I have recovered from the Prosperity Gospel. It took a long time. Here is my story.
I first encountered “Christianity” in my early teen years. It was a perfect storm of events, really. I started attending Rhema, a Word of Faith circus freshly imported from Oklahoma to Johannesburg. My parents divorced at roughly the same time, followed by my grown sisters leaving the nest. People I loved were gone in a short space of time, and they took my sense of stability with them.
The prosperity gospel seemed like just the safety net an adolescent crashing off a broken home high wire needed.
The Prosperity movement made promises to me that I believed God would deliver on. After all, He promised health, wealth and unity. Or so I was taught relentlessly from the pulpit and in Sunday School. I was young and in good health, I didn’t covet riches. But there was something I wanted desperately. Something I prayed for constantly, and claimed vociferously: I wanted my Dad to come home. Everyone at the church always seemed smiling and happy. This gospel apparently made people euphoric and ecstatic. They raised their hands, fell over when “anointed”, gave literal buckets of money, and took care of their tongues lest they “spoke words” that might block a material blessing.
The prosperity gospel has a way of taking one into the big tent. I have no doubt that the cults operate in the same way with their enticements and promises.
From my experience it is a movement with a magnetic attraction for con artists and charlatans throughout the leadership and laity. It’s amazing what people can get others to do when they tell them God has a message for them, and that they had a direct revelation. When you believe the Canon of Scripture is still open, you allow yourself to be exposed to dangerous influences and manipulations by others.
The entire theology revolves around having faith that the faith you have is faithful enough to be faithful. If you lack faith, just “claim” more. Otherwise everything that happens that you dislike is just the outworking of your lack of faith.
It’s all about the doing and the giving (cash preferred please). And, so I did, and I did, and I did some more. I fasted and prayed, I claimed and cajoled, I cried, and gave disproportionately, and I… broke.
By the time I left school for university I was the angriest young woman you’ve ever seen. I thought that Jesus had failed to keep the promises I had prepared for Him. I rejected Him entirely, and decided that on Judgment Day I’d give him a taste of my mind. Out of spite, I tried to embrace other religions. I dabbled in Judaism. I sat and contemplated Buddhism. I cruised the Koran, and got turned off Hinduism’s multi-armed deities. At least I was too honest with myself to attempt an embrace of atheism.
Although I tried these deluded options on for size, it was more in an attempt to hurt the Savior than in a genuine search for answers. I knew the truth, even whilst hostile to Him. I thought He had a lot to answer for. Here I was, holding on tightly to all those promises made in His name, only to be rejected and declined by the God of the Universe. What sort of a God was He?
I wonder how many people today are in the same position I was in then.
The constant train of lies from healing and prosperity peddlers, promising heaven and earth and everything in between, only to find you are sitting with Job, in ashes, scraping off boils. How many loved ones have died because someone didn’t have enough faith? How many people have gone bankrupt in the process of believing that God was a cosmic slot machine? All that was needed was to drop endless seed offerings into the eager, grasping hands of lovers of self and money? How many grifters have sold prayer cloths to preyed upon, desperate mothers? How many bitter, angry, broken people are out there, never having feasted on the true Gospel, but only having being promised a fast food diet of instant gratification? Who else but Esau comes to mind, selling his birthright for a pottage of stew?
The pimps of prosperity are actually short-selling your birthright. Don’t buy what they are selling. After all, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. It doesn’t carry a price tag. Not ever.
Yes, we are promised healing and prosperity, and God does deliver on each one of His promises. A very wise pastor pointed this out to me recently. The prophecies of Isaiah 53, that by Christ’s wounds we are healed, will take place. God’s Word never returns void. The miracle is even greater than the prosperity crowd claim. The dead and buried will be raised to life with imperishable bodies, in God’s perfect timing and according to His wisdom.
I am no longer angry with the Lord. He graciously brought people into my life who helped me to see the error of the false theology I was enslaved to. He led me out of the despair and wilderness of my misdirected faith, and into the promised land of the one, true faith: the real Gospel. I have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to new life in Him through His resurrection (See Romans 6).
I am still dealing with anger towards the faith healers and prosperity peddlers. Perhaps I would get over it more quickly if they would leave my family and friends alone. They prey on the most vulnerable among us, at our weakest moments and teach people heresy in the name of Christ.
They have the audacity to point to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and castigate them for their denial of Christ. But, the Name it / Claim it crowd are no better with their promises of temporal material riches and physical well-being, all wrapped together in fake healings and the trappings of the many storage barns they have built for themselves. This is so contrary to the tribulation promised us by Christ Himself, in John 16:33, and re-iterated by St. Paul in Romans 5:3.
They hold up Christ as an example of how we should live – telling us that we should be good and generous, that we can bring things into being by the power of our words. They tell us that we have the power to declare our family members healed or to create our own riches. They want us to believe that the cattle on the thousand hills are ours for the taking, and that God will open up a window in heaven and will pour down trinkets and goodies for momentary enjoyment here on earth.
The spiritual snake oil salesmen never get down into the trenches with us, and help us in our hour of need, nor tell us that what we are going through is part of life, and very much a part of our Christian walk. Rather we are told that these troubled times are of our own making, that we are responsible for them because of a lack of faith and a lack of giving.
That is not Christ. That is not Biblical. That is not the church. That is not salvation. That is not Christianity.
St Paul described them aptly here,
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21 ESV)
I love this verse, because it contrasts so clearly the difference between what the Health & Prosperity crowd offers, versus what we really have to look forward to in Christ.
Our bodies fail us. Each day we become more acutely aware of our broken, human frailty. Things don’t turn out the way we hope and dream. But we place our hope in the Risen Savior who makes all things new. We wait on Him through the trauma and turmoil of life. We don’t hold to healing here and now. Yes, Christ does heal, and miracles occur daily. But, even if we receive healing now, what does this profit a man? Each of us will still die, and this will go on, until the day our Lord returns. Indeed, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (see Philippians 1:20-23).
The only profit is the knowledge of Christ and what He has won for us on the cross and through His resurrection. The only way to understand that is to start with God’s Holy Law. We have to understand that we are lawbreakers. We aren’t even able to comprehend how frightfully sinful each and every one of us is. Our sinful nature permeates every cell in our bodies. Salvation is not trying harder. Being a Christian does not mean insta-happiness. On the contrary, be warned: being a Christian will result in persecution, rejection and possibly poverty. That is our natural state. We are in the world, but no longer of it. We are aliens in a strange land, but bearers of a wonderful alien righteousness that was gifted to us by the will of God, without our consent, let alone our decision.
Salvation is faith in the One who did it all perfectly for us. Christ was born sinless, lived the perfect life, and died the sacrificial, propitiatory death on our behalf, in order that we would be absolved of our sins. His resurrection sealed His righteousness to us, that we might be fully reconciled with the Holy God, and be granted eternal life in Him.
Nothing else matters, everything else is chaff. And that chaff will be burned off in the last judgment.