By Clete Hux
You say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17)
The church at Laodicea boasted in their material prosperity. Yet the Lord warned them that their earthly riches were of no spiritual benefit. Spiritually speaking, they were utterly destitute.
For most Americans the “American Dream” is the goal that drives their lives. That is, they desire to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Of course, we might expect that worldly standards would have influence in the culture at large and lead to the narcissistic and selfish mentality that is rampant in our society. Yet, the fact is that this materialistic outlook is also operating in the body of Christ among modern-day Laodiceans—those who espouse the “gospel of gain” as typified by the televangelists.
The author of Televangelism and American Culture, Quentin Schultze, has observed,
Televangelists offer their own personalized expressions of the gospel as adapted from and directed to American culture. To put it more strongly, the faith of some televangelists is more American than Christian, more popular than historic, more personal than collective, and more experiential than biblical. As a result, the faith they preach is highly affluent, selfish, and individualistic. . . . These three aspects of televangelists’ faith systems. . . reflect the American Dream, whereby a self-motivated individual supposedly attains great affluence. They also reflect the impact of modernity on the church.”1
Perhaps you have heard some of these expressions:
“The only reason you’re in want is you don’t have enough faith.”\
“We can write our own ticket with God if we decide what we want, believe that it’s ours, and confess it.”
“God wants you rich and prosperous.”
“What is the desire of your heart? Name it, claim it by faith, and it is yours! You can have what you say, your heavenly Father has promised it. It’s right there in the Bible.”2
Such remarks are typical of many prosperity teachers of the Word-Faith Movement such as Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Frederick K.C. Price, Robert Tilton, and Creflo Dollar. These and many others have saturated the media airways with the “gospel of wealth.”
The late Kenneth Hagin once wrote a booklet that expressed his conviction that Christians can and should expect to be wealthy. The title says it all: How to Write Your Own Ticket With God.3 Advocates of the “gospel of wealth” like Hagin believe that every child of God has a “divine right” to demand prosperity. They believe that since every Christian is a child of the king (i.e., God), they should therefore go “first class” in life. In this article, we will see that the Word-Faith prosperity— “name it and claim it”— gospel is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. But, before we can properly evaluate the prosperity gospel, it will be necessary to explain the theological underpinnings of their belief.
Before and After the Fall
According to the faith teachers, before the fall, Adam was created as a member of God’s own class—a little god.4 As such, Adam was just like God. God gave the earth and everything in it to Adam. He owned the cattle on a thousand hills and was literally healthy, wealthy, and wise. However, Adam committed “high treason” when he disobeyed God, bowing his knee to Satan. When this took place, everything that Adam had been given by God, Adam then gave to Satan, even his nature as the god of this world. After the curse, Adam now no longer had any authority. Now Satan calls the shots because he is the god of this world.5
Paramount in the faith camp’s teaching on good and evil is the dualistic wedge driven between God and Satan. God is the good guy, Satan the bad. God brings the good stuff—peace, health, wealth, and prosperity. The devil is the thief who has come to rob, kill, and steal. The good that God brings is never related to the bad that Satan brings. God sends faith, Satan fear. God sends prosperity, Satan poverty. Without realizing it, the prosperity teachers make Satan just as big as God.
Abrahamic Covenant and Positive Confession
Under the curse brought on by Adam’s treason, God has to work his way back into the earth through a contractual agreement with Abraham. It is because of Abraham’s agreeing to helpGod (apparently he could have told God to take a hike) that God gained a foothold in the earth by which he could eventually defeat Satan. Charles Capps claims that the covenant with Abraham gave God legal entry into the earth, that Abraham was God’s avenue into the earth.6
This covenant becomes the foundation for the concept of “positive confession.” Because God entered into an agreement with Abraham, promising to bless him, and because Christians are heirs to the promises (the seed of Abraham) and “little gods,” we now can speak to things that are not as though they are. We can speak things into existence. So, if a believer speaks “spiritual” or “faith-filled” words like God does, then he can have what he says—this is positive confession. It is a theology of the spoken word (rhematology) or thought-actualization, which stresses the inherent power of words and thoughts. Kenneth Copeland says, “The force of faith is released by words. Faithfilled words put the law of the Spirit of life into operation.”7 He also declares, “What you are saying is exactly what you are getting now. If you are living in poverty and lack and want, change what you are saying. . . .The powerful force of the spiritual world that creates the circumstances around us is controlled by the words of the mouth.”8 So, if one can learn to control the spiritual world with words, then he or she can learn to control the physical world as well with words. This teaching becomes the foundation for securing individual prosperity.
