by Dr. Mrs. Eunice Abogunrin | On one hand, Prosperity Gospel is about getting the abundance from the benevolent God, while on the other hand, it is about fighting against the antonyms of prosperity from malevolent gods, spirits, people and circumstances.
Today, some Christians are investing their time into prosperity seeking, while some are wondering and nagging at the paradigm shift, from the call, to take our cross and follow Christ to seeking for a crown without a cross. At the inception of the church and in the most part of the early history of the church, Christianity was marked by the cross, which symbolizes a high cost and sacrifice. But, that paradigm has shifted and is changing in some churches, where the crown is more desirable than the cross. However, some churches still believe that, we need to bear the cross here on earth, before we wear the crown in heaven. At any rate, each view becomes time consuming and it is a perfect time here to unpack what Prosperity Gospel is all about. But, before we move into any deep discussions about the topic, allow me to first set a delimitation.
Delimitation: It is not in the scope of this blog to go through the history of Prosperity Gospel. Also, this blog will not cover the historical development of Charismatic Theology. Lastly, it is not the intention of this blog to discuss the assets and lifestyle of the Prosperity Gospel preachers. After the aforementioned, let’s start with the meaning of prosperity.
Definition: Prosperity is the state or condition of being successful. It is a state of being whole, complete, fitting or being in a state of no lacks. Other words to describe prosperity include: wealth, wellness, well-being, luck, richness, luxury, fruitfulness, strength, fortune, promotion, favor, abundance, accomplishment, comfort, peace, welfare, blessing, plenty, upliftment, enjoyment, greatness, milk and honey, victory, security, health, power, sufficiency, progress, freedom, thriving and ease. Prosperity is a state, where a man/woman is flourishing. These are the terms used day to day to state or describe an undisturbed good living, which is free from the antithetical cases that are opposite of prosperity, such as: poverty, sickness/illness, disappointment, pain, bitterness, weakness, regression, powerlessness, danger, downfall, trouble, suffering, persecution, failure, hunger, lack, poorness, loss, adversity, sadness, barrenness, agony, fear, insecurity, anxiety, loneliness, distress, defeat and death. Having gone through the definition, the synonyms of prosperity and its antonyms, we shall move to the concepts of prosperity in the bible.
Prosperity in the Bible
Though it is beyond the coverage of this blog to have an exhaustive treatment of the cases for prosperity in the bible, to have a fair treatment of the topic, we need to see what the bible shows us about prosperity. To be sure, the bible talks about: prosperity, people looking for it and God promises it. The following passages are helpful on the concept of prosperity.
Prosperity – blessings, success, protection, help and promotion from God – Genesis 1:28-29, Deut. 8:18, Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 33:3-26 and some notable rich men, such as: Solomon and Job.
Antithetical cases: As prosperity and its synonyms are found in the bible, there are grim situations or life perils as well. These are described with words such as, invasion, locust swarms, waste, ruin, mourning, grieving, destruction, desolation, desertion/abandonment, lack, punishment, hunger, drought, plagues, defeat, famine and death (cf. Jeremiah 22, Joel 1 and Amos 4).
Soft Spot for Prosperity Gospel
For the sake of fairness to Prosperity Gospel and its prosperity beliefs, we need to see how prosperity is desirable and pursued by human beings. Using the definition of prosperity and its synonyms, either intentionally or unintentionally, privately or publicly, quietly or loudly, human beings desire and pursue prosperity. Also, using the antithetical words that are direct opposite of prosperity and its synonyms, human beings try to avert those situations or seek for deliverance from them. Let’s briefly look into what human beings generally desire, which resonate with what Prosperity Gospel treasures.
General and Universal Desire for Prosperity
Day by day, every generation and race, human beings one way or the other desire to be whole and peril free. Therefore, either personally or religiously, privately or publicly, human beings desire prosperity. For example, they bring what they desire to the attention of God or gods. Also, they mention their desire in their prayers, wishes, blessings, requests and through casual conversations. By and large, it is viable to say, that everyone desires prosperity and many of its synonyms.
