Proserity Gospel: Another Gospel
Theologians, like most of the rest of us, sometimes make outlandish statements. For example, the book, God's Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture, written by Kenneth L. Cukrowski, Mark W. Hamilton and James W. Thompson (Abilene: ACU Press, 2002), calls Job "the billionaire" (p. 140). It is true that Job was a wealthy man, but a billionaire? The book of Job provides a listing of Job's financial holdings. "His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred female donkeys, and a very great household; so this man was one of the greatest men of the east" (Job 1:3). Let us do a little calculating and let us be very generous with our evaluation of Job's possessions. If the sheep were worth $200 each, the camels worth $500 each, the yoke of oxen worth $1000 per yoke and the female donkeys were worth $200 each; that would mean his household alone would have to be worth at least $995,000,000 for Job to have been a billionaire. What is the point in engaging in such exaggeration?
All serious Bible students will readily admit that some of God's greatest servants were very wealthy people. We would probably refer to Job as a multimillionaire, but not a billionaire. The book of Genesis says of Abram (later renamed Abraham)": "And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold" (Gen. 13:1-2). Dr. H. C. Leupold's scholarly commentary, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975, a reprint), says: "God had abundantly blessed the man; and wealth as such is not an evil nor incompatible with holiness of life" (volume 1, p. 431). Incidentally, Lot, Abraham's nephew, was probably rich also. He had flocks and herds and tents (Gen. 13:5).
There is hardly any doubt that Job and Abraham were rich because God had blessed them. Can we reason from that conclusion that true Christians are going to be rich—that God will always bless them with material wealth because of their faithfulness in his service? What other impression can one get from an article in The Tennessean about Joyce Meyer, a popular television evangelist? The article has the title, "Wealth this good has got to be God, Meyer says" (Sunday, December 7, 2003). The article was copied from the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Carolyn Tuft and Bill Smith wrote the article. If the theology of the so-called "prosperity gospel" were not so seriously flawed, the article would be almost humorous, but it is not funny. Many television evangelists are bleeding their constituents and taking money many of their hearers cannot afford to give. "But," the TV preachers often say, "give God ten dollars and he will give you back tenfold or a hundredfold."
Joyce Meyer argues that God made her rich. And just how rich is Joyce Meyer? We really do not know, but the following facts will provide some insight into her wealth. She owns a $10 million corporate jet. Her husband drives a $107,000 silver-gray Mercedes Benz. Her personal residence is valued at $2 million and she owns other houses worth $2 million. These blessings, she maintains, come from the very hand of God almighty. She believes or says she believes her great wealth is a miracle. According to the article in the paper, Joyce Meyer's organization expects to take in about $95 million this year. She asserts: "If you stay in your faith, you are going to be paid." There are some people in our nation who wonder if Joyce Meyer may not violate federal law by spending millions on herself and on her family. A group known as "Wall Watchers" has appealed to the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Joyce Meyer and six other television preachers. She says that God does not need our money. "The giving is not for God; it is for us" (p. 20-A).
There are hundreds of preachers—many of them are not on television or on radio—who preach the same so-called "prosperity gospel." One more example will have to suffice for today's discussion. Dr. Hobart Freeman, a highly respected scholar, became one of the "health and wealth" preachers. He wrote An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968)—a very valuable introduction to the prophets. According to Bruce Barren's outstanding book, The Health and Wealth Gospel: What's Going on in a Movement That Has Shaped the Faith of Millions? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987) affirms that Dr. Freeman unashamedly promoted the financial prosperity gospel. He bragged about his new Cadillac and said, "My Father is not in the used car business." Some of Freeman's followers said Freeman never expected to die. "On December 8, 1984 Dr. Freeman died of bronchopneumonia and heart failure, having received no medical treatment for either problem" (pp. 19-30).
