Christianity has a fabulous record of seeing off dissident groups that thought they could supplant this faith that is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20), and substitute instead something that was quasi-spiritual, or philosophical in its arguments, or ethical and morally dubious and somewhat temporarily appealing and in the process able to gather quite a few followers. The history of Christianity contains a rich compendium of such groups that fought to enforce or persuade The Church to accept their interpretations of orthodox doctrine and in every case they were rebuffed with vigor, comprehensively and with authority.
This is as it should be since Jesus Christ spent over three years instilling sound doctrine in the Apostles, and the Apostles conveyed this same doctrine with all its minutiae and applications to the members of the early church who were told, "... it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." (Jude 1:3)
The Church has been earnestly contending for the true faith since then and in its wake has left defeated many who taught false doctrine and gave people false hope. Even the most cursory glance will reveal that the early church dealt expeditiously with all false doctrine and deviations from mainstream Christianity and the later believers did so via the seven Ecumenical Councils.
The list of these false doctrines includes Jewish Legalism (strict adherence to the Mosaic Laws), the false doctrine of Gnosticism (that possession of esoteric knowledge leads to salvation), the false doctrine of Asceticism (the practices of extreme self-denial and self-abuse to reach a higher level of purity and godliness), the false doctrine of Antinomianism (a separation of the body and soul to enable the body to do whatever it desires while allegedly keeping the soul pure and permit them to participate in all kinds of sinful pleasures and still be spotless in their souls before God) and the false doctrine of Docetism (claiming that Jesus Christ was not a real person) among others.
One thing that should stand out to all believers is the salient truth that the Church has been properly and soundly established on a foundation of settled doctrine and there can be nothing added or taken away from it. The reasons for so many divisive arguments in the past is mainly to do with Biblical interpretation because with the completion of the book of Revelation, God has given us a written document (the Bible) that embodies all doctrines and has given us this clear warning (Revelation 22:18-19) against tampering with it.
All believers need to understand that all Christian sects and all deviant Christian groups all have one thing in common; they are guilty of distorting Christian theology and deliberately misinterpreting the Holy Scriptures as given to us in the Bible. They will quote scripture after scripture (and that is good since we love people looking into God's Word) but they distort them and twist them to make them appear to be saying what were never intended.
Remember the tactics of Satan when he wanted to undermine the veracity of God's Word and destroy Eve, and through her the first human family. Satan did not come to Eve with blatant lies and vile accusations for if he did Eve would, more than likely, have sought Adam's advice before proceeding and Satan could not risk that. So Satan recalled a few things that God said, things that Eve well remembered and sort of put her at ease, and then added his mischievous, erroneous, damaging insights. Those Satanic tactics worked then and for the spiritually fickle, the-carriers-about-with-every-wind of doctrine, the unstable and weak the same tactics are still working today.
True believers know that the focus of their life is things spiritual and not material, it's about God being the core and his will being all-consuming and seeking to glorify him and helping each other to find spiritual fulfilment in God. True happiness is about being saved and having this special relationship where the complete body, soul and spirit is in harmony with the Creator and there is no condemnation or issues affecting our settled and profound joy. Paul went even further and told the church at Corinth that he was uninterested in anything else when he told them, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2)
It is necessary that believers understand that from the beginning of Christianity they were those who had no interest in the spiritual and divine aspects of the faith but wanted to exploit it for financial gain. When Simon Magus saw The Apostles Peter and John imparting the power of the Holy Spirit by laying their hands on believers he offered them money to buy that gift and was soundly rebuked, "But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." (Acts 8:20) Simon wanted the power of the Holy Spirit so he could fascinate people and make a lot of money.
So what are we to make of this Prosperity theology that goes under a variety of names such as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the gospel of success, the name it and claim it gospel, the blab it and grab it gospel, the word of faith movement and positive confession theology?
What we can say with absolute assurance is that the Bible DOES NOT teach this prosperity gospel, at least not as understood and taught by the proponents of this theology and as preached in the American mega-churches and elsewhere.
Take note of this game-changing, and for the prosperity gospel proponents, embarrassing but undeniable fact that every believer should think about more carefully. Jesus Christ's life and his ministry were the exact OPPOSITE to that taught by the prosperity gospel movement. Jesus was born poor and he died poor and if a person's faith could merit material blessings, then he would have been the richest man in the universe.
This above all else should sound the alarm bells for every believer.
Prosperity gospel teaches that God wants you to be wealthy and have lots of money, something akin to the American dream, and by faith and speaking positively you will make it happen. Perhaps they forgot to mention this to Jesus since the Bible declared, "And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20)
The Prosperity gospel teaches, according to some commentators that, "God could be seen as The Vending Machine God: put in faith and out pops blessings money, homes, cars, beautiful spouses, clever kids, good neighbours, big churches, and plush vacations."
