The messages delivered in prosperity churches and from prosperity preachers fill the listeners with hope - but is this really hope? While biblical scripture mentions God’s intent for humanity to prosper, the context is unclear. Some pastors have convinced parishioners that the prosperity doctrine justifies one’s acquiring money and materialism as a reward for righteousness; or requires one’s giving of money or material as an act that validates faith or causes blessings.
But Jesus himself supported and demonstrated a lifestyle of simplicity and not material prosperity.
Although Jesus was prosperous it was most certainly not in the materialistic and consumerist fashion implied, if not flaunted by many prosperity preachers. Jesus was instead dependent on the support of others and instructed his disciples to go out and minister in the same fashion.
Jesus also focused on the importance of spiritual prosperity instead of material prosperity. In many cases this was not found in the giving of money and riches, but in mourning, meekness, mercifulness, peace, purity, and persecution as stated in Matthew 5:3-10. Scripture often pronounces “woe” on the rich, the prosperous, and the greedy.
The Apostle Paul also advocated a lifestyle of simplicity and contentment, even when he didn’t have very much, was hungry, or suffered from great need and reliance on the generosity of others.
Paul himself demonstrates that true prosperity is not the accumulation of wealth or material things but in the relationship believers can have with Christ. This meant a devotion to the person and the cause of Christ that considered material possession junk and sought to share in the sufferings of Christ by becoming like him in his death.
Paul also gives a critical warning to Timothy: “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Paul addresses two things associated with prosperity, the desire to be rich and the love of money. Creflo Dollar argues that many people misread this scripture and believe that money itself is evil, however it is the love of money – or having the wrong relationship with money. But Paul suggests that a person’s desire to be rich could also lead them into a duplicitous and sinful lifestyle.
The gospel must provide hope for those who are seeking hope. That hope should indeed be holistic. Domestically, the gospel message should not be situated in a message that only affirms devotion to God based on the amount of money one gives. Love should not be held hostage by the expectation of abundance.
Christ’s example is one who gave love freely and commanded us to do the same. To only give because you expect a return is to commercialize the sacrifice of Christ and transform the love of God into a commodity. The gospel message must remain connected to love, freedom, and justice. If we espouse it to money, the poor and the least will always be doomed.
We are more like Christ when we give to the poor than when we give to the priest.
Internationally and abroad, the gospel message must not be used to strip nations of their ability to be spiritually autonomous. When prosperity preachers accept hundreds of thousands in offerings, speaking fees and donations they play as large a part in the persistent poverty that those nations face as corrupt governments and flawed international trade policies. When prosperity preachers offer promises of abundant blessings in exchange for offerings instead of promoting nation-building and advocacy against injustice they are worse than the obvious forces of oppression that already exist.