Tragically, using religion to raise money is not a modern phenomenon. Matthew records a serious conflict between our Lord and some of the Jewish leaders. "Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and them who sold doves. And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves" (Mt. 21:12-13). John records a similar incident. "And the Jews' Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of the money sitting: and when he had made a whip of small cords, he drove them out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them who sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house has eaten me up" (John 2:13-17).
Michael Horton edited an excellent book dealing with perversions of the gospel by many of the "health and wealth" preachers. Horton's book has the title, The Agony of Deceit: What Some TV Preachers Are Really Teaching (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990). In the book Horton edited, there are chapters by some of the America's leading evangelical scholars, including, R. C. Sproul, Walter Martin, C. Everett Koop and Art Lindsey. Dr. Joe Nederhood wrote chapter 13 which has the title, "Send No Money to Martin Luther." Dr. Nederhood points out that Martin Luther was angry because of the use of religion to raise money. Some churches offered the forgiveness of sins in exchange for donations from sinners. "Priests sold indulgences, which, for certain sums, would spring people free from purgatory. Johann Tetzel, an especially obnoxious profiteer, worked right under Luther's nose" (p. 234). Dr. Nederhood correctly observes: "Whenever a religious leader or a church comes up with a scheme that confuses salvation with some kind of monetary payment, you have the worst kind of dishonesty" (p. 237). I heard Jim Bakker say that God does not want any poor or sick kids.
D. R. McConnell did his graduate work at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. In his book, A Different Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), McConnell furnishes a wealth of material on preachers such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, Fred Price, and other well-known "health and wealth" preachers. McConnell quotes Fred Price as saying: "God has certain benefits attached to walking by faith. Most employers have enough common decency about them that they don't ask somebody to work for them for free....If a man has enough nicety about him to do that, can't you at least believe the Father God is not asking you to serve him for free either" (p. 169)? McConnell quotes these words from one of Gloria Copeland's unscriptural and unreasonable books, God's Will Is Prosperity. "You give $1 for the gospel's sake and $100 belongs to you; give $10 and receive $1000; give $1000 and receive $100,000. I know that you can multiply, but I want you to see it in black and white and see how tremendous the hundredfold return is. Give one house and get one hundred houses back or one house worth one hundred times as much....In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal" (p. 171). I never like to question anyone's sincerity, but Gloria Copeland and the other prosperity preachers know what she says is false—inexcusably false. Many of the prosperity teachers believe that the atonement provides deliverance from poverty (p. 173). And if what she says is true, why stop at giving $10,000 to receive $100,000? Why not give all we own—houses, lands, bank accounts, stocks and bonds? The first thing you know—if what she says is true—we would make Donald Trump seem like a homeless person.
You probably have known some very devout persons—people who have given their entire lives in service to God and to their fellowmen. I have met and worked with people who devoted their time and money and energy to spreading the gospel and helping those in need. I am thinking of a woman in South Georgia who constantly served her fellow Christians and other needy people. She always provided food for the sick in the community where I was preaching. For several years before she died, she suffered from severe respiratory problems. Neither she nor any of her family members ever became wealthy. Did she have health problems because she was not a faithful Christian? Did she not have an abundance of money because she did not give enough to the cause of Christ? Such a view is insulting to godly Christians and to the Lord whom we serve. God has not promised to keep you healthy and to give you wealth. The doctrine being preached by the health and wealth people is another gospel. Do you remember what Paul said about preaching "another gospel" (Gal. 1:8-9)?
Would you agree with me that Paul was a great Christian and one of the greatest missionaries who ever lived? Just think of his contributions to the New Testament and the many churches he established in Asia Minor and in Europe! I have no idea how much money he gave to the cause of Christ, but he gave his life to the church of our Lord. If any preacher deserved to be rich, surely Paul was that preacher. But was Paul wealthy? If he had been, why did he not criticize his Corinthian brothers and sisters for their failure to support him in the work of preaching? If he were wealthy, he did not need their money. But he had to work at tent making to support himself and them who were with him (Acts 20:34). There is nothing wrong with tent making, but had he been rich he could have devoted all of this time to preaching and to teaching, instead of having to work with his hands to support himself.
