The ‘Prosperity’ Heresy

Typically speaking, the Pentecostal church hasn’t always paid enough attention to the reality of suffering; and has often made some bad calls about the nature of a person’s suffering. The fact that we live in a fallen world where sin and pain is a reality hasn’t made the cut for many sermons preached among charismatics – but does this mean that what we are preaching is false? Not necessarily. The “prosperity gospel” is the name given to the teaching that God wants us, and will enable us, to only be healthy, wealthy, happy, comfortable and successful in life. It’s not Biblical, and it’s not practical. Due to the desire to combat such false teaching, many churches have gone as far as lumping any teaching on wealth, health, and success from God to be “prosperity” teaching. Due to the nature of the Pentecostal church’s birth, and it’s continued focus on miracles, transformation and “life to the fullest”[1], a lot of people now automatically associate Pentecostal teaching with prosperity teaching.

Due to the messy/eclectic nature of the Pentecostal denomination, it’s hard to assess its stance on a subject. In Australia, the ACC (Australian Christian Churches) is the largest body of Pentecostal churches who come together under one board of leadership, so it’s assumed that the ACC statement of beliefs are a fairly accurate representation of at least most Pentecostal churches in Australia. So, what does the ACC say about prosperity? Their statement is:

We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively.

There are two main things to take away from this: 1. It’s biblical, and 2. It’s not for our own happiness, but for the glory of God.

It’s Biblical
While Jesus did teach more about suffering and persecution than love and prosperity, he also led a life of healing and transformation. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and performed many miracles, as did the early church leaders. The book of John teaches us that these works testified that Jesus was the Messiah, because they were the works of God.[2] It also teaches us that Jesus only did what the Father did/what was pleasing to the Father.[3] So, it’s fair to believe, based on the living Word of God, that it is God’s will to heal and transform lives. Furthermore, God created the world as a place of life and peace. Before evil entered the world, there was no lack. If we, as Christians, truly believe that Jesus came to restore the world back to God’s original creation, and to eternally defeat evil, then we can believe that includes providing for our needs and healing us emotionally, physically and spiritually.

I won’t pretend to know of any passages in the New Testament off the top of my head that directly teach on material wealth as a good thing. However, in Acts 16 we meet a wealthy woman named Lydia. She is specifically mentioned, along with the hospitality she offered to Paul, and to the community. Lydia’s wealth is not painted as a negative thing or obstacle to her faith – it’s actually presented as a positive point, and as an asset to the early church in her community. If no Christian was meant to prosper, there would have been significantly less churches in the early days. There would have been no funding for missionary journeys, and the gospel would have spread much slower. This is still true today. Whether by miraculous circumstances, or simply God’s placement of you in your profession and society; wealth has continually served God’s purposes. So, presumably, God does prosper many believers (not to mention Abraham, Jacob, the Hebrews before their exodus, Israel as a nation, Daniel, etc.).

Blessed to be a blessing
As in Lydia’s case, the ACC believes that God wants to heal, transform and prosper us not so that we can live happy and comfortable lives, but so that we can bless others and show God’s love through generosity and hospitality, or to show how God has changed us, and so that through this, others may come to believe and worship Him.

The message of healing and prosperity has often been manipulated and taught in opposition to what the Bible really says. It’s not only sad, but dangerous, and shouldn’t be condoned by the church. But, Jesus did warn of false teachers. So did Peter and Paul. This is the world we live in – it is still fallen. Evil is still present. Until Jesus come again, there will always be evil people who use religion as a smoke screen for their own selfish and sinful desires. Unfortunately, Pentecostalism is often an easy denomination for “prosperity preachers” to find a way in, due our strong belief that it is God’s desire to bless His people.

This is why it is important for Pentecostal churches to come under the leadership of a denominational board; so that we can determine what we stand for, and officially condemn false teaching. We are still a new denomination and need to establish official stances and doctrinal beliefs. Though we may need to pick up the slack on teaching the reality of suffering and evil; we cannot be accused of heresy for believing that God desires to bless us.

