Clarifying the prosperity gospel

I have not gotten permission to print this but it is so helpful as I keep getting comments and accusations about this and that preacher being heretical and teaching prosperity doctrine. I often wonder if these people heard sufficient sermons of the preachers they condemn or base it on hearsay. This article is not mine but reposted here for your convenience. Its a paper by a well known theologian in collaboration with others who contributed to a Lausanne Theology Working Group. It is titled  “A Statement on the Prosperity Gospel”.

Lausanne Theology Working Group (Arican Chapter)

At its consultations in Akropong, Ghana, 8-9 October, 2008 and 1-4 September 2009

NOTE: This is a statement, offered as a discussion starter for further reflection (theological, ethical, pastoral and missiological, socio-political and economic) on the phenomenal rise of prosperity teaching around the world at large and Africa in particular. The points below are a digest of many points made in the course of the discussion of three papers at the Oct. 2008 and ten papers at the Sept 2009 consultations.

We define prosperity gospel 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. We recognize that prosperity teaching is a phenomenon that cuts across denominational barriers. Prosperity teaching can be found in varying degrees in mainstream Protestant, Pentecostal as well as Charismatic Churches. It is the phenomenon of prosperity teaching that is being addressed here not any particular denomination or tradition.

We further recognize that there are some dimensions of prosperity teaching that have roots in the Bible, and we affirm such elements of truth below. We do not wish to be exclusively negative, and we recognize the appalling social realities within which this teaching flourishes and the measure of hope it holds out to desperate people. However, while acknowledging such positive features, 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.

We call for further reflection on these matters within the Christian Church, and request the Lausanne movement to be willing to make a very clear statement rejecting the excesses of prosperity teaching as incompatible with evangelical biblical Christianity.

We affirm the miraculous grace and power of God, and welcome the growth of churches and ministries that demonstrate them and that lead people to exercise expectant faith in the living God and his supernatural power. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, we reject as unbiblical the notion that God’s miraculous power can be treated as automatic, or at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions or rituals.

We affirm that there is a biblical vision of human prospering, and that the Bible includes material welfare (both health and wealth) within its teaching about the blessing of God. This needs further study and explanation across the whole Bible in both Testaments. We must not dichotomize the material and the spiritual in unbiblical dualism.

However, we reject the unbiblical notion that spiritual welfare can be measured in terms of material welfare, or that wealth is always a sign of God’s blessing (since it can be obtained by oppression, deceit or corruption), or that poverty or illness or early death, is always a sign of God’s curse, or lack of faith, or human curses (since the Bible explicitly denies that it is always so)

We affirm the biblical teaching on the importance of hard work, and the positive use of all the resources that God has given us – abilities, gifts, the earth, education, wisdom, skills, wealth, etc. And to the extent that some Prosperity teaching encourages these things, it can have a positive effect on people’s lives. We do not believe in an unbiblical ascetism that rejects such things, or an unbiblical fatalism that sees poverty as a fate that cannot be fought against.

However, we reject as dangerously contradictory to the sovereign grace of God, the notion that success in life is entirely due to our own striving, wrestling, negotiation, or cleverness. We reject those elements of Prosperity Teaching that are virtually identical to ‘positive thinking’ and other kinds of ‘self-help’ techniques.

We are also grieved to observe that Prosperity Teaching has stressed individual wealth and success, without the need for community accountability, and has thus actually damaged a traditional feature of African society, which was commitment to care within the extended family and wider social community.

We recognize that Prosperity Teaching flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty, and that for many people, it presents their only hope, in the face of constant frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs, etc., for a better future, or even for a more bearable present. We are angry that such poverty persists and we affirm the Bible’s view that it also angers God and that it is not his will that people should live in abject poverty. We acknowledge and confess that in many situations the Church has lost its prophetic voice in the public arena.

However, we do not believe that Prosperity Teaching provides a helpful or biblical response to the poverty of the people among whom it flourishes. And we observe that much of this teaching has come from North American sources where people are not materially poor in the same way.

It vastly enriches those who preach it, but leaves multitudes no better off than before, with the added burden of disappointed hopes

While emphasizing various alleged spiritual or demonic causes of poverty, it gives little or no attention to those causes that are economic and political, including injustice, exploitation, unfair international trade practices, etc.

It thus tends to victimize the poor by making them feel that their poverty is their own fault (which the Bible does not do), while failing to address and denounce those whose greed inflicts poverty on others (which the Bible does repeatedly).

