God is contemptuous of prosperity preachers. He says: “They give useless medicine for my people’s grievous wounds, for they assure them all is well when that isn’t so at all!” (Jeremiah 8:10-11).
The prosperity gospel maintains the redemption in Christ Jesus is also redemption from financial poverty. It says every Christian is called to be rich in dollars and cents. A favourite scripture in this regard comes from Paul, who says: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
This so-called gospel appeals to the rich because it tells them they will become richer. It appeals to the poor because it promises them they will become rich. It appeals to pastors because it has proved to be an effective way to grease money out of Christians by making them believe if they give to their churches, God would give them a hundredfold return.
Jesus says those who leave their house or land or brothers or sisters or father or mother for the sake of the gospel will receive a hundredfold return. (Matthew 10:29-30). He is clearly referring here to spiritual returns, for no man can have 100 physical mothers and fathers. However, his message has been distorted on the altar of the prosperity gospel.
Thus, Gloria Copeland says: “You give $1 for the gospel’s sake and $100 belongs to you. Give $10 and receive $1,000. Give $1,000 and receive $100,000. Give one house and receive one hundred houses or one house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane. Give one car and the return would furnish you a lifetime of cars.”
Fleecing the flock
The prosperity gospel is convenient for justifying the wealth of pastors who have become rich at the expense of their congregation. Thus, Marcus Bishop says unapologetically: “Financial prosperity is just as much a part of the Gospel as anything else… I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not ashamed of prosperity. I’m not ashamed that Jesus bought and paid for me to be wealthy. Let me just tell you from the heart of God, preachers are supposed to be rich.”
Kenneth Copeland echoes him. He maintains: “You can draw on heaven like a magnet. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to get God’s blessings. Now’s when we need them.”
The prosperity gospel is also lucrative for selling books. The Christian book market is full of “get-rich-quick tipsters” and “one-minute-solution merchants.” For example, Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now” sold millions of copies. It was number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Osteen tells Christians they can get their best life now; a far more marketable proposition than one saying: “Take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Tit for tat
The prosperity gospel says in order to receive from God; we first have to first give money to the church. But Peter said the exact opposite to Simon the sorcerer, who offered him money in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” (Acts 8:20).
God is no respecter of persons. He not only prospers the righteous, he also prospers sinners. Bad fortune is not an index of God’s judgement. Neither is prosperity an index of his favour. (Job 21:7-13). Many sinners, atheists and wicked people easily escape calamities, while many are the afflictions of the righteous. (Psalm 34:19).
Solomon says: “Exactly the same thing will finally happen to all of us, whether we live right and respect God or sin and don’t respect God. Yes, the same thing will happen if we offer sacrifices to God or if we don’t, if we keep our promises or break them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3).
God allows the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Accordingly, he often gives great wealth to the wicked. This tendency baffled Jeremiah who queried God: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
Prosperity of fools
For the unregenerate, riches can be a curse. If we inherit riches or if our plans succeed beyond our wildest expectations, it is time to pray for the grace to handle it, that it may not alienate us from God: “For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:32).
Solomon warns: “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.” (Proverbs 13:7). This means there is a seeming wealth behind which lies deep spiritual poverty and wretchedness. Yet, there is a poverty that makes a man ripe for the kingdom of God.
Take another look at the special programs and outreaches organised in the churches and you will discover the emphasis is not on righteousness or the kingdom of God. Instead, banners, posters, handbills and radio jingles proclaim “Unceasing Showers of Blessing,” “Twenty-four Hour Miracles;” or “Stupendous Breakthroughs.” Hosea dismisses this tendency: “They assemble together for grain and new wine.” (Hosea 7:14)
Prosperity preachers mislead Christians. They hold up the candy of their gospel, saying “count the blessings.” But Jesus does the very opposite. He presents the gospel and says “count the cost.” (Luke 14:28-33). Jesus does not promise us a rose garden in this life. Instead he tells his disciples: “In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Encouraging the wicked
God says to Isaiah: “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1). Prosperity preachers are averse to doing this for fear of alienating their congregation. Therefore, they fool the gullible, saying: “Get ready, get ready, God is about to give you a blessing that there will not be room enough to contain.”
Prosperity preachers strengthen the hand of evil-doers by promising them God’s blessings instead of reproving their sins. (Jeremiah 23:14). They give the wrong impression that God is satisfied with Christians, ensuring that we do not repent of sin. Indeed, as a rule, God does not send messages of prosperity. He is not in the habit of sending messages of peace and prosperity to a sinful world. On the contrary, he sends warnings of wars, famines and plagues. (Jeremiah 28:8-9).
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD. They continually say to those who despise me, ‘The LORD has said, ‘You shall have peace;’ and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).
God is contemptuous of prosperity preachers. He says: “All of them, great and small, prophet and priest, have one purpose in mind- to get what isn’t theirs. They give useless medicine for my people’s grievous wounds, for they assure them all is well when that isn’t so at all!” (Jeremiah 8:10-11).
Femi Aribisala is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria. He tweets from@FemiAribisala.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.