SPICE Pt. 1 – The Prosperity Gospel

ImageThe recent media attention on wealthy Nigerian pastors has led to the critique and defense of pastors buying private jets. However, the problem with the prosperity gospel is not the jets (that is like diagnosing a Malaria patient with headaches!). Jets and other things may be symptoms, but the fundamental problem with the prosperity gospel is with the content itself. It is not the true gospel – it is an erroneous gospel, or at best a distortion of the gospel!
In the long run, it does not promote godliness and it often further impoverishes the poor.

Here’s the outline of this post:
A. What is the gospel
B. What’s the prosperity gospel
C. What is wrong with prosperity gospel
D. Some sociological effects of the prosperity gospel
E. Conditions/things that enable the prosperity gospel in Nigeria
 
AWhat is the gospel? (you may skip to the next section if familiar with the gospel)

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (ESV) 

The core of the gospel (good news)  is this:

  • All are sinners – broken God’s law and offended him, separated from God (Isaiah 59:2), dead in our sins (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:3), and cannot please God (Rom. 3:10-11), and will suffer damnation (2 Thess. 1:9).
  • As a result of God’s love, Christ died (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10), for our sins -as a substitute for us (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal:3:13; 1 Peter 2:24), that he was buried, raised on the third day

His death is able to

  1. take away the wrath of God against sin which is directed towards all sinners (Romans 3:25-26; Isaiah 53:5, 10);
  2. set anyone free from the slavery to a sinful life (Romans 6:17, Gal. 3:13, 1 Cor. 7:23, Heb. 2:14-15), and
  3. reconcile people to God (Romans 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20)
  • This is available to anyone who recognizes their sinfulness, repents (Acts 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10) and trusts Christ completely to save them from their sins. (John 1:12; 3:16).

B. What are the features of the prosperity gospel?

The prosperity teachers I know acknowledge all the above (at least in doctrinal statements), therefore, one might call their content prosperity teaching (instead of prosperity gospel), however, because of how it is inexorably linked to the gospel itself and seeks to convince people that the gospel itself guarantees people material prosperity and wealth, it is rightly called the prosperity gospel. It teaches some or all of the following:

  1. Jesus died to provide you material wealth and God wants you to be rich, therefore Christians should expect material wealth to come their way as a seal of God’s approval.
  2. If material wealth does not manifest, or if you are going through any suffering, it’s probably due to a lack of faith, and you are outside the will of God. In other words, God doesn’t want you to suffer.
  3. Christians should speak positive confessions, and it will make them prosper materially.
  4. If you give to God (usually by giving to the man of God) then God will give you back more money guaranteed. So if you want to prosper or grow richer, “sow a seed” until the desired amount of money is acquired. If you are poor, the way to become rich is by giving to the man of God, who is rich himself, and that is a passport to becoming rich yourself.
  5. All the wealth in the world will be transferred to the Christians before Christ returns, then we will deliver the kingdom to Him.
  6. Jesus lived his earthly life as a rich man

C. What is wrong with this (Prosperity) teaching?

That the Bible clearly teaches God’s blessings is not under question. From Genesis 12 to Deuteronomy 28 etc. it is there. But the Bible does not teach it the way it is presented in this prosperity teaching.
Eg. “JESUS went to the cross to give you a better life to live. Enjoying life to it’s fullness is your covenant inheritance!!!

Excuse me but that is so wrong!! Jesus didn’t go to the cross so you or I can get a better job, live in a nice house and enjoy a life of material wealth. There are many people who hate God and have all those things!You don’t need to be a christian to do all those things – for the most part, if you work hard and become competent at what you do and present your competence, you can accomplish any of those things whether you are a christian or not!

What are the results and dangers of the prosperity gospel?

