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Prosperity Gospel: Let the ranting continue…

Thanks for all the comments on the previous post. It is an issue that seems to raise the blood pressure a few points — at least it does for me. A very special thank you to Caron for the link to Justin Peters’ organization. I couldn’t watch the entire presentation on his site, but was able to view it at the following link:

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=71208151703

This presentation is only a 30 minute overview of the seminar he offers to churches, but I found it to be an extremely powerful and compelling argument against these “health and wealth” pushers. And while I wholeheartedly agree with everything that Mr. Peters presents, I also understand that it is my responsibility to seek God’s word and make sure Mr. Peters’ arguments hold up. I urge you to do the same. My approach to bible study is a bit unorthodox, and I don’t recommend it, but here’s what I did:

Towards the end of his presentation, Justin Peters quoted my all-time favorite verse:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9a)

The rest of the verse is as follows: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

So, I started from this verse and worked my way backwards until I came to 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 where Paul writes about false apostles, boasts about his own sufferings and talks about the thorn in his flesh. What struck me about these particular passages is that not only do they support the argument against the prosperity gospel, but in places Paul is dripping in sarcasm — something I can definitely relate to.

“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.” (2 Cor 11:1)

*My translation: Since you are obviously open to all kinds of audacious b.s., hear me out as well, because I’m actually going to tell you the truth.

“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2 Cor. 11:4)

*My translation: How can you be down with the Truth, the Holy Trinity, the Gospel of Christ, then turn around and readily accept something that is in direct conflict with what you profess to believe? I wonder if I could interest you in a time-share opportunity.

“But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.” (2 Cor 11:5-6)

*My translation: “I’m no Benny Hinn, and I don’t have a fancy suit or million dollar smile like Joel Osteen, but I think I have the educational and ancestry credentials (a Jew among Jews) and experience to be considered somewhat of an expert in this particular area. And did I mention the time when I met Jesus on the road to Damascus?”

“In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! (2 Cor. 11:17-21)

I’m not even going to comment on this particular passage. It pretty much speaks for itself.

**Paul provides several more zingers, but I’ll stop there. I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians (again) in its entirety. I found it to be just loaded with insight and wisdom concerning this topic and others. Trust your pastor and others whom you consider to be wise counsel, but be like Ronald Reagan: TRUST, BUT VERIFY! And if someone tells you something and it doesn’t sit well with you, there’s probably a very good reason for that. If you are a believer, The Holy Spirit resides in you.

For any who remain unconvinced that this so called “gospel” is a heresy. I want to address a quote from Benny Hinn:

“Physical healing is as easy as being forgiven of your sins.”

(Implying that if you are not healthy and whole, you and/or your family does not have enough faith, and that you are not saved.)

If you believe that, then I invite you to visit me in Houston. I want you to explain to me face to face how my friend Dee (with her husband, children and grandchildren present) didn’t have enough faith to cure her cancer. That cancer and ten years of chemotherapy was God’s punishment because she didn’t have enough faith. Please explain to me that despite the fact that she lived a life of devotion to Christ , rarely complained, came to church and to our small group when she was in tremendous physical pain due to the sores and other ailments she suffered by the poisons being pumped into her body week after week, that it was her fault. Tell me about how her selfless, Christ-like attitude of humility and her servant’s heart was wasted on the countless friends, neighbors, family members, doctors, nurses and strangers that she witnessed to by words and by actions. That in the end, it was a waste of time. Please help me understand how it is possible that in her final days, when she was pumped full of morphine, she was able to speak to me in a moment of absolute clarity in order to encourage me to continue to the work that God has set before me. Convince me that her cancer served only as a curse, and not as a blessing. Please come and explain all of this to me in person. I double-dog dare you.

And while you’re here, you can pop over to see my friend Kris and her mom and sort some things out for them as well. Actually, I have quite a few friends down here that need to be enlightened. Stacey, for example, needs to know why she can’t seem to conceive a child while newborns are being left in dumpsters. From here, you can jet up to Chicago and visit my friend Helen and her mom, then to Findley, Ohio where friends of Jeff and Tamara will tell you that while the massive floods destroyed their homes, the Hogans were spared because they are WAY more righteous than any of them. From there, back down to Georgia. Perhaps you can tag along with my friend Jamie and her husband Ken when they go to the hospital. While they are setting up for their photo session in the neonatal ICU unit, you can explain to the grieving parents that the stillborn child they hold in their arms is a direct result of their lack of faith.
If this post has deeply offended anyone, I pray that it is for the right reasons. I also pray that before you dismiss this post outright as lies and character assassination, you do some research of your own.

*I believe that all scripture is the inerrant word of God, and I mean no disrespect to His Word or to you.

**What strikes me most about Paul’s sarcasm here is that it’s really not his style at all. He goes out of his way to make a point. And while sarcasm comes quite naturally for me, it’s not typically so caustic and mean spirited — I’m also attempting to make a point.
PLEASE NOTE: While I am of the opinion that most of the “healings” that occur on TBN, Daystar, et. al., are mostly a complete sham, I do not dismiss the idea of faith healing outright. God is God. He can do anything. This includes the healing of the sick IN SPITE of these so called faith healers, not because of them. Furthermore, I have had a group of believers lay hands on me in prayer and I have done the same with and for others. But it is God’s power and God’s will that brings about healing, not our own.
Update: I love me some Oswald Chambers! Here’s the devotion for October 31:
DISCERNMENT OF FAITH
“Faith as a grain of mustard seed. . .” Matthew 17:20
We have the idea that God rewards us for our faith, it may be so in the initial stages; but we do not earn anything by faith, faith brings us into right relationship with God and gives God His opportunity. God has frequently to knock the bottom board out of your experience if you are a saint in order to get you into contact with Himself. God wants you to understand that it is a life of faith, not a life of sentimental enjoyment of His blessings. Your earlier life of faith was narrow and intense, settled around a little sun-spot of experience that had as much of sense as of faith in it, full of light and sweetness; then God withdrew His conscious blessings in order to teach you to walk by faith. You are worth far more to Him now than you were in your days of conscious delight and thrilling testimony.
Faith by its very nature must be tried, and the real trial of faith is not that we find it difficult to trust God, but that God’s character has to be cleared in our own minds. Faith in its actual working out has to go through spells of unsyllabled isolation. Never confound the trial of faith with the ordinary discipline of life, much that we call the trial of faith is the inevitable result of being alive. Faith in the Bible is faith in God against everything that contradicts Him – I will remain true to God’s character whatever He may do. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” – this is the most sublime utterance of faith in the whole of the Bible.