The Word-Faith Teachers on Prosperity
Now consider these statements by some of the faith teachers on the topic of positive confession and prosperity:
“I was shocked when I found out who the biggest failure in the Bible actually is…The biggest one is God…Now the reason you don’t think of God as a failure is He never said He’s a failure. And you’re not a failure till you say you’re one.”9
“As a believer, you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on the Word, you are commanding God to a certain extent because it is His Word.”10
“Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000. I know that you can multiply, but I want you to see in black and white how tremendous the hundredfold return is.”11
“Give one house and receive one hundred houses or one house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane. Give one car and the return would furnish you a lifetime of cars. In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”12
Frederick K.C. Price
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us. . . .How did God bless Abraham? With cattle, gold, manservants, maidservants, camels, and asses. Abraham was blessed materially.”13
“If you keep talking death, that is what you are going to have. If you keep talking sickness and disease, that is what you are going to have, because you are going to create the reality of them with your own mouth. That is a divine law.”
“The whole point is I’m trying to get you to see – to get you out of this malaise of thinking that Jesus and the disciples were poor and then relating that to you—thinking that you, as a child of God, have to follow Jesus. The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.”14
“The Bible says that He [Jesus] had a treasurer – a treasury (they called it “the bag”); that they had one man who was the treasurer named Judas Iscariot; and the rascal was stealing out of the bag for three-and-a-half years and nobody knew that he was stealing. You know why? Because there was so much in it, He couldn’t tell. Nobody could tell that anything was missing.”15
“Jesus had a nice house, a big house – big enough to have company stay the night with Him at the house. Let me show you His house. Go over to John the first chapter and I’ll show you His house. . . .Now, child of God, that’s a house big enough to have company stay the night in. There’s His house.”16
“Jesus was handling big money because that treasurer He had was a thief. Now you can’t tell me that a ministry with a treasurer that’s a thief can operate on a few pennies. It took big money to operate that ministry because Judas was stealing out of that bag.17
“John 19 tells us that Jesus wore designer clothes. Well, what else you gonna call it? Designer clothes – that’s blasphemy. No, that’s what we call them today. I mean, you didn’t get the stuff He wore off the rack. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. No, this was custom stuff. It was the kind of a garment that kings and rich merchants wore. Kings and rich merchants wore that garment.”18
Notice in these quotes that the faith teachers not only believe and teach that Christians can positively confess their way to wealth, but they also justify their pursuit of wealth by arguing that Jesus and his apostles were rich. In fact, they were so rich that they need a treasurer (Judas). Of course, just because Judas “held the bag,” that does not mean that there was a lot of money changing hands. Rich or poor, any ministry that takes in financial contributions will need a treasurer simply because there is some money for which it must be accountable.
Positive Confession and the Occult
Before moving to the alleged biblical basis for the prosperity gospel, something needs to be said about the origin and nature of the Word-Faith belief in “word-power.” Faith teachers believe that fear and negative confessions of words release the power of the devil, whereas faith and positive confessions release the power of God. It is obvious that one may help or hurt another with words of encouragement or condemnation by telling the truth or misleading, etc. But to treat words as if they were some magical weapon by which reality is manipulated or altered is not biblical, but occultic. The usage of occult power is of course, a practice that the Faith teachers would publicly reject. And of course, I am not saying that those who teach positive confession are occultists. They may simply be teachers who have never thought through the implications of the practices they advocate. They may be unaware of the similarities between certain aspects of positive confession and occultic practices. Nevertheless, the similarities do exist, and these practices are neither biblical or Christian.19
John Ankerberg has reported that in the occult words are used in religious rituals to influence both the spirit world and the material world.20 He quotes occult magician David Conway discussing the power of magical words to affect these worlds:
Unseparable from magical speculation about words is the theory of vibrations, which supposes that certain sounds have a powerful acoustic impact on both the spiritual and astral worlds. . . .Like the spiritual worlds and astral place can in some circumstances be affected by sounds, so that verbal magic my be said to derive its power not only from the idea contained in certain words, but from the peculiar vibrations these words create when spoken.21
The reason that occultic positive confessionists place so much emphasis on the inner man and his divine power is that they think the believer is a god. Likewise, Kenneth Copeland says, “You don’t have a god in you, you are one.”22
In this connection, it is interesting to note our Lord’s words again in Revelation 3:17 where he said to the Laodiceans, “You are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Here is Jesus speaking what a Word-Faith proponent can only regard as a negative confession! Was Jesus then releasing the power of Satan on the Laodeceans? Was he countermanding the Laodiceans’ positive confession which said, “I am rich, and have become wealthy and have need of nothing”? If the Word-Faith teachers are consistent, they would have to answer yes to these questions. But, such a conclusion would be absurd.