Some prosperity teaching is not really about helping the poor at all, and provides no sustainable answer to the real causes of poverty.

We accept that some prosperity teachers sincerely seek to use the Bible in explaining and promoting their teachings.

However, we are distressed that much use of the Bible is seriously distorted, selective, and manipulative. We call for a more careful exegesis of texts, and a more holistic biblical hermeneutic, and we denounce the way that many texts are twisted out of context and used in ways that contradict some very plain Bible teaching.

And especially, we deplore the fact that in many churches where Prosperity Teaching is dominant, the Bible is rarely preached in any careful or explanatory way, and the way of salvation, including repentance from sin and saving faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life, is misrepresented and substituted with material wellbeing.

We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the numbers of professing Christians in many countries where churches that have adopted prosperity teachings and practice are very popular.

However, numerical growth or mega-statistics may not necessarily demonstrate the truth of the message that accompanies it, or the belief system behind it. Popularity is no proof of truth; and people can be deceived in great numbers.

We are pleased to observe that many churches and leaders are critical and in some cases overtly renounce and cut the links with specific aspects of African primal or traditional religion and its practices, where these can be seen to be in conflict with the biblical revelation and worldview.

Yet it seems clear that there are many aspects of Prosperity Teaching that have their roots in that soil. We therefore wonder if much popular Christianity is a syncretised super-structure on an underlying worldview that has not been radically transformed by the biblical gospel. We also wonder whether the popularity and attraction of Prosperity Teaching is an indication of the failure of contextualization of the Gospel in Africa.

We observe that many people testify to the way Prosperity Teaching has in fact impacted their lives for the better – encouraging them to have greater faith, to seek to improve their education, or working lives. We rejoice in this. There is great power in such testimony, and we thank God when any of his children enjoy his blessing.

However, we observe equally that many people have been duped by such teaching into false faith and false expectations, and when these are not satisfied, they ‘give up on God’, or lose their faith altogether and leave the church. This is tragic, and must be very grievous to God.

We accept that many prosperity teachers mostly have their roots in evangelical churches and traditions, or were brought up under the influence of evangelical parachurch ministries.

But we deplore the clear evidence that many of them have in practice moved away from key and fundamental tenets of evangelical faith, including the authority and priority of the Bible as the Word of God, and the centrality of the cross of Christ.

We know that God sometimes puts leaders in positions of significant public fame and influence.

However, there are aspects of the lifestyle and behaviour of many preachers of Prosperity Teaching that we find deplorable, unethical, and frankly idolatrous (to the god of Mammon), and in some of these respects we may be called upon to identify and reject such things as the marks of false prophets, according to the standards of the Bible. These include:

Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles

Unethical and manipulative techniques

Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good – which is mammon

Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money

Covetousness which is idolatry

Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.

Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed

Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ

Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.

Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.

Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals

First Draft by Rev. Dr. Chris Wright (Chair, Lausanne Theology Working Group)

Edited by Rev. Dr. John Azumah (Member, Lausanne Theology Working Group) In collaboration with Rev. Prof. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Chair of the Akropong consultations.

This is a collated digest of points made by many contributors, through the written papers and the following discussions.

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Comments

  • Blogpastor, thank you for bringing to us this very comprehensive statement which warns against the dangers of embracing prosperity gospel, while acknowledging that “there are some dimensions of prosperity teaching that have roots in the Bible”. Ultimately, it is a sincere statement against “false prophets” who manipulate their congregations with material worldly concepts of wealth and health, and I absolutely agree with this underlying message.

  • Thank you for this.

    I guess this post was somewhat directed towards me given that I was quite shrill about the matter.

    No, I haven’t heard KH preach in person. Nor have I stepped foot in CHC. But there is enough on the interwebs, if you will, to suss the man and his teachings out. As they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

    And I will go out on a limb and say this too: New Creation Church is another.

    Regards.

    • I agree with SN, their name is legion, New Creation Church, City Harvest Church, Heart of God Church …

      I think the Singapore Government is right in starting investigations into these mega celebrity businesses masquerading as “church”. What I most disagree with is that they are using Christinaity to cheat many honest hardworking people out of their hard-earned money to pay for the lavish lifestyles of the “leaders” and for un-necessary luxuries and superficialities that a real place of worship does not need.

