The False Doctrine of Prosperity Faith

prosperity_lie

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.   1 John 4:1 

If it’s too good to be true, it most likely is false. This is the warning that most of us have heard or have learned the hard way. Advertisements for products or services that promise the world, for the low price of three easy installments, but wait, if you act now, we will throw in another set….late night TV has it all.  You pay your money and the product, if it arrives at all, usually doesn’t live up to expectations and to make matters worse, the company that sold it to you is most likely long gone.

The Bible warns of much worse, false teachers and doctrines, words that tickle our ears or play on our vulnerabilities. Such is the thriving prosperity message, word of faith, that traces it’s roots to the writings of Napoleon Hill and his book Think and Grow Rich published in 1937. The author wrote of his imaginary “cabinet of Invisible Counselors” made up of such great minds as Lincoln, Edison, Darwin to name a few, that would meet with him each night and discuss ways to improve his character, build upon his thoughts and ideas, in a manner that he confessed began in his imagination around a boardroom table that over time became so real he often feared the realism and what it meant. Hill would later describe how these “invisible counselors” had guided him through crisis and emergencies to ultimate wealth and power beyond his own dreams. The very description of his influences from these beings that he would later describe as “talismans” goes against our own biblical warnings, as given in Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 10 through 12, that likens those who summon the dead or seek guidance from sorcerers or mediums as being an abomination before the Lord. Such dealings open the door to demonic possession and the works of Satan in our own lives. In time, Hill accepted these “invisible” beings as partners, no longer fearful of their involvement in his life, he embraced their role and built his personal wealth upon their teachings. A reasonable mind would have to ask, what exactly were these “talisman” that guided and inspired Hill if not demons themselves? The fact that Hill would use the term of talismans is quite telling, as the term itself attributes mystical powers upon an object and good luck to those that possess such items.

So moving forward to the early 1950’s, a young evangelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Oral Roberts, began a ministry of prosperity preaching through the giving of “seed faith” money, the foundation of his beliefs that he attributed in part to one of his biggest influences, none other than Napoleon Hill. Oral Roberts ministry grew by leaps and bounds as he spread the word of prosperity, namely that by giving to his ministry, God would return that investment in riches beyond belief. As his empire grew, it influenced others to do the same, which in time is why Oral Roberts is often referred to as the father of the prosperity gospel. He is cited as the major influence, directly or indirectly, to Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Fred Price. From these three, specifically Hagin and his Rhema Bible training center, we now have generations of prosperity ministries founded in the “name it and claim it” genre.  Kenneth Hagin did not attribute his influences to Oral Roberts directly, but given the facts that Hagin began his prosperity ministry in the same town as Oral Roberts, following a few years after, makes it somewhat hard to believe that he did not take some part of his message from that ministry.

I don’t know what you think of any of the aforementioned ministers, this is not a message meant to attack another ministry, but this is part of the warning from the bible that we must take seriously or risk being led astray in our own spiritual journey. We have a responsibility as believers to test the doctrine that is given out, using the infallible word of God, to ensure it holds up to the truth. A good place to start is to find out what Jesus said, how he instructed the first disciples in ministry, along with His own examples of conduct and faith.  When you do this, as with a doctrine built around gaining personal wealth and prosperity, you will find that the teachings contradict the many examples laid out to us by Christ.  Do not take my word for this, but following the biblical instructions referenced at the opening of this message, test the spirits whether they are of God so that you can know for yourself. Study God’s word and find the context to which scriptures are referenced, if any at all, in the messages you hear. Pastors are usually limited in the time they have before a congregation, so it is commonplace to have a few selected scriptures given that a sermon will be built upon. Most preachers will then provide a background of their message and give you a more broad context from which these individual verses are taken. As a believer, you have the responsibility to take these teachings and follow up with your own study of the word, by which you will find the context and through the Holy Spirit will grow in your faith as you move forward in your walk with the Lord.  However, be aware that certain doctrines are given out using only selected verses of the Bible, taken out of their proper context, then exploited to reinforce a belief that is not sound or biblical at all. Within certain ministries, they will bring in new believers, give them handpicked verses, then follow that up with free bible lessons that they have developed that only take the listener farther off the path to which God intended in His word. Before long, well-intended followers can find themselves lost in a maze of misguided doctrine that is a dead end. All the while, one person at the top, or a select group of so-called ministers, are reaping the rewards of money and power that are blindly given in hopes of some god based lottery with expectations of great rewards for the seed faith giver. Many of these types of prosperity ministries are nothing more than a religious Ponzi scheme whereby the minister receives wealth most of us can not even imagine, while the followers continue to work, give offerings, and hope for a better tomorrow.

