The Prosperity Gospel is one of the foremost false teachings infiltrating the church today. It may be defined as follows: The Prosperity Gospel teaches that one of the promises of the Christian life is health and wealth.
Prosperity churches often proudly display the Prosperity Gospel in their statement of faith. For example, we will be going through Transformation Church’s faith statement to articulate the Scriptural arguments for the Prosperity Gospel.
WE BELIEVE THAT, AS PART OF CHRIST’S WORK OF SALVATION, IT IS THE FATHER’S WILL FOR BELIEVERS TO BECOME WHOLE, HEALTHY, AND SUCCESSFUL IN ALL AREAS OF LIFE:
(John 3:3, 11: Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
- MENTAL & EMOTIONAL
(Isaiah 26:3; 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 12:2)
(Isaiah 53:4,5; Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24)
(Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 34:10, 84:11; Malachi 3:10)
Over the years this teaching has expanded to include mental and emotional health. It is also worth noting that orthodox theology affirms that the Christian life does promise thriving in the aspect of spiritual living. The Holy Spirit inside of us should produce fruit as evidence of thriving. But we will explain how affirming this orthodoxy will be the logical undoing of the heterodoxy that is the Prosperity Gospel. In the verses used above in the faith statement, additional passages will be provided to elaborate context.
Mental and Emotional
It would seem that this passage in contexts supports the promise of God providing peace of mind. But if we look at the verse before, the context is regarding sanctification. Verse two speaks about the “one that remains faithful” which would be someone who is saved and perseveres to the end. The grammatical understanding is that God will keep that steadfast of mind in perfect peace. So “steadfast” is the modifier of “mind” and “peace” is the indirect object in this sentence. So the next understanding we need to have is an answer to the question: peace with what? This is best answered by saying “peace with God.” This is to say that if we are faithful to God, we will not be betrayed or cast out, but rather sanctified. Thus verse four concludes this stanza by saying “trust in the Lord forever.” This passage speaks to God’s promise being true and forever. It speaks of sanctification and perseverance of the saints. The Prosperity Gospel undercuts the beautiful meaning of this passage by applying it to our thriving in our mental and emotional faculties. The steadfast of mind is so because he is focused on God and not the things of this world. While this does entail thriving mentally and emotionally, this does not mean that our earthly bodies are to be free from mental health issues.
2 Timothy 1:7
The context of 2 Timothy 1:7 is ripped apart from context. This verse is not speaking to a guarentee of mental and emotional thriving; it is however an encouragement. The previous verses speak of Paul’s intimate mentoring of Timothy. The conclusion we should gather from verse seven is stated in verse eight. The conclusion we should gather is that the Holy Spirit, God has given us is, emboldens us to serve God, to spread the Gospel, to suffer joyfully. It is also worth noting that this passage contradicts the financial core of the Prosperity Gospel.
This passage would support the idea that the Christian life entails mental and emotional thriving. However we should keep in mind the purpose of this. This passage is about equipping us to do God’s work. Verse four launches the section in chapter twelve about spiritual gifts. This verse does support the claim being made with qualifications.
Mental and Emotional Thriving Conclusion
The claim that the Christian life entails mental and emotional thriving is true with proper parameters. While the renewal of our minds enables us to serve God, the mental and emotional thriving in these passages should not be used to conclude that the Christian is free from mental health issues or from experiencing unhealthy emotions. The scope is limited. Though prayer is certainly a useful tool in dealing with mental health issues, as well as meditating on Scripture, biologically originating mental health issues often necessitate biologically based responses. Experiencing mental illness or trauma does not serve as evidence against one’s faith; therefore this teaching is true within a finite scope rather than its intended one.
This passage is a prophesy about Jesus, specifically one describing the crucifixion. This verse does not speak to the Christian being in good physical health rather its imagery is used to portray the Messiah as a suffering servant. The whole chapter speaks to our iniquities against God, not our physical failings. Therefore we should not conclude the the word heal in verse five is about us being physically healed. Rather it speaks to us being saved by Jesus’ death on the cross. This passage has been wrongfully twisted to support the Prosperity Gospel’s heretical promises.
This passage would better support the gift of healing than believers thriving health. The healings Jesus performed during his earthly ministry is not a guarantee that believers will be in good health.
2 Peter 2:24
21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
This reference to Isaiah 53:5 once again is talking about Spiritual healing done by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Physical Health Conclusion
Of the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel, this one has the least merit. In edition to the unsubstantiated support in Scripture for these claims, the evidence in the Christian experience would also discount this promise. Christians die every day, so there are pressing physical limitations our bodies. We are mortal. Now, one promise of Christianity is that we will have new bodies. These new bodies will be redeemed, free from original sin and unweighted by the health defects we currently face. These bodies will enable us to perfectly glorify God. But the Prosperity Gospel is about your best life now, and so the promise of thriving health is a promise to take place during our lives here on earth. This is a false claim to manipulate those who care more about health than wealth.
It is important to note with this passage that there exists in Christianity the doctrine of Common Grace, a category of grace extended to all mankind apart from saving grace. God is saying in this passage that Israel will be blessed when they are faithful and, in the following passage, cursed if they are not. In the Old Testament, we consistently see Israel judged by its collective evil and restored with its collective repentance. The word collective is used here because Scripture gives no indication that everyone in a given period of time in a particular nation or city is saved. The blessings in Deuteronomy 28 are conditional; however the promises of the Christian experience in Scripture are not. The rest of Deuteronomy describes punishments, but Jesus paid the penalties for our sins. It would be more accurate to apply this passage to society, in that a society that is faithful to God is one that has repeatedly seen thriving and when they stray from that, they decline.
