Prosperity/Health and Wealth

DEFINITION

Prosperity teaching, also known as health and wealth teaching, has been defined as "the teaching that "believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the 'sowing of seeds' through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings."[1] Prosperity theology is not the same as Word of Faith theology, though most, if not all, Word of Faith teachers hold to some level of prosperity theology. We need to be careful how we define terms, label people, and even express our own beliefs when it comes to these subjects because ultimately God does want us to be blessed, healthy and prosperous. However, what does that mean practically speaking? Is everyone ready to be millionaires? And do we get this by giving large amounts of money to a person or ministry?

ORIGIN

The prosperity/health and wealth message didn't have a clear beginning. There seems to be an agreement among scholars that this movement began in the U.S.A. in the early to mid 19th century with several preachers/teachers talking about the health part of this teaching, with the wealth/prosperity part coming much later. One also has to make the distinction as to whether these teachers were teaching "Word of Faith," health and/or wealth, or a combination of these.

CONSEQUENCES

Many people don't realize this, but the prosperity a.k.a. health and wealth gospel is one of the most dangerous and devastating false teachings, while it is based on some truth. Imagine being poor, which is relative but according to the World Bank, over 70 percent of the world is poor. Naturally a lot of these people are also sick because they can't afford proper health care, lack clean water, have poor hygiene, etc. Imagine hearing that God doesn't want you poor or sick and if you give your best "seed" (money), which if you have faith amounts to everything you have, then God is going to make you rich and healthy. What is worse, these prosperity teachers use the Bible and say God promises this, which is partially true. So who wouldn't want that? These people look around, look at themselves, and say to themselves, "I don't want this, I want to be rich!" Using the Bible and saying it's God's will propels them to give the little that they have to that "ministry" and while that ministry gets all this money from the poor, the poor are often left waiting for God to make them rich and healthy. These churches essentially make their community poorer, although God will provide for and take care of His children, even though they are giving their resources to the minister or church. This is exactly what is happening throughtout the world and is sadly growing fast in the poorest regions where the poor are more desperate, vulnerable and willing to try anything. When they don't become rich or healed, they clearly become disillusioned, confused, and often fall away from the faith.

This became a problem in Africa, so much so, that many Pastors, teachers, churches and organizations have spoken out against it. One example is a huge group called the Lausanne Movement, started by Billy Graham in 1974, it is "the largest global umbrella movement for Christians committed to world mission"2 and whose conference in 2010 was possibly "the most representative gathering of the Christian church in history."3 "In addition to the 4200 participants from 198 countries meeting together in South Africa, it extended to over 100,000 individuals at nearly 700 GlobaLink sites in more than 95 countries around the world."4 Well, the African chapter has written over a dozen papers in the past few years on this teaching and ChristianityToday published a summary of these papers which can be found here or here. This African chapter concludes, "it is our overall view that the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the 'prosperity gospel' are false and gravely distorting of the Bible, that their practice is often unethical and unChristlike, and that the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation. In such dimensions, it can be soberly described as a false gospel."5 A collaborative partnership between the Lausanne Movement and ChristianityToday (perhaps the most popular Christian magazine publishers) called The Global Conversation produced a short documentary which can be found here.

Let me be clear. The Bible does make it clear that he wants to prosper us, but according the level of prosperity He wills and according to what we can handle. As far as health, God definitely wants us all healthy, yet He doesn't always heal, and it should not be taught that He will if we give money. Please read my article on healing for mre information on this. I do believe God always wants to heal and it is part of the atonement (e.g. Isaiah 53).


FOOTNOTES:

1. Lausanne Theology Working Group, Africa chapter (12-08-2009). "A Statement on Prosperity Teaching". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=86009.
2. http://www.johnstott.org/lausanne Accessed October 27, 2010
3. http://www.lausanne.org/news-releases/china-missing-from-global-table-as-cape-town-2010-congress-opened-sunday-in-south-africa.html Accessed October 27, 2010
4. Ibid
5. Lausanne Theology Working Group, Africa chapter (12-08-2009). "A Statement on Prosperity Teaching". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=86009.


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