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The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel

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Question: I have some family members who have become deeply involved in the "health and wealth" gospel movement. I personally find this extremely troubling but an even more important issue that has come to the fore is that of salvation. While they acknowledge the Biblical requirements for salvation, they have neglected its importance in lieu of pursuit of the "spiritual gifts." They place immense importance on the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the gift of tongues, as well as the gifts of interpretation, healing, etc... They do not recognize, as believers, those who do not manifest one or more of the gifts, most especially tongues. As you can imagine there have been some interesting discussions regarding these and other issues pertaining to Scripture. Could you provide some clarification regarding I Corinthians 12 and the spiritual gifts? Thank you in advance! Also I visit your site everyday and read the questions you receive as well as your very insightful answers. I am also trying to work my way through some of the Bible studies that you have made available. Thanks for all of the hard work and effort that you have put into your website. It is a tremendous blessing! God bless.

Response: Thanks very much for all your kind words. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am in position to know something about these matters, having had direct contact with some of these things you mention some years ago. Your e-mail broaches a number of issues which I will try to deal with here.

First, to come to the "health and wealth gospel" or "prosperity gospel" as it has also been called, this is indeed a terribly disturbing trend. Who wouldn't want "health and wealth", as long as it was OK with God? And who wouldn't want any number of clearly sinful things that this body of sin we now occupy lusts after - if it were really not sinful to pursue them after all? But we know that there are many things which our eyes and egos and flesh desire which are indeed not only sinful but terribly detrimental, even fatal to our faith, for these are the things of the world, not the things of God, the things of the eternal destiny we say we esteem above all else in our Master Jesus Christ (cf. 1Jn.2:15-17). During the second era of the Church, that of Smyrna, many believers were deprived of their property, their freedom, even their lives, out of a determination to remain faithful to Jesus (Rev.2:8-11 - this is covered in part 2A of the Coming Tribulation series). No health or wealth here. Job had everything taken away because he was special (Job 1:8). Paul had a "thorn in the flesh", that is, a special testing involving constant pain, because he was doing such wonderful work for the Lord (2Cor.12:7-10; consider also Paul's other trials: 2Cor.6:3-10; 11:16-33), and, as I recall, he worked making tents day and night to support the ministry the Lord had given him (1Cor.4:12)! John, the last we hear of him in scripture, is an exile on the barren island of Patmos "for the sake of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev.1:10).

And our Lord, being supported with just enough during His three year ministry, lived to see all that He owned divided up at the foot of His cross (Matt.27:35) - and we are told to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matt.16:24-27). In short, I cannot think of a single instance in the Bible of anyone who had "health and wealth" that outstripped the persecutions, suffering, pain and sacrifice they also had to endure. In fact, when I read the Bible, I get entirely the opposite impression, namely that to be a believer, to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, is very hard indeed, and requires so much sacrifice that one had better "count the cost" (Lk.14:28) before entering upon the "straight and narrow way" that is the only way to eternal life (Matt.7:13-14). I believe that a big part of the problem here is the seemingly ubiquitous (and wrong) notion of "eternal security", the idea that once a person is saved the "game", so to speak, is essentially over (this is a dangerous heresy: see Three Doctrines that Threaten Faith). For, if true, then we really don't have to worry about anything after the fact of accepting Christ, and so in our search for "something more", the enjoyments of this life naturally beckon very powerfully - if we understood that they wage war against our very selves and threaten our eternity (1Pet.2:11; cf. Rom.6:23), we would think differently indeed.

On the other hand, we "cannot serve God and Mammon" at the same time (Matt.6:24; Lk.16:13). Wealth is a deception which can inhibit spiritual growth (Matt.13:22), and cause the believer to flounder spiritually: see in SR#4 "Satan's World System: Satanic Lie #1 "I Don't Need God"; Greed - a bit of which, on the biblical position regarding wealth, I include here:

1) You cannot truly give your allegiance to God while at the same time trusting in and lusting after material gain - you can't worship both God and "Mammon" at the same time (Matt.6:24; Lk.16:13).

2) We brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out of it (1Tim.6:7).

3) Lust for material gain makes us vulnerable to the devil's attacks, and threatens our salvation (1Tim.6:9).

4) The love of money is a source of all sorts of evils, turning us from the faith and causing us much anguish (1Tim.6:10).

5) Greed is essentially idolatry (Col.3:5), and its practitioners idolaters (Eph.5:5).

6) Covetousness lured Balaam into sacrificing his relationship with God for the sake of money, so that his actions are proverbial for the deceptiveness of wealth (2Pet.2:15; Jude 11).

7) Envy is the true root of acquisition lust (Eccl.4:4).

8) The lust for wealth can never be satisfied by any success (Eccl.5:10).

9) Wealth can be a severe disadvantage, keeping us from God (Lk.18:23-25).

10) Where your treasure is, there is your heart also (Matt.6:19-21; cf. Lk.12:32-34).

11) What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul? (Mk.8:36; Lk.9:25)

12) Your life does not depend upon an abundance of possessions (Lk.12:15).