There are basically five prooftexts which positive confessionists use to justify their pursuit of wealth. These are: Proverbs 6:2; Romans 4:17; 10:8; and 3 John 2; and Isaiah 53:4. Let’s look at how the Word-Faith teachers misuse these texts.
Combined with Proverbs 18:21 (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue”), positive confessionists quote Proverbs 6:2 (“…ensnared by the words of your mouth”) to claim that words will create what you say. It is true that we need to be careful of our words, but not because they carry the “force of faith.” Rather, we should watch our tongues because words have emotional and practical consequences. In Proverbs 6:2, specifically, the concern of the text has to do with someone who has trapped himself into an undesirable financial contract because of a foolish agreement. There is nothing here about words creating wealth or anything else.
This verse tells us that God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” According to the positive confessionists, Christians can imitate God and likewise call into existence things that do not exist such as health and wealth. However, the text teaches that it is only God who can make the nonexistent exist. The text is reminding us that Abraham believed “against all hope” (v. 18) that God was able to keep his promise to make him the father of many nations. The point of the verse would lose all force if Abraham himself was able to positively confess his way to prosperity and blessing.
In this text, Paul refers to the “word of faith which we are preaching.” The Word-Faith camp uses this text to prove that words are “containers of faith.” Like their other proof-texts, this one is wrenched out of context. Seen in context with vv. 9-11, the text has nothing to do with material prosperity. Paul is speaking here of the need to confess with one’s mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in one’s heart that Jesus was resurrected in order to be saved (v.9). In v. 10 he speaks of a belief that results in justification, and in v. 11 he speaks of trusting in Christ. The “word of faith” in its context does not mean “words containing faith,” but rather “words about faith”—the faith one needs to be saved.
3 John 2
John says in this text, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” The Word-Faith teachers look on this verse as a promise of prosperity. Again, however, there is nothing in the context to suggest this interpretation. John’s words here are simply a formal greeting akin to the more contemporary, “I hope you are doing well.” This text cannot be invoked as expressing God’s unqualified will that all believers be healthy and prosperous.
Those who teach the gospel of wealth take advantage of the typical Pentecostal view that healing is in the atonement. Isaiah 53:4 is the pivoted text: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . .” Based on this verse, the Word-Faith exponents see physical healing as being one of the blessings that accrue to believers via Christ’s atonement. But, they would also see material blessing (prosperity) as part of the atonement. Since, in their view, God laid on Christ sickness, diseases, and poverty, we don’t have to experience these things today. However, Isaiah 53 does not have physical healing nor material prosperity in view, but spiritual healing from sin.23 God may well heal or prosper someone and He often does, but he doesn’t have to, as we will see in the next section.
The basic problem with the exponents of the Word-Faith “rhema” interpretation is their biased selection of the above passages without due regard to their contexts and without due regard to what the rest of Scripture says about material prosperity and the Christian life. Many times “confessing the word of God” takes precedence over the basic rules of biblical interpretation. Leonard Lovett, who wrote an article on positive confession, says, “This approach not only does violence to the text but forces the NT linguistic data into artificial categories that the biblical authors themselves could not affirm. The Rhema doctrinal premise (that whatever is spoken by faith becomes immediately inspired in the situation addressed) has a tendency to confuse want and need.”24
What Does the Bible Really Teach about Wealth?
The Scriptures are replete with warnings against seeking earthly riches as opposed to eternal blessing. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-20). How different this sounds from the prosperity gospel which would have us revise Psalm 23 to read:
The Lord is my banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance; He giveth me the key to His strong box; He restoreth my faith in His riches; He guideth me in the paths of prosperity dor His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector; thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.25
The Bible does not teach, “You shall know them and their faith by their Rolls Royces or by their living in a big house in a gated community.” I agree with the observation that this outlook dangles the carrot of riches before people26 and sends the message that if they’re not prospering it is because they are under the curse and outside the will of God. This is the mentality of the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked in his account of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). Rather than a sign of divine blessing, Paul explains that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Tim. 6:10).
