Prosperity theology - A perversion of God’s word?
"God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get it to you." - Gloria Copeland
"God said, 'It is time to tell the money you don't belong to the wicked, you belong to us ... money come to me now'."
- Leroy Thompson
"You can't expect millions from the Lord if you give him some small amount." - Benny Hinn
Their claims of divine colloquy are brazen, outlandish, and unverifiable, yet the purveyors of this new Christianity are overseers of mega-churches.
They are articulate, persuasive and brim with opulence. Private jets, multiple houses, and seemingly inexhaustible resources are their just meed, they preach.
They are unapologetically arrogant. After all, they have been cherry-picked by God to deliver a message to listeners: "Cough up your money, borrow it if you must, hand it over to your minister, and you will receive my plenitude."
The claims of prosperity theology are boundless. It is a disturbing brand of evangelism that preys on the poor, desperate, and vulnerable. It turns the core teachings of Christianity on its head, spinning the Bible to justify its duplicity.
According to one of its architects, Kenneth Copeland: "The basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God puts our sin, sickness, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary."
In his book, Laws of Prosperity, Copeland pens: "Since God's covenant has been established and prosperity is the provision of this covenant, you need to realise that prosperity belongs to you now."
In effect, prosperity theology offers a warped, unethical, and even dangerous solution to the challenges we face. Christian virtues of patience and forbearance are sacrificed at the altar of immediacy. Timeless, biblical aphorisms on steadfastness are ignored and considered of little value.
The Book of Job, once the measure of faith, is no longer at the fore of this Christian thought. Who needs Job, anyway, when hardship is unnecessary?
There are profound, existential lessons - evidential truth to Jesus' words: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24.
But prosperity theology challenges the wisdom of the Christian messiah promoting a message of riches and worldly success.
It dismisses the enduring prescription for spiritual enlightenment: detachment from material things as inscribed in Matthew 19:21: "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Jesus, in the vein of every Mahatma, was mindful that preoccupation with material worth subverts spirituality. Buddhism and Jainism identify attachment to possessions and relationships as the cause of all suffering.
This is the message of authentic Christianity, and the way of Jesus. Only when we are detached can we focus on the Divine.
Surely, this does not mean that we should wilfully seek poverty as a means of gaining God's grace. Such a belief is skewed and irrational.
In fact, the Bible invites the believer to seek the succour of the Divine in tempestuous times, as evident in Jesus' promise in John 14: 13-14: "And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in My name, and I will do it."
That poverty is not indicative of godliness is supported in Matthew 7:11, Deuteronomy 8:8, and 1 Corinthians 10:26. In fact, God laid out His plans for His creation in Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
However, the overarching message of prosperity theology - forging a material relationship with God - a Faustian bargain, of sorts - is fraught with problems.
At the outset, it promotes a quid pro quo arrangement with the Divine. It is outrageous as it is simplistic and naÔve. At the behest of our minister, we must add to the coffers of the church - plant a seed - as it is called, regardless of how painfully difficult it might be.
Borrowing from others to fulfil the will of God's handpicked servant has become commonplace. Gloria Copeland writes in God's Will is Prosperity, "Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000."
Through unwavering faith, our monetary rewards will multiply, we are told.
Interestingly, there is no way of corroborating the testimonials of success that are so convincingly read by ministers. What is certain, though, is that prosperity theologians play their role to the hilt with ostentatious displays of wealth.
In 2015, the board of World Changers Church International announced the purchase of the luxury Gulfstream G650 jet to the tune of US$65 million for its founder, televangelist Creflo Dollar.
The website: www.inplainsite.com presents a disturbing picture of excess by the biggest names in the business. Multimillion-dollar estates, 7.76-carat diamond rings, penthouses, Rolexes, sports cars, private planes, and a US$4,500 fountain pen, only scratch the surface of a theological sleight-of-hand that perverts the conscience.