How to Detect a Prosperity Gospel Message
The prosperity gospel is one of the most dangerous and deceptive heresies that exists within Christianity and many churches today. This false gospel is also known by other names such as “health and wealth” or “Word of faith / word-faith” or “name it and claim it” gospel.
The basic theme and teachings of the prosperity gospel movement is that it is God’s will for every Christian to be “healthy and wealthy” on this Earth and that a bankrupt bank account means a bankrupt faith. The prosperity gospel movement heretically claims that Jesus died on the cross to make Christians rich with money and possessions.
However such teachings oppose the Scriptures and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ from which we learn that our life on earth does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (Luke12:15) and Jesus Christ did not die to make us materially wealthy but instead He died to save us all from our sins (Matthew 1:21).
The prosperity gospel heresy has made many prosperity preachers rich because of the consistent scripture twisting, brainwashing and coercion that is involved whenever a prosperity gospel message is preached.
Therefore many followers of the prosperity gospel have blindly donated millions of dollars into the pockets of prosperity preachers in response to this false gospel message.
The unfortunate result and snare of this false gospel is that followers either become poorer, more covetous or seek an unbiblical method to pursue monetary riches (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
1 Timothy 6:9-10 says: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
So how can you detect or discern a prosperity gospel message? What are the usual themes, keywords, loaded language and techniques of coercion that are used by a prosperity preacher when preaching this false gospel? How does the prosperity gospel differ from the true Gospel?
5 Ways To Detect A Prosperity Gospel Message
1. A prosperity gospel message will focus on money and material possessions as an outward sign that a person is “favoured” and “blessed” by God.
In complete contradiction to scriptures such as 1 Timothy 6:9-10, the prosperity preacher will motivate and coerce his listeners to pursue after riches in order to “prove” that God is blessing them. Or he will persuade his audience to show the rest of the world that God is favouring them by the amount of money they can aquire.
He will further insinuate to his audience that if they are struggling to obtain money or riches, then the audience is doing something wrong or that they have displeased God so that God does not give them money or material possessions. Therefore his message is that a bankrupt bank account means a bankrupt faith. A bankrupt bank account means God is unhappy with you.
Such a theology is in complete contrast to Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where Lazarus was the one who was blessed, because he eventually went to heaven, whilst it was the rich man who was actually the cursed one because the rich man went to hell when he died. However the prosperity preacher will teach that acquiring money is an outward sign that God is pleased with you and yet this is completely false as there are many wicked people in the world who have riches and wealth.
Matthew 19:23-24 says: And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The Bible is not against people having wealth or money. However it warns about the pursuit of money and that many who are rich will find it difficult to enter heaven, perhaps because money has become an idol for them.
In the world many of the richest or wealthiest people are not Christians and many are also wicked and corrupt. Therefore by this observation alone and even from the lesson of The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Lord teaches us that riches are not an outward sign that one is truly blessed.
2. The prosperity preacher will insinuate that if you give money to the preacher or his ministry, then God will bless you with all kinds of miracles or more money in return.
Ultimately the main aim of every prosperity gospel message is to coerce and motivate the audience into giving their money to the preacher. The theme is that if you give a preacher money, then God has an obligation to “bless” you with more money or any material desire that you “decree” or want.
So the theme of a prosperity gospel message is that God “loves” money and that money is the catalyst that will get God to do anything for you.
As part of the coercive technique, someone in the congregation can give a scripted “testimony” of how they gave a certain amount of money to the preacher then days later they were healed of a disease or they got double the money they had given to the preacher.
A prosperity gospel message will convince the audience that money is the motivator that allows God to make miracles in your life. Therefore if you are not giving it to the preacher or to his ministry, then you are “blocking” God’s blessings in your life.
The false teaching that you must give God money so that you can get it back is also known as seed-faith teaching.
The prosperity message will also merge occultic and New Thought techniques such as the law of attraction which teaches that your thoughts can attract good or bad circumstances in your life.
The prosperity gospel message can also incorporate word of faith theology which teaches that faith is a “force” which you can use to command God to obey you through confession of your words. So prayer simply becomes a tool to force God to grant the riches and material possessions that one desires.
3. A prosperity message will consist of loaded language
A prosperity preacher will usually use loaded language that his audience is familiar with, such as “sow”, “seeding”, “taking dominion”, “double portion”, “having favour”, “being blessed”, “receiving your harvest” and so forth.
The audience is warned not to “block God’s blessings” and that if they don’t give or tithe to the preacher and his ministry, they are “robbing God”. The audience can also be asked to “partner financially” with the ministry or with the preacher.
