Does being a good and faithful Christian result in good health, a long life, having an abundance of possessions, and material wealth?
That’s the subtle/not so subtle belief of a brand of Christianity that’s often called the “prosperity gospel.”
There is a growing number of Christians who believe that– a shocking amount, actually. And not just in the United States, either– this is a growing belief around the world. I think this is happening in large part because charismatic Christianity is the fastest growing brand of Christianity in many places, and the prosperity gospel is something that seems to have infected charismatic circles more than others.
While I believe we as Christians ought be careful about declaring who is in and who is out (I feel the wrath of the heretic hunters, so I know what that’s like), when it comes to this belief system that associates being a good Christian with materialism, health, and wealth, we cannot be silent or tip-toe over words: the prosperity gospel is completely outside the Christian religion. It’s not Christianity, period.
Here’s 5 reasons why:
5. The prosperity gospel encourages us to be money focused instead of people focused.
Within the prosperity movement, the ultimate goal is how to get from here (lack of material wealth) to there (an abundance of material wealth).
This places the ultimate focus of this religion on materialism– but that’s not what Christianity is focused on.
Christianity is a religion that is focused on other people– how to love other people, how to disciple other people in the ways of Jesus, and how to be the tangible agent of God in the lives of others. Nothing about true Christianity is about self– in fact, Jesus said to become a Christian you actually had to die to self.
4. The prosperity gospel promotes a performance based religion.
Christianity is not a religion about performance, but the prosperity gospel is all about performance.
The prosperity gospel teaches that if you do X, Y, and Z (one of them usually involves sending money into a guy on TV) that you will get more in return (a concept they call “sowing”). This paradigm sees God’s favor as something you earn by doing, instead of something you receive freely by God’s grace alone.
In fact, Jesus blew this concept out of the water when he described God’s love and favor as being like the rain which falls upon those who do good and those who do evil. He even went on to say that God is actually kind to the wicked.
But instead of seeing God’s love and blessing as something freely given through his grace, the prosperity gospel associates God’s favor with right behavior, and interprets hard times as God holding back his favor. But according to the Bible, none of that is true.
3. The prosperity gospel promotes one of the most frequently condemned sins in Scripture: greed.
The prosperity gospel is a gospel of more, and that completely stands against what Christianity is about.
One of the most frequently condemned sins in scripture is that of greed, even going so far as to say that greed is idolatry. In fact, the apostle Paul found greed to be such a repulsive form of idolatry that he commanded Christians to refuse to even share meals with someone who claimed to be Christian, but was greedy.
Instead, the Christian message is one of learning to be content with what you have. In the 10 Commandments we’re taught to not “covet” which is the same as saying, “thou shalt be content with what you have.” Again, Paul talks about this and recognizes that life will have cycles where you have plenty, and cycles where you don’t have enough, but that what God wants for us in all those places is to be content with what we have.
Bottom line: if you have what you need, but still want more– especially while others go without– you are greedy, and this sin is biblically considered wickedness, even if modern society (and Americanized Christianity) excuses it.
2. The prosperity gospel promotes elitism among the body of Christ.
One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that we are all on an equal playing field in God’s eyes. We are all created in the image of God and have unsurpassable worth, so much so that Jesus died for us. For those of us who are Christians, the Bible says we are all part of “one body” and that we are equal. However, the prosperity gospel has a way of creating an elite status of Christians– because if you’re really rich, it must be because you’re doing it better than everyone else.
Case in point: a few years ago prosperity preachers Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis argued that they needed to fly in private jets because flying commercial on an airline was like getting in a “long tube with a bunch of demons.” They also lamented how annoying it would be for people to come up to them and ask for prayer… thus, they “need” to fly in private jets.
This kind of disgusting elitism is not just outside of Christianity, it’s opposed to Christianity. It in no way reflects the homeless Jesus who hung out with the worst of sinners.
1. The prosperity gospel perverts God’s purpose in material blessing.
Can or does God bless with material excess? Certainly! The Bible says that every good and perfect gift we receive comes from God. But the prosperity gospel forgets that, in occasions where God blesses someone with financial or material excess, that blessing comes with a specific purpose: to bless others.
When God gives us more than what we need, he does so in the hopes that we will honor him by sharing it with others who don’t have enough. The early church in the book of Acts actually founded the earliest Christian community on this premise– when they had more than needed, they shared their wealth so that there were “no poor among them.”
The idea that God gives some people more than what they need so that they can enjoy the high-life of luxury while people around them die of hunger and illness, is a disgusting perversion of the actual Gospel.
There’s plenty of things that are killing the church today, but one of the biggest things killing the church is the rise of a false, anti-Christ religion that so many people mistakenly believe is part of Christianity.
Let me be blunt: the prosperity gospel and those who preach it are not part of the Christian religion. They just made up their own religion of materialism and are falsely calling it “Christian.”
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.