General and Universal Hate for Prosperity Antonyms
As it is true of general and universal desire for prosperity, by and large, human beings hate the antonyms of prosperity. Thus, they try to avert grim situations, which are detrimental to a good condition. So, as human beings look for prosperity and some of its synonyms, on one hand, on the other hand, they try to avoid, fight or avert the situations that are opposite of prosperity. Therefore, either individually, or religiously, privately or publicly, quietly or loudly, folks do their best not to encounter those antithetical conditions that are against prosperity. This is true of the ancient world and of this age of technology. In every generation and culture, human beings try to avert the elements that are enemies of their holistic living. So, they fight against the enemies of their physical, financial, social and many try to prevail over the enemies of their spiritual lives.
Open discussion on the battle against prosperity antonyms
At this juncture, we will move to the reasons why some people go to or prefer prosperity churches and preachers.
Some Motivating Factors
Some motivating factors that draw many people to prosperity churches and that make their preachers admirable include, the following and this writer allows contributions on each point:
Power Encounter – Power encounter is real, but it could become a phobia that drives people to look for deliverance. Along with this are mystical feelings, which their authenticity could not be objectively or empirically proven in many cases. However, the fear of the malevolent spirits or people could be perceived as real and some people look for higher power to combat them or render the evil attacks or activities useless.
Illness – Illness, chronic diseases are human enemies. Therefore, their presence is irritating, devastating and burdensome. As much as possible, human beings take full measure to fight them, either through medicines, sacrifices, prayers and counter powers. So, some people go to the prosperity churches to seek for deliverance from their illness.
Lacks – There are lacks in life and when they are present, folks want to pursue measures to meet their needs. Some of the lacks include, peace, open doors, opportunities, success, partners, children, jobs, relationships, and other aspects of life. These lacks draw some people to the prosperity churches.
Prophecy – Many of the prosperity churches’ preachers believe that the office of prophecy continues. So, they believe that, they have the gift of prophecy and they can speak with fervor of mind, bring revelations from God to man and give ecstatic words. They claim that they are under divine power, they can foretell, order or decree. This “office” has been a powerful bait, to draw the curious individuals to the prosperity churches and their preachers. The uncertainty of life, fear, ambition, curiosity, anxiety and other life situations compel many people to go and hear what the future holds for them.
Wealth – Either out of need or out of want, some go to prosperity churches for the sake of wealth. It may simply be a desire to always get the daily needs or for fame. Either way, the desire for money could be a motivating factor to attract some people to prosperity church. Allow me to give an illustration of a man and his cousin who left ECWA for a prosperity church, because each of them was promised to become a millionaire.
Other Reasons – Time and space will not permit the specifics of other reasons, but, those reasons could include: attractions, uncertainty of life, discord from previous church, pear pressure and testimonies. Now we will move to the strengths of Prosperity Gospel
Strengths of Prosperity Gospel
If we hold on to the soft spot for Prosperity Gospel, we will be able to objectively find some strengths in the Prosperity Gospel and its preachers.
Care – Prosperity Gospel and its preachers speak to the needs of the masses. They know where the people are itching, and they offer comfort, healing and understanding. For example, the members are known for being their brothers’ keepers, in giving, visiting, encouraging and job opportunities.
Prayer – Prayer is one of the prominent activities of the Prosperity Gospel churches. They have unquenchable prayer activities and take “pray without season” serious. This becomes a drawing strategy, because many people want to pray and be prayed for.
Church Planting – Many of the Prosperity Gospel churches use church planting strategy to attract members to their buildings or house churches. The importance of close proximity strategy could not be overemphasized in church planting and church growth. Therefore, church planting is a notable strategy of Prosperity Gospel churches.
Powerful Pulpit – Many of the Prosperity Gospel churches preaches are powerful on the pulpit. So, their speeches, both in churches and on public devices are attractive and inviting. Therefore, energized souls could not stand lukewarm pulpits and rush to warm pulpits.
Retention Initiatives – Another notable strength of the Prosperity Gospel churches is the endeavor to retain their members. When you go in, they want to keep you. Part of the retention is service opportunity. All these add to the population growth.
