The prosperity gospel, also known as the health and wealth gospel, claims Christ’s death has purchased for us health and wealth in this life. We just have to claim it by faith, and we will receive it here and now. If we aren’t healthy and wealthy in this world, it is because our faith is defective.
What follows are the theological and biblical reasons this is a false doctrine that is a great danger to the church. Please note that my remarks should not be interpreted as meaning that I believe all true Christians will always be poor and/or sick. God in his mysterious but wise and holy sovereignty decides what is best for us and his kingdom. Sometimes this may involve us being poor and/or sick and sometimes it may involve us being rich and/or healthy. My argument is against H&W’s insistence that we are guaranteed health and wealth in this life. (The health and wealth gospel will henceforth be referred to as H&W.)
- H&W’s view of what Christ has purchased for us is much to limited. H&W claims they are just trying to claim by faith what Christ has bought for us on the cross. They must be asked then, why they ask for so little. Christ’s death has purchased for us everything associated with paradise which is a life and a world that is totally free from every aspect of sin and death. This includes complete and total healing in all broken relationships, world peace, the righting of all injustices, etc. But H&W does not claim these blessings of Christ’s death as accessible to us in this life— only health and wealth. The fact that H&W focuses on individual health and wealth shows they are motivated by a selfish pursuit of personal comfort and prosperity, not a true desire to claim everything Christ has bought for them.
- H&W has the timing wrong for God’s fulfillment of his promises. H&W claims we can receive all the blessings God has promised us in Christ here in this life, but an examination of one of God’s most basic promises to his children shows this to be false. God has given us eternal life, but we still die. Though we possess eternal life now by faith, the total fulfillment of this promise does not take place until Jesus comes again and brings about the resurrection of the dead. The same is true of health and wealth and many of the other blessings Christ has purchased for us. We possess them now by faith, but we will not receive the fulfillment of these things until Christ ushers in the new heavens and earth. The fact that all health and wealth teachers and their followers all die, proves their doctrine is wrong. Its seems their faith can conquer every illness but the last one.
- We must bear the cross in this life before we wear the crown in eternity.Our salvation is replicated in the life of Christ. Christ did not receive outward glory until after his resurrection. Until then he was a man of sorrows culminating in his death on the cross. He calls those who would follow him to take up their cross. In this life we must bear many crosses, as Christ did, which may include poverty and sickness. We do not receive the full glory of health and wealth until the resurrection of the dead. H&W wants to wear the crown in this life without having to bear the cross. This is exactly the mistake the disciples made when they assumed Jesus’ kingdom was a military kingdom of worldly glory. Jesus continually rebuked them for this mistake pointing out to them his mission, and thus ours, is to bear the cross in this life. The Son of Man will not come in glory until the 2nd Coming. That is when our full glory in Christ will be revealed. To reject the cross of Christ in this life is to reject Jesus himself.
- God may choose to make us poor/sick for our spiritual good & growth.Jesus said it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. This reflects the Bible’s continual warnings to us of the spiritual dangers of material prosperity. In our sin we tend to depend upon wealth for our security rather than God, turning wealth into an idol. Consequently, God, in his love for us, may purposely keep us in a poor or sick condition for our own spiritual good. For example, consider Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Paul’s faith was extraordinary as evidenced by all the risks he took for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. In that extraordinary faith he repeatedly asked God to heal him of some physical affliction. But God refused to answer Paul’s prayer in this life leaving him to struggle with his thorn in the flesh. Without his thorn in the flesh, Paul might have been tempted to trust in his health for salvation rather than in the gospel. His sickness kept him dependent on the grace of God, and thus he was saved. In the same way, God uses trials for our spiritual growth. Being forced to exercise our faith in times of difficulty strengthens our faith and reveals continuing weaknesses in us that we can work on. Even Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. Poverty and sickness can thus be God’s training ground for our growth. H&W is advocating a lifestyle that would shipwreck the faith of many and keep many more spiritually immature.
