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04. October 2017 · Write a comment · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

One of the benefits of being involved in ministry for a long period of time is that you see a lot of religious fads come and go.  In my time I have seen a lot of things appear “hot” on the religious scene, only to fizzle and fade away.  However, one aberration that does not seem to want to go away is what is known as the “health and wealth gospel” or the “Prosperity Gospel”.  The main thrust of this “gospel” which really is no gospel at all is, “God wants you to be healthy and rich” and if you are not, then there is something deficient with your faith or your beliefs in general.  The prescription for this malady, according to the proponents of this “gospel” is to follow the teaching of this or that televangelist, or better still send them “seed money” so that your wealth may be multiplied.

Now I don’t have the space here to do a full theological treatment, as I was invited to do during my 2015 visit to Kenya, where I spent an entire morning with a group of about 25 pastors at the Kapsabet Bible College discussing a “theological response to the Prosperity Gospel”.

Today all I can do is briefly show you how to recognize this error, and what is at the root of it. There are two main Scripture references that the prosperity preachers use to peddle their wares. One is 3. John 2 which says, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”  (KJV). Note that the King James Version actually uses the word “prosper”.  But other more accurate translations say, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (NIV) or “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (ESV)

The problem with most prosperity preachers, including the most popular ones on TV, is that they lack any kind of theological training, let alone any knowledge of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture).  This means they can take a Bible verse (and yes, these verses are in the Bible!) and make them say what the inspired author of the verse never intended to say.  Did John, who penned these verses really intend to say that Christians everywhere and in all times should be healthy and wealthy?  Or was he passing along a greeting that is as common as something that we would say, “friend, I hope that you are doing well”?  These preachers don’t know, but they ought to know, that you can’t fashion a doctrinal truth that applies to everyone  and everywhere on the basis of one single Bible verse, a Bible verse that is open to interpretation!

A second favourite Scripture of the health and wealth preachers is found in 2. Corinthians 9:10-11 which says, Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (NIV)

The apostle Paul, who quotes an Old Testament Scripture before this statement is using the sowing principle that a little seed produces a great harvest, and then applies that to the virtue of generosity.  The context of these verses is that Paul is encouraging generosity. But the “spin” that these preachers put on this is “send your money to me, and God will increase your wealth”. The preacher will usually aim high, “make a vow of $1,000 even if you can’t afford it, just believe and then pay on it, pay on it till the vow is complete.” (Robert Tilton uses this line in almost every program). No worries that there is no mention of any sort of vow in this passage, he will use the passage and say, “God gives seed to the sower”. And if you really can’t afford the $1,000 why then just send me what you have.  And people do just that. During the audit of one televangelist who was investigated for fraud, the bulk of the millions of dollars that he raised did not come from wealthy people who sent in a thousand dollars.  It came from the many donations of financially desperate people who were promised that by giving up what little they had, God would make them rich.  This included widows and orphans who sent in portions or all of their pension to help that preacher pay for his 4 houses and cars, his $5000.00 suits, and his private airplane.

The true Christian gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ does not include a promise of health and wealth and prosperity.  Jesus never promised his followers anything remotely resembling what these preachers proclaim.  Jesus promised his disciples that they would suffer hardship, persecution, perhaps even death. But he also promised that He would be there with them through all of this.

So why, in our day do we see churches emptying, and at the same time stadiums filled by people listening to Joyce Meyers or Ken Copeland, people who have no ministerial credentials? There are several reasons.  One is that these preachers are excellent communicators, and another that they understand marketing (most invest in effective public relations professionals). But another, more insidious reason is that they have a message which resonates with what people want to hear.   In the case of illness or disease many are desperate because everything they have tried has been unsuccessful.  Why wouldn’t you go and listen to someone who offers you the possibility of healing? And then there is greed, one of the most base of human vices.  Why not pursue that “financial miracle”, especially if someone tells you that you have a right to it by virtue of nothing more than faith?  And if you don’t see the financial wealth, well sorry, I guess you don’t have the faith that it takes.  Said one televangelist who had a BMW, a Bentley, and a Cadillac in his garage, “I can’t help it if your faith only reaches to a Chevy or VW!”

Sadly, many of these religious hucksters and frauds are supported by Christians who are as unknowledgeable and as gullible as these preachers.  I’m not afraid to say that Benny Hinn has been exposed as a fraud in both the United States and Canada. The American network ABC revealed how he knows where the people who need healing are seated in the audience.  He receives transmissions to an electronic device in his ear from co-workers who interviewed people coming in about why they came, and then noted where they sat.  Hinn then tells the audience that the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that in “Section XYZ someone is seated in seat ABC who has cancer” or whatever.  The CBC has done an extensive investigation on him and the IRS in the United States has looked into his financial dealings.  And yet I know that people from Bible believing churches everywhere send him money, even when their own churches are suffering financially. And when Benny Hinn appeared at the Air Canada Center in Toronto some years ago, people spent thousands of dollars to fly to Toronto from all over Canada to fill the stadium (and leave some of their money there as well). Ken Copeland, when asked by reporters why he needs a private jet to “do the Lord’s work”, pointedly replied, “that’s none of your business.”  With his characteristic smile he turned his back and left.

Here in Africa, from where I am writing these lines, the Prosperity Gospel is doing very well. When I mentioned this in class the other day, one of my students reminded me, “but you know where that comes from, don’t you sir?  It comes from the West.”  Sad but true.  While this North American style Christianity has been imported here, Africa now has its own Prosperity Preachers. When one of the most famous ones comes to Nairobi for a shopping trip, the police cordon off streets so that his limousine can make it through.

The prosperity gospel will be around, not only in Africa and North America, but wherever there are opportunists, and wherever there are people who are either desperate or greedy. But I am confident that God, who has the last word over everyone’s ministry, including my own, will deal with them in His own time. For now how may we protect ourselves?  Read your Bible, study it, get with a church that teaches sound doctrine and that teaches you how to understand Scripture. May God give us open ears so that we may discern truth from error.

 

 

 

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