5No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
To assert that this verse is about financial success is a stretch. The context here is Joshua is assuming command and receiving reassurance from the Lord.
Parallel this passage with “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lords Prayer and we see that this psalm speaks about the Lord providing for our needs. This passage does not support the idea that Christians become wealthy. Furthermore this passage does is not written while David is in a material low point, for a king.
In order for this passage to support the Prosperity Gospel, we must assume that the literal translation of “good thing” is strictly material. This assumption would have to come after the claim that “the Lord gives grace and glory.” The focus of this passage is about how much better the company of God is than any day on earth could possibly be. To use this passage to promote the Prosperity Gospel is laughable.
8“Will a man Or defraudrob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. 11Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. 12“All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts.
This passage is the best case yet made by Prosperity Gospel proponents. The context is tithing, but in this passage says you can test God’s faithfulness with your tithe. However this passage takes place during the Old Covenant and is not decisive alone for application with regards to tithing and any promises surrounding it in the New Covenant. The New Testament does not go so far as to support this view, not even is this an issue discussed in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Tithing under the New Covenant is to be joyful, not under compulsion. Furthermore, tithing to a church that preaches a Prosperity Gospel is not really fulfilling Malachi 3:10.
3 John 2
This is not on Transformation Church’s statement of faith; however it is among the most common verses the lost used to support the Prosperity Gospel. This is a greeting of a letter and the lost have taken this as an expectation being a Christian. John is telling Gaius that he is praying for his prosperity and health. Gaius is a church elder or bishop. now the Greek word for prosper here is best defined as “to be furthered.” The context of this passage suggest missionary work is the subject of prospering given that Gaius is an elder and the rest of the letter is about proclaiming the gospel in contrast with the same Greek word being used with the same meaning is used in 1 Corinthians 16:2-3 in a financial context. 3 John 2 is used in a pathetic attempt to defend the prosperity gospel by people who are bad at reading comprehension.
Conclusions about Finances
The bible verses used to support the financial aspect of the Prosperity Gospel almost always devoid of contexts. In many cases, these involve cherry-picking key words and misapplying Old Testament law to the New Covenant. There is profound wisdom on finances to be found in Scripture, principles that if one adheres to, they should be financially well-off. This should not be confused with the promises and expectations of the Christian life. Financial prosperity is extended to the pagans as a result of Common Grace and God’s providence.
The Straw-Man Rebuttal
Often the response one receives arguing against the Prosperity Gospel is that orthodox Christians believe in a life of poverty and destitution. While there abundantly more precedent to support this view to be found in Scripture and church history, this rebuttal is a straw-man fallacy. The argument of orthodox Christians is that there is no binding expectation for the new Christian to end up richer or poorer in following Christ.
Fallacy of the Prosperity Gospel
The claim that part of Christ’s work in salvation is for Christians to thrive in health and wealth places an unbiblical burden on believers to show evidence for their faith that includes increased financial state and peak physical and mental health. The Christian who does not have evidence of these kind would rightly under the Prosperity Gospel have their faith question.
Contrast this with the evidences of faith that orthodox Christians believe. The first is “finishing the race” as a Christian. Those who have walked away from the faith were never Christians (or were and have lost their salvation according to the Arminian position.) Thus finishing the race and maintaining faith from conversion to death is evidence of one’s salvation.
In addition to perseverance, there is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The agrarian imagery used to describe salvation in Jesus’ parable tells us that believers bear fruit (John 15). It’s important to recognize that fruit bearing should be assessed based on how a person was before they were saved versus after.
Repentance is another key evidence of faith. Loving God in the New Testament is most closely associated with obedience to God.
And of course, sound doctrine is evidence of faith. Note, many new Christians do not understand major doctrines, while many unsaved people intellectually do. However, if anyone preaches a gospel other than what is taught in Scripture, this would serve as evidence against someone, as well as their followers.
In all of the things that orthodox Christians believe as evidence of genuine saving faith in one’s life, they can be used as evidence to provide assurance or not. If part of salvation is for Christians to thrive physically and financially, it would then be the expectation that the gospel makes one richer and healthier. But there is no evidence of that in Scripture or in real life.
New Testament Examples
In the New Testament we see far more examples of Christians becoming financially impoverished. Zaccaeus in Luke 19 vows to repay those he stole from four times over. Stephen was martyred. None of the Apostles became rich. There were rich and poor Christians, slave and free, but there’s no evidence that the gospel increased the wealth of Christians. Christian history is filled with far more examples of Christians taking a vow of poverty than claiming that they sowed seeds of faith and became wealthy.
Obvious signs of the Prosperity Gospel
- Paula White asking old people to sow faith seeds (sending her money)
- Pastors with private jets
- Books tilted You Need More Money or Your Best Life Now
Subtle signs of Prosperity Gospel
- Hyper-focus on charity
- Sermons teaching on finance as opposed to God
Examples of Prosperity Gospel Preachers
The Prosperity Gospel feeds on the innate selfish nature of man along with those who are theologically infantile or braindead. It tickles the ears of the masses which is how it fills stadiums worldwide. The twisting of Scripture to add required expectations for the Christian experience is where this bad teaching crosses over to becoming damnably bad.