We should all have the attitude that characterized the Apostle Paul who said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). Notice that Paul says that he has learned to be content with humble means, with going hungry, and with suffering. Paul would make a poor prosperity preacher.
Scripture has made it clear that God has promised to meet our needs not our greeds. One would think that with all the scandals involving televangelists and their misuse of funds televangelists would wake up and we would see less and less of the “gospel of wealth.” However, it is just the opposite. The plague is increasing at an alarming rate.
However, a few televangelists have learned the mistake of a self-indulging lifestyle and have come to understand what it means to follow Christ. This is the testimony of Patti Roberts, ex-wife of Richard Roberts. She writes, “I know a lot of people were blessed and sincerely ministered to by what we sang on TV and said—but the overall picture, I’m afraid, seemed to say, ‘If you follow our formula, you’ll be like us,’ rather than, ‘If you do what Jesus says, you’ll be like Him.’ It was certainly more exciting to follow us, because to follow us was to identify with success, with glamour, with a theology that made everything good and clean and well-knit together. To identify with Jesus, however, meant to identify with the cross.”27
Jim Bakker, former PTL founder, came to the same realization. While in prison, Bakker wrote a book entitled I Was Wrong. Charisma magazine gave a full-page advertisement of the book in which it said, “Today Bakker is informing audiences throughout the country that the ‘prosperity message’ is bunk from the devil.”28 The ad goes on to quote Bakker:
I taught people that God wanted above all for you to be rich and have money. That’s a lie. That’s not the truth . . . .I was proof-texting all the time, but just looking up Scripture to prove my beliefs. . . .I was wrong. How could I have taught people how to get rich?. . .The Church is in trouble right now because we have taken Scripture out of context and have built our own doctrine. . . .We have another gospel and another Jesus and another spirit being preached. . .and the Church is going to end up in hell.”29
Today’s prosperity preachers, like the members of the Laodicean church, think that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and a sign that they are true disciples of Christ. However, the test of our discipleship is our willingness to follow the Lord who said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). What is your motivation for following Christ? AJ
Clete Hux is the Counter-Cult Specialist for the Apologetics Resource Center
1 Quentin J. Schultze, Televangelism and American Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 132-133. 2 See my article on How the Health and Wealth Gospel Twists Scripture at https://www.watchman.org/reltop/health$.htm
3 Kenneth Hagin, How to Write Your Own Ticket with God (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Minstries, 1979).
4 see my article, “The Gods of the Word-Faith Movement” in the September-October issue.
5 Kenneth Copeland, TBN “Praise-a-Thon” program (April 1988).
6 Charles Capps, Authority in Three Worlds (Tulsa: Harrison House), 60-61.
7Copeland, https://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/wfteachings. html
8 Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity, (Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications, 1974), p. 98.
9 Copeland, TBN “Praise-a-Thon” program (April 1988).
10 Copeland, Our Covenant with God (Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications, 1987), 32.
11 Gloria Copeland, God’s Will is Prosperity (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1978), 54.
13 Fredrick K.C. Price, Prosperity on God’s Terms (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1990), 36-37.
14 Price, “Ever Increasing Faith” program on TBN (9, December 1990).
15 Price, “Ever Increasing Faith” Program on TBN (23, November 1990).
16 John Avanzini, “Believers Voice of Victory” program on TBN (20, January 1991).
17 Avanzini on “Praise the Lord” program on TBN (15, September 1988).
18 Avanzini, “Believers Voice of Victory” program on TBN (20, September 1991).
19 D.R. McConnell has ably demonstrated the occultic origins of positive confession in his book A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988).
20 John Ankerberg, News and Views (June 1988).
21 Conway’s remarks can be found at https://www.webzonecom.com/ccn/cults/wf-10txt.
22 Kenneth Copeland, “The Force of Love” (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1987), audio tape #02-0028, side 1.
23 See John Calvin’s commentary on this verse in support of this interpretation (Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. VIII (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 114-115.
25 Charles Fillmore of the Unity School of Christianity as quoted in H. Terris Newman, Pneuma: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 12:1 (Spring, 1990): 45.
26 See Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 719-720.
27 Patti Roberts with Sherry Andrews, Ashes to Gold, (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), pp. 110-111.
28 Charisma Magazine, “I Was Wrong” ad. September, 1996. 29 Ibid.