Prosperity doctrine: Blessing with a twist

‘Health, wealth and wisdom;’ that’s what the world wants, and we want in now. And that’s what the twenty-first-century tries to offer in the West, at least to some. But there are no promises, not it seems unless you step into the right church. For over a century now, Pentecostalism has maintained that Spirit-filled living leads, not just to peace with God, but also to divine health for your body. And the message is not only, ‘God wants you well.’ ‘God wants you rich’ too.

Although such claims from leading proponents of the Prosperity message may be repudiated formally by whole scores of Pentecostal Christians, increasingly today the underlying emphasis on abundance is evident within widespread Pentecostalism. This was demonstrated clearly by the many millions of book sales of Bruce Wilkinson's The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking through to the Blessed Life (2000), a recent best seller that promised God’s favour, power and protection to those who simply pray the right kind of prayer. This very contemporary message is just what the itching ears of many in the church today want to hear.

Pentecostal prosperity

The Prosperity movement of present-day Pentecostalism is based on the belief that every blessing won by Christ in his death and resurrection are presently available to the believing Christian. Consequently, many Pentecostal churches teach that God promises an array of physical blessings as well as spiritual for the Christian life in the ‘here and now’. While the Second Coming will accomplish the destruction of sin, death and Satan permanently, such things as sickness, pain and poverty are completely unnecessary for Christians. And so, faith in Christ entitles one to experience the full implications of Christ’s reversal of the curse of Genesis 3. The basic bones of this system is that Christians are now set free by Christ’s resurrection from the curse of sickness and poverty, and consequently are entitled through the combined power of faith and the positive confession of the Word of God to experience Eden like blessing in every sphere of their lives.

In essence, this emphasis within Pentecostalism is based on a view that the Kingdom of God has already completely arrived with Christ’s first coming. Although the Consummation will entail the appropriation of that Kingdom to the entire world in the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, for the Spirit-filled, faith-filled Christian, all the promises of God in Scripture are already theirs for the enjoyment. In other words, to the committed Pentecostal, a ‘heaven on earth’ lifestyle is not decedent greed, or excessive indulgence, but a God-given right and God’s revealed will for his children; prosperity is therefore, in fact, a sign of true godliness. Accordingly, Christians are to ‘claim’ from God, health, wealth, wisdom, power, esteem, comfort, and whatever else originally belonged to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Pentecostals have it that God guarantees in his Word that Christians through faith may have now complete victory over Satan and therefore may walk in total deliverance from his dominion in to any situation of life. ‘It’s all be done for us by Christ,’ therefore, ‘we have everything now through Christ.’ It follows that, ‘if Christians don’t have it, its not on account of God withholding it.’ The obvious implication is that many Christians forfeit their God-given right to such a ‘higher-life’ because of their lack of faith and commitment; that is, their lack of godliness. Christians are only limited by the strength of their faith.

This movement is unembarrassed in its emphasis on abundance. ‘If I’m a child of the King’ and ‘the Kingdom has arrived’, it follows that ‘we ought to live like princes and princesses’. This ‘Kingdom mentality’ goes someway towards explaining the increasing emphasis within Pentecostal churches on outward beauty. The use of makeup and the acquisition of jewelry, fashionable clothes, luxury cars and other status symbols are all encouraged because they are seen as intrinsically tied to self-esteem. To the proponents of this message, self-esteem is critical for the faithful Christian because ‘we are royalty,’ and if we are God’s royalty, genuine belief necessitates that we feel like it, and if we feel like it, we will look like it. Conversely, there are few things as despised within Pentecostal Prosperity circles as a ‘poverty mentality,’ which is tantamount to unbelief.

Brian Houston sets out this message in How to Flourish in Life (2003), in which he argues that Christians need to be prosperous and successful in order to show the power of God: “God’s purpose and intention is clearly that we should have an abundant life—that means bountiful, productive, successful, prosperous and flourishing. This kind of abundant life reveals and demonstrates the power of God to others.” To Houston, other signs of God’s work include positive self-esteem, beauty and physical attractiveness. Of course, all of this has implications for the sex-life of Christians too. Bobbie Houston was unabashed to declare: ‘Kingdom women love sex’.

It is deeply ironic that Pentecostalism has been so progressive in its acculturation of the contemporary message of society that their gospel now preached from the platform is “sex, money and power”.

The present time

The fundamental problem with this new gospel of health, wealth and victory is that it is ‘out of time’ with the Biblical picture of the present. In truth, Christians live in a time still awaiting the full consummation of the Kingdom of God, in which the gift of the Spirit guarantees Christians every spiritual blessing ‘here and now’ through faith in Christ, but we are ‘not yet’ glorified in the consummated Kingdom, when every physical blessing will be ours in experience, including the redemption of our physical bodies and the everlasting security of permanent peace and life, without pain, loss or mourning. These physical blessings belong to the Christian now only through the eye of faith, but in physical reality we’re not there yet, like first homeowners who still wait settlement day (Ephesians 1:3, Romans 8:23). We are living in the ‘overlap of the ages:’ the old order continues even though we live now as citizens of the new order that is yet to arrive. There are numerous passages that indicate clearly what we do have ‘now’ as Christians, and what is yet to come.

