Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Is The "Prosperity Gospel"?

I have never quite understood the label "Prosperity Gospel" slapped by some people on New Creation Church's teachings on prosperity.  What exactly is the definition of "Prosperity Gospel" and in what way is it erroneous?  A facebook acquaintance who appears to be vehemently against the "Prosperity Gospel" posted a link to this article "The Prosperity Gospel: A Modern Day Cargo Cult?", and the writer defined the "Prosperity Gospel" as follows:

In simplest terms, the idea of the law of prosperity requires the adherent to think themselves rich. Whether the blessing is to emanate from the Christian deity or the universe, the philosophy behind the mindset is pretty much the same.

If you were to put it down in an equation, it may look something like this:
Sincere belief in a power waiting to bless abundantly + earnest actions displaying that belief = abundant blessings and fiscal prosperity

The prosperity gospel for those of the Christian background requires eager believers to understand that God wants to bless them. Since He is the maker of the universe, there is no blessing too big or too hard for Him to give. All that He requires is a sincere belief in Him and His blessing power.

As you can see from the definition, the writer has reduced the bible's teachings on prosperity into a formula, and I must say that there are preachers who have done exactly that (but Pastor Prince is not one of them). I am also against such teaching because it fails to show us the heart of God and is based on self-effort i.e. we must do something in order to get blessed or rich.

The term "Prosperity Gospel" itself betrays the bias of the person who slaps this label on a pastor's teaching on prosperity. The Gospel includes prosperity but prosperity itself is not the Gospel. The Gospel i.e. the Good News is this:

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
 16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
 18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
John 3:13-18 (NLT)

The Gospel is about we being reconciled to the Heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. However, this Gospel also brings with it the fringe benefit of prosperity, and health, wholeness, peace, joy, etc for "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32)  It is unfair to simply accuse a pastor of preaching "The Prosperity Gospel" when prosperity is just a subject among many others which he preaches.

In my seven years of listening to Pastor Prince's sermons, I can say without any doubt that any subject which Pastor Prince preaches on ultimately leads to Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished on the Cross for us, even the subject of prosperity.

The writer of the above-mentioned article says "The prosperity gospel for those of the Christian background requires eager believers to understand that God wants to bless them. Since He is the maker of the universe, there is no blessing too big or too hard for Him to give", and she is right! We need to understand that God wants to FREELY bless us with ALL things WITH CHRIST (Rom 8:32).  If God withholds financial prosperity from us, that means God values financial prosperity more than Jesus; if God withholds physical health from us, that means God values physical health more than Jesus. How can that be? Jesus is the greatest gift that God can give us, therefore "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" 

We now give our tithes and offering to the church because we know that God already gave us the greatest gift, His Son. We do not give in order to get back more in return from God but praise God for His grace that when we give, he gives us more in return because we can never outgive God.  Jesus himself says in Luke 6:38, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."  Would you accuse Jesus of preaching the "Prosperity Gospel?" 

Notice that Jesus did NOT say, "Give IN ORDER to receive". Jesus said "Give, AND you will receive"; He just simply stated the cause and effect - when we give, we will receive. It's like this: when you jump into a swimming pool, you will get wet BUT you don't jump into a swimming pool in order to get wet. No, you jump into a swimming pool to swim or play water polo or soak in the water to keep cool but NOT in order to get wet.

We give, not in order to receive. We give to acknowledge and appreciate that whatever we have is all because of God's blessing - "But you shall [earnestly] remember the Lord your God, for it is He Who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day." (Deut 8:18). 

Why do we give to the church? When we eat at a restaurant, isn't it normal for us to pay for the food and service? Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Cor 9:7-14:

7 What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? 8 Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? 9 For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? 10 Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest.
 11 Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? 12 If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.
 13 Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. 14 In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it.