Open discussion on other strengths of the Prosperity Gospel churches
At this juncture, we can say that our soft spot for the Prosperity Gospel could be strengthened by the facts on the general and universal desire for prosperity and its synonyms and general and universal hate for the antonyms of prosperity. Also, the strengths of the Prosperity Gospel churches could call for our soft spot. Now, the question is, what is wrong with Prosperity Gospel, if by and large prosperity and its synonyms are desired, and its antonyms are not desired by human beings? The following section will show us what Prosperity Gospel is all about, which would include its weaknesses or misconceptions or derailment.
What is Prosperity and Health Gospel all about?
What we have discussed this far have served as a snapshot of what Prosperity Gospel is all about. On one hand, it is about getting the abundance from the benevolent God, while on the other hand, it is about fighting against the antonyms of prosperity from malevolent gods, spirits, people and circumstances. Again, to be fair and objective, these two aspects of longing for prosperity and its synonyms and longing for a deliverance or freedom from the antonyms of prosperity are general and universal. However, the derailment comes, when these longings become the priority of the Gospel message, the Gospel preachers’ activities and the motivating factors of the Gospel church goers. These acts show the deviation from the total surrender and allegiance to God, which include our heart, soul, strength and mind, as found in Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27. Anything that is short of our total love for God and his eternal values would lead to spiritual emptiness.
Worship – In most cases, Prosperity Gospel’s worship is centered on the feelings of ecstasy instead of giving oneself to God in an act of reverence and appreciation. The significance of worship is on who and what God does. However, if what brings someone to the church is for his own gain, his worship would be centered on his gain. Plus, while worship should be lively, it should retain solemnization, because, the worshipers are in the presence of God. Therefore, going into ecstasy could interrupt the due reference for God during the worship and lead to distractions for many of the worshipers. This should remind us of the true worship, according to John 4:24.
Prophecy – Prophecy, in term of foretelling has ceased, because it was an office of authentication. After the inception of the church and the completion of the bible, that office ceased too. However, Prosperity Gospel holds on to prophecy, (which I would call utterances, instead of prophecy.) Enns reports, “Pentecostals and charismatics teach that the gift of prophecy (giving divine revelation) continues today, (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 1995, 675). There is a problem on the continuation of the gift of prophecy. To be sure, this presenter is not here to discredit other people’s claims of visions. However, it is necessary to indicate that people’s testimonies are subjective. We could not put absolutism on them, because of human factors. Therefore, it is wrong to make utterances normative. Also, after the completion of the bible, God has stopped the foretelling prophecy. He used propositional means of communication throughout the bible and brought it to the apex in his self-revelation, through Jesus. He has spoken what we need to know about our salvation and conduct. Hebrews 1 and Revelation 22:18-19 are helpful on the cessation of the foretelling prophecy.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit – Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not once and for all in the Prosperity Gospel churches, as the evangelical Christian and the bible teach. Rather, in the concept of the Prosperity Gospel, there is a second baptism. “Baptism of the Holy Spirit is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth,” (Enns, 674). Time will not permit this speaker to go into the concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in the Prosperity Gospel churches. But, in summary, in contrary to the concept of second baptism, it would be helpful to mention that, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is once, which happens at the conversion. So, there is no second baptism of the Holy Spirit. Also, the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit are not repeatable. What is ongoing or repeatable is the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Misconception of the Relationship between Faith and Wealth – Prosperity Gospel is called “Health and Wealth Gospel or Word of Faith, or the Gospel of Success or Seed of Faith, because of its emphasis on the link between faith and wealth. The Gospel Coalition describes it this way, “The prosperity gospel (also known as the ‘health and wealth gospel’ or by its most popular brand, the “Word of Faith” movement) is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus that claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth,” http://thegospelcoalition.org, accessed on 7/17/18.
The following quotation is a good summary of what Prosperity Gospel is all about: “Prosperity Gospel is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans. If humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity,” (Prosperity Theology, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed on 7/13/18.
The author continues, “The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. . .. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and power, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession,” (Prosperity Theology, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed on 7/13/18.
