Word of Faith promises its followers health, wealth and happiness. Its defenders claim riches should be used for evangelism and church programs. The ministers who preach it, however, can't seem to resist spending donations on themselves, for such things as private jets, Rolls Royces, mansions, and custom-made clothes.
Prosperity Gospel: Is Greed a Motive?
Jesus Christ was clear about greed and selfishness. Both attitudes are sins. He blasted religious teachers who used the Bible to enrich themselves. Referring to their inner motives, he said:
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." (Matthew 23:25, NIV)
While the prosperity gospel teaches that Christians should boldly ask God for new cars, a bigger house, and nice clothes, Jesus warned:
"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15, NIV)
Word of Faith preachers also argue that wealth is a sign of God's favor. They hold up their own material gain as proof that they have tapped into God's riches. Jesus doesn't see it that way:
"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?" (Luke 9:25, NIV)
Prosperity Gospel: Was Jesus Rich or Poor?
Trying to legitimize the prosperity gospel, several Word of Faith preachers claim that Jesus of Nazareth was rich. Bible scholars say that theory contradicts the facts.
"The only way you can make Jesus into a rich man is by advocating torturous interpretations (of the Bible) and by being wholly naive historically," says Bruce W. Longenecker, a professor of religion at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Longenecker specializes in studying the poor in the time of ancient Greece and Rome.
Longenecker adds that about 90 percent of the people in Jesus' time lived in poverty. They were either rich or barely eking out a living.
Eric Meyers agrees. The professor at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, bases his knowledge on being one of the archaeologists who excavated Nazareth, the small village in Israel where Jesus spent most of his life. Meyers reminds that Jesus had no burial place of his own and was laid in a tomb given to him by Joseph of Arimathea.
Word of Faith preachers counter that Judas Iscariot was the "treasurer" for Jesus and the disciples, so they must have been rich. However, "treasurer" appears only in the New Living Translation, not in the King James Version, NIV, or ESV, which simply say Judas was in charge of the money bag. Traveling rabbis at that time received alms and free meals and lodging at private homes. Luke 8:1-3 notes:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (NIV, Emphasis added)
Prosperity Gospel: Do Riches Make Us Right with God?
Word of Faith preachers say riches and material goods are signs of a right relationship with God. But Jesus warns against pursuing worldly wealth:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:19-21, 23, NIV)
Wealth may build people up in the eyes of men, but it does not impress God. In talking with a rich man, Jesus looked at him and said, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!' (Luke 18:24, NIV)
The problem, which Jesus understood, is that rich people can pay so much attention to their money and possessions that they neglect God. Over time, they may even come to depend on their money instead of God.
Rather than grasping to get rich, the Apostle Paul counsels contentment with what you have:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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. (1 Timothy 6:6-9, NIV)