13) Storing up material things rather than striving to be rich towards God is folly (Lk.12:21).

14) Discipleship requires the willingness to put God before possessions (Lk.14:33).

15) Wealth can distort one's perspective, choking spiritual growth (Mk.4:19).

16) Nothing is permanent, not even great wealth; great wealth merely subjects the possessor to greater temptation and a higher standard of judgment (Jas.5:1-6 and Lk.12:48).

17) Covetousness is forbidden by the 10th commandment (Ex.20:17; Deut.5:21).

One could almost go so far as to say that if the world accounts a person "healthy, wealthy and wise", in God's eyes the reverse is likely to be true. This is, after all, the Laodicean era of the Church age, and the "prosperity gospel" matches these lukewarm believers frighteningly well:

As it is, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of My mouth, because you say "I am rich and have become wealthy and know no lack". And you do not realize that it is you who are the one who is wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become wealthy, and white clothing so that you may be clothed and so that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and salve to rub on your eyes, so that you may see.
Revelation 3:17-18

The rich man who thinks that this life will go on forever is truly deluded (Lk.12:13-21; cf. Ps.49). But for we who have chosen the riches of eternal life, the uncounted abundance which is in Jesus Christ our Lord, we rejoice to know that the things of this life are but dust - they are not what we love. And we rejoice to know that this life will not last forever, because, if we are truly following Him as we should, life is most definitely not a "health and wealth fest":

Jesus said, "In truth, I tell you, there is no one who has left behind a house or brothers or sisters or a mother or a father or children or fields for My sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred-fold more in this present time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children - with persecutions - and in the age to come, eternal life."
Mark 10:29-30

[They were] strengthening the hearts of the disciples, and encouraging them to remain in the faith, and saying "We must pass through many tribulations to reach the Kingdom of God".
Acts 14:22

Indeed, all who are willing to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2nd Timothy 3:12

As to the second part of your question, on the specific issue of spiritual gifts, this fascination is also, as I believe, partly a result of the "once-saved-always-saved" fallacy, only here the person is looking for some sort of purpose, fulfillment, motivation with some sort of direct spiritual connection. And, indeed, there were many such gifts operational in the early days of the Church, before we had the entire Bible at our disposal, before we had a system of higher education to prepare clergy, before we had a base of support for the growth of the Word and the Church world-wide, and before we had a general knowledge in the world of what the Church was and who Jesus Christ is. For all these reasons and more, this day we now live in is not being administered by God in the exact same was as at the day of Pentecost - indeed, this particular miraculous event was never repeated in a similar way (visible tongues of flame alighting upon the believers to demonstrate the presence of the Spirit). The Spirit's wonderful role is to make the power of the Word real, and all of the gifts of the early Church pointed in that direction (foreigners heard the Word through the tongues, people without a Bible heard words of truth through prophecy, people who had no idea what Christianity was had their faith in the truth ignited by acts of healing). We have something even greater today - the entire Bible and the means of actually understanding it (through gifts, and tools, and prepared people) - what could be better than that! We have what is really perfect and complete now so that these temporary measures are not essential to faith, and it is a real tragedy whenever people are distracted from learning the truth of the scriptures out of a fascination with and feigned practice of these now non-functioning gifts (1Cor.13:8-12). But the irony is that even as we find ourselves with a better chance than ever before of moving closer to God through His Word (the only way to accomplish a close walk with Him), we, as a Church in toto, seem to be drifting ever farther away, pursuing instead what is "fun", "entertaining" and "popular". The Nicolaitans made use of the same strategy in the early Church.

Finally, let me take up next your correct (and troubling) observation that many involved in these sorts of activities refuse to accept that others who do not join in their excesses might possibly be saved. This is exactly what all cults do to try and pressure those outside to come and join ("it's the only way, it's your last chance!"), while at the same time strengthening their grip on those within ("if you leave, you're not saved"). Obviously, any group or approach that has been reduced to using such psychological warfare tactics is far from the mercy, grace and love of God. I have written rather extensively on this particular issue and invite you to check out these references:

Read your Bible: Protection against Cults

Three Doctrines that Threaten Faith

For those of us who are truly following Jesus Christ, the Bible has always been and remains our "light shining in a dark place" that deserves our full attention until the moment we see Him face to face (2Pet.1:19). And in the crucible of the Tribulation to come, those whose faith is fragile, because it has been based upon excitement, entertainment, and emotional experiences rather than upon the truth of God's Word, will find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position. The predicted mass falling away from the faith, the "Great Apostasy" (see the link), is likely to claim all who have not truly made the Lord and His Word their refuge and their Rock, a thing impossible without a dedicated and correct approach to the pilgrimage we have been called to make through the devil's world.

You may also find the following links helpful:

The "Prosperity Gospel".

Are health and wealth a part of the gospel?

Does God really want us to be sick and poor? Revisiting the prosperity gospel.

Habakkuk's Prosperity Prayer: Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Hope this is in someway helpful, and please don't hesitate to be in touch if there are still particulars you would like me to address.

Yours in Jesus Christ the Living Word,

Bob L.

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