The above summary shows the weaknesses and misconceptions of the Prosperity Gospel. But, let’s quickly glance through some bible passages used by the Prosperity Gospel, to buttress its claims on the link between faith and wealth and between giving and wealth. The popular passage of the Prosperity Gospel on the cause and effect chain, between giving and blessing is Luke 6:38, which is worth quoting here, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” At the face value, in this passage, giving causes blessings. By, parity of thought, the more one gives, the more he/she is blessed. The figure of speech of pressed down suggests more into the measure. Shaken together will make the measure more compact and enables it to give room for more. Run over refers to how the measure could overflow, with the amount of the input. To be fair to the passage and the Prosperity Gospel, the passage suggests that, a person who gives generously or liberally will find blessings. One can say, such a person will be blessed by others too and more so, by God.
One can also add other passages, on the effects of giving, obedience and faith such as: Prov. 11:24-25, Matt 9:22; 29-30, 17:20, Mark 9:23; 10:52, Luke 8:48; 17:19; 18:42, Acts 3:16; 14:8-10, Hebrews 11:32-34, James, 1:5-7. These are some of the undisputed passages, where either giving becomes the cause of blessings or where faith produces freedom or healing. See also Dawn Hutchinson, New Thought’s Prosperity Theology and Its Influence on American Ideas of Success, (Nova Religion: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 18 (2), 28-44, 2014).
However, why many bible-believing churches decry the tight connection between faith and prosperity, as found in the concepts of the Prosperity Gospel is not to deny the messages of the above passages. Rather, the problem is how the Prosperity Gospel has put its priority on the link between faith and prosperity and its synonyms, which we have listed earlier. So, one of the key issues is how Prosperity Gospel believes that faith and prosperity/its synonyms coincide. Also, a priority on prosperity and its synonyms shows some misconceptions of Prosperity Gospel, which we shall now mention briefly.
There is a misconception of the problem of evil, if man thinks a church could combat evil and its manifestations. Sin entered through the Fall of man and since then, both moral and natural evil exist. So, to think man could extinguish evil is to undermine the reality of its existence and the reality of sinful nature of man. For example, the Advancement Thinking believes in human self-autonomy, inevitable progress and that, science will one day solve all our problems. But, as man is finding solutions to one problem, another problem shows up. No wonder, medical advancements have not been able to eradicate all the diseases and the hospitals are not empty. Ironically, this technology age is full of various diseases and insecurity issues, irrespective of the advancements. Wealth has not been able to prevent some rich people from hard feelings and even from suicide. See Russ Bush, The Advancement Thinking: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age, 2004, on some of the wrong assumptions of the age of technology. Similarly, if faith and prosperity are conditionally intertwined, many of the Prosperity Gospel church attendants should be wealthy and healthy. However, as at the look of things, that is not the case. There are many of the members, who are poor, and some are sick. Further, there is a misconception about the blessings from God. Though some blessings in the bible are conditional, many of his blessings are unconditional. Also, he blesses at his will not at our will. In addition, there is a misconception of the values of the earthly things. Earthly materials are perishable, in a sharp contrast to the heavenly things that are not perishable. Obviously, the perishable materials should not be our priority. Along with these listed misconceptions is the ignorance of Satan’s efforts. The enticement from the devil, which started from the Garden of Eden has not disappeared. Rather, he still entices children of God with worldly things and they bring the concepts back to the church. John MacArthur observes what the devil is doing and says, “In our day, the efforts of the enemy began with secular society and worked back into the church, which so often catches the world’s diseases and adopts the spirit of the age,” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians: Godly Solutions for Church Problems, 2007, 67). One way or the other, the church is moving fast in the direction of worldliness and it is becoming hard to know the difference between the church and the world. The world is in the church and the church is in the world. It would be great and God honoring, if the church is in the world as salt and light. But, it would be so devastating, if the church is in the world to become worldly. Not only these, every human effort to eliminate life perils by positive words or human faith or through “name it, claim it” faith is a misconception of the teachings of the bible about the reality of suffering. The bible does not teach a suffering-free life. Rather, it tells us the reality of suffering. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). Suffering is a high cost of Christianity and it points us to the cross here on earth and the crowns there in heaven. Plus, life suffering is not a sign of lack of faith. Our Lord embodied faith, yet he suffered and even died. Paul was a man of faith, yet, suffering was part of his ministry. For example, Paul boasted, not of any suffering-free life. Rather, he boasted of his suffering in 2 Cor 11:16-33. In addition, today, in many parts of the world, persecutions of Christians are skyrocketing, and many have died for their faith. Nigeria church is going through suffering, as she is having mass burials of the martyrs. So, to think that suffering is as a result of lack of faith is inimical to the biblical examples of hardship, even in the midst of faith and obedience to God. Let’s look into the last, but not the least misconception.
