By Contributing Writer, Tyanne
The basic message of the prosperity gospel is this: Abundant faith in God will result in abundant material & physical blessings on this earth.
Christian leaders like Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and T.D. Jakes are promising health, wealth, and happiness to all those who are able to generate enough faith, control their thinking, and claim the blessings they are supposedly entitled to as Christians. Their message is being preached to millions of people around the world every day through television, radio, and the Internet, and they are being sadly deceived.
While teachers of the prosperity gospel are primarily focused on financial success, they are also promoting a dangerous message in regards to health and healing. As we spend time this month looking at health and nutrition from God’s perspective, I think it is important for us to look with discernment at the popular beliefs held by advocates of the prosperity gospel in regard to health and healing. Their version of God’s perspective on this topic is causing great harm, both spiritually and physically, and we must be prepared to guard against it.
Prosperity Theology on Health and Healing
“I have faith, for I am a believer. I believe I receive my healing and my faith makes me whole… The power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me. My faith puts that power into active operation in my body. Disease has no choice. There is no chance for its survival in my body… That power is flowing in me and makes me whole. I am free. I am entirely free from sickness and disease. I am whole. I believe I have received my healing, and my faith has made me whole.” – Joyce Meyer
In the book Health, Wealth, & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ, Jones and Woodbridge explain that prosperity theology teaches that Christ’s death on the cross provides believers with physical healing (p. 90). Using verses like Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, many prosperity teachers make the claim that the “healing” we receive in Christ’s atonement is both spiritual and physical.
While we do believe this to be true eternally as we anticipate the perfection of heaven, the assertion of this theology is that our health and healing are guaranteed to us on this earth if we have genuine faith.
This assertion leads to the following conclusions, which prosperity teachers widely promote:
- Believers should not be sick at all.
- If there is sickness or physical ailment, they should be healed by exercising their faith.
- If God does not heal a believer, it is because of a lack of faith.
- If someone does not have enough faith to be healed, they must not have genuine faith and are therefore not saved.
- The strength of a person’s faith will have a greater impact on their physical health than medical attention, nutrition, and lifestyle choices.
This “gospel” is indeed packed with “good news.” If we simply generate enough faith, we will not suffer in this lifetime. We are entitled to healthy bodies now because Christ’s body was afflicted in our place two thousand years ago.
This may sound like good news in times when blessings abound, but it will surely lead to a crisis of faith for those who find themselves dying of disease in spite of their strong spiritual beliefs.
The Harm of a False Gospel
As you follow the above conclusions down the road to real life application, you will find a landfill of spiritual devastation and confusion. You will find mothers who believe their miscarriages are the result of weak faith or unrepented sin. You will find cancer patients who will die believing their faith was not enough for salvation because God did not heal them of their disease.
You will find people who are suffering, and doing so without the comfort of the real gospel and a biblical theology on suffering.
From another angle, these prosperity beliefs will lead you to a mess of poor stewardship, foolish choices, and an indulgent lifestyle. You will find men and women in desperate need of medical care but refusing to seek it in favor of strictly faith-based healing. You will find families living without concern for healthy nutrition and routine medical exams.
You will find people who live as though they are untouchable to disease, and doing so while behaving in ways that beckon disease.
There is no denying that the physical and emotional consequences of false teaching are devastating, but it is the spiritual consequences that inspire even deeper sorrow. As people are convinced that their physical health is an automatic blessing that comes with true faith, they are also being lured into a religion that is centered on the will of man, distorts the character and will of God, and denies the complete work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If we believe in the God of the Bible, we should find this to be absolutely intolerable.
Jones and Woodbridge communicate this distortion well in Health, Wealth & Happiness:
Prosperity teachers not only misinterpret the atonement, but they also abuse the atonement of Christ by stressing the benefits of the cross while ignoring its claims. The cross becomes little more than a means to an end: Jesus died for your sins so that you can be prosperous and healthy. This contrasts with the biblical message that believers must take up their cross daily and die to self in order to live for Christ (See Matthew 16:24)… The prosperity gospel distorts the meaning of the atonement and, therefore, is not the gospel at all. (p. 92)
A Biblical Response
I have often heard that the best way to identify counterfeit currency is to become an expert on authentic currency, and the same can be said about false teaching. The best way for Christians to recognize and reject a false gospel is to intimately know and understand the authentic gospel of the Bible. In regards to prosperity teaching on health and healing, our best weapon is a solid understanding of what God’s word teaches on this topic.
“The best defense against the teachings of the prosperity gospel is a holistic understanding of scriptural teaching on wealth and poverty.” – Jones and Woodbridge (p. 124)
As Jones and Woodbridge sought to biblically correct the false teachings of prosperity theology, their first stop was a biblical theology of suffering (A topic we addressed all of last month here at Visionary Womanhood). When responding to prosperity teaching on health related issues especially, I believe there is no better place to start than that. The health and healing claims of prosperity teachers are simply incompatible with a biblical worldview on suffering.
I want to cautiously clarify that there is biblical support of the belief that God truly heals people, and I believe He does bring healing when it is His will. There is also biblical basis for connecting faith and healing as we see examples in the new testament of Christ healing people because of their faith in him (See Matthew 8:8, Matthew 9:22, & Mark 9:23). However, we must be discerning as we balance these examples of healing with other biblical examples where suffering and testing were God’s will, such as the story of Job.
As we learned here in January, God allows believers to suffer and uses it for his glory. We must always be mindful of this truth.
I am by no means an authority on the topic of prosperity theology, though I have come a long way from my early years of trusting every book in the “Christian” section at the bookstore. My intention today is to simply make you aware that this teaching exists, explain that it does not align with what the Bible teaches, and point you in the direction of truth. While I specifically focused on the prosperity perspective on health and healing, there is much more to this false gospel that we need to treat with caution and discernment.
If you are interested in learning more about the prosperity gospel, its origins and teachings, as well as a biblical response to prosperity theology, the book I have referenced above by Jones and Woodbridge is an excellent resource on this topic. (You can find it here.)
If you are not interested in an entire book on the subject, perhaps this article by Albert Mohler will help give you a brief overview of this false gospel.
John Piper also has a video interview entitled “Why I abominate the Prosperity Gospel” which you might appreciate. It can be viewed here or found on YouTube.