All of these phrases (and more) point to one thing – money.
For example, when the prosperity preacher asks you to “sow a seed”, he is asking for your money.
When he uses the phrase “being blessed” in most cases, the first thing that comes to the mind of his audience is money – and in many cases that is exactly what he is talking about.
4. A prosperity message will avoid the reality and necessity of suffering
Prosperity gospel theology does not accept suffering as part of God’s will. It is a false gospel whose theology leans towards getting the audience to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It appeals to man’s basic desire to be “happy” at any cost.
The teaching of a prosperity message is that if you have financial challenges, then you are cursed or you are doing something wrong because the theology is that it is supposedly never God’s will for Christians to suffer.
Prosperity gospel messages usually ignore the suffering and struggles of many Christians in the Bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Prosperity gospel messages also ignore the suffering and persecution of many Christians throughout history and in our modern age. Why?
Because the core message of every prosperity gospel message is to teach the audience to give money to the preacher whilst simultaneously motivating that same audience to focus on acquiring as much money in the world for themselves.
So Jesus Christ is never the real focus of prosperity theology. God, Christ, the Holy Spirit may be mentioned as just passing footnotes but the real objective of every prosperity gospel message is the topic of money and material wealth and how much to give to the prosperity preacher and how God supposedly wants the audience to focus on pursuing money as the main objective of life.
The true Gospel is never the focus of prosperity theology. Rather it is all about the accumulation of material possessions.
However, the Bible clearly teaches that true followers of Jesus Christ will always face persecution and tribulation, and that facing challenges and problems is a reality that every person will face irrespective of one’s beliefs or religion.
In John 16:33 Jesus says: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
2 Timothy 3:12 says: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
In John 15:20 Jesus says: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.
So in opposition to the false prosperity gospel theology, the Bible clearly teaches that Christians have to endure problems, challenges, persecution and suffering because we live in a depraved and sinful world.
5. Jesus Christ is never the centre of a prosperity gospel message
At the end of a prosperity gospel sermon, it is most certain that a person will never be motivated to thoughtfully say: “I have been challenged through this message to deny myself and to genuinely serve God and seek more of God’s will for my life”.
A person does not come out of a prosperity gospel sermon and think to himself: “I want to be more like Jesus Christ and to glorify His name” . Nor does he think: “Wow! There is more to life than having material things in this world”.
Instead the motivation of a prosperity gospel message is to cultivate greed, the pursuit of money, covetousness, a focus on worldly things and a focus on the self or self-gratification.
In the mind of a prosperity gospel believer, the question becomes: “How do I get God to give me all these things because of this message that I’ve heard?” or “I can’t wait for people to see me and how ‘blessed’ and ‘favoured’ I am when I get all the material things I want”.
Anxiety and guilt may also creep in if one fails to live up to the demands, the expectations and the theology of the prosperity gospel message.
Therefore the prosperity gospel appeals to the basic instincts or fleshly desires of man. It appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17).
The focus of the prosperity gospel message becomes the things of the world and not the things above where Christ is seated (Colossians 3:1-2).
In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The real “god” of the prosperity gospel message is money or mammon. It is not the God of the Bible.
The prosperity gospel message is a false gospel which does not truly and genuinely convert anyone to Jesus Christ and to be discipled by Christ. The Bible also warns us against accepting a different gospel than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
In 2 Corinthians 11:4 it says: For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul says: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
The true Gospel pertains to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind(1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The true Gospel pertains to the purpose of Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. The true Gospel is a gospel for sinners whether rich, poor, young or old because every human being is a sinner for whom Christ shed His blood for on the cross.
1 Corinthians 2:2 says: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The true Gospel exalts the work of Jesus Christ and what He did to save humanity from sin. The work of Jesus Christ in the life of humanity is not connected to money or anything that is perishable and temporary.
1 Peter 1:18-19 says that we “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
However the prosperity gospel does not save. The prosperity gospel is a false teaching which does not focus on cultivating a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. This false gospel cannot speak about the need for genuine repentance and the call for people to deny themselves and their own will so that they can pursue the will of Jesus Christ. So the prosperity gospel exalts money as being the centre and meaning of the Christian life.
2 Peter 2:3 NLT warns of false teachers who “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.”
This false gospel takes the message away from Jesus Christ and instead focuses on man and his pursuit of mammon. It is therefore important to avoid this false teaching or any preacher who is associated with the prosperity gospel movement.
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel by Costi W Hinn