This is the first in a five-part series on the Prosperity Gospel.
Does God want me rich? Can my words create reality? Are human beings little gods?
Almost without exception, leaders of today’s Word-Faith movement answer these questions with a resounding, “Yes!”
While elements of the Word-Faith movement are as old as first-century false teachings, the so-called Prosperity Gospel has borrowed from the more recent “mind sciences” and radical Pentecostalism to become a leading form of noxious Christianity.
Using satellite broadcasts, the Internet, best-selling books, social media, and stadium-size venues, today’s “health and wealth” preachers are convincing millions of people that material wealth and physical well-being are available through the creative power of our words.
But is the Word-Faith movement orthodox in its doctrine? What exactly is the Word of Faith movement? Where did it come from? And who are its leaders?
An elderly woman tosses aside her walker and sprints around a crowded auditorium amidst thunderous applause. Hundreds of congregants gasp as a faith healer lengthens a man’s shortened leg in the name of Jesus. Throngs of worshipers fall backward, seemingly lifeless, as an evangelist breathes the Holy Spirit on them.
These are common sights on Christian television, meant to convince us that God continues to perform signs, wonders and miracles through His anointed servants.
But are these truly miracles? Is God really at work, or is some charlatan playing on our emotions so we’ll pull out our checkbooks and “release” our faith with a generous donation?
It’s not always easy to tell. Thankfully, Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek offer some good advice in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. The authors remind us that miracles are possible today – God still deals in the supernatural – but it’s important to separate the miraculous from a host of counterfeits.
Leaders of the word-faith movement, also known as the prosperity gospel, say they place a high value on scripture. Unfortunately, their unique interpretation of God’s word leads to unbiblical conclusions about God’s design for the Christian life.
A case in point: 3 John 2, which reads: “Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
As prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen would have you believe, this verse expresses the divine view that every child of God should enjoy financial blessing and perfect health. But is that what the passage really means?
Hardly. In the first place, the Greek word translated “prosper” means “to go well,” not to become rich. Secondly, John uses a common greeting to address his friend, Gaius, similar to salutations we place in modern-day letters.
As Gordon Fee writes in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, “This combination of wishing for ‘things to go well’ and for the recipient’s ‘good health’ was the standard form of greeting in a personal letter in antiquity. To extend John’s wish for Gaius to refer to financial and material prosperity for all Christians is totally foreign to the text.”