[1] John 10:10

[2] John 10:25, 37

[3] John 5:19, 8:28-29

4 thoughts on “The ‘Prosperity’ Heresy

  1. Hi,

    Thank you for your post. I really enjoyed reading through it.

    You have successfully argued that God desires to heal his broken and divided world. However, I am not sure if you have made a good case for ‘prosperity’ which is the contentious part of ACC confession. It seems to me that no one disagrees that Christ came to heal and mend the broken people. At least, it is not the contentious part of the confession.

    However, the second part of the confession, that is, God wants us to be ‘prosperous’ is contentious and you need to provide strong biblical evidence to support this conclusion. The only Biblical evidence provided is Acts 16–Story of Lydia. This is how the argument goes:

    1. Lydia was Rich
    2. Lydia’s richness wasn’t an obstacle
    Therefore, God wants us to be prosperous.

    With all due respect, the argument provided is invalid. In other words, you cannot infer from the fact that Lydia was rich that God wants us to be prosperous. It defies all the laws of logic.

    In my view, the teaching that God wants us to be materially ‘prosperous’ is contrary to the word of God. Thus, its false teaching. Let me demonstrate it from the scripture.

    Paul tells Timothy that leaders ought not to pursue wealth (1 Timothy 3:3), are meant to be free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). In fact, it is the love of material ‘prosperity’ that leads to all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10) Jesus said, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15) Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19) You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Read these verses while considering that God wants us to be materially ‘prosperous’. It just makes no sense.


    1. Thanks for you feedback! You must appreciate that a blog space is not an academic essay, so I’m aware that I have definitely not made my case as well as I would like, but for the sake of the readers I try to keep them fairly short and entertaining!

      While I appreciate your argument, I also appreciate that, except for Matthew 6:19, all the verses you have quoted actually address greed and love of money rather than the actual fact of being prosperous. And with this, I don’t argue at all! Greed and love of money is a danger we all need to be on guard against, especially those who are materially wealthy. That’s why I was talking about prosperity in order to give to others and bring glory to God. Those who glorify God by giving freely of their wealth to the church and to the poor are rarely the ones who struggle with greed and love of money. In fact, I’ve found in my own experience that those who are materially poor (at least in Western cultures) sometimes struggle more with these sins than those who are prosperous. So, you can’t really use those Bible passages to argue against wealth; especially if it’s being used for the purposes of God’s Kingdom – as the ACC statement of faith outlines.
      Matthew 6:19 is similar in this regard; where Jesus is warning that monetary prosperity is, to quote Ecclesiastes, vanity. Those who aspire to wealth for the sake of wealth are working in vain, and should instead store up for themselves treasure in heaven. I believe that giving generously of your finances is actually doing this! I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this passage is followed by the well-known “cure for anxiety” passage, where Jesus continues by telling others that they shouldn’t be concerned about clothes and food – an indicator that maybe the aforementioned verse was indeed addressing greed or even fear of lack, rather than having money.

      As I briefly indicated in the blog post, God continually blesses his people in the Old Testament with wealth, military victory, influence and success. Examples of this include Abraham and Jacob, and their portions of land and livestock. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were all elevated continuously in the Babylonian courts, and their influence (i.e. success) served God’s purposes greatly. Even to Job, after all his suffering, God gave two times more than what he had previously had. While things obviously changed in the New Testament, if God desired to bless His people, with money and success (prosperity), in the Old Covenant for His purposes, He probably still desires that.