If wealth and money were commendable pursuits for people of faith then Jesus would have demonstrated it for he was the greatest example ever for believers to emulate. But he did not pursue materialism, neither did his disciples, and his pronouncements on wealth and riches are frightening:
"And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)
"And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." (Luke 12:15)
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36-37)
And Paul adds this:
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Romans 14:17)
The Apostle Paul was mindful of the deceitfulness of riches, and worked steadily with his hands to supply his own needs and not become burdensome to believers, and he counselled the church at Colossae in this manner, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." (Colossians 3:2)
It goes against the grain for me to criticise fellow workers but the Prosperity gospel preachers are leading souls to perdition in that they are advocating a panacea by focusing the minds of the gullible away from the spiritual and the divine and towards material abundance through dubious measures.
Many people join their assemblies merely to get money and wealth and a bundle of luxuries believing that by following the advice of the leadership they would be successful. Just like gambling this creates the mindset that wealth and prosperity is just around the corner if you do this, or that, or as Gloria Copeland puts it, "Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000;... in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal." The Bible on the contrary teaches a very different expectation in giving in that you give and lend not looking for earthly returns (Luke 6: 35).
Prosperity gospel teaches that if you are blessed and if you have faith then you have a covenant with God just like Abraham and you will be prosperous with riches; but such is not taught in the Bible. The Bible is very particular about riches and says, "...if riches increase, set not your heart upon them." (Psalm 62:10) The Bible would have said "when your riches increase" if it was the case that riches were promised but it instead said "if" because riches are incidental and not the pursuit of believers.
And herein lies the crux of the whole matter since it is the way Prosperity gospel proponents appeal to people by taking the Scriptures and deliberately distorting them to suit their theology. All Christian cults do exactly the same and that is the reason they are heading to perdition. The Word of God is given as our guide and we are to conform to it and not change it around to suit out whims and conjectures.
Let us, in the spirit of enquiry, examine four scriptures on which Prosperity gospel rests and observe how they distort them. Remember how the devil distorted God's words when he told Eve, "Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know..." (Genesis 3:4) whereas God had said most clearly, "... for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17) God's Word is life, distortions bring death, and true believers everywhere need to bear that in mind.
Here are the four scriptures we will examine:
MALACHI 3:10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Here is a proper explanation of this pivotal verse. When Solomon built the Temple he built several rooms as treasuries, or storerooms, that were to house all the provisions to feed the priests, the Levites and their families. Remember that the Levites were not given land by Joshua as did the other tribes (Joshua 13:14) because they were solely to minister in and look after the tabernacle and later the Temple including all the necessary repairs. In order for them to survive God required a tithe from the people (Numbers 18:24), to be brought to the Temple and given in to the storehouse so that the Levites were provided for as well as the poor who were mainly widows and orphans. At times people were tardy in paying in their tithes and causing problems to the Temple workers and their families and God punished them through providence by withholding rain that led to crop failure. God was saying to the people to stop robbing him of his tithe, pay up in good faith and see if God will not respond with plentiful rain so that they may have abundant crops once more. That is all the scripture was saying and nothing more.
Bogus Christian organizations and leaders of the Prosperity gospel movement use this scripture to instil in their followers that God requires them to pay one tenth of all they have and earn so that those leaders can have a lavish lifestyle. Absolute and utter nonsense. The Temple is done away with, Judaism with all of its accompaniments have been jettisoned and the Christian New Covenant put in place by Jesus' death and resurrection. Nowhere in the New Testament is the practice of tithing but instead believers are to give "freewill offerings" as Paul mentioned, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) If you give your freewill offerings, or your tithes, so that your pastor, or your leader by any other name, can enhance his lavish lifestyle, acquire the latest millionaire's toys and fraternise high society then know for sure that you are not a member of a genuine Christian organisation but something entirely different.
JOHN 10:10: "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
Here is a proper explanation of this crucial verse: Jesus was contrasting here the difference between the real shepherd and a thief. A thief does not go to the door of the sheep pen and ask for the door to be opened because he is a thief who wants to steal and kill the sheep for food, so he goes around the back somewhere and tries to break in and grab what he can. The real shepherd knocks on the door and ask the doorkeeper to open the door and he comes in and lead the sheep to pasture. One comes to kill the other to give not just life but abundant life. Jesus is saying that what he is giving to believers is more than just the earthly food and drink but abundant life, a life that is full of all spiritual blessings, rich in grace and mercy and brimful with joy and glory and unending happiness hereafter in the realm of heaven and eternity. Jesus was alluding to what Paul later described, "...Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9) This is the proper context and explanation of what Jesus meant by more abundantly.
Leaders of the Prosperity gospel movement, not surprisingly, take this scripture out of context and slant it towards their movement. They, in their unbridled passion for combining Christian theology with naked capitalism, say that when Jesus said "that they may have it abundantly" was saying that Jesus wanted them to have material abundance; and they encourage their followers to pray, and even demand, of God "everything from modes of transportation (cars, vans, trucks, even two-seat planes), [to] homes, furniture, and large bank accounts", according to reports. To support this claim of abundance they frequently quote Galatians 3:14 that says, "that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus." They omit the second half of the verse that says, "That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" because that clearly shows that Paul was reminding the saints at Galatia of the spiritual blessings of salvation and not the material blessing of wealth.