- The Bible tells us troubles and trials are a normal part of life in this world. The Scriptures tell Christians to expect difficulties, including poverty and sickness, as a normal part of life in this fallen world. Paul says we were destined for trials and Jesus says in this world we will have trouble. H&W is lacking in biblical realism about the true nature of life in this fallen world. For children to grow to maturity, they must learn that life will not always go their way and learn how to deal with this fact with faith and hope. H&W would have Christians live in spiritual immaturity, expecting life in this world to be one long visit to Disneyland.
- The Bible exalts the faith of the poor and suffering.H&W tells us true faith will result in riches and health here and now, but the Bible contradicts this by exalting the faith of the poor and suffering. Consider the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. The man who died a poor and sick beggar is exalted in heaven after death while the rich man ends up in torment in hell. Which one had true saving faith in this life! Poverty is not an indication of a lack of faith nor are riches the sign of a saint. Also think of the martyrs for the faith. Their great faith was not very healthy for them physically, but they are put forth for us as great examples of faith whom we are to follow. The Bible does not teach that health and wealth are the essence of faith if it exalts the poor, sick and dying as great examples of faith.
- H&W burdens the poor and sick with false guilt.H&W traces poverty and illness to a lack of faith. This puts a horrible spiritual burden on those suffering from these things, telling them their problem is their lack of faith. This is cruel, crushing the weak and suffering under a burden that God never placed on them. Vainly they try to muster the faith that will deliver them from their suffering, and when they remain sick or poor, they falsely conclude they are spiritually immature or perhaps not Christians at all. H&W potentially drives hurting Christians away from God when they need him the most.
- H&W is a false “get rich quick” con job aimed at Christians.H&W say their principles will help you get rich without having to work so hard. This is one of the lines regularly used by “get rich quick” con artist to hook their victims. Since giving to the ministry of the H&W teacher in some way is often required to get “the blessing”, the real purpose of the H&W movement is to enrich its con artist leaders. It also encourages an unbiblical attitude toward work since God commends work to us as his normal means of maintaining our earthly life in this world.
- OT promises of material wealth are fulfilled spiritually in the NT. H&W often uses Old Testament promises of material wealth to promote its teaching, but Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was a spiritual one. The New Testament thus takes OT materialist language and applies it to the Christian spiritually. All the OT promises of material blessing must be translated into spiritual fulfillment in this life.
- Living without the fulfillment of God’s promises is the essence of true faith.While we are called to recognize all we have by faith in Christ as an encouragement to hope and faithfulness, we are also called to persevere in faith in this life without the fulfillment of those promises (including health and wealth). This was the mark of the Old Testament saints that Hebrews 11 now calls us to embody. They remained faithful to God’s promises even though they never received the fulfillment of those promises. Consequently, calls for us to overcome in this life are not meant to teach us we will overcome poverty and sickness with riches and health. On the contrary, overcoming is maintaining faith in Christ despite not having, these things. We overcome by persevering through the trial, not necessarily by being relieved from it. To put it bluntly, Hebrews 11 says true faith is the exact opposite of what H&W says it is. True faith believes even unto death without receiving what is promised.
- H&W calls people to ignore creational means of healing.H&W claims that if Christians have enough faith, they will not have to take medicine or go to the doctor to be healed. Faith alone will heal them. But when Timothy had stomach trouble, Paul told him to “take a little wine”, not to “just have faith”. Wine was used as a medicine in those days showing us that God wants us to use creational medicine as a good gift from him. H&W hyper-spiritualizes life and demeans the creation. This puts the sick in danger when they do not go to the doctor fast enough because of the false promises H&W promotes.
- H&W displaces Christ as the center of the Christian’s Life. While there will be physical health and wealth in heaven, that is not what the Bible puts the emphasis on as the true joy of our heavenly existence. Instead the Bible tells us that our fellowship with God the Father and Christ will be the center of our attention and joy. Everything else will be secondary. This is to be the vision for our life here on earth as well. H&W displaces the biblical Christocentric view of life with a life centered on material health and wealth. This is idolatry