      As for logic, Lydia was more of an example of how wealth was an asset for the early church (might I add, respectfully, that my only points were not that she’s wealthy and that her wealth was not an obstacle. I clearly outlined the fact that her wealth was an asset to the church in her community). Her wealth and prosperity meant that the church in her community had a place to meet. If you think about this logically, and if you know about the Greco Roman world in that time, it makes sense that this would be a similar situation to many other wealthy Christians. Those who had houses and could afford meals to share with their brethren offered their hospitality for the sake of the church and communion among believers. In a similar vein, if you read 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, Paul seems to be presenting material wealth as a positive thing. It means believers who are wealthy can more efficiently support the church.
      In the world that we live in, logic would not allow missions trips, church growth, and care for the poor unless there were believers with the money to fund such things.

      I do think, in agreement to the passages you mentioned about greed, that there are too many Christians who are not nearly as generous as they should be with their finances. This doesn’t mean that God is not the one who gave them their wealth. I mean, how many times in the Bible did we see God’s people abuse what He had given them? That is on them, and those who lead them, but doesn’t negate the fact that God places people in positions of authority and wealth for His purposes.

      I did try to stress in the blog post that prosperity is meant for the glorification of God. I also did clearly condemn the teaching that God only wants happiness and comfort for people in the form of wealth. Again, due to my attempts to keep the blog post readable for those less inclined to want to read academic debate, perhaps it was not as clear as it should have been. I very much appreciate your desire to hold Christians accountable to the Word!


  2. Hi,

    Thank you very much for the response. It’s encouraging to see that we both want to honour and give glory to God by understanding his word and his will for his church.

    I understand that you are restricted by the nature of the blog. For the sake of readability, inevitably, you have to simplify the content. However, in my view, if you are going to provide a defence or apology of some doctrine. It may be required to compel the readers with enough evidence to make up their mind. Please allow me to briefly respond to your comment.

    Firstly, you are right in saying that most of the verses that I have quoted are about desire/love of money. Although these few verses are not meant to be exhaustive and the Scripture has a lot to say about material ‘prosperity’. I want to draw your attention to the principle of desire or love for wealth. According to ACC statement, God wants/desires for us to be materially ‘prosperous’.

    The problem with this statement is that it leads to the conclusion that we must desire material prosperity and thus, it goes against the teaching of the Lord. For example, the statement, ‘God wants us to be holy’ is true. And because God wants us to be holy it follows that we must desire/love holiness (be holy for I your lord is holy). So the desires of God are meant to be our desires/loves. Thus, if you were to say, God desires for us to be prosperous. By logical necessity, it follows that we ought to desire material prosperity. Imago Dei requires matching of God’s desires with ours. In short, If God desires that we be materially ‘prosperous’ then we are to desire that we be materially ‘prosperous’. For the sake of clarity, let me write it in logical form:

    1. God’s desires are meant to be our desires.
    2. God desires that we be materially ‘prosperous’
    Therefore, we must desire material prosperity.

    To the contrary, scripture urges us again and again not to desire ‘material prosperity’. If that’s true then it follows, either God does not desire for us to be materially ‘prosperous’ or God’s desires are not meant to be our desires. Which premise is false?

    Secondly, the contention is that ‘God continually blesses his people in the OT with wealth.’ I have a few objections to this. Firstly, we are meant to read the scripture canonically. Therefore, the idea that God materially blesses the righteous and curses the wicked is reversed by the book of Job. The idea that somehow Job gets more after the trial defeats the purpose of the whole book. So, I think, it’s not the hermeneutic grid that we ought to see the book through.
    In fact, wisdom literature highlights that it’s not always the case that righteous will be rewarded. The death of the Lord, apostles, and church saints agree with this statement. Although they were righteous, they never saw material blessings. Instead, they were killed, punished, fed to the loins, and some were even crucified upside down. So if God blesses his people. Then, either Jesus and apostles were not counted as ‘his people’ or he does not materially bless people.

    To suggest that God materially prospers his righteous people is to reject the martyrs of the church and indeed trample on their blood.

    However, even if I was to concede that righteous people were blessed by God. Logically, it does not follow that God desires to materially bless his people. Indeed, he blessed some people. It does not follow that he will bless all people which ACC statement seems to suggest.

