“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.“
1 Timothy 6:3-10
English Standard Version
“Name it, and claim it.”
“Believe it, and receive it.”
“What I confess, I possess.”
The above quotes are a sampling of some of the phrases that used to pepper my private Facebook page before I shut it down earlier this summer. These soundbites used to regularly appear in my news feeds courtesy of well-meaning friends and family. Every week, I would get to hear how God wants people to be healthy and wealthy while the fingers of prosperity proselytizers would eagerly point to some ‘biblical’ formula designed to create ‘financial blessings’. To put it simply all Christians are entitled to wealth and notoriety so long as they put their faith in God – and tithe. The giving of money touted as symbolic in that it demonstrates faith that will lead to an automatic blessing from God.
Yet, is this actually so?
I admit, when I first became a Christian I used to think that Prosperity Gospel was no different from any other subculture of the Christian faith in that it was based on a different interpretation of the word not dissimilar to Lutheranism or Episcopalian doctrine. However, whenever I would try to read through one of the books by Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer I would always feel that something was not quite right in my spirit and would put it back on the shelf. Back then I chalked it up to not being very strong or far along in my walk. After all I had just converted and was still learning the ins-and-outs of my new faith. Yet, as time went on it became clear that God was trying to show me that there was something about their teachings that was not quite right.
Finally, I began to ask God what it was about the whole Prosperity Gospel movement that was so detrimental since – at the time – it looked as if it was a good thing. Whenever I watched the Trinity Broadcasting Network, back when I had cable, I thought I was watching Him move powerfully through His people who were blessed with health and financial wealth. However, when I humbled myself and began to ask for clarity on the matter God began to show me how while on the surface this heterodoxy might seem sound, when held up to scripture (orthodoxy) one begins to notice some odd parallels. Namely, with the New Age schools of thought.
What most Christians fail to realize is that the Prosperity Gospel or Word of Faith teachings are the Christian equivalent of the Law of Attraction. If you do not know what that is, in a nutshell the Law of Attraction claims that positive thinking and verbal affirmations can create life-changing results like wealth, happiness, and health. Our very thoughts have the ability to both influence and create reality and when we pair them with certain actions or rites. It is the same kind of ideology you will find in the writings of Eckhart Tolle and they are entrenched in the philosophies of Word of Faith.
The Prosperity Gospel movement got its start in the 1970s at the hands of Paul and Jan Crouch with their Trinity Broadcasting Network. Over the decades this school of thought has gone by many names including New Thought, Religious Science, Christian Science, and others. The origins of these philosophies came from the Spiritualism movement in the 1800s when the occult went mainstream. During this era a number of heresies were conceived such the Rapture and Mormonism which infiltrated Christianity laying the groundwork for the hot mess we are in today. The Word of Faith movement teaches there are four “principles” which govern the physical and natural world:
- Revelation Knowledge
- Positive Confession
- Principle of Divine Healing
- Principle of Material Prosperity
These precepts are identical to the ones in the Law of Attraction and is based in what is called Revelation Knowledge. Basically it asserts that we can not know God from any of our five senses because He is immaterial, and thus incapable of communicating with man through the physical world. Instead God has to rely on our thought processes which in turn changes the material realm as a result of our experiencing His presence in the mental one. It is a form of magical and slavish thinking that sprang up around 1919 during the height of Spiritualism which claims that thoughts not only manifest events, but that God can become a power within our own minds which enables us to become what we believe. To that end let us examine some of the claims made by the Prosperity Gospel.
CLAIM ONE: GOD IS AN IMPERSONAL AND NON-RELATIONAL ENTITY WHO CHRISTIANS CAN TAP INTO TO CHANGE THEIR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ENVIRONMENT.
Translation: You are your own god.
The best acid test of one’s success at becoming “god-like” is how wealthy and successful they are after adopting a life of extreme individualism and self-determination (Objectivism) because God is an impersonal and non-relational entity. This breeds some of the foul fruit seen in the Word of Thought movement such as the judgment of people who experience misfortune atop the wrong-headed idea that some sort of “sin” caused it to happen. This was the main theme in the argument Job had with his three friends around the campfire, and it is one that is constantly repeated in the Prosperity Gospel.
If bad things happen to you then it is because God is condemning and punishing you for your individual intentional or inadvertent thoughts, words, or deeds. This line of thinking, (which also appears in the heretical doctrines of Calvinism), leaves no room for grace because of the underlying legalism that reduces God to a cosmic principle. Per the Word of Thought God becomes a universal law of reciprocity where you get what you deserve. Health, wealth, and happiness become based on your own abilities, your own thought processes, and your own religious efforts to tap into “the divine”.
CLAIM TWO: HUMAN BEINGS HAVE THE ABILITY TO COMMAND GOD TO MATERIALIZE WHAT THEY WANT BY CLAIMING IT.