Dying bodies

Romans 8:22-25 portrays Christians as ones groaning ‘as in the pains of childbirth’ (a metaphor clearly implying the pain-filled nature of our present state) as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. Clearly, then, the body is not yet redeemed. With respect to spiritual matters such as the forgiveness of sin, and adoption into God’s family, certainly Christian are redeemed. We have been resurrected spiritually already. But with respect to our bodies, we are not yet redeemed, or adopted. We moan and groan in pain and suffer all types of physical hardships and discomforts and distresses and disorders. With regard to our bodies we are in this way like every other non-Christian: open to disease, and suffering and eventually death. But if as some Pentecostals teach, our bodies may experience perfect health already, why must Christians die at all, and why do Christians require physical resurrection of their bodies?

Sinful natures

The Christian still does not yet have perfection in the mind, will or emotions. Though we may have been made new in Christ spiritually, yet in the mind and the will and the emotions there is still a battle going on against the sinful nature, as Romans 7 and Galatians 5 insist. The Apostle John declares, “If anyone says he is without sin, he makes God to be a liar.” Clearly Christians cannot yet have, or be able to achieve, perfect blessing now in a physical sense in this life, for we are not yet able to avoid sin in our own lives, let alone that of others.

Persecuted and oppressed

Christians do not have justice and righteousness in the affairs of their lives. The epistles of 1 Peter and James picture the Christian as one ‘yearning for the home of righteousness.’ For in this world we experience suffering, injustice and persecution. John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ is a word given to the Church to comfort her by demonstrating that her crying out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” does not go unnoticed and is not at all to be underemphasized (much less counter emphasized). Their patient waiting for justice is not in vain for He who is coming will come. Rather, the Christian’s cry of yearning is magnified as being central in the cosmic battle that is now taking place, of which Christ Jesus, the Lord of all, has victory, though the battle will continue “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who are to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Revelation 6:11).

Clearly, then, Christians do not yet have complete physical victory in this life. The Bible does not promise Christians power, money and sex in a worldly sense. We live in the overlap of the ages, between his cross and his coming, when although every spiritual blessing is ours now in Christ in the heavenly realms, every physical blessing in Christ awaits his coming and our resurrection.

The promise of suffering

The Prosperity message ignores Christ our King’s call to follow his model of suffering and death before entry into glory. He did not promise, nor expect, his followers to walk in the perfect glory of the Kingdom now. Quite the contrary: “In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33) Pentecostalism is creating generations of Christians without any ‘homesickness for heaven’, who are busy trying to find complete material and bodily blessing now, forgetting the encouragement of the Scriptures to remain true to the faith: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). Prosperity doctrine shares none of the Biblical emphasis on the imitation of the sufferings of Christ and of the Apostles. It also has no understanding of the implication of physical death for the Christian life and the certainty for many Christians of martyrdom for Christ.

In contrast to the leading proponents of the Prosperity movement, the Apostle Paul delighted in weaknesses, in hardships, and in difficulties (2 Corinthians 12:10). He himself suffered sicknesses, as did Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:27) and others in the New Testament. He ‘knew hunger and thirst’ and often went without food (2 Corinthians 11:27). The Apostles themselves were ‘in rags’ and ‘homeless’, even though they ‘worked hard with their own hands’ (1 Corinthians 4:11).

These are the very passages where our Apostle Paul urges Christians to ‘imitate him,’ for he was imitating Christ’s own lifestyle: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). It was Christ our King himself who gave us the pattern of suffering, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). Therefore anyone who would truly live a godly life in Christ should expect suffering, whether because of sin, sickness, or injustice; and they should freely part with possessions in order to live and die for the salvation of others and for the glory of God. This is the pattern laid down for us; this is what our Lord commanded – that we should suffer for his Name’s sake before entering his glory.

"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
Prosperity with a twist

Just as evil is a perversion of God’s good creation, wickedness is truth with a twist. The Prosperity gospel amounts to as cunning a deception as the age-old promise of blessing to Eve who listened to the voice of Satan and ate from the tree about which God had commanded Adam not to eat. The Devil’s temptation of Christ was similar, “All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Once tested, it was Christ who warned, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Neither can you love the world and have the love of the Father (1 John 2:15). “You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)

Though now for a little while we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials – sweat, pain and tears, disappointment and lack, sickness and injustice, and death – ‘These have come so that our faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ (1 Peter 1:7) The day is coming when Christ himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes: ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.’ (Revelation 21:4). Therefore, in the mean time, don’t be led astray by any promise of a blessing with a twist. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.