  1. It distorts the gospel by equating material gain with godliness. People give testimonies of how God “blessed them” materially every Sunday but evil and corruption still abound and thrive in the society. They have “infallible proofs” (to quote some of these testimonies) of God’s work, but is increased net worth really a sign that God has favored someone?
  2. It promotes greed, covetousness and an unhealthy desire for riches – all things that the Bible severely warns against.  (Luke 12:15; Mark 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3,5) Please read those passages and you will get the idea – the prosperity gospel emphasizes and encourages people toward material wealth “from God”, however, the Bible warns against accumulating material wealth! Subtle but huge difference in the direction of emphasis! The prosperity gospel does not prepare people for eternity, but gives them incentive to live here and little reason to think of the hereafter. However, we do well to heed 1 Corinthians 7:31
  3. It takes away the focus from God the giver, to material wealth, his gifts. While the Bible teaches us to give as an act of worship (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16), and to give sacrificially according to Christ’s example (2 Corinthians 8) not for what we should gain, this teaching tells believers to give in order to get more.
  4. It downgrades people’s trust and focus from God and his people to one ‘man of God’ who is the mediator of the prosperity.
  5. It preys on the less privileged – who give their little in order for the leaders to live in opulence.
  6. It damages people’s faith, by setting them up for disappointment when the things promised by men of God does not happen.See here for the story of Lawrence Agada, a cashier at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, who stole N39m (worth $247, 000 today, and $342,000 in Feb 2002) from his employers, all of which he used for offerings and gifts to the church believing (in his own words here ) that God “…was going to replace everything, since He is the one I used the money for”! There is some flavor for you – and believe it this is not the only case. I was once told about the severe decline in faith found in Europe and North America, and about the need for Africans to take the gospel back to these nations. I have since confirmed the said decline, but I seriously pray that it is not this brand of faith that we would “take back” there.
  7. The prosperity gospel destroys sincere men (and women) of God who start out with a desire to serve God, but end up serving their bellies!

All these are not new actually – the Bible warns against it in 1 Timothy 6:3-10

“3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 (ESV)

D. What are some of the sociological effects of the prosperity gospel?

In the United States, some researchers have drawn some connection between this prosperity gospel and the subprime-lending boom, which preceded the housing and economic crisis. The effects of this prosperity gospel made people easy prey to unscrupulous bank officials – while the victims gave “testimonies” such as how God ‘miraculously’ made the bank ignore their bad credit and give them a house!! To read more about this check here or here

E. What are some of the enabling conditions that perpetuate the prosperity gospel in Africa?

  1. A Society that worships money. Influence is equated with wealth and opulence in Nigeria. But God has never viewed things that way. God looks at heart issues such as faithfulness and integrity (1 Samuel 16:7). Even in the church (especially in the church) we see this worldly value system. Pastors are not respected because of their faithfulness but often by how ostentatious their display of wealth.
  2.  A society that is void of accountability.  The church is the pillar and ground of the truth – you know what that means? Transparency should be highest in the church. But we have bred a system where pastors and bishops are not accountable to anyone and the people are afraid of accountability.
  3. A church that worships on the idolatrous personality altar of “men of God”. We are told that nobody should say anything about a man of God because if you do, you will be cursed. Really?? Is that really scriptural? Especially if you are speaking out about righteousness and not simply driven by your own spiteful, sinful  motives. See Galatians 2:11-21 where Paul rebukes Peter for hypocrisy. Peter was a ‘senior’ apostle if there ever was any. He was an apostle when Paul was still a persecutor and was one of the people who accepted and validated Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:27). If he believed and behaved like this he would never speak up and Peter would not be corrected. We may think it is respect to ignore spiritual leaders when they sin, but it is really hatred. We can watch a man of God go to hell because we wanted to “touch not the anointed”. I write as a pastor – one of those ‘men of God’ if you like. It is lonely “up” there on the pedestal where people place spiritual leaders as if they are without flaw or struggles. It is also dangerous! Without any form of accountability it is easy to fall away from Jesus. The problem is that after this has happened one can still keep going through the motions for years before it becomes obvious. Love your pastor enough to pray for him, and to be forthright about sin in the church.
  1. A church that is largely ignorant of the true gospel and of doctrine. Today the four letter word of the church is theology or doctrine! Many of the spurious teachings making rounds in the church are things which have been weighed and found wanting long ago but we keep falling for them. We are open to humorous, witty, pragmatic messages which make us feel good but do not build us up in the knowledge of God. But we do not want to learn doctrine, thus when an eloquent preacher with a bold voice comes to town preaching unsound doctrine we get all carried away rather than do what Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 18:24-28.

Anyhow, if Jesus died to make his followers materially rich – then we would need to admit that Jesus ended up a failure since none of his first followers was known for being rich. In fact many of them who started from a position of comfort moved by choice to a rigorous life driven by a higher purpose namely, to see people transformed spiritually by faith in Christ (Eg. Barnabas).

I appeal to my brother preachers in the house. Please let us be responsible with our preaching and teaching of God’s word. We are to model godliness with contentment for God’s people as we serve. Let’s not lose sight of the mission. We are not called to raise up superstars but to raise up people who are being transformed into the image of Christ.

It is hard to show one Bible passage – even one – which shows that part of the mission of Jesus was to make people rich, or give them financial breakthroughs. But our flavored prosperity gospel  attempts to.

Watch out for the next edition of SPICE where some of them are addressed. Meanwhile, whether you found this post spicy or not, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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About

I am a pastor and adjunct professor. I am interested in Leadership, Education, culture as well as the spiritual life. I am the author of no books, but I blog occasionally. I am married and have 4 lovely children.

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