The Gospel of Jesus – the good news of what Jesus has accomplished for us through His death on the cross and His resurrection – is a message that will work, will be true, for all people at all times. If you put your faith in what Christ did on your behalf, you will be made right with God and saved from God’s wrath for all eternity. You will find forgiveness for your sins. You will find peace. You will find hope.
I think this is the thing about the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” that eventually led to what I’ve come to think of as my “Charismaniac Fatigue.” Sure, our former church would mention that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. But the main emphasis really was not so much on that. In fact, frequently, Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) would say something like this: “If you think that Jesus died just to save you for the ‘sweet by and by,’ think again. He saved you for so much more than that. He saved you for greatness, for fulfilling a destiny that is beyond anything you could ever ask or think!”
If you hung around Living Word Church (another pseudonym) long enough, you’d come to realize that those kinds of statements – although they don’t sound that terrible on the surface – were actually a sort of code. It took me awhile to figure this out, but eventually it became clear that when about 95% of Pastor Smith’s audience heard the word “destiny,” their minds were immediately filled with pictures of themselves as rich people.
Oh sure, “destiny” would frequently be cloaked with talk of “ministry.” I was sort of shocked one day when I realized that almost every single person I’d ever gotten to know at Living Word had dreams of going into some sort of professional ministry. They either saw themselves as future pastors, or future prophets, or future professional Christian musicians. A couple of our friends actually envisioned themselves presiding over a mansion in which they’d play hostesses to all the great anointed speakers who visited Living Word Church.
But the bottom line of all this talk of “destiny,” of “greatness,” was – well – the bottom line.
To GET to one’s “destiny,” the thinking went, one would need to have the doors and windows of heaven open up and pour out a great blessing that one could not contain. Such a financial windfall would enable one to quit whatever prosaic day job one held and then focus full-time on one’s “destiny.”
A crucial piece of this puzzle, of course, was faith. One had to have faith in order for one to get one’s windfall and thus fulfill one’s destiny.
And one demonstrated one’s faith through – you guessed it – giving money to Living Word Church.
It was expected – this was stated openly in Living Word’s membership classes (at least the class that we attended) – that Living Word members would ALWAYS tithe on their gross income. In other words, members must give 10% of their pre-tax income to Living Word Church. Then, of course, there were offerings, over and above that 10%. Those offerings were where you REALLY demonstrated your faith.
The more generously you gave, the more God would bless you. (Which always meant the more money you’d eventually receive.)
I do have to say this: when I look back on our time at Living Word, and think back on how much money we gave, it first of all takes my breath away. We put a very significant amount in the offering each month. Our pre-tax tithe check was…well…it was probably more than some people’s rent.
Secondly, though – and this is what I feel like I have to admit – at the time that we were tithing like this, giving such a HUGE amount of money to the church each month, the truth was that it never seemed that burdensome. Matter of fact, I can hardly remember whether we even missed that tithe money or not. We always seemed to have enough to pay our bills. And we enjoyed giving.
(Serious “BUT” – )
I kind of think that our situation was not the norm.
I knew a LOT of people at Living Word who were barely hanging on financially. Some of them struggled in relative secret, putting on a good facade of prosperity for their church appearances. It was shocking to discover how many of these seemingly well-heeled folks were actually in the midst of dealing with bankruptcies and other financial hardships.
The biggest “but” of all, though, was that despite all the talk of “destiny” and giving to demonstrate one’s faith, and how one’s “breakthrough” (more code for one’s financial windfall) was just around the corner, the truth was that we never saw ANYONE reach the point of quitting their day job and having the leisure to pursue their particular dream of Christian ministry full-time. (The only Living Word people I ever knew of who had even just appeared to “fulfill their destiny” were those who had been on staff at Living Word but then left to strike out on their own. But they’d already been in “fulltime ministry.” They already WERE earning paychecks from their ministerial pursuits.)
To the best of my knowledge, none of the rest of the congregation’s dreams and visions of windfalls and subsequent professional ministries ever worked out very well, despite their faithful and generous giving.
The moment when I finally admitted to myself that this was the truth – that this was the harsh reality of Charismania – was the moment when I started to lose my faith in Word of Faith teachings. The truth about the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” is that it wasn’t actually “Gospel” at all. There wasn’t really any TRUE “good news” in it. There wasn’t any TRUE “good news” that worked for everybody. Once Jesus’ work on the cross and His precious name became attached to the pursuit of wealth – even the pursuit of wealth disguised as the pursuit of some sort of “ministry” – the “Prosperity Gospel” became a lie.
I think this fact becomes very obvious when we examine how the “Prosperity Gospel” plays out in other places in the world, places that are not so already-well-off. Places like Africa. Click on the link below and check out this video: