that he could give to the poor.

    At this point I must apologise for straying into a different discussion (“Pastor”, “Minister”, “Leader” etc as interchangeable synonyms for CEO) and go and get the kids’ lunch!

  5. 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

    Correct me if I am wrong– but doesn’t this simply state that our only concern should be to do HIS WILL and all other things will be provided for us?

    It seems like the Christian faith is so focused on ourselves that we have forgotten that God has a plan that has nothing to do with our comfort. Our objective in life is to be “like Christ”… again correct me if I am wrong but didn’t Christ only do what the Father asked him to do? Any suggestions as to why society has become so focused on wealth and riches– and at the same time become less and less concerned with what God is currently doing in the earth?

    1. The American System provides the opportunity for people to obtain wealth, unlike most other systems in the history of the world. This means that unbelievers are apt to pursue money instead of say military power, and that the way they pursue money will make a lot of great stuff for the rest of us, like light bulbs and computers. This is why we are the wealthiest people that ever lived. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

      What is bad, however, is when people turn the gospel of eternal salvation into a gospel of financial gain. It is natural that a heresy like this would emerge, however, in a culture of such wealth.

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