This is the second principle of the Word of Faith which teaches that Christians have the ability to use verbal affirmation to change reality. “What I confess, I possess,” is one of many popular catch-phrases designed to make prayers manifest through positive confession or the Law of Faith. In essence we have the right to demand that God behave in a certain way because He is obligated to give us what we want. Proponents of this teaching include Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen.
I grew up watching Kenneth Copeland on television in the 90s and hearing him teaching that Christians had a “faith-force”, and could command the Holy Spirit to do their bidding. Tithing was a formula for getting God to grant prayers and bestow blessings. The act not dissimilar to the incantations and ritualistic offerings made by pagans operating on the same premise. If a human wants to earn the favor of the gods they must give in order to get.
In reality God can bless who He wants when He wants, but in the Prosperity Gospel He is no different from a magic genie who must obey human commands based on a universal principle which says that He has to obey when we think or speak in a particular manner. He does not. Nor does He bless or curse us in response to our having either a positive or negative attitude.
CLAIM THREE: HUMANS HAVE THE ABILITY TO FORCE GOD TO HEAL THEM.
This particular teaching within the Prosperity Gospel has done immeasurable damage to Christians suffering from physical or mental ailments. I have experienced it first-hand within the confines of my own family having heard numerous times how “naming” my mental illness means I have “claimed” it and thus granted it “power” over my life. If I just quit talking about having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and instead confessed that I have received my healing I will be cured by God!
Back in the real world…
Despite what Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar would have us believe our physical healing is not a done-deal. The idea that it is such comes from the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy who was the founder of Christian Science (Google it), and has been repeated by the late Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. According to them the ultimate test of a Christian’s faith is to claim their healing when they are still experiencing symptoms. Any symptoms that continue after that are not only an illusion, but a demonic attack geared towards destroying the faith and healing of the adherent.
In reality this teaching does exactly that!
If we go by the Prosperity Gospel our physical well-being depends on how well we manipulate God by naming and claiming our healing. Any healing or periods of good health are the result of our skills in demanding the power of our Creator. If we relapse or are chronically ill it is because we lack faith or have sinned. This principle also works in reverse. According to this ideology if you talk or worry about the possibility of getting cancer you might get cancer.
I kid you not.
CLAIM FOUR: CHRISTIANS HAVE THE ABILITY TO FORCE GOD TO GIVE THEM POWER AND MONEY.
Oral Roberts was probably one of the most famous proponents of this ideology as he was the one who coined the phrase “seed-faith giving.” Supposedly, if we give money or other material items to God (read: the ministry of said proselytizer) then God is obligated to give us more money or material wealth in return. In this manner we are able to secure financial prosperity which is one of the many guarantees made by adherents. I have heard everything from ten to hundred-fold returns simply from giving a certain amount in the collection plate. What makes this claim to insidious is that it is portrayed as the key to ending financial strain since their tithing is a principle of reciprocity that God must obey.
However, if you are in financial crisis it is not because you made mistakes but because you failed to implement the “faith force” to get God to give you your blessing. That, or you have weak faith and are an unrepentant sinner who is being punished with poverty because of your stiff-necked actions or beliefs. No matter what you are in some way spiritually deficient which is why that $19.95 you sent to the televangelist did not manifest as some sort of material item guaranteed by God. As a result of this mentality brothers and sisters spend time praying harder and longer and miring themselves in acts and legalism in order to get all of the sin out of their lives – before sending more money. According to the Word of Faith movement the poor are self-cursed and have been abandoned by God. Never mind the fact that we are told in Luke 6:20 (NLT) -
“God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.”
Not to mention the other 500 scriptures addressing the weak, sick, poor, and downtrodden whom are near and dear to the very heart of God. Plus, there are all of those warnings both in the Old and New Testament about wealth, greed, and the love of material things.
No matter how you look at it the Word of Faith movement relies on a number of scriptural errors that proponents like Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland tend to gloss over. Yet, whenever I or other brothers or sisters point these things out we get called ‘haters’ or ‘judgmental’ when in reality we are simply calling into question teachings and practices that smack heavily of the occult. One of the many things God has been showing me as of late is how we Christians have been turning some of our leaders into idols by holding them to the standards of the world instead of scripture. At some point we decided that if a preacher is in charge of a mega-church, has book deals, or is a millionaire with mansions and Mercedes then they have been “anointed” or “blessed” for “preaching the word”. Never mind the following scriptures from Jude which read (Jude 1:3-4, NIV):
“…I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
- and Romans 16:17-18 (NIV):
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
Like Paul, who did not realize he was in sin, some of these prosperity proponents are probably not aware that they have been given a stone for bread or that they are misleading their followers. They do not yet realize that they have been deceived by those who knowingly sowed error and division in order to profit from their parishioners per the wisdom we find in the scriptures. If it was happening back then it is happening today. To that end this essay will hopefully plant some seeds of discernment so that you might be able to separate the wheat from the chaff as opposed to “naming and claiming” it.
(P.S. If you would like to read a more in-depth essay about why Word of Faith is heretical please check out the following blog.)