The Corinthians were not on the same wavelength, figuratively speaking, as the apostle Paul. They fancied themselves to be full and rich and to reign as kings. Paul contrasts himself with their exalted view of themselves. "For I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we are despised." Now please listen carefully. "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day" (1 Cor. 4:8-13).
If what Joyce Meyer and Gloria Copeland teach were true, Paul was not a first class citizen in the kingdom of heaven and not even a second class citizen. How could Paul have become such a faithful Christian, a great preacher and a powerful missionary if he did not have enough faith to have a $10,000,000 jet and a $107,000 Mercedes Benz? At times he was hungry and thirsty and had no certain dwelling place (1 Cor. 4:11). Maybe it is just modern health and wealth preachers who are guaranteed riches and good health. I honestly cannot imagine how anyone can be deceived by the promises of the prosperity preachers. We know those promises are designed to enrich the ministries of Joyce Meyer, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and Kenneth Hagin. In many respects, those preachers are not a cut above Johann Tetzel, the infamous seller of indulgences.
D. R. McConnell affirms: "The Faith teachers criticize Paul for his poverty and his acceptance of suffering, even sickness, as the will of God" (p. 177). I have never actually heard the Copelands and Kenneth Hagin criticize Paul, but they have to believe he was not as faithful as he should have been; otherwise he would not have been poor and sick. The truth is that millions of faithful Christians have died on crosses, in dungeons, in battles with lions to entertain the Roman citizens and in other unspeakably cruel ways. Tradition says that all of the apostles except John died violent deaths. How can the health and wealth preachers harmonize their view with these words: "But you have fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience; persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:10-12)? Was Paul healthy and wealthy while he sat in a Roman prison?
If you can buy and read only one book this year, I highly recommend that you purchase David Limbaugh's book, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity (Washington, D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003). Limbaugh gives hundreds of examples of how those who claim to be Christians are being persecuted in our schools, by the media and even by the courts—especially by the courts. But are they really true Christians if they are not prospering financially and not enjoying freedom from suffering and abuse?
The church in Philippi had been faithful and generous in supporting the apostle Paul. He explained: "Now you Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me, as concerning giving and receiving, but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity. Not that I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus, the things that were sent from you, an odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. But God shall supply your need according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ" (Phil. 4:15-19). At the time Paul wrote the Philippian letter, the Christians at Philippi were caring for his needs. But that had not always been the case with other churches. Earlier in Philippians 4, Paul to his brothers and sisters: "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again; wherein you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect to want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil. 4:10-12). How can the health and wealth preachers think of Paul as being a faithful servant of God? At times he was hungry. How can wealthy people be hungry? Can you not see how utterly false and deceptive the so-called "prosperity gospel" is? With a $10,000,000 jet aircraft, Joyce Meyer probably does not experience hunger or thirst or cold.
If great wealth is a sign of God's favor, Donald Trump and Ted Turner make Joyce Meyer appear to be a beggar. They could buy her with the change they carry in their pockets. But financial success has absolutely nothing to do with faithfulness to God. That is especially true with the television evangelists who have accumulated great wealth by begging and by selling their books, t-shirts and trinkets at their personal appearances. If the money contributed to those groups were used for the purposes for which the money is raised, the evangelists would not be rich. Many of the television evangelists have brought shame on the name of Christ. Their behavior in too many cases is reprehensible.
Does the Bible teach that Christians will be rich in this world's goods? No, but it does teach that true Christians will be rich in heavenly goods. James asked, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them who love him" (Jas. 2:5)? Besides, the only perfect person who ever lived was poor beyond the comprehension of most Americans. Jesus described his own financial standing in these familiar words: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has no place to lay his head" (Mt. 8:20). How do the health and wealth preachers deal with that verse? That one verse alone completely destroys the preaching of Joyce Meyer and her fellow prosperity teachers.
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