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Responding to the prosperity gospel

IFES staff and students are often confronted with false values and worldviews that can draw them away from the purity of the gospel and weaken the impact of the IFES movement on the university. In contexts as diverse as Africa, Latin America and North America, the prosperity gospel has had a deep effect on the body of Christ, elevating money to compete for a space in our lives that only God deserves.

What is it?

The prosperity gospel asserts that believers have the right to the blessings of health and wealth, and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings. It is one of the fastest growing false gospels, cutting across denominations.

The bible affirms that God does bless his people and provide for their needs, but also that there are legitimate ways to work for such needs to be met. The prosperity gospel, however, often makes the pursuit of material things and physical well-being ends in themselves.

What’s wrong with the prosperity gospel?

  • It refocuses the primary mission of Jesus. Jesus came to save us from our sins not to make us rich.
  • It distorts the person of Christ. It misleads people, turning them away from the simplicity of Jesus’ lifestyle and portraying him as materially wealthy.
  • It feeds on the greed of the teachers and the gullibility of their followers. Both either ignore or refuse to take seriously the warnings of Jesus about material wealth.
  • It gives no explanation for suffering. It is often silent on the subject or equates the experience of suffering as not having faith or living in sin.
  • Often the poor are exploited. This swells the money bags of those who are already rich. While advocacy for the poor and poverty alleviation has become a multi-billion dollar business, the poor in many contexts often hardly benefit.
  • It pressures people to give with wrong motives. By teaching that giving to God is an investment that must yield returns, it deliberately fails to see that all forms of giving to God are primarily acts of worship. 
  • Too much energy is spent on raising funds. Instead, we should be working to present a gospel that saves people from sin and nourishing the spiritual health of God’s people.

But doesn’t it quote the bible?

Scripture is often interpreted or manipulated to promote the main emphasis of the ‘prosperity gospel’. Several scriptures passages are often cited but I will highlight only one of commonly used ones here.

The most popular verse used in mobilizing a congregation to give is Luke 6:38: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.’

The use of this verse, however, is often not faithful to the text or context. Luke 6:38 is found in the context of Jesus’ teaching on love and mercy and how we relate to and treat others. It is preceded by a verse exhorting us not to judge or condemn, but to forgive because, ‘with the same measure that we use, it will be measured back to us.

Those who use this passage to motivate people to give rarely refer to the unusually strong words of the Lord Jesus Christ on wealth and resources. In fact, Jesus says in the same chapter of Luke ‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry’ (Luke 6:24-25).

It is clear that Jesus did not preach or teach a prosperity gospel. His teachings about earthly possession come as warnings to us: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). He also cautions us about the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22), referring to it as ‘unrighteousness mammon’ (Luke 16:9).

How should we respond?

Examine our own lives. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 warns us about the traps we can fall into when we want to get rich, and how love of money can cause us to wander from the faith. It also presents the antidote: ‘godliness with contentment’. We should respond to the prosperity gospel first by looking at our own lives and making sure that we ‘flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness’ (1 Timothy 6:11).

Challenge those who believe the prosperity gospel. We all should feel a sense of pain to see Christians drifting away from sound doctrine in this way. We need to study the bible passages used by proponents of the prosperity gospel and be prepared to challenge them on their interpretation of God’s word.

Care for those in need. We need to take the plight of the poor seriously enough to reject this gospel and work at better ways of meeting their needs rather than offering false shortcuts. The poor are very much with us in the faces of street children and other children at risk, HIV/AIDS orphans, slum dwellers, marginalised women, the rural poor and other often forgotten ‘nobodies’ of our world.  How can we bring lasting changes in a society that neglects these people? 

Conclusion

If the love of money is the root of all kind of evil, the love of material property, mansions, and other accumulations in the dragnet of money must follow closely after. In very easy ways – more subtle that we often think – any of these things can become idols that dim our view of God and diminish our passion for him. We must be defined, not by what we have or own, but by who we are in Christ.

Want to learn more? Read a longer version of this blog post or Femi’s book, Preachers of a different gospel.

Discuss and add your voice…

  • Have you, as a student, encountered people who believe in the prosperity gospel in your movement? How have you responded?
  • How can we lovingly help those who are tempted to seek material blessings instead of spiritual blessings?
  • How can we guard against the lure of the prosperity gospel in our own lives and in the lives of our IFES movement?

Comments

Febe

I've never been in contact with someone who believes like that...
Then you're just not making sense is what I think! :)
However I find no ground or whatsoever on what they can base this belief so I'm not worried really :)

Marvins Ibrahim

This is very good and truthful. We must refocus our attention to what is at the front-burner of the heart of Jesus - That lost souls be saved.
It is not bad to be rich, but we must be masters of the things we have, and not the other way round.