I understand that those who are against the "Prosperity Gospel" are concerned that followers of such "Prosperity Gospel" preachers are hoodwinked by the preachers into giving money to their "ministry" and enriching only the preachers themselves. I agree that those preachers who manipulate their followers by their preaching into giving IN ORDER to receive deserve to be exposed but we have to be careful not to taint all preachers who preach on the subject of prosperity with one broad stroke of the same brush.   

Finally, it is important for us to remember that when we give to to the church, we are giving to God, not men,  for Hebrews 7:8 says "Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives."  Ultimately, God will take care of the money we give to Him, and no preacher abusing God's money can hope to get away with it for long. There have been preachers past who got away with it for a while but in the end, they still had to pay a price for their misdeeds. Recent events in Singapore may yet confirm this once again.


Junjie said...

Hi, Stanley!

I've been paying attention to some of the things going on in Facebook about this dispute. Thought I'd like to point out a few things.

First, unless Ps Joseph Prince has changed his sermons over the past few years I have not been attending NCC, NCC has avoided many of the errors that have plagued the Word of Faith movement and 'prosperity' teachers. I don't know Ps Prince's stand on some of those issues, but during my time at NCC I always had the impression that he was too busy preaching about Jesus to take a stand on some of the other stuff (like 'name your seed' and all that).

Also, NCC people do not need to defend any of the excesses committed by other groups. If you don't practice it you need not defend it. Whatever is done by the Rhema group in US or other churches in Singapore and around the world has nothing to do with whether NCC is doing the right thing.

Some other pastor has tried to do that before. He set up a strawman version of what Ps Prince preaches and demolishes that version. The sick part is that people start to think that the strawman is an accurate representation of Ps Prince's teachings... *sigh*

Just so you know, I am from another church and have not attended NCC for a few years. But I still have great respect for Ps Prince and his preaching. :D

Be blessed, Stanley!


Whowillbe said...

Hi Stanley,

I am just curious about Luke 6:38. U mentioned that it's about giving n it seems like u interpret the giving as giving in the material sense. But is it really so? Cause if it is read in the wider context, it seemed to imply more in the sense of grace n mercy.


Junjie said...

Hi, Roy!

You can look at that passage in two ways:

1) because it starts off talking about not judging and not condemning, the giving in Luke 6:38 is more about the spiritual than the material;


2) walking in forgiveness is a necessary prerequisite for financial giving to actually yield a harvest.

Even if you take the 1st intepretation, the idea of financial giving yielding financial benefits is still quite clearly shown in 2 Corinthians 9.

I personally take the 2nd intepretation, and believe that it answers the question of how believers can be tithing and giving and yet not always see a financial harvest. That has been a very clear reminder to me to prioritize prospering my soul (3 John 2).


Stanley Wong said...

Hi Roy,
My personal view is that in Luke 6:27-42, Jesus teaches us how to treat other people. v37-38 talks in terms of the negative i.e. not judging, not condemning and we similarly will not be judged or condemned, and in terms of the positive i.e. forgive and we will be forgiven, give and we will receive.

This "give" can be giving grace and mercy, but Jesus already covered that by saying "Forgive, and you will be forgiven",so I believe Jesus is talking about giving material goods as in Luke 6:30, Jesus says,"Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back." which clearly refers to material goods.

Murphy Lee said...

Amen Stan,

Just like what Pastor Prince said... "In grace we don't have to give but we get to give bodo!" :)

Just love the way he puts it... Those who don't have a revelation to give just don't understand how privileged they are to be able to participate in the system of the Kingdom of Heaven and break free from the laws governing the physical.

Jesus said "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."

God is giving us a way to to break free from the system of mammon controlling us! Don't we see it?

And BTW if you think mammon only controls the rich and wealthy, you're in for a rude shocking... let me tell you this, mammon also controls the poor, in how they are always in debt, always lacking, always bitter, always envious, always wishing for more....

Kaffein said...

