© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora Immaculada Conceição, Paulo Ramos, Maranhão
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THE FALLACY OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL (THE UNFORTUNATE GOSPEL): BEWARE!!!
It is highly unfortunate, that our world today is laden with “prosperity gospel preachers”. The term “prosperity gospel” is a false theology, incarnated in America, which probably began with the theological speculations of the late evangelist Oral Roberts in the late 19th and early 20th century. This kind of gospel (also known as the health and wealth gospel or “Word of Faith” movement) holds that man has a somewhat mechanical contract with God; therefore, if a man gives so much to God, through the pastors/ministers, God would lavish as much material goods and physical health in abundance— as if by formula. Furthermore, suffering and sickness do not come from God but only from Satan, who does not want us to live abundantly. Roberts encouraged his followers to “expect miracles” and to look forward with confidence to the ways in which God would reward them, materially and financially, for their trust in his providence. One of the most prominent prosperity gospellers on the scene today is Joel Osteen, the pastor of the largest church in America.
In our days, we see the trend of this prosperity gospel and it appears to be waxing stronger. Many of these preachers even go to the extent of threatening and compelling their members to give in order to avoid the wrath of God. Today, many pastors of churches are known as the richest men today in our world – many of whom are private jet owners, while many of their members (whom they preach prosperity to) wallow in continuous poverty – they have not prospered yet. The more churches continue to litter every nook and cranny of the streets, the more our problems continue to grow bigger; there seems to be no hope, yet the people find it difficult to stop believing this false ideology.
To be very precise, this post is aimed at exposing the fallacy of the “prosperity gospel” propagated by “hungry and greedy preachers”. Through this post, we shall come to understand the popular biblical passages used by these prosperity gospel preachers and consequently debunk them. Also, I shall expose the true gospel preached by our Lord Jesus Christ as against and the prosperity gospel preached by the devil himself as contained in the Bible.
Below are the popular biblical passages preached by the prosperity gospellers:
Repeatedly, we hear these prosperity preachers emphasizing “seed sowing.” They take some verses of the Bible out of context and mislead their members into believing that they must give a good portion of their income/resources to their pastors as a way of sowing seeds with the belief of reaping it in abundance later. This would be debunked below.
Another obvious biblical example of the false equation of personal holiness with material blessing is in the book of Job. As Job’s family is killed, his financial status in ruin, and his health poor, Job’s friends surround him to convince him that his plight is the result of his sin. Their logic was that God blessed the holy with prosperity; the absence of prosperity meant the presence of sin. This would be debunked below.
“IT IS FINISHED” (John 19:28)
Another common scriptural example is the expression of Jesus: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:28). For them, Jesus’ death on the cross has put an end to all our sorrows, problems, poverty, sickness; that is, the moment Jesus said “it is finished” on the cross; our financial problems are also finished. This would be debunked below.
The examples are many; however, let us limit ourselves to these three cited above.
1. REACTION TO SEED SOWING: On seed sowing, the passage often cited is 2 Cor. 9:6-15. This is how we are to understand this passage. Here, Paul, addressing one of the problems of the early Church in Corinth in his second letter, addresses the need for generosity. Let us have in mind that the members of the Church at that time shared everything in common; that is, both the rich and the poor lived together in the Christian community. When it got to the point where the poor were almost becoming a burden to the rich, Paul had to address them, encouraging generosity. Here, Paul was not asking the rich to give to sow seeds into the life of the leaders/ministers of the Church, but to share among those who do not have enough (the needy, poor, less privileged, etc.); little wonder he said in verse 12 that “for the help provided by this contribution not only satisfies the needs of ‘God’s holy people’, but also overflows into a widespread thanksgiving to God.” In all these, Paul says in verse 7, that one must give according to his own initiative, and not under compulsion; not a fixed amount or so. Unlike our present-day prosperity preachers who are so hungry to have a thousand dollars or one million Naira from each person, thereby going about “forcing and threatening” their members to support them. My dear friends in Christ, a lot can be said on seed sowing biblically, which can also be understood AS THE ACTION of God’s Holy Spirit on us in order to grow and produce fruits that would last for eternal life. Seed sowing has nothing to do with submitting a certain amount of money to “pastors” or church ministers with the aim of getting riches and wealth in return.
2. ON JOB’S EXAMPLE, we see that it was God who allowed satan to test Job’s faith by taking away his wealth. Thus, Job’s story teaches us that wealth and holiness are not directly correlated. The false message that holiness leads to prosperity leads some within the prosperity gospel movement to associate financial riches with God’s blessing. Perversely, this leads some within the prosperity movement to overlook obvious signs of moral failure as they celebrate the fabulous wealth of people in society and view the superrich as anointed by God.
