It may surprise the reader to find this particular subject in a website devoted to cults and new religions. However, as we will see, there are valid reasons for including it. Before we delve in the Prosperity Gospel and its inherent problems, one observation is necessary. There are many well-meaning Christians who believe the teachings of this movement and belong to churches which espouse these particular doctrines. So we are not saying that to believe in the Prosperity Gospel means that you are automatically part of a cult, and are not a true believer in Christ. However, there are enough errors present in the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel that it is certainly a dangerous belief system to be avoided.
It goes under a variety of names: the Prosperity Gospel, prosperity teaching, the health and wealth gospel, positive confession, the word of faith, the faith movement, and others. The followers of this movement come from a broad of the church. While many, if not most, are from Pentecostal and Charismatics backgrounds, you can find prosperity teaching in a number of other Protestant groups, and even in some Catholic churches. Although there can be a wide spectrum of teachings from different preachers, the basics of the movement boil down to a few specific doctrines:
1) God wants all of His people to prosper financially and materially, and in abundance.
2) God desires that all of His followers be healed of all disease and live in state of supernatural health.
3) Faith is a contractually-based law that God must honor.
4) Faith is released through the spoken word, and what we speak creates the state we live in.
5) Physical affliction and material poverty are the result of a lack of faith and/or negative confession.
There is sometimes a sixth proposition that is asserted by some Prosperity advocates:
- Man’s destiny is to be a semi-divine (or even divine) being.
Kenneth Hagin is generally viewed as being the father of the movement. Hagin believed that he had received a mandate from God “to teach my people faith.” Through his preaching, classes, publications, and especially through Rhema Bible College, Hagin was very successful in proclaiming his particular version of the gospel. Most of the more well-known prosperity teachers have been influenced by him either directly or indirectly.
However, if Hagin is the father of the Prosperity Gospel, then the grandfather has to be a man named E. W. Kenyon. Kenyon was a Baptist preacher who enjoyed a thriving ministry in the early 20th century, especially on the radio. Kenyon’s theology was an eclectic mixture of orthodox Christianity and mystical cult influences. There is, indeed, a strong element of Biblical theology in his preaching and writing. However, he also evidences a strong New Thought influence. He even attended the Emerson College of Oratory, a New Thought school. He was also well-versed in the writings of Christian Science, the Mind Sciences, and New Thought writers. (New Thought and the Mind Sciences are two movements that are mystical and Gnostic in their teachings. The roots of New Thought can further be traced back to Christian Science, Spiritualism, Transcendentalism, Mesmerism and other occult, mystical movements of the 19th century.)
Based on his mystical, Mind Science background, Kenyon developed a number of distinctive doctrines. First was the contractual nature of faith, i.e., God has established a contract of faith with believers. God is bound by this contract to carry out what a faithful believers asserts will happen. He also emphasized the power of positive confession. Kenyon borrowed this idea from various New Thought sources. He famously asserted: “What I profess, I possess.” Kenyon also asserted that sickness is a result of wrong thinking and believing. If someone is sick, it is a faith and spiritual issue, not physical. As questionable as these teachings are, when it came to Christ and salvation, he would go even further afield. For example, Kenyon taught that the Christian believer is every bit as much an incarnation of God as is Jesus Christ. He also had an aberrant view of Christ and His Work: He posited that in order to fully pay for our redemption, Jesus literally became sin on the Cross. Spiritually he became a child of the devil, and then died spiritually. He had to be reborn in order to resurrect and be glorified.
It is readily apparent that Kenyon’s belief system is being copied and promulgated today by the teachers of the Prosperity Gospel. Some openly acknowledge their debt to Kenyon. Others actively avoid association with Kenyon, but still follow his teachings. There have even been instances of men claiming divine revelation as the source for their message, when in truth they were literally quoting the writings of Kenyon himself.
There are a number of serious problems with the teachings of this movement. For example, the sovereignty of God is called into question. God becomes subject to our faith. The Lord God is required to obey what we believe and confess. Also, there is a great deal of judgement and condemnation involved in this movement. If you are sick, or if you are poor, then it is your own fault. You simply do not have enough faith. Along with this, there is a denial of the importance that hardship and even suffering can have in a believer’s life. Biblically we see that God often uses suffering to accomplish greater purposes for his people. But this is completely denied by the Prosperity Gospel. Pride and arrogance can also be a problem. To believe that your prosperity and health is a mark of how much faith you have, how spiritually superior you are to others, engenders an elitist mentality. Probably the most basic error is simply the inherent carnality and worldliness of the doctrine. While the Scriptures are replete with injunctions to not love this world, to be separate from the influence of the world, to not love money, and to beware of the dangers of riches—the Prosperity promotes these very things.
One of the most dangerous aspects of this teaching is the tendency to a mystical, even occultic, worldview. If your words have the power to change reality, even to the point of forcing God to obey your spoken declarations, then you are in charge of nature. You effectively manipulate the natural world through your faith, will power and spoken words. There is a term for this belief: Magic. This is the essence of sorcery itself—the control of nature through our will and words.
It is unfortunate that the Prosperity Gospel is so attractive to our carnal natures. Because of this, it is extremely popular, and thus extremely well-funded. Christian television is full of it. And it is currently promoted around the world through radio and television, mass crusades, and printed literature. Sad to say, it is one of the most popular exports from the West into the Third World. This movement is running rampant through Africa and Asia, with devastating consequences for the church. The Prosperity Gospel has become a spiritual plague that is causing ruin and destruction in many places of the world where the true Gospel has only recently become established.
Summary of Beliefs
God: Generally an orthodox Christian view. However, God is contractually bound to obey the words of faith proclaimed by his own followers. Thus, denying His true sovereignty.
Christ: Usually orthodox. Yet, there are some who follow Kenyon’s teachings and assert that Christ became sinful for us, and had to be justified and reborn through the resurrection.
Man: Some assert that man has the potential for divinity. All believe that man can shape reality through his spoken word.
Sin: Usually biblical. However, obvious vices (such as greed, pride, selfish ambition, love of money, etc.) can be subtly masked as spiritual “virtues.”
Bible & Authority: Great emphasis is placed upon the Bible. However, verses are often used out of context and inappropriately. Also, individual “prophetic words” or “revelation knowledge” can be accepted as on par with, or even supersede, the Scriptures themselves.