PHILIPPIANS 4:19: " But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Here is a proper explanation of this delightful verse: The church at Philippi was the first church Paul founded in Europe and he loved them greatly and they in turn loved him and gave him occasional material support. On this occasion these Philippians sent a contribution by Epaphroditus to Paul who was in need (who was probably now in prison) that was much appreciated and Paul, being poor, could not compensate them for their generosity. Paul knew fully the abundant spiritual and temporal riches that God possessed, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us" (Ephesians 2:4), and that God would not leave them wanting of any good thing required for their growth in faith and their Christian witness, so he reminded and assured them that according to the riches of God's grace all their spiritual wants and needs would be supplied totally and fully. It is manifestly not the case that a verse like this gives support to a theology of greed and covetousness for abundant material possession. Needs are proper, they are the essentials for living and God, because he cares, will and does meet the believers' needs.
Leaders of the Prosperity gospel movement take this scripture out of context and teach something totally different from what it intended. They say that all your needs is the same as all your wants, which is a blatant untruth, and from that standpoint they lay the foundation for indulgence as a means to grow their own personal empires and acquire ostentatious wealth. This is one of their most-used tactics for it exploits the poor and needy and it is often the most needy who give to support these ministries. A simple comparison of the lifestyle of these leaders with the lifestyle of Jesus and his disciples will show how deceitful these leaders really are.
3 JOHN 1:2: "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth."
Here is a proper explanation of this wonderful verse: The Apostle John, who was now quite old, wrote this letter to his close friend Gaius a Christian leader, after Diotrephes ( probably another leader from an adjacent church) refused to accept the brethren sent by John and put out of the church those who had received the visitors, was to highly commend Gaius for his commitment to the truth and his unselfish assistance to all those travelling on God's work, to rebuke Diotrephes for his actions with respect to John's visitors, to recommend Demetrius to Gaius and to inform him of John's impending visit. This verse, 3 John 1:2, is a simple greeting of one friend to another on the lines that we take on New Year when we say, "Happy New Year and I wish you prosperity and good health." There is nothing doctrinal in John's greeting. There are no ideas taught as truth, or principles offered for guidance, or actions commended for godly living. This was simply a "wish you all the best my friend" kind of scripture. But what John is saying to Gaius is that as your soul prospers, i.e., as you grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as you feed upon God's word and is nourished by it and grows strong, as the exercise of your faith brings spiritual renewal day by day and you gain fresh strength and endurance, as you commune with God and let the light of his countenance cleanse you and his spirit empowers you for service (notice the prosperity of the soul is primary) I hope that you will be healthy and all the other aspects of your life prosper as well.
Here is a prosperity gospel explanation of this verse (from the fallen luminary Jim Bakker): "I had preached on this verse [3 John 1:2] for most of my ministry. It said exactly what I believed - that God wanted His people to prosper, and by that, I interpreted it to mean prosper financially and materially, in other words, to get rich. Again, I never really examined the true meaning of the text, nor did I ever seriously consider why this verse, on the surface anyhow, seemed to contradict so much of what the New Testament said in other places. I simply pulled this verse out of context and took it to the bank - literally!"
A blogger put this up on his website: http://kelvinho-kh.blogspot.com/2011/12/prosperity-theology-gospel-of-wealth.html:
"Are material wealth, achievement, fame, victory, or success reliable indicators of God's reward or approval? If so, then he is an evil God, for history is full of successful madmen and prosperous despots... Is God also on the side of wealthy cultists, dishonest business executives, and immoral rock stars? If wealth is a dependable sign of God's approval and lack of wealth shows his disapproval, then Jesus and Paul were on God's blacklist, and drug dealers and embezzlers are the apple of his eye."
America has a tendency, over many decades, of throwing up quasi-religious groups that in different ways tried to amalgamate capitalism with religion, especially with Christianity; going back as far as the Calvinist and early Methodist with their puritan work ethic and the pursuit of the American dream. The Prosperity gospel movement is bringing naked capitalism into the church in such a way as to make it acceptable, it is putting on it a cloak of spirituality and clothing it with an abundance of distorted scripture in an effort to enrich themselves and generate mass appeal, but it will not wash (pardon the pun). The Bible tells us, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24)
The Bible teaches the opposite to the Prosperity gospel movement and no matter how they twist and misquote the scriptures the truth is there nevertheless for all to see. The Bible tells us this: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
Beware of pulpit racketeers since they are not interested in your spiritual well being but in your pocketbook. Peter warned, "These false teachers only want your money. So they will use you by telling you things that are not true. But the judgment against these false teachers has been ready for a long time. And they will not escape God who will destroy them." (2 Peter 2:3 Easy-to-Read Version)
So here we have two opposing views of what God wants for his people; the view of the Prosperity gospel movement of material abundance here and now and the express view of the Bible of spiritual blessings now and unimaginable glories to come. As ever it's our choice.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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