  • I am a member of NCC…so I think that puts me at a position of weakness in discussing the prosperity gospel. So I plead with you Christian brothers, not to be too harsh with me, if you so dont approve of what I have to say. I dont want to argue nor debate, just to put a piece across using Blogpastor’s forum. ( thanks Blogpastor) so please please dont slap me hor…debate, discuss,…dont slap lor. –Casting crowns have a lovely song CITY on THE HILL about embracing diversity in the body.

    Christ’s death has significance for us gentiles as it allows us to join the body through the new covenant. We believe Isaiah 53 is not an obscure passage but prophetic. It tells us God’s plan to give us a life and a life abundantly as Jesus told us. That in the new covenant, the laws are written in our hearts and we the righteous live by FAITH.

    If Christ is our vine and we are his branches… You can bet this branch will be healthy, strong, fruitful and the kind you want to tap for your wine lor…good looking type. If skinny skinny, no fruit type…must be the vine lor….

    Now, if Christ is our life, our wisdom, our provider, our redeemer, our healer, our EVERYTHING….if this Christ would not even let the 5000 go hungry but create food out of 5 loaves and 3 fishes just so the crowd will not have to make their way through the deserted place home, in the dark, hungry….this sweet sweet sweeeeeetest Jesus will let your children go hungry and beg ?

    If you, sinful man, will not mistreat your own son and feed him stones…will God feed your children stones ?

    If, this lover of man, could tire himself out just to detour to Samaria for a woman with 5 husbands….if this lover of man could cry over the death of an inconsequential man like Lazarus whose life was taken by illness…

    Would Jesus be different today?

    Raise your hands, any one who wants your family to be in lack when you have the power to pull them out?

    Do we have that power ? Yes we have…IN CHRIST. Joseph Prince wrote Destined to Reign to teach us how to be attached to the vine. We have to be an extension of the vine to reign in life.

    The 2nd Adam has broken the curses of the fall brought by first Adam. The blood that Jesus sweat in the garden of Gethsemane… drips to the ground for a purpose ok. What curse specifically targets your prosperity? —That we have to toil in pain all life long (genesis).

    THANK GOD man…I dont want to toil in pain all life long. Being Christian already attract devil attacks and so much trouble liao…plus God’s curses…how to live man ??? Thank Jesus, his yoke is easy and his burden light lorrrr !!!!

    If you are a child prostitue, you can believe Jesus will redeem you and you can be rescued. Not today, then tomorrow. It will come.

    If you are a mother who have lost children to famine, you can believe that it is God’s will to show his hand soon and break your cycle of poverty ? If not today, then tomorrow….he WILL.

    What is easier for pastors to preach? That its God’s will ? So everything they cannot explain, just push to God’s will? Also hor…easier to manage disappointment. The lesser the expectations, the less the disappointment and so the flock easier to manage?

    Joseph Prince dares to preach that based on the evidence of God’s love and work through the ages….read the bible, any version will do..Old and New Testament……the evidence of the Son of Man’s work and actions, accompanied amply by the lives of our patriarchs who lived BY FAITH and not by law…

    Jesus didnt just take away sins…he broke with his blood, the curse of the fall. He took the keys of governance from Satan and reign far above the powers and principalities of this world. For those of us who are IN HIM…we reign too…IN CHRIST.

    We are entitled to walk under the blessings of an open heaven where God cherishes us and Christ is our shepherd. Hey…All of us who already live in him…who dare come against us…大佬 big bro 罩着 ok。

    Is this free or cheap grace ?

    No…unless you think Christ’s sufferings are easy.

    It takes guts to preach this message because sometimes, even after we prayed super hard….the child dies…the famine still strikes…the illness still plagues….but life does get brighter and brighter until we reach the perfect day…Christ comes or we go to him.

    Do we go around trying to get rich? Believing we are all entitled to be millionaires ? No, prosperity is about having no lack….For every 1 NCCer you find who is materialistic, I can find you 10 NCCer who is content and happy to share from our “wealth”….

    I think I am very rich lor….but I am not a millionaire…not even close. But very grateful to God as I am in a better situation that 20 years ago. Christ has been very good to me.

  • Shalom Wendy,

    I also attend NCC as you do. What Pastor Prince ministry is basically focus on Christ alone as true source of everything including prosperity.

    I noticed there is one thing that is lacking in teaching about prosperity:

    Prosperity must come with a divine purpose that is using the wealth to fulfill God’s plans and purposes on earth, not used for self-serving purposes, get it? Ps Prince did taught on one sermon, you can check it out.

    Blessings.

    • Hi Dennis,
      Did I mention we are happy to share ? Maybe I missed that. Some things happen naturally. We dont need to broadcast to the world that we are tithing and giving…we are blessed and so we can bless.

