Called to Health, Wealth and Success? – By Dr Roland Chia (Dated 5 Mar 2021)
In an article entitled ‘Magical Moments’, Stephen Hunt, who teaches religion at Reading University, notes that the ‘health and wealth gospel’ is ‘one of the fastest growing religious movements on a global scale’.
Hunt is right.
In a 2006 poll conducted by Time magazine, 17 per cent of Christians in America said they considered themselves to be a part of the ‘prosperity gospel’ movement, while 61 per cent believed that God wants Christians to be prosperous. In 2018, Christianity Today reported that a study conducted by LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of the respondents said that they believe God wants them to prosper.
The origins of the health and wealth gospel in American charismatic Christianity can be traced to the post-war Pentecostal healing movement led by preachers such as Kenneth Hagin. But prosperity teaching has since morphed in many different ways.
There is what may be described as the more ‘muscular’ versions of prosperity doctrine represented by Hagin, Jerry Saville and Kenneth Copeland. But there is also the less metaphysical expression of the doctrine that is associated with Joel Osteen, whose approach approximates closer to that of Norman Vincent Peale (the Father of Positive Thinking) than Hagin and Copeland.
Generally, hyper-grace teachers do not preach the health and wealth message. But we have an exception in Joseph Prince. In the opening paragraph of the first chapter of Destined to Reign, Prince writes:
You are destined to reign in life.
You are called by the Lord to be a success, to enjoy wealth, to enjoy health and to enjoy a life of victory.
It is not the Lord’s desire that you live a life of defeat, poverty and failure.
He has called you to be the head not the tail.
If you are a businessman, God wants you to have a prosperous business. If you are a homemaker, you are anointed to bring up wonderful children in the Lord. If you are a student, God wants you to excel in all your examinations. And if you are trusting the Lord for a new career, He doesn’t just want you to have a job, He wants you to have a position of influence, so that you can be a blessing and an asset to your organisation!
These words can serve as a creed that adherents of prosperity teaching of every stripe would gladly recite with gusto and conviction.
Prince made it quite clear that he believes that there is no such thing as the ‘prosperity gospel’. He insists that there is only one gospel – the gospel of Jesus Christ – and that this gospel promises health and wealth to all who believe.
In Chapter 3 of the same book, Prince puts it like this:
My friend, there is no such thing as a ‘prosperity gospel’. There is only one gospel in the Bible and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when you believe in Jesus Christ, which is based entirely on His grace, it will result in health and prosperity. In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to blessings, success, healing, restoration, protection, financial breakthroughs, security, peace, wholeness and MUCH MORE (emphasis in the original).
This of course suggests that those who do not highlight the blessings of health, wealth and success are not preaching the full gospel.
Prince ties his prosperity teaching to his hyper-grace doctrine quite neatly by emphasising that these blessings are the result of the finished work of Christ and that they are made available to believers by the grace of God alone, and not because they have merited them in any way.
The health and wealth doctrine has seriously distorted the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. David Jones, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary puts it succinctly when he writes that ‘In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed. At the bottom, it is a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man’.
The prosperity gospel has been rightly named the ‘gospel of greed’ because it focuses primarily on material possessions, physical well-being and success in this life. Despite its references to God, Christ and salvation, the prosperity gospel is manifestly materialistic in outlook because it makes wealth and health in this life ends in themselves.
In this way, prosperity teaching is inimical to that of Jesus found in the Gospels. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart is also’ (Matthew 6: 19, 21).
Many health and wealth preachers emphasise the power of the spoken word or positive confession. I am unable in this brief article to go into the history of this practice. Suffice to say that positive confession can be traced to the New Thought Metaphysics of Phinehas Parkhurst Quimby in the 19th century.
Basically, positive confession teaches that we have the capacity to create reality with our speech. So, through positive confession (for example, ‘I am healed’) I can create the reality I desire. Conversely, through negative confession (‘I will never be able to get out of this debt’), I will always be trapped in my present predicament.
In an article entitled ‘Speak and Step into God’s Supply’, Prince presents a version of positive confession. He writes:
Over the years, as I have preached and taught on the subject of faith, the Lord has shown me that many believers are not experiencing the breakthroughs they want because they are not speaking out what they believe about the Word, but are speaking about what they see, feel, and experience in their circumstance. For example, while many Christians believe that by Jesus’ stripes they are healed, they are not speaking in line with this truth. Often, they speak about their symptoms and what they feel – ‘This headache is killing me!’ ‘I feel awful today. I just knew that I would catch this flu bug from my colleague’. Others just suffer in silence – literally. They don’t say anything – good or bad – because they have resigned themselves to the negative situation.
Prince continues: ‘God doesn’t want you to suffer in silence or to put up with any sickness or lack. His will is for you to be healthy, well provided for, and full of joy and peace’.
How can the Christian achieve this and pull himself out of his current negative circumstances? Through positive confession. Prince says that God has given the Christian the power to change his circumstances, and ‘that power lies in your mouth. As God’s child, you can speak positively into your negative situation and see it change for the better …’
Thus, instead of speaking about the negative situation they find themselves, Christians should change it by practising positive confession. Prince writes:
Say ‘Sickness, be plucked out by your roots and be gone from my body in Jesus’ name! By Jesus’ stripes I am healed! Instead of worrying about your debt, say ‘I call my debt supernaturally cancelled in Jesus’ name. My God supplies all my needs according to His riches in glory!’ If you want to see good days, then keep your tongue from speaking unbelief, and release the power and life of the Lord through your mouth into your situation!
Not only is positive confession unbiblical, it is also a very dangerous practice!
In 1980, Harvest House published a book entitled We Let Our Son Die. This book tells the tragic story of how Larry Parker and his wife Lucky lost their son because of the teaching they received from a faith preacher.
The Parkers had invited a health and wealth preacher to pray for their son, Wesley, who had diabetes. Believing that their son was healed as a result of the prayer, and desiring very much to exercise their faith, the Parkers withheld insulin from Wesley.
Even when Wesley became very ill and fell into a diabetic coma, the Parkers would not bring Wesley to the hospital because they believed that their son had already been healed. They practiced positive confession, quoting passages like ‘By his stripes we are healed’, and claiming them for Wesley.
Wesley died on August 23, 1973.
But even after Wesley had died, the Parkers still believed that his son has been healed. So, instead of a funeral service, they held a ‘resurrection service’, believing that Wesley will simply wake up totally healed. When the ‘resurrection’ did not occur, the Parkers dismissed all those in the service who did not have faith.
The Parkers held Wesley’s body for more than one year, believing that their son has been healed and that their faith will be vindicated.
The Parkers were eventually arrested and convicted of child abuse and involuntary manslaughter. They were given a five-year probated sentence.
The health and wealth gospel is not merely a quirky but tolerable aberration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a dangerous heresy that can ruin lives!
That is why the renown Pentecostal New Testament scholar Gordon Fee describes the prosperity gospel as a ‘disease’. Many in the household of God are infected by this disease.
But it is not an incurable disease. The cure, according to Fee, is sound theology. However, for those who reject this ‘cure’ and stubbornly pursue or peddle this heresy, the only alternative is God’s terrible judgement! Fee writes:
The best antidote to this disease, therefore, is a good healthy dose of biblical theology … I would be so bold and prophetic as to declare that the only alternative to such a ‘cure’ is the awful judgement of God, which must begin first with the house of God.
Dr Roland Chia
Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine
Trinity Theological College
Theological and Research Advisor
Ethos Institute for Public Christianity