Question: I have some very good friends involved with the wealth, health gospel. They are told the following:
Prosperity, health and success is part of the gospel. When Jesus died, He died to redeem us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). One of the curses of the fall of Adam was poverty (Genesis 3:17-19), sickness and disease. Under the Old Testament Mosaic law, poverty and sickness was a curse for breaking the law (see Deuteronomy 28:17-18). When Jesus died, He set us free from this curse. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we are thus free from poverty and sickness just as we are free from sin. Through the gospel, we have restored fellowship with God, and this includes access to the abundant provision of our Father in heaven. The gospel is therefore about freedom from lack, sickness and distress just as much as it is about freedom from sin. Sin is the root cause of all these problems, and when Jesus took care of sin on the cross of Calvary, He took care of these problems too. Because salvation from lack and sickness is as much a part of the gospel as salvation from sin, it is right to preach it as part of the gospel.
What can one say to all this?
Response: Let me begin with a consideration of the points your friends (or really those influencing your friends) are making here.
1) "prosperity, health and success is part of the gospel".
No, not at all. The gospel is very clear. It is eternal life available for all through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom.1). Yes there will be blessings unimaginable in the world to come, but nowhere in the Bible do I find Jesus promising us "prosperity, health and success". Compare: "In this world, you will have tribulation" (Jn.16:33). In this same verse, Jesus promises us peace, but that does not mean material wealth as a given.
2) "When Jesus died, He died to redeem us from the curse of the law (Galations 3:13). One of the curses of the fall of Adam was poverty (Genesis 3:17-19), sickness and disease. Under the Old Testament Mosaic law, poverty and sickness was a curse for breaking the law (see Deuteronomy 28:17-18). When Jesus died, He set us free from this curse. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we are thus free from poverty and sickness just as we are free from sin."
This is, even at first blush, an extremely tendentious and convoluted argument. It is very doubtful to me that anyone would accept it at face value who hadn't already accepted the teaching it is supposed to advance (and it is a characteristic of cults to supply arguments for their beliefs after the fact rather than seeking truth from scripture). The reasoning here seems to be that since we are free from the Mosaic Law, that therefore we get wealth and health. Following this logic, Paul, who is the one who tells us this the most clearly in the New Testament would never have been sick (he was, of course: Gal.4:12-15), and should have been one of the wealthiest Christians in history (whereas in fact he had to make tents at night to support himself and his ministry: cf. 1Thes.2:9). But none of this chain of argument makes sense. Adam's curse (not a part of the "Law" which it predates by several thousand years) is to have to work for a living, and that will continue to be the case until the end of this present world (until the paradise of the new heavens and new earth at the end of the Millennium). As to the Deuteronomy passage, there is a punishment of poverty upon godlessness and rebellion against God - that is indeed still true today. But that does not mean that those who are not in rebellion against God will experience wealth and exceptional prosperity - we are told to be content as long as we have food and clothing (1Tim.6:8), hardly the standard envisioned by this "ministry" influencing your friends. We are indeed liberated from sin by faith in Jesus Christ, but we are still in this world. Jesus did not ask for us to be taken out of this world (Jn.17:15-19) - we have been left in it to serve Him, and to show the world that we have faith in Him regardless of the pressures and abuses that the world heaps upon us, and regardless of material privation (which Christians are indeed called upon to suffer from time to time: cf. Heb.11:37-38; 1Pet.4:12-19).
3) "Through the gospel, we have restored fellowship with God, and this includes access to the abundant provision of our Father in heaven."
This is true, as far as it goes, but what is that abundant provision? We are here to serve Jesus, and, to that end, we do have certain needs, food and clothing, shelter, the means to do the ministries to which we have been called. But do we need a Mercedes Benz? Do we need a ski- chalet in the mountains? Do we need a reserve of several millions in T-Bills? etc.??? Solomon's sayings of Agur are pertinent here:
Give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, "who is the Lord", or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:8-9 NIV
Apropos of this, Jesus commanded us to pray for our "daily bread" - not for vast quantities of riches stored up for years to come, but only to have enough for the day at hand (cf. Lk.12:16-21). We are not to worry, not to look far into the future as regards to God's provision, but take this life one day at a time, ever trusting our God to provide the essentials we need to survive in this world and serve Him (Matt.6:25-34). Our treasures, our true treasures, do not consist of the dust of this world which will not endure (cf. Jas.1:9-11), but rather our true treasures are the Word of God and the power of the Spirit and the opportunity to serve the Body of Christ - all of which work out an eternal weight of glory which is not to be compared to the paltry material stuff of this terrible and un-fulfilling world (Matt.6:19-21; 2Cor.4:17). In short, the true treasures of the believer are all spiritual, and the material blessings we have from God are only of any enduring worth to the extent that they are needed to support our spiritual growth and our Christian service and ministry, for it is upon these two pillars that our eternal rewards rest.
4) "The gospel is therefore about freedom from lack, sickness and distress just as much as it is about freedom from sin. Sin is the root cause of all these problems, and then Jesus took care of sin on the cross of Calvary, He took care of these problems too. Because salvation from lack and sickness is as much a part of the gospel as salvation from sin, it is right to preach it as part of the gospel."
