What is The Prosperity Gospel?

prosperityIf you are in a wheelchair, does that prove you lack faith in Jesus Christ? If you are poor and have to accept welfare, does that mean you are a bad Christian? If you missed out on a promotion at work, does that mean you are more sinful than the guy who got the promotion?

For most Christians, these questions are silly. Didn’t Saint Paul have a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that God didn’t heal? Didn’t Saint Thérèse of Lisieux live a life of voluntary poverty in a convent and die young of tuberculosis? And yet they were both saints, and both wrote things that blessed many Christians— in Saint Paul’s case, it was several books of the New Testament.

But to a person influenced by Prosperity Gospel preaching, it’s a given that God wants to give you ‘health and wealth’ if you only learn the correct way to ask for it in faith. ‘Prosperity Gospel’, also called Word-Faith, Seed-Faith, Health & Wealth, and Name It and Claim It, began in its modern form in the ministry of Oral Roberts, who called his mild version of the doctrine ‘Seed-Faith’. Other preachers of the doctrine today include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Bruce Wilkinson, author of ‘The Prayer of Jabez’.

The roots of the Prosperity Gospel, according to some, is the ‘New Thought’ of Phineas Quimby, which was an influence on Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Although mainstream Christianity, including mainstream Evangelicalism and mainstream Pentecostalism, regard Christian Science as a cult, these ideas came into their faiths indirectly, in part through Norman Vincent Peale and his Christianized ‘Power of Positive Thinking’.

During my youth, I was devoutly Christian in  a Protestant way, but was not inspired by the Presbyterian church of my parents which even then was going down the liberal path at denomination headquarters (though that hadn’t yet touched the Sunday School system when I went). I read many Christian books and listened to Christian radio and TV. The Prosperity Gospel seems to work very well for the financial well-being of radio and TV ministries. False promises of guaranteed wealth and healing are always going to be more popular than the true Gospel and its ‘take up your Cross’.

My experience was of spending many hours in prayer trying to fix the suffering in my life caused, in large part, by my Asperger Syndrome. These prayers never healed me. They never took away a single symptom. They never brought me a single friend or even a friendly acquaintance, or stopped one bully from throwing rocks at me.

I believed that was because my faith wasn’t strong enough, or that I wasn’t doing it right. I’d re-read the books that told me how to pray and get the prayer answered, how to ‘claim’ a promise of God’s. Sometimes I’d decide I was so hopeless, I must not have been properly saved, so I’d get out a tract and pray the ‘sinner’s prayer’ just to make sure I was really, properly saved.

I never went to a church that preached Prosperity Gospel. I lucked out. I went to a Christian Reformed school for some of my junior high and high school years, and got daily religious instruction. Somehow that instruction, rather than making me convinced that the Reformed Christians had it right, convinced me it was the Lutherans, with their belief in consubstantiation as regards the Real Presence in the Lord’s Supper, that were Biblically correct.

But even when I joined the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Prosperity Gospel had some influence. I had this idea that being a Real Christian would mean at least some of my prayers would be answered. I tried to have faith. Oh, I tried! In the end, I think the Prosperity Gospel, by not delivering, helped me be more susceptible to the temptation to become involved in occult and Wiccan practices— if I couldn’t make good stuff happen for me through Christianity, I’d try something else.

The real problem of the Prosperity Gospel, aside from its falsity, is the fact that it fails to prepare the Christian for the poverty, suffering and loss we experience. In fact, the implication of the Prosperity Gospel is that if we are Christians and we experience poverty, suffering and loss, there is something wrong with our faith. Only the more extreme Prosperity Gospel preachers go to the extreme of actually looking at Christians in wheelchairs and proclaiming that they are poor witnesses for Christ so long as they are still in wheelchairs. But that’s really implied in all of the Prosperity Gospel— if you are a Christian and have faith, why aren’t you healthy? Why aren’t you wealthy? It’s a great cause of despair, in many cases, like mine, it can lead you to give up on Christianity altogether.

The sad thing, looking at all the many varieties of Christianity in the United States, is to see fads like the Prosperity Gospel spring up and wreck Christian lives. Did God really mean to leave all of us alone with a Bible, to work out on our own which ‘Biblical’ theologies are actually in accordance with what Christ taught the Apostles? As a Catholic, I don’t believe that God left us alone without any visible source of guidance. The Early Church had the Apostles who taught with authority. The New Testament shows that when an Apostle died, a replacement was chosen (Acts 1:15-26). Early Church Fathers whose writings were preserved had the greatest respect for the Apostles and Apostolic successors (bishops). And I believe that it is difficult, when you do the right research, to decide any other way than that the Catholic Church is the result of that Apostolic teaching and authority, kept going by the Holy Spirit even when faulty priests and sinful popes made it difficult. But please, do the research yourself and draw your own conclusion.

Further Reading on the Prosperity Gospel

The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel – Fr. Robert Barron: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0320.htm

Why Are Catholics so Into Suffering? Isn’t Jesus About Healing? http://www.catholicbridge.com/catholic/why_catholics_love_suffering.php

Is the “Prosperity Gospel” heresy? – Roger E. Olson (Evangelical) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/02/is-the-prosperity-gospel-heresy/