3. On the third but funny example – “IT IS FINISHED” (John 19:28); this is how we should understand that passage. “It is finished” is the translation of the Greek term “tetelestai.” It is the perfect indicative mood of the Greek verb “teleō,” which means “to bring to an end” or “to complete.” The mood and tense of a verb indicate the attitude of the speaker; thus, Jesus’ grammar reveals the following:
Perfect tense: the action was completed in the past with results continuing in the present. While Jesus finished the work He finished that day, the results are still in effect today.
Indicative mood: the act that took place or condition is an objective fact. The work that Jesus finished was definite and real.
Therefore, It is finished simply means that the work which God had given Him to do has come to an end. Let us recall that in John 17:4 (the priestly prayer of Jesus addressed to the Father just before his passion and death); Christ exclaimed, “I have glorified you on earth and have FINISHED THE WORK that You gave me to do.” Notice that in John 19:28, while on the cross, Jesus knowing that everything had now been completed and to fulfill the Scripture perfectly, he said: “I am thirsty”. And after which he said, “IT IS FINISHED.”
Dear friends, this has nothing to do with your being rich or wealthy or not experiencing suffering or sickness at all. It was said in reference to the redemptive work of our Saviour; that is, His death would open up the door of salvation so that we could be saved. That when we finish the earthly race and persevere in the faith, we would be with God for eternity in the next life in Heaven. If the Bible really supports the prosperity gospel, Jesus himself would have been super-rich on earth, after all, no one has more faith in the plan of God than Jesus. Why were the disciples not rich as well?
Let us now consider the authentic gospel preached by Jesus. “Have faith and get rich? Or bring your money to the church and received prosperity and wealth in return? NO! Instead, He said: “Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth” (Mt 6:19). “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24). The irreconcilable contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ are best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.” In showing that he does not possess anything, Christ said: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He was born in a manger (cf. Lk 2:7) and upon His birth, His mother gave the poor person’s sacrifice in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22-24; cf. Lev 12:6-8). Furthermore, to prove that suffering did not end with Jesus’ death, Jesus taught the apostles that they would suffer just as He did (cf. Jn 15:18-20). The Apostles didn’t live a prosperous life. They lived the life of sacrifice on behalf of Christ and the gospel. When Paul’s authority was challenged, he offered as his credentials the fact that he actually gave up prosperity for the sake of suffering. Kindly read 2Cor 11:24-30, which talks of the suffering Paul underwent for the sake of the Gospel.
Unfortunately, today, only a few preachers do preach about the reality of the cross and suffering. The authentic Gospel of Christianity is that of attaining eternal glory through the Cross as Christ demonstrated in the gospels: “Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself, take up his CROSS and follow me, for anyone who saves his life would lose it, and anyone who loses his life for my sake in this world would save it for eternal life. What, then, will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul” (Matt. 16:24-26; Lk 9:23-25). Jesus also rebuked the crowd who followed him because of the material benefits (cf. Jn. 6:26)
On the other hand, the gospel of prosperity is the kind of gospel first preached by the devil himself. After showing Christ all the kingdoms and riches of this world, the devil said to him: “All this will I give you if you bow down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9; Lk. 4:7). It is shameful today that many who call themselves Christians are following what came out of the devil’s mouth. Even on Facebook, a post would sound like, “if you hit the like button, say amen and share, God would bless you and if you do not, then your life would be miserable”. Then you see a lot of so-called Christians sharing, liking, and commenting on the post. What exactly is wrong with Christianity? What do people think Christianity is? Jesus died so that we could be rich? So that life could be easy? NO, Jesus died so that we can have eternal salvation.
Having said all these, this post on the prosperity gospel should not be misunderstood with our Christian obligations to contribute to the support of those who minister the gospel to us and this should be done according to one’s means as stated in the Scriptures. Put differently, St. Paul encourages the members of the Church to support (in their capacity) those who preach the gospel to them. This we see in 1Cor. 9:13 – 14. In another chapter, Paul exhorts: “On the first day of the week each of you should set aside whatever he can afford” (1 Corinthians 16:2). The implication is clear; Christians are to support the Church with WHATEVER THEY CAN AFFORD, AND NOT A COMPULSORY OR FIXED AMOUNT OF ONE’S INCOME IN THE NAME OF SEED SOWING. As such, the Catholic Church includes in her list of precepts “the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”
In conclusion, the prosperity gospel movement is related to the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles identified these men and women who propagated heresies as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them. In the same manner, I write to you, my dear friends in Christ to “flee for your life”; that is, run away from the men and women of our time who propagate the fallacy of the prosperity gospel, which I identify as the unfortunate gospel. They are only there to deceive and milk you. Read your Bible!
Kindly share this post with every Christian you know.