Jesus has redeemed us from sin. Otherwise, we could not have eternal life. Sin, Adam's sin which is passed to each of us by physical birth and which inhabits our mortal bodies (Rom.5-7), is indeed at the root of all mankind's problems. These problems are not, however, being completely resolved at this present time in this flawed world in which we live. There is still sin here, still evil, still corruption. Not until the day of eternity will these problems be solved in material terms - as believers we still have a "sin nature" (lit., "sin indwelling" the body": Rom.7:17). We have indeed been set free from sin spiritually speaking, but it is most peculiar that prosperity gospel adherents wish to see this spiritual deliverance in predominantly material terms.
I suppose it could be argued that, well, what is wrong with Christians having health and material success? To which I reply, not necessarily anything, in and of itself. But we should remember that all the great believers of the Bible had much tribulation and testing in this world - and very few of them were "rich". Abraham was very wealthy, it is true, but he was also called upon to face testing that few of us can even imagine (the sacrifice of long-awaited son Isaac being the most dramatic). None of the apostles were rich. All underwent incredible testing, suffering, and, in at least Paul's case, dire health problems and extreme testing in the area of material privation (cf. 2Cor.12:7-10; and 2Tim.4:13 with v.16). This principle is most obvious in the case of our Lord Himself, who, throughout His three and one half year ministry, walked throughout the land without even possessing a home to which He might return (Lk.9:58), and was supported by others at a very basic level at all times (we would be tempted to call this "poverty": Mk.15:41). Indeed, we have it from scripture that our Lord's coming into this world was a matter of Him "making Himself poor" that we might become rich - not in the material things of this world which are but dust and will not endure - but rich in spirit and in the Spirit, in salvation, and in knowledge of Him, in faith (Jas.2:5), in good works (1Tim.6:18), and in eternal rewards (2Cor.8:9). There are no greater riches than these true "riches of Christ" (Eph.3:8), and it is these spiritual riches which we ought to esteem, for "where your riches are, there will your heart also be" (Matt.6:21). Rather, then, than seeking personal wealth, should we not instead have the same attitude that Jesus had, that Paul had: "poor, yet making many rich [spiritually]; having nothing, yet possessing everying [in Christ]" (2Cor.6:10)?
Wealth is, in fact, not a spiritually neutral thing. From the spiritual perspective, it may bring great risks that those who are not rich never encounter (cf. 1Tim.6:6-10). It is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven because they have a tendency to look to their wealth as the basis of their security and so are not as inclined to look to God and to trust Him (Mk.10:25 cf. Lk.6:24; 12:20).
The Bible has much to say on the subject of wealth (almost exclusively in the form of warnings against the dangers inherent in possessing them), and it is speaks volumes that the prosperity gospel people never want to look at the Bible as a whole, but only at certain select passages that serve their purpose. One passage will have to suffice here which should be sufficient to make the issues clear:
(7) We have brought nothing into this world – and are not able to take anything out of it. (8) So if we have daily sustenance and coverings for our bodies, we will be content with these. (9) Those who want to get rich fall into temptations, traps, and many senseless and harmful lusts – the kind which swamp men['s hearts] to their destruction and damnation. (10) For the love of money is a root [cause] of all evils – [and it is] in the pursuit of which [love of money that] some have wandered away from the faith (i.e., become apostates) and have pierced themselves through with many pains.
1st Timothy 6:7-10
This passage makes clear both of the main points against the prosperity gospel mentioned above:
1) as Christians, we are not of this world and the things of this world are not to be our focus (so that material prosperity cannot be part of the gospel);
2) setting one's sights on riches can be disastrous, even to the point of compromising one's salvation (so that the prosperity gospel isn't just wrong, it's terribly dangerous).
I believe it is not too much to say that promising people wealth and health as a part of the gospel violates the entire message of the Bible, for Christ told us that we should "count the cost" of following Him (Lk.14:28). True discipleship is not a road of ease and material abundance, but a challenging road that requires many sacrifices, picking us our cross in emulation of Him, no matter what the consequences. Hardly the tone and flavor of the prosperity gospel.
One last thought here. In my experience and observation, it is generally those who are preaching the prosperity gospel who end up getting the "prosperity" - not the sheep they are fleecing.
You may also find the following links helpful:
The "Prosperity Gospel".
The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel.
Does God really want us to be sick and poor? Revisiting the prosperity gospel.
Habakkuk's Prosperity Prayer: Habakkuk 3:17-19.
In Him who is our true wealth and our eternal life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thank you so much for your response as I am truly concerned about my friends. They really believe that if they give enough money (which they cannot afford) to this church they will be "blessed" with money 100 fold in return. They say it is the seed principle, you reap the type of seed that you sow.....money reaps money. They say it is a spiritual law and it has to happen or "God is a liar". It is amazing how people can be led so far away from the true intent of the Word.
The details you give hear have a familiar ring. It is very typical of all cults to put things in these terms: 1) sacrifice for the leaders of the group beyond any rational point; 2) promises not based on scripture; 3) vitriolic rhetoric that shuts out any level-headed discussion of scripture. See the following links:
Read your Bible: Protection against Cults
Three False Doctrines that Threaten Faith
As to the assertion that Jesus' mentioning of the "30, 60, and 100 fold" might refer to money showered upon those who give to such organizations, it is very clear from even a superficial reading of the parable of the sower where this reference occurs that these "returns" refer to the production of the good believer, that is, this is the crop we produce for God, not some material blessing (monetary or otherwise) He rewards us with in this world for giving money (cf. Matt.13:23).
Yours in Him in whom we hope, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.