My take on Luke 6:27-42 is that Jesus is expounding on the law and the futility of achieving it. The law is very clinical and heartless. It doesn't take sides nor does it free and allow a person to act in grace. There is only so much 'love' we can have for our fellow beings until to the point we start retaliating. Jesus is using telling those who uphold the law that they are coming to an end in themselves.

However with grace in Jesus Christ, all these sayings are fulfilled in Christ. And they are fulfilled in us because we are in Him. Christ blessed those who cursed him, forgave those who hated and crucified him, and was merciful to the merciless. And we qualify for the blessings from our Father being merciful to us, loving us in spite of ourselves.


Liu said...

Amen Stanley, great sharing.

It is very strange why believers fight to receive the lesser ... I honestly believe it's nothing but stinking pride ... self gratification ... like people in pain already still say no, no pain, then later boast of how much pain he can take as compared to another fellow ... stinking self righteousness that the Bible defines it as used soaked sanitary rag ...

The Bible clearly states that the greatest gift of Salvation came to us believing in our heart and the confessing from our mouth, then what is the problem with all the lesser blessings of good health & wealth?

Sinners of the world can enjoy the finest things in life, I don't understand why Christians want to fight to be poor ... they meant to say sons of God is no better than those who serves the devil?

If prosperity & blessings are no good, then pray tell these people to be poor, be in lack, be in debts, sick, and families broken up because of these challenges, ... then they say God is training them.... ????

Psalm 23 to these people should be read as:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall always want (lack), He leads me besides the sewage, He makes me lie down on ashes, He leads me in path of challenges for His Name sake ....

Please wake up!!!!

Prosperity is narrowly defined by these people, all they think of is money ... so we know where their hearts lie, just like the Pharisees had about the true meaning of Sabbath, very narrow minded.

Anyway, whatever forms of blessings and prosperity fellow brothers & sisters don't want, Abba Father, give me 10% of it can liao, I think it will be like what's mentioned in Malachi that even just 10% I shall hv no rooms enough to contain the overflowing of blessings & prosperity ... then I can be a great blessing to others around me, Amen.

By the way, I better than the parrot, I predicted Holland vs Spain Final, I got 1/2 right liao ... SPain better not disappoint tonite, unless it is the German monk effects again ...

Shalom Shalom,

Pavitar said...

Murphy Lee, you wrote :

"And BTW if you think mammon only controls the rich and wealthy, you're in for a rude shocking... let me tell you this, mammon also controls the poor, in how they are always in debt, always lacking, always bitter, always envious, always wishing for more...."

I am saddened that this is how you belittle the poor. Step into the ghettos and shanties of Bombay or any poor neighbourhood and tell me this is how people live. I cannot believe you would say this. These are the very people Christ came to save. Not the ones in their comfy chairs in church. What would you say about the sick? Are they sick, dying, chronically ill because for some reason they have not obeyed God, have not prayed hard enough for healing, have not thanked him for prospering their bodies and their souls? I have been through the charismatic mill, I have seen the hype, I have seen the building funds and the egos grow out of control...I thank God I am saved from all that. Compassion would never have spoken those words. Compassion would never have dared to judge the poor so easily, certainly not the very ones that Christ came for. So sad.

blogpastor said...

Hi Stanley, take a look at this Lausanne statement on prosperity if you want a more evangelical representation. Hope its helpful. Note its African context as the "prosperity doctrine" in Africa is something we are not fully acquainted with. The link is here:http://www.lausanne.org/all-documents/a-statement-on-the-prosperity-gospel.html

David P said...

As others have said the context of the Luke 6 passage is different to material wealth; 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 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 with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

As you can see, it's about judgement and forgiveness; the more you forgive (give)the more wellness of spirit you experience.

To be truely subject to Christ's authority will mean that some he calls into living with little money - but rich in spirit. Some will be called to die for Him too. The problem with the prosperity doctrine is that it finds a theological way to justify amassing wealth for ourselves to make us feel better and blessed.