    In fact, Instead of the material blessings, we are promised that our material possessions will be taken away from us. Paul says “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).

    Thirdly, In the case of Lydia, I am happy to grant that she was rich and her money was used for good purposes. However, from that, how can you conclude that God desires material prosperity for his people? As for in Corinthians, Paul shows that Macedonians, out of their poverty, gave money for other churches. It is important to note that there is no direct connection between being wealthy and being generous in this case. They gave out of their poverty. It shows that, even when we are poor, and have no bread in our own house, we can be generous to others. It does not show that God desires ‘material prosperity’ for his people.

    I must also point out the distinction between saying that rich Christians share their wealth and God wants to make people rich. The former recognises the gift to some people. The latter suggests that God wants all of us to be rich (as suggested by ACC, ‘We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and prosperous lives’.)

    Furthermore, you suggest that mission is somehow dependent on material prosperity. I concede that God uses the money of saints to fund his mission. For example, the churches provided the needs of Paul on his missionary journeys. Most of the times, even, in their poverty. But how does this suggest that God wants to materially ‘prosperous’ his people? It only proves that Churches do and have to support missionaries, even, in their poverty.

    As I have argued earlier, if God desires for his people to be materially ‘prosperous’ then we should desire to acquire wealth. Just as, God desires us to be holy, we must desire to be holy. If God indeed desires for us to be materially prosperous, then the desire to acquire wealth is not wrong. Thus, greed is justified.

    I know that, in this series, you are attempting to provide a defence/apology of the Pentecostal denomination. I admire your fervour and passion. However, when our denominations clash with the historic biblical teachings. We are justified to critique and abandon the unwarranted beliefs.

    One thing I don’t like about writing is that I cannot communicate my emotions as I would do in face to face conversations. But I want to point out that I have written this comment not with anger or unhealthy spirit of argumentation. Instead, I have written this comment with grace, love and compassion as brothers and sisters ought to speak in Christ’s kingdom.


    1. Hey again! I’m so sorry for the delay; I wasn’t notified of this comment!

      I must admit, this argument is much more compelling than your first comment; and I now understand more fully your points! The fact is, I can’t find much fault with what you’re saying here. I also appreciate greatly your desire to defend Christian martyrs throughout history. As you said, debating through writing is difficult as it does miss many important components of proper discussion. I think we could both go on and on presenting proof texts and Biblical arguments from both sides, so instead I would find it more interesting if we could take the debate to a more philosophical place.

      First, let me clarify, the ACC statement of belief never explicitly says anything about material prosperity. And even when you look through their basis for belief on this point, it says nothing of prosperity at all, let alone material prosperity. Obviously, it is assumed by most people, given the nature of our social context, that prosperity would pertain to material wealth. It was probably wrong of me to only address that aspect of prosperity and so draw attention away from the many other ways in which Christians are prospered through life in God.

      Secondly, I want to address the fact that I completely agree with you that God does not always bless his people materially; and you raise a very good point about desiring what God desires! However, going to that philosophical or theological place, I want to ask if it is correct to say that humans must desire what God desires. Yes, we should align ourselves with His desires that are given to us through His law, or prophets and teachers. But God also desires to be glorified above all else. I’m sure you agree that it would not only be inappropriate for Christians to desire to be glorified, but downright sinful. God desires to be worshipped, to be submitted to, to judge, and to distribute divine justice. These are only examples to show the fact that there is not an unrelenting rule that humans should desire what God desires. Humans should desire only what God has commissioned us or created us to desire.