You will not find anywhere in the Bible a reference to the giving of “seed faith money” which is the term first coined, no pun intended, by Oral Roberts himself. The prosperity message is very loosely based upon the parable of the sower from Matthew chapter 13, where Jesus tells of sowing seed and states that the seed which fell onto fertile soil was returned to the sower one hundred fold. Now if you simply take these few verses at the beginning of the chapter and then speak of the seed as money invested in the church, it can sound very appealing to those that are in need, to think that if you give ten dollars you will be rewarded by God with one thousand dollars. Many of these ministries not only cherry pick specific verses, but they teach their new converts how to defend their new beliefs by giving them study guides which continue to handpick specific verses, out of context, to bolster their beliefs and embolden them to take a stand against those other so-called believers that are unable to accept the truth.  Giving our money, or tithe is a biblical standard that is expected of all believers, which makes it one of the easiest targets for the unscrupulous ministries to exploit for their own advantages.

If you test the doctrine as we are instructed to do, through prayer and study of the Bible,  God’s holy spirit will help you discern the scriptures by revealing the truth. In this case, simply read the entire thirteenth chapter of Matthew and you will see that Jesus further clarifies the seed referenced is the word of God, not money or other valuables.

The danger of these types of messages is how it reduces God to be closer to our own level, whereby we develop a twisted quid pro quo, a contract with God, which requires that he provide a specific value for that which you have given. I don’t know about you, but to even consider that God is to be bargained with and held to our own exacting standards is not only dangerous but runs close to that of blasphemy.

Here is what I would want you to consider, not just in examining prosperity teaching, but with any form of biblical instruction or doctrine, the first place to go is the example given to us by Jesus Christ himself, as he walked on earth, demonstrating the fundamentals of a life lived in direct obedience to our heavenly Father.

In Matthew chapter 19 we have the example of the rich young ruler that approached Jesus and after some discussion, having confirmed to Christ that he had kept the commandments, Jesus gave him one last instruction, to go and sell all that he owned and give it to the poor.  The young ruler walked away in anguish knowing he could not follow through with such a request. You might say that this is an impossible request or wonder why Jesus would demand such a high standard of this individual. Again, you have to study the word and take the story in its full context, the young ruler had already told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments, which was not true, to which Jesus exposed by giving him this single command which he would not and could not follow. The rich young ruler had made his wealth the subject of his worship and through his own greed was not following through in the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, so in reality, this young man was not following the commandments of the law and Jesus simply used the request to expose this fallacy. Furthermore, not to get off topic, but I have heard some question why Jesus used the commandments as a measure of salvation. Once more, to gain the proper perspective, Jesus referenced the law because this young ruler was confident that he was properly aligned in his ways and therefore was deserving to be a follower of Christ. It was not the law which Jesus used as a measure of salvation, simply a litmus test to expose the errors of this young man’s judgment of himself.

In relating this to prosperity, would Jesus support a doctrine that specifically guides followers to a path of personal gain and greater wealth? In this example above, Jesus showed how dangerous greed and the love of money can be, diverting our faithfulness to that of worldly possessions.  One does not go hand in hand with the other, they are contradictory in nature. Jesus goes on to instruct us in Matthew chapter 6, verses 19 – 21,

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”    

Just as the case with the rich young ruler, Jesus warns us that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  He continues in verse 24 by saying,

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  

Jesus lived a life of obedience and complete trust in God for all things. When he sent the disciples out on their first mission trips, he specifically told them not to carry any money, knowing they would learn to trust in God for that which they needed. Furthermore, when Jesus gave us the example of how to pray, he didn’t speak of seed faith and returns but simply asked that God give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus lived the life of a servant, he even said as much in Matthew chapter 20 verse 28,

“Even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve others, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

We are to strive to be Christ-like in all our ways. Jesus showed us what it means to put our own interests aside and focus on the needs of others. Obedience to our Father is our goal, in all ways and in everything that we do. How can we focus on the needs of others if we are obsessed with gaining material wealth, storing up our own treasures on earth?

Just as you can’t serve two masters, you can not follow contradictory messages. Follow the examples of Jesus, use His life as the litmus test for your own faith and understanding, study the word of God and seek His divine guidance. Obedience to God, serving those in need while placing our own interests second, focused firmly on our savior, these are the keys to the life more abundant. Heed the warnings of the scriptures in regards to false teachers, test the spirits, ensure you are standing on firm doctrine according to the will of God.  Matthew chapter 24, verses 4 and 5, a warning that all should take seriously,

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

May God truly bless you and please reach out to us with your questions and prayer requests. If you have not accepted Christ as your savior, please take a moment to read our message “The Way, the Truth and the Life” and let us know how we may help you on your spiritual journey.

Remember, this ministry does not ask for your money, we share the wonderful news of salvation through Jesus Christ with no strings attached, the same way we received it.

 

 

 John Stephen Frey, Director and Senior Editor, Life Beyond Horizons

J Stephen Frey

 

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