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The False Hope of the Prosperity Gospel

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Can donating money to religious organizations help individuals win God's favor?

Can donating money to religious organizations help individuals win God's favor?

Health, wealth, and happiness can all be yours in abundance if you donate generously to the Church of Perpetual Giving and Getting (there is, of course, no such beast). That’s the promise of the prosperity gospel, also known as seed faith. It’s a testament offered with verve by evangelical preachers. The more you give to my religious cause, they say, the more God will reward you with a spectacularly wonderful life.

The Pentecostal Roots of the Prosperity Gospel

People who belong to Pentecostal congregations believe “they are driven by the power of God moving within them . . . Pentecostals base their theology on the text of the Bible which they believe to be the word of God and totally without error (BBC).”

Decades ago, tent revivals and charismatic Pentecostal preachers spread out across North America. Total belief in the power of God would heal the sick in these roadshows. All you had to do was place your faith in God, and all your troubles would melt away.

It was firebrand religion, and it appealed to millions of people. Then, along came folk who preached that the gifts from God might come a bit faster if the wheels of faith were greased with a little cash. That’s the promise of the prosperity gospel.

Pentecostal healing by the laying of hands in Kentucky, 1946

Pentecostal healing by the laying of hands in Kentucky, 1946

God Wants You to Be Rich

John Piper was Pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for more than 30 years. He says that at the centre of the prosperity gospel is the premise that “God wants you rich, and you should partner with him by faith to pursue riches. The justification given is that you can’t accomplish much in life without money, so go for it.”

He says this gospel is an abomination. He quotes the Bible (Timothy 6:9–10) “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” But, the prosperity preachers teach the absolute opposite of this.

The Origin of the Prosperity Gospel

Around the turn of the last century, a new approach to Christianity emerged that was called "New Thought." The Gospel Coalition explains: “This philosophy teaches that the key to health and wealth acquisition is thinking, visualizing, and speaking the right words.”

The pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City took these new ideas and popularized them. In 1952, he wrote a book entitled The Power of Positive Thinking. He was, of course, Norman Vincent Peale.

In the mid-1940s, a young preacher was beginning to make a name for himself with a travelling tent-healing ministry in Oklahoma. That charismatic Pentecostal preacher from Oklahoma patched Norman Vincent Peale’s thinking into his ministry and started healing crusades across the United States. Tied in with curing the sick was the promise of material wealth to all those who donated to his cause.

His name was Oral Roberts, and he saw the potential of taking his message onto the airwaves as almost every American household bought a television. Now, he could reach millions instead of a few thousand in a stadium. On television, he bragged about his wealth, saying “Silver and gold have we plenty.” With a wide grin on his face he watched as his faithful audience rose to give him a standing ovation.

Is wealth a sign of God's approval?

Is wealth a sign of God's approval?

Copycat Preachers

Plenty of people noticed how Oral Roberts raked in the cash and decided they too wanted a piece of the action. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were Pentecostal evangelists who invented the Praise the Lord Club (PTL). They plundered PTL Club funds to buy luxury homes and paid themselves millions. In 1991, Jim was sentenced to 45 years for fraud. This was then reduced to eight years, and he served only four.

Bakker is back on the airwaves finding ways for his followers to get redemption by giving him their money.

His latest gig is the mysterious “Silver Solution;” Bakker says it’s an effective therapy against coronavirus and the faithful can get their very own bottles in return for hefty donations to his ministry. Various attorneys-general are not persuaded about the efficacy of Silver Solution and have placed cease and desist orders on Bakker.

Robert Tilton’s show Success-N-Life was seen in all 235 U.S. television markets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. People were asked to send prayer requests with money attached. Diane Sawyer of ABC News discovered that the supposedly devout preacher man never read the prayer requests but kept the money, adding up to about $80 million a year. The ABC expose led to his show being pulled off the air in 1993.

Of course, everybody has learned that some of these preachers can’t be trusted. Or perhaps they haven’t. A new crop of swindlers is selling the same old malarkey to vulnerable people.

Lakewood Church in Houston is where Pastor Joel Osteen preaches the prosperity gospel to congregations of 52,000.

Lakewood Church in Houston is where Pastor Joel Osteen preaches the prosperity gospel to congregations of 52,000.

The Flying Preachers

Jesse Duplantis is pitching his followers for a new Falcon 7X luxury jet “so we can go anywhere in the world one stop” to spread the prosperity gospel. The sticker price for a Falcon 7X is around $54 million.

If eyebrows are raised about such extravagance, Pastor Duplantis has a ready answer. If Jesus was around today, he wouldn’t be plodding along on the back of a donkey. No siree, Bub. “He’d be on an airplane preaching the Gospel all over the world.”

As Cleve R. Wootson Jr. notes in The Washington Post, Jesse Duplantis “. . . preaches the prosperity gospel, which says God shows favor by rewarding the faithful with earthly riches. Giving money to pastors and their ministries, leaders say, is a sort of investment.”

Matthew 6:19–20 advises: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal . . . But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

Can you help Jesse Duplantis pay for a new jet?

Can you help Jesse Duplantis pay for a new jet?

Creflo Dollar also wants to join the flying preacher club. In 2015, he launched Project G650. This was aimed at raising enough money to buy a $65 million Gulfstream 650 so he could more efficiently spread the word of the Lord. The plan didn’t go down too well with followers or the media, and he cancelled the campaign. As one astute observer noted on Twitter “Could you imagine if before feeding the multitude w/ 5 loaves and 2 fishes, Jesus set up a gofundme account to buy a plane?”

Another prosperity preacher, Kenneth Copeland, got a slightly more modest Gulfstream V. Even more frugally, he bought it second-hand off actor Tyler Perry. Of course, it needs a few million in upgrades. There are several other prosperity preachers who are airborne in their own jets. Clearly, the prosperity gospel worked for them.

Bonus Factoids

  • Ex-U.S. President Donald J. Trump attended the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan with his parents when Norman Vincent Peale was pastor. In 2015, Trump said Pastor Peale gave great sermons: “. . . you could listen to him all day long. When you left the church, you were disappointed that it was over.” Pastor Peale officiated at Trump’s first wedding.”
  • According to Beliefnet, prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has a net worth of $760 million.
  • “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” —Matthew 19:24

Sources

  • “Pentecostalism.” BBC, February 7, 2009.
  • “Prosperity Gospel Born in the USA.” Russell W. Woodbridge, The Gospel Coalition, June 4, 2015.
  • “Televangelist With Three Planes Wants Followers to Pay for a $54 Million Private Jet.” Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post, May 29, 2018.
  • “ ‘Word From the Lord’: Televangelist’s Ministry Buys Tyler Perry’s Gulfstream Jet.” Lisa Gutierrez, Kansas City Star, January 21, 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 11, 2018:

Thank you Rupert. I was very interest when I realize you are going to write on the Gospel.

I have read on some of the Ministers, and noted at times they get of the truth or twist it to they liking.

They are such gospel preachers in my country Nigeria.

When Jesse Duplanti came on air, I do not pay attention. It was on the internet. A local newspaper even carry the story.

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