      The tree planted beside the living waters will always bear good fruit. The world may not think we are that kind of tree…nevermind, time will tell. No point being defensive about all the accusations leveled on us trying to explain and explain….how many arguments can we win and does it matter.

      The work we do, the fruits of our labors…let God vindicate.

      • Wendy and Dennis,
        In the above article posted by blogpastor, the Lausanne Theology Working Group has made it clear that the below are “the marks of false prophets”. Having heard both Kong Hee and Joseph Prince, and seen how they flaunt their wealth in designer suits and luxury cars and luxury residences, and cajole their congrgations into giving more and more, I have to say that it is very clear what they really stand for. If you do not see it, you may need to open your eyes wider. Mine are wide open.

        Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles

        Unethical and manipulative techniques

        Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good – which is mammon

        Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money

        Covetousness which is idolatry

        Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.

        Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed

        Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ

        Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.

        Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.

        Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals

        • Hi Thunder

          To qualify for false prophetship, must meet all points or majority of the points or some of the points ?

          I think Joseph Prince maybe kanna 30% of point no.1…. Flamboyant. For the hair lah.

          He is not extravagant leh…I find Pastor Prince very down to earth…if got money to buy nice car and honestly pay the $1000+ per mth financing, then go ahead lor.

          Rest of the points, really cannot pin him for it. i listen to him at least 48 times a year over 7 years. Before that, I listen to Methodist Church pastors

  • I think Pastor Prince only qualify for the flamboyant bit lah…long hair.

    To be false prophet, must qualify for all points ? One point ? Or a few points ?

    Having been a methodist for over 25 years, Went through formal discipleship studies for 7 and then sat under Joseph Prince Ministry for another 7 years….Unless I want to frame him…I cannot pin any of the points honestly on him….except for his long hair lor.

    He lives in a condo and drives a continental car but I am not sure if this means extravagance….a bit subjective this one.

    I remember one of my methodist pastors didnt have his own car and drove his dad’s to run his pastoral work. Unfortunately, it was a SAAB. The poor pastor was so criticised that he had to fork out money to buy a second hand Toyota…waste money but what to do?

    人言可畏。

  • Thanks for the statement on prosperity gospel. It explains very well the danger of the teaching. I really hope that all true Christian churches will come together to fight against this false teaching. But then again, God may allow this to test our true faith for not all will enter his kingdom. I lost my childhood friend to this teaching. She attended CHC and was completely brain-washed. She idolised Sun Ho and would defend her at all cost. CHC’s teaching is more like a cult that gives Kong Hee and Sun Ho some sort of a divine status. For eg. It doesnt make sense that CHC supporters cant see why it is not right for a godly women, more so a pastor’s wife, to use obscenity to spread the gospel. It put a lot of strain on our friendship because every time I tried to explain to my friend that the teaching is false, she got offensive and claimed that I am no different from a catholic – conservative and legalistic. We decided that to remain as friends, we will not discuss this matter anymore. We drifted apart. Soon, she started hearing voices and “seeing” signs from “God” to do things that are totally ungodly and out of character. She left her poorer fiancé to try to pursue a richer man. She claimed that the voices told her that the richer and more successful man was meant for her. Why? Because god will only give her the best right? But after many months of persistence, the richer man did not respond and rejected her. She was devastated, confused and broken. She kept telling me that the signs were so real…. I feel so sorry for her and angry with CHC’s false teaching.

    Prosperity gospel usually attracts non-Christians who are not familiar with the true gospel from the start. From my observations, it attracts mostly people in the struggling class who are desperate to hear what they want to hear. That is why it is so popular in africa. Who wants to believe that being a Christian brings more persecution than prosperity in this fallen world? it also attracts the rich who wants to justify that their richness are indeed blessings from God. As much as the poor needs to find a ray of hope that one day they will be rich, the rich needs to justify that their wealth is not just from pure luck, but is a carefully crafted plan from God. That they deserve the wealth because they are the son of god. This will make them feel more secure in their richness. It doesn’t matter whether their wealth is obtained from ungodly means. If you fall into this two categories, then please seek help and find another church to at least find out more about the true gospel. The true gospel will bring you more happiness and contentment, more than any amount of money and fame can.

  • Hi Wendy, Really liked what you shared –
    ” … very grateful to God as I am in a better situation that 20 years ago. Christ has been very good to me.”

    May Jesus be the centre of our lives.

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