Recently I’ve taken increased notice of fellow believers publicly condemning so-called “prosperity preachers” and those in the “faith movement.” I agree with the basis for much of the criticism, that is to say, I agree that materialism and the love of money is indeed wrong; that the pulpit should not be used for financial profit; that the gospel should not be treated as a get rich quick scheme; that God should not be disrespectfully used as a giant vending machine in the sky; and I agree that some Christians have become more focused on the riches and comforts of this world than on the things of God and His kingdom, though that phenomenon is not limited to adherents of the prosperity message.
I have also taken notice that some of the very ministers that I have heard called out and condemned as being “prosperity preachers,” are themselves preaching against materialistic lusts, misplaced spiritual priorities, and abuses of the prosperity message. A perfect example of this is the quote at the beginning of this article which stands in direct contrast to what is generally attributed to prosperity preachers. Yet, that quote was actually taken from an article by a quintessential prosperity preacher – someone at the very center of the word of faith movement.
I certainly cannot claim to be acquainted with every minister who has been branded as a prosperity preacher, nor am I going to take the time to research all of them. However, I am fairly well acquainted with several who would be placed in that camp, some of whom I have heard called-out by name. Of those who I am familiar with, I have heard teaching from each of them that agrees with the above quote condemning the pursuit of material possessions ahead of the things of God.
I’m concerned that some of us in the body of Christ are failing to actually “hear” what our brothers and sisters are saying, and to know their heart, before publicly branding them with a supposed pejorative.
There may indeed be some preachers out there who are misusing the prosperity message, or who are approaching it with a wrong spirit. There may even be some outright hypocrites and charlatans who are using it for personal gain. However, after decades of listening to thousands of hours of teaching by some of the very ministers being publicly castigated as members of a “prosperity cult,” I have only known them to condemn greed, be personally generous, and to admonish believers everywhere to trust in God, not money.
I expect part of the problem is that many members of the body of Christ are yet carnally minded, and thus, have taken messages about God’s goodness and His desire to bless His people and applied those teachings according to their own carnal desire to consume God’s gracious provisions upon their own lust. However, that does not necessarily reveal an error in the message being preached, but may be revealing an error in some of the hearers of the message. And yes, I have witnessed this kind of carnal mentality among believers, as has the prosperity preacher who called it out in the statement quoted at the beginning of this article.
I’m concerned that there is a tendency, even among Christians, to categorize and brand people, including our own brethren. Once we have a person branded, we tend to tune out and not fully hear what they have to say because we’ve already determined by their brand whether they’re right or wrong, valid or invalid, worth hearing or not.
And it isn’t just the more cerebral and theological who are inclined to be critical of the more emotional and experiential believers – it cuts both ways.
There is a tendency among charismatics and those who value relationship and experience more than theology and dogma, to be critical and speak condescendingly of those who are more devoted to correct theology than to an experience. Personally, I have known, appreciated, and benefited by people in both camps. I’m actually quite thankful to have been exposed to a broad variety of believers, not just those of my own persuasion.
Christians often suffer from that attribute of human nature that causes us to subconsciously see ourselves as being better, or more right, than anyone who happens to be different than us, like the odd and theologically questionable people who meet at that other church down the road where they sing different songs and don’t dress like us. Whether we glory in our superior theology, or our superior experience, we all tend to glory and think ourselves better, or more right than the other. And while I’ve been guilty of the same, I’ve also come to appreciate the sincerity of many people of both persuasions.
I believe it would please our heavenly Father if we would put down the branding irons and remember that everyone who calls on the name of Jesus to be saved is indeed our brother and sister in the Lord. Then, let’s make an honest effort to hear what others are actually saying and not just look at the brand they’re wearing. Finally, let’s remembering that Jesus prayed that we would be one, even as he and the Father are one, and that he left standing orders for us to love our brothers and sisters even as he has loved us.
Yes, members of the body of Christ do sometimes get into error and love demands that such errors be confronted and corrected for the good of our brothers and sisters. That’s what the quote at the beginning of this article is about, confronting and correcting error by speaking the truth in love so that born-again believers can be instructed, edified, grow up, and become spiritually mature.
* The quote at the beginning of this article was taken from an article that begins on page 8 of this publication.