      In an attempt to pull away from proof text debates, let’s look at the trajectory of creation and God’s creation purposes shown through the Bible.
      When God created the world; there was no such thing as lack. There was no evil, no poverty, no sacrifice (at least, not that we see from the Bible narrative). It was a place of blessing, relationship, abundance and peace. Hence, it can be assumed, it was a place of prosperity (although of course, prosperity was probably not even an idea in those days). If it was not God’s desire for the world and for humans to live in such a place of blessing and abundance, why would He have created it that way?
      Now of course I know things are different, sin has entered the world, we are not living in the same times. I’m merely trying to establish the point that I do in fact have reasonable grounds to assume that God desires abundance and prosperity for His people. Though this has been muted throughout the history of mankind, and even at some points of history seemingly reversed, it has also been seen in glimpses and sometimes in not so subtle events. Take Israel for example. Even after humans had rebelled against God and the world had fallen to sin, God’s intention for His chosen people was to make them a great nation. This was a sign and result of His covenant with them. It, no doubt, was also supposed to be a factor in why other nations would turn to Israel and know their God. We both know that due to their continued rebellion and wickedness, God took away the blessings that He had bestowed upon them. That still doesn’t negate the fact that God gave it to them in the first place.

      Another example would be after the great persecution throughout the Roman empire in early Christianity, when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the state. Now, personally I think this was somewhat of a shame, and Christianity thereafter seemed to lose more than it gained. Yet, even scholars who share this opinion cannot deny that Christianity was blessed greatly and believers seemed to (though not always) switch from the bottom of the social class to the top. I also would not try to argue that this event occurred outside of God’s control, and was somehow the work of human effort or even the enemy. Whether there was substance lost or not, the fact is that through this historic event, many people came to know and glorify Christ.

      A wise teacher once helped me to understand that often, debates like this are not actually debates on the nature of God, but disagreements in eschatological realisation. For instance, it’s essentially undeniable that God’s original creation of the world was as a place of full life, peace and abundance. We know that sin interrupted this, and that Christ came to return creation to it’s original state. The debate lies now between how soon Christians believe this restoration will occur. Some believe that it already has in full, some believe that life is slowly but surely returning to creation as time goes on (since Christ), and some believe that no or barely any restoration will occur until Jesus comes again. As the Bible does not give us too much to go on with this argument, I don’t see that any Christian denomination can call “heresy” on another with differing eschatological views.

      I’ve already mentioned that I agree with almost everything you wrote in this comment. Yet I obviously also agree with my own points. And here is the beautiful turmoil of human life before Christ returns. We cannot know everything! The fact is that both Jesus, Paul, Peter and other New Testament scholars speak or write much of suffering, poverty and persecution for the sake of God. But the fact also remains that there is at least some Biblical, historical and theological basis to believe that God desires to bless, at least some, of His people materially. Through all your excellent points, it is still undeniable that God does choose to bless some believers with wealth, healing, and abundance in life. It’s not hard to see that God also chooses to withhold these things from some people in this life. You said in your first comment that no one disagrees that Christ came to heal and mend (and so, it is God’s will to heal and mend the broken), yet there are so many cases of God not healing or mending the sick and broken in this life. Does this mean it is not His desire to do so? Not at all. What it does mean is that sometimes God does things we cannot understand.

      I think we are both at least somewhat correct in our arguments. This is why my blog is called ‘The Middle Ground’ – because I believe that in an argument of two theological extremes, it may be the case that both sides of the argument are Biblically and theologically correct (at least to some extent). But there is almost always an exception to the rule (as wisdom literature teaches), granting the assumption that there is a middle ground between both perspectives where Christians can meet and at least concede to amicably disagree with respect for the other person’s views.

      Again, I really do appreciate your points. In fact, though I am defending the teaching of health and wealth to some extent, I am also intimately aware of the shortcomings of the Pentecostal church to teach on true sacrifice, suffering, and the fact that God does not always heal and bless, in this life, in the way that we assume He ought to. I mean, I think too many Pentecostals have forgotten that it was poor, exhausted, and humble believers who were there in the Azusa Street Revival! We would do well to reflect properly on our establishment, and not just the parts that we would like to see.


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