Recently, a so-called gospel preacher came through our sleepy little town and stirred up a local congregation with rousing oratory, keen insight and splash of redneck charm. He’s a frequent guest to this church and I had been exposed to his teachings before via recorded messages. This happened at a time when God had graciously granted me new eyes of discernment. They were still adjusting to the light of truth in the aftermath of prolonged confinement in the bowels of the Word-Faith and Charismatic movement. I started making notes on elements of his message that didn’t appear to line up with scripture, but quickly abandoned the project. At the time I felt I was being too critical, so I backed down.
Well, fast forward a few years later. A close friend who attends the aforementioned church informed me that ‘Prosperity Pete’ was coming to town. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he would not be attending those services. When I asked why, he filled me in on some of his past teachings. This jogged my memory and I agreed that his teachings should be avoided like the plague. Neither of us attended his services. Unfortunately, curiosity bested me one afternoon and I visited that church’s website. They had posted Pete’s message online.
I made the tragic mistake of listening to it.
Truly, it was one of the most perplexing, jaw-dropping and outright blasphemous sermons I had ever had the displeasure of hearing. I’m not using hyperbole, either. I grew nauseous; I became angry. People I know attend that church! As I listened to the message my heart broke. I envisioned God’s sheep being ripped apart by this wolf, wool, flesh and bone flying in every direction. I could scarcely conceal my revulsion for this heretic. I jotted down some notes and met with my friend over lunch and discussed these horrific doctrines. He was sickened by what he heard but hardly surprised. My friend addressed the issue to his pastor, as is appropriate, but he only defended the teacher and his doctrines, citing the heretic’s higher education in theological matters as proof of his veracity. To make a long story short, my friend left the church – not primarily over this incident, it was just the last straw in a long series of issues of truth and conscience.
I want to concentrate on presenting this dangerous doctrine and deconstructing it with scripture and sound reasoning. I will expose the sandy foundation upon which it stands and contrast it to the solid rock of orthodox Christian teaching.
Prosperity Pete focused his message around the heart and soul of all Word-Faith doctrine – that health and wealth is within our grasp. First, we must overcome our enemy. The enemy is not the devil or even self, per se, but ignorance. Ignorance is the only enemy we have. The devil is our adversary who challenges our identity but he’s not our enemy. Okie dokie. Got that straight? He spent a good portion of the message emphasizing how damaging unbelief is to our Christian life. Well, this grain of truth cannot be disputed but some statements he made to support his thesis border on blasphemy.
First, he says, “unbelief is the only thing that can negate the will of God in your life.” Ok, this is true as far as it goes, but what is meant by ‘will of God’? The will of God can sometimes mean different things. Are we talking about the eternal decrees of God whereby everything he wills shall come to pass? Or is the will of God here referring to God’s commandments for men to live in accordance with the laws of his holiness and righteousness? His statement is true when viewed in context of the latter meaning. Blessings are promised to those who obey from the heart but curses are threatened for disobedience. The will of God to bring blessings upon his people can indeed be negated by rebellion but this does not ever contradict or conflict in any way with the decree of God that he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). I digress. That was just a preparatory statement for the head-shaking words he uttered next.
“The stupid you’ll have with you always – the poor you’ll have with you – it’s the same thing! People who won’t change.” According to Pete, when the bible references poor people they are equivalent to stupid people who have no understanding. Previous to this statement he enlightened his audience with the cliche’ that ignorance can be cured but stupidity is forever. God can deal with people’s ignorance but people who hear truth and don’t respond – well their just stupid. They won’t change; they can’t change and God can’t change them. They have no hope. Ignorant people who receive understanding will respond to that understanding and change their ways. This kind of man-centered heresy strokes the ego. Hey, those of us who aren’t stupid just need to hear the truth and we’ll have the sense to grab hold of what God has promised. This, of course, includes mostly health and wealth. These blessings are how Christians are to gain converts. Our possessions and physical vitality will woo men and women into the kingdom by the truckloads. Word-Faith teachers often equate the poor to an accursed class of unbelievers. Jesus must have misspoke when he said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
He goes on. Warning: The dung heap here gets deep -real deep – up to your eyes, nose and ears deep. He says all of these things to come to this very important point:
“Unbelief is more powerful than God in you.” Lest the minds of his captive audience failed to wrap around this immensely anti-theological statement, he then repeats it emphatically a total of three times, including at the very close of the message. This is the one thought he wanted to make sure his audience left the church thinking about. Apparently anticipating the opposition he would receive for such an controversial statement he countered with a scripture proof.
In a tone intimating someone’s objection he says, “‘Well , there’s nothing more powerful than God’. Read the book!”
He then refers to a scripture in Mark chapter six that relates the time when Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth to minister. People who knew him did not believe he was the Christ. Verses 5 & 6 reads, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.”
He exhorts the congregation at this point to expel unbelief so that prosperity and vibrant health can be be enjoyed in the unlimited life that all believers are promised to have. His bold proclamations do no not end there, however. He caused me to do a double-take at this gem:
“There is only one sin – unbelief. Everything else are lawless deeds. There is only one sin that cannot be forgiven – the sin of unbelief.” Uhh, hold on a second there buddy, doesn’t that mean… oh never mind, I’ll get to that later.
He then quotes from Psalm 78. At one point he says, “some of you looked at me funny when I said ‘unbelief is more powerful than God in you’ – but I just read it to you. God was present but he was limited because of unbelief.”
The passage he made reference to reads, “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78: 40-41).
The Psalm is a historical reference to Israel’s Exodus from the slavery of Egypt and subsequent rebellion. The theme is God’s amazing grace to uphold and preserve his chosen people in spite of their stubborn hearts of unbelief.
I’ll deal with the deconstruction of this ridiculous doctrine in a subsequent post although, it stands on wobbly legs as it is. I’m embarrassed to admit I was involved in the Word-Faith movement to a certain degree. If you can believe it there is a more conservative branch of the Word-Faith school than what is commonly displayed on TBN and other religious stations. I was involved with it for about a decade. Both schools are in great error and no true believer belongs anywhere near these odious beliefs.
I have come across this teaching before, only stated less offensively. I assume it is a common belief throughout the health and wealth camp. It needs to be addressed, dissected and corrected. Left uncontested, our understanding of God, man and the relationship between the two could be seriously distorted and damaged by these false doctrines.
To be continued…