To be sure, there are other misconceptions, but for the sake of time and space, this writer shall touch the last, which is the grimmest misconception. This is the misconception of human primary predicament. While referring to Millard Erickson’s work, on human predicament, this presenter discusses in her dissertation that, one’s concept of salvation is based on one’s concept of human predicament. If man thinks his predicament is poverty, his concept of salvation will be about wealth. But, whether some people accept it or not, man’s primary predicament is his alienation from God. For those who know that, their priority is the reconciliation, which the death of Christ has brought, between man and his creator. So, as Erickson has penned, “Thus the more radical our conception of sin, the more supernatural the salvation we will deem needed,” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1985, 562, cf. Eunice O. Abogunrin, A Comparative Study of the Concepts of Salvation in African Traditional Religion and Christianity, Ph. Dissertation, 1999, 144 ff). Any wrong views of sin and salvation would surely affect human priority, which would in turn affect the right concepts of the eternal values. Then, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26). But, after going through these misconceptions of the Prosperity Gospel, what should be our approach to its goers?
First, we should apply brotherly love. We may not agree with many of their beliefs, Prosperity Gospel church goers are our brothers and sisters, because their beliefs do not necessarily mean that those who subscribe to those beliefs are not believers, when it comes to saving faith. Whoever has saving faith by grace is saved. Second, we should not be too busy about the Prosperity Gospel, its church goers and pastors. (This reminds me of a tale about a rat, who went to London, to see the queen, but got distracted when it got there). Third, we should avoid the misconceptions of Prosperity Gospel and know that Christian life does not necessarily mean a suffering-free life. Rather, we should go by our ECWA 2018 theme: “Joy in Suffering.” 1 Pet 3:14 says, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’” In accordance with this passage, we should go by Paul’s approach in Phil 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In line of these two passages, we should settle and pledge our allegiance to Christ with the words of Rom 8:35-39 and come to the conclusion, from Romans 14:8 that, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Fourth, we should emulate the strengths of Prosperity Gospel, which include: care, prayer, powerful pulpit, retention of church members and church planting. On this last strength, the present writer thanks ECWA USA leadership for making church planting the heart of this conference.
In this blog, we have looked into the definition of prosperity and mentioned its synonyms and antonyms. Generally, human beings desire prosperity and its synonyms on one hand and look for freedom or deliverance from the antonyms of prosperity, on the other hand. Furthermore, we covered some beliefs of Prosperity Gospel. We also look at the strengths of Prosperity Gospel and how those strengths are attractive and serve as baits, in drawing members to the Prosperity Gospel churches. After all these, we came to the disadvantages or weaknesses of Prosperity Gospel and came to what should be a viable approach to the movement. At the end we admired some of its strengths and in line with the heart of the ECWA USA, we should learn from the Prosperity Gospel’s church planting strategy. Close proximity is a strong strategy of church planting and church growth. (For more on evangelism, church planting, church growth, discipleship and global missions, see Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism and Scott A. Moreau, G.R. Corwin and G.B. McGee, Introducing World Missions).
Therefore, ECWA USA should take ECWA to the community, instead of waiting for the community to come to ECWA. The locations of ECWA churches in the USA are too scanty and we urgently need more locations, not only to rescue ECWA sons and daughters from populating other churches, but to be part of God’s global missions, in rescuing the perishing, in this dying world.
Dr. Mrs. Eunice Abogunrin is a visiting lecturer at lgbaja. Online Professor of Theology at Liberty University. Secretary of ECWA Women Fellowship USA.