While browsing the religion section at Chapters, I came across a book called You’re Supposed to Be Wealthy by Creflo Dollar. Dollar is an American pastor, televangelist and founder of the non-denominational World Changers Church International in Atlanta. He made headlines recently when he solicited his congregation to raise $65 million to purchase a private jet for his evangelistic efforts. He was also widely criticized for a post that appeared on his Facebook page: “Jesus bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity. #ProsperityInChrist. #WealthyLiving. #AbundantLife.” It was later taken down by Dollar or a member of his team.
Dollar is one of the most extreme examples of those who preach a prosperity gospel—the teaching that believers have a right to health and wealth, and can obtain these blessings by claiming them in faith and by “sowing seeds” (giving financially—often to the leader’s ministry). The prosperity gospel sees faith as a transaction: we put in faith and take out blessings.
This is completely incompatible with biblical teaching. Scripture doesn’t guarantee that we will escape suffering or never face difficult circumstances, though God promises he will be with us no matter what. By creating a “contract” between us and God, the prosperity gospel is a form of idolatry—it encourages us to put our trust and hope in financial security, rather than the triune God.
Jesus says that our treasure should be stored up in heaven (see Matthew 6:19-20). Think about some of the happiest and most fulfilled people you know. Are they extremely wealthy? Or are they rich in family and friends, with the joy of the Lord in their hearts and lives?
John Oliver, host of the news satire program Last Week Tonight, recently critiqued TV evangelists who promote the prosperity gospel. The segment (which contains explicit language) is both infuriating and heartbreaking. Infuriating because these so-called pastors are teaching a poisonous message that perverts the gospel. Heartbreaking because they are preying on the vulnerable, those who are uneducated, lonely, poor—who can’t afford to give what little money they have.
It’s easy to spot the most obvious examples of this false gospel through their unethical, unChristlike conduct. But does the prosperity gospel creep into our spiritual lives in subtle ways? Are we guilty, at times, of practising a “lite” version of the prosperity gospel?
When we make plans and ask God to bless them, we’re getting dangerously close to the prosperity gospel. We should be looking to God and his Word for our plans and course of action. We should be asking God how we can contribute to his plan in the world. It’s not the church that has a mission; it’s God’s mission that has a church.
When we get disillusioned when things go wrong, when we think God will bless us if we do everything right, we’re getting dangerously close to the prosperity gospel. We don’t build up credits to cash in for blessings—instead God blesses us to bless others. He blesses us with grace, mercy and love, with a community of faith. I don’t think he’s concerned about our financial portfolio or the amount of money we have in the bank.
The prosperity gospel is not the gospel of Jesus. We may not be using it to exploit others, but we need to be on the lookout for the subtle ways it enters our hearts and minds. For me, John Wesley’s words are the perfect antidote: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.”
Captain Mark Braye is the corps officer at Sarnia Community Church, Ont.