Godris

D TRUTH IS WE WHO HAVE DIS BETA IDEA OF SCRIPTURES MUST BEGIN 2 REDIRECT PIPOS MINDS TO REAL MEANIN OF BIBLE PASSAGES

Kodi

Febe I am glad you don't know anyone who believes this, but sadly it is becoming more common in the U.S. and in many other countries. It is such a devious altercation to the gospel because it emphasizes how God wants to bless you and care for you, which is true, but it talks about blessing and care in ways that weren't biblical. It also takes the focus of the inherit suffering in the Christian walk and off of focusing on the eternal kingdom that we should be waiting for and just wanting to be satisfied in this life. Would we not say that Jesus was blessed and loved dearly by his Father? And yet, he had no real home, was poor, and suffered immensely. I like what Marvins said, we must me the masters of the things we have, not slaves to our possessions. Or I might say that we must acknowledge that that we don't actually own or possess anything, but all things are God's for which we are only challenged to be good stewards and to use it for the glory of God and to bless others.

Damon Whitsell

GREAT ARTICLE!!! I run a groupblog on the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel. We also collect ex-WoF testimonies.

See our site here
http://thewordonthewordoffaithinfoblog.com/

Evang Ora Okechukwu

The prosperity gospel is a dangerous altercation of the Holy Gospel which we received. It does not build Godly character pre requisite to our presentation to the LORD as inscribed in Col 1:28, Eph 1:9-10,Heb 12:14, Math 5:8 et al.What determines our entrance to Heaven is not our possessions but our demeanour in purity & righteousness.Regrettably, many have willingly sold out their hearts to the satan of carnality & coveteousness.For more on Christ's Mind on this cf :www.seet hemindofchrist.blogspot.com

Martin

I take this a the bare scriptural truth. The prosperity gospel centers on condemnation and coercing people to give in order to receive. I plainly believe in giving and am a giver BUT let the attitude and the principles of giving spoken in the scriptures be our guide.

Ashish P. Joseph

Its really good to be clear about properity gospel because students tend to get attracted to worldly riches.This post is clear about the subject

Mike

Estoy totalmente de acuerdo, el fin del evangelio es la salvación, por eso estamos aquí. Bendiciones

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Susie

I have been caught up in this. It is terrible they don't care about people at all. And if anything wrong goes on in your life they treat you with disrespect totally because of course you must be in sin. When they visit your house it is not to love on you but to ask you why havnt you been to church.and.the first thing they do is walk in the door and say let's pray. They stand there and pray that prosperity would come this home.as they look and see that I don't have a plasma screen tv. They treat people like crap if you don't have a car. And if you don't wear the expensive clothes and shoes. This doctrine takes empty people I was caught up in this and even got into debt so I could buy the flashy closethes and shoes. Quess what after I did I was more excepteded. E when a person is in in need they don't help they look at you as your in sin they are rude and pridefull especially the pastor. And I walked out of there feeling very confused. Made to feel Luke a terrible person.

Susie

Sorry bout the spelling mistakes. Like a terrible person. This is a dangerous doctrine

Padipat Ong

It has been effecting the churches in Thailand and South East Asia a lot. This kind of "feel good" worship service and sermon are fit to the busy and competing environment now. Thanks for this post. Can I do translation in Thai and publish in TCS website?

James Docherty

Hi Padipat Ong,
Please translate and post it on the TCS website, all we ask is that you include a link back to this post at the bottom of your translation. Thank you.

Femi Adeleye

Thank you all for your comments on this topic. The distortion of scripture to fuel this false gospel has obviously left many people heart broken or confused. Thank God for Christ who is not only the truth but also our healer! If you have been hurt in anyway by the gospel, please put your trust in God and not in any man regardless of the sweetness of their words. The Lord clearly warns us that the life of a person does not consist in the abundance of material possessions (see Luke 12:15). He also told some people that “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight” (Luke 16:15). So let us not measure ourselves by the standards of men by God’s.

Hi Susie, please don’t be discouraged! Don’t worry about the past and remember that God has your best interest at heart. He will guide and watch over you!

And Padipat, thanks for translating my article into Thai. (I love Thai food but I’m sure hearing counsel from God’s word is sweeter than the taste of food!)

Let’s keep talking.

Peace, Femi

Emmanuel Okonkwo

Men have developed itching ears, the priests have taken aDvantage of the occasion. Oh! hear our Master Jesus saying "you can't serve 2 masters at the same time. You can't serve God and mammon" He knew mammon was going to compete for HIS throne. But today Men have crowned mammon as king and have sent the real KING off. Jesus the son of God is no longer at the CENTER, He is no longer the REASON for everything. BUT Mammon. As we who have heard the deep truth seek to dethrone mammon, we must begin in our hearts, and be sure Mammon does not reign there. Thanks brethren

Eva Abel

Thank you Femi,i was greatly encouraged by our expositions from Daniel last year in Kenya during the commission conference.
Its true that prosperity gospel is such a false doctrine that is endangering the church today.Thank you for shedding more light in this area.

Dr. Roger Smalling

Thank you for your fine ministry.

Please note our many free resources in English and Spanish, especially the material concerning the Prosperity Movement
http://www.smallings.com/english/books/ProspENG.htm


In His bonds,
Roger Smalling
http://www.smallings.com/index.html

Peter Bardsley

I see the site looking for another but would love to know the purpose if you give an email,Peter

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