The Prosperity Gospel (cue the scripture referenced justification hate mail)

Since I’ve briefly touched on the evangelical movement and the emergent/emerging movement under this big ol’ tent of Christianity, I felt it would be not be fair and balanced to omit a post on the “prosperity”, aka “name it and claim it”, aka “wealth and health” doctrine. And because I strive to be an equal opportunity offender, I wanted to save the beast best for last.

For those of you who might be wondering what this prosperity doctrine is all about, here’s a brief summary from the ace staff of researchers over at Wikipedia:

Prosperity theology is the teaching that an authentic religious belief and behavior in a person will result in their material prosperity. That is, the doctrine holds that material prosperity, particularly financial prosperity and success in business and personal life, is to be expected as external evidence of God’s favor. This favor may be preordained, or granted in return for efficacious prayer, merit-making and/or appropriate faith.

Other terms have been used interchangeably with prosperity theology such as prosperity doctrine, health and wealth, etc. but it is perhaps most commonly referred to as the Prosperity Gospel.

It cannot easily be argued that the Prosperity Gospel is a part of the evangelical movement. Instead, prominent evangelicals reject the teaching as non-evangelical. Furthermore, it is worthy to note that none of the major Prosperity Gospel proponents belong to well-established evangelical organizations such as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or the National Association of Evangelicals

The Prosperity Gospel gained more prominence in the 1980s through the teaching of the so-called televangelists, but again, this was a movement separate from mainstream Christianity.

Prosperity theology proponents promote the idea that God wants Christians to be “abundantly” successful in every way, with special emphasis on financial prosperity.

Support for the Prosperity Gospel is believed to be found by proponents in specific Bible verses and in its narratives of the lives and lifestyles of biblical characters. Critics counter that all of the verses Prosperity Gospel proponents use are taken by them out of their textual, cultural, historical and/or literary context thus falsely supporting their claims.

Following are some Bible verses used by Prosperity teachers to support their theology:

Deuteronomy 8:18 – “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (New American Standard Bible)

Malachi 3:10 – “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'” (New American Standard Bible)

John 10:10 – “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (King James Version)

3 John 2-4 – “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”

As I was doing research for this blog post, (Yes, I actually research stuff before I put it on my blog. Feel free to re-engage your jaw back to its proper alignment at anytime during this post.) Anyway…when I began researching, I’ll admit I have a bunch of preconceived notions about what these so called “health and wealth” preachers were all about. And while I was always concerned about the possibility of desperate people falling for some of their outrageous claims, I had made them into caricatures in bad shiny suits, with too much make up and giant hairdos. In that way, I had become what I despise in others: a religious, elitist snob. In order to seek redemption, I sought to provide a fair and balanced piece about their theology. Now here’s the snag: the more research I did, the more I was filled with righteous anger at what is going on in my country, and now, it seems, across the globe. Whether the prefix of “self” should be placed before “righteous” is a matter of opinion and ultimately up to God to decide. When I was ignorant enough to think that the prosperity gospel was just an excuse for rich people to feel good about themselves and call themselves “good Christians”, I could simply laugh at the constant parade of televangelists splattered across the airwaves and ignore seeing hundreds of little Joel Olsteen’s smiling back at me from the cover of his latest book every time I went to Walmart. But the truth is far more sinister. When I first saw the following video by John Piper, I thought it was a little over the top. But he is spot on — I get it now.

What breaks my heart about this movement is that their target audience is not the rich; it’s not even the middle class. No, their target audience are the have-nots. The people who never seem to catch a break. Those who for one reason or another find themselves in want or need of a better life and a better paycheck. I’m not saying those are the only followers they have, but those are the people that have made these charlatans rich. I could go on about how they’ve misquoted scripture and taken it out of context to fit into their warped interpretations, but I’m not going to. Read your bible; it’s pretty clear. If more of us as Christians would read and study our Bibles for ourselves instead of being spoon fed bits and pieces on Sunday morning and relying on what someone else tells us to be the truth, I’m quite confident that the followers of this so-called prosperity gospel would be greatly diminished.
At the bottom of this post are a few links to some articles I found very enlightening. Since I believe that a picture really is worth a thousand words, I’ll close with a few…

Trinity Christian City International in Costa Mesa is just one of the network’s holdings. TBN owns 11 homes in the adjacent gated development as well as residences in Texas, Tennesse, and Ohio. (Don Kelsen/LAT)

John Wayne Airport: Private jet owned by TBN. (Mark Boster/LAT)

Newport Beach: A TBN-owned mansion, foreground was on the market for $8 million. The network also owns one of the houses in the background. (Don Kelsen/LAT)

Among TBN’s faithful followers is Olivia Foster of Westminster, who sends the network $70 a month out of her $820 disability check. (Mark Boster/LAT)

http://www.trinityfi.org/press/latimes04.html
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448,00.html
http://www.theopedia.com/Prosperity_gospel
http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/posit.htm

Matthew 25:31-46 (New International Version)

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
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