***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to sufficiently answer the question.
Recently, someone asked me if he/she should have concern over someone who embraces the Prosperity “gospel” (a.k.a. the Word Faith movement). What follows is his question followed by my response to it. Because this question deals with a movement, I have placed it under the “profile” umbrella. This post is somewhat exhaustive, but not the most exhaustive one would find on such a movement. Nevertheless, the article attempts to be helpful in informing the reader about the movement itself.
Should there be concern for someone who embraces the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel?
In short, the answer to that is absolutely, as it is not a real gospel.
The Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 what the real Gospel is, as follows (NASB):
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The Gospel is that Jesus Christ, the only way by which mankind may be saved, “died for our sins according to the Scriptures” and was buried and raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures (vv. 1-4; see also Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:11; John 14:6). By repenting, confessing with the mouth “Jesus is LORD” and believing God raised Him from the dead, one will be saved (Romans 10:1-21; Matthew 3:8; Mark 1:15; 2 Peter 3:9; Acts 16:31).
Paul gives a clear consequence for those who would receive a Gospel contrary to what the Holy Scriptures say, as shown in Galatians 1:6-9 (NASB):
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
That word “accursed” is from the Greek word anathema. It means to be “eternally condemned”, or “delivered over to the wrath of God for eternal destruction” (see also 1 Corinthians 12:3, 16:22; Romans 9:3). Needless to say, this is not a light punishment. Instead, it is damnation forever. This is obviously a serious consequence for believing a gospel contrary to that of the Holy Scriptures.
Enter the Prosperity “gospel.”
This “gospel” (which grew out of the Pentecostal Movement in the late 20th century) is basically no gospel at all. Also known as the “Word Faith” movement (founded by E.W Kenyon, a student of New Thought teachings), this “gospel” puts God at the command of the believer. Basically, the believer can command the Holy Spirit to do what he/she wants. As a result, the believer’s words create reality as he/she speaks various things into existence. In a nutshell, the movement deifies man, humanizes God, and (worst of all) distorts the cross. As the Apostle Paul stated, it is a movement that is leading many into eternal condemnation.
Some of the more popular prosperity preachers include Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland (as well as his wife Gloria Copeland), Kenneth Hagin, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, Benny Hinn, Brian Houston, Louie Giglio, Todd White, Bill Johnson, Robert Morris and Oral Roberts, to name a few. These are the teachers who, by teaching the Word of Faith heresy, teach for shameful gain what they ought not to teach (Titus 1:10-11). They are ones to be marked and avoided (Romans 16:17).
The following is a video in which John MacArthur compares Joel Osteen’s teachings from Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, to what the Scriptures say:
Obviously, based on the quotes provided, Osteen’s book is not preaching the biblical Gospel. Instead, it is preaching a false gospel that places all the authority in the hand of the believer. This is typical preaching from a prosperity preacher. This is the type of preaching that, based on the aforementioned Scripture in the Galatians from the Apostle Paul, is eternally condemning many given its being a false gospel.
Another common teaching from prosperity preachers includes the false belief that Jesus was born again. In this video, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Bill Johnson and Todd White all make the claim that Jesus was born again:
This teaching is contrary to what Scriptures say. No biblical text states that Jesus Christ was born again. Jesus Christ had no need to be born again because He, who was not sin, was God in the beginning (2 Corinthians 5:21; John 1:1-14; Hebrews 4:15).
Finally, it is worth noting that the prosperity preachers twist Scripture to support their theology. One common verse they like to twist is 3 John 2, which states the following (NASB):
“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
Prosperity preachers like to use that verse to support the belief that God always wants all people healthy, wealthy and prosperous. In fact, Oral Roberts used this verse to support his prosperity theology. However, when one reads this in context (I am citing 3 John 1-15, the entire book), one can hardly conclude that this is a verse supporting health, wealth and prosperity for all:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. 5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. 9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. 13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face. 15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
As shown, it is obvious that John is writing this letter to an individual named Gaius. Furthermore, the letter’s theme has more information about truth and conduct than good health and being prosperous. Roberts’ twist is extremely blasphemous and absurd. If God desired all to be healthy, wealthy and prosperous, one would have to wonder how a prosperity preacher would explain the hardships that the Apostle Paul suffered (2 Corinthians 11:23-27):
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Referring to the false apostles at the beginning of verse 23 (said false apostles discussed in the preceding 22 verses of the chapter), Paul discusses the many hardships he endured (see also Acts 16:22-39, 27:39-44). This was a man who was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). If God desired all to be healthy, wealthy and prosperous, then certainly the Apostle Paul deserved to be all that given his being a devout proclaimer of the biblical Gospel. However, because the prosperity gospel is a false gospel that both saves nobody and absolutely distorts biblical truth, the prosperity preacher has no solid explanation for the hardships Paul endured. Furthermore, if God desired all to be healthy, wealthy prosperous, why didn’t He remove the thorn in the flesh that was hindering the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-21)?
At its core, the Prosperity “gospel” (also known as Word Faith) is a heresy that is eternally condemning many people. Therefore, it is definitely warranted to have concern for those who embrace it. Scripture is clear about the consequences for believing a false gospel. May we be faithful in proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins.