Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel

profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

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One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks, Becky. Well said.

    This stuff tends to annoy me because I am all about speaking things into existence. And there really is a profound mind body connection when it comes to healing. But trying to teach that to people in the face of prosperity gospels and the name it and claim it bunch, is frustrating to say the least. I spend all my time trying to debunk what they are saying that is not scriptural (or even reasonable.)

    We really do have the power to speak life over ourselves. There is tremendous power in our words. But of course just in saying that, I have to now issue half a dozen disclaimers, least somebody start believing they can just imagine a Ferrari into existence or cure autism.

    And of course, we’ve completely forgotten about the rich, young ruler. I’m not sure Christ demands abject poverty out of us, but on the other hand, I think he told us that tale for a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you, IB. When someone takes something that is true and twists it out of recognition, it not only leads people astray, but it ruins the truth from which it is derived because people stop sharing it lest it be misunderstood. That’s how the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

      I just listened to the video that comes along with that Washington Post article and it had a snippet of Ms. White’s preaching. She, like others I’ve heard, rips a bit of Scripture from it’s context to prove what she says, and it all sounds like she’s really preaching from the Bible, but one line basically said that we “don’t have to live in poverty or in less than Christ died to give me.” She also said that when we live in abundance we are living Jesus’s mission statement. (Because He said He came to give life and life more abundantly). These are all true but just like the Mormons who say “Jesus” but understand Him to be completely different from who the Bible says He is, these Word of Faith people say “life” and they mean something completely different from what the Bible means.

      Becky

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  2. Hi Becky

    I talk pretty often with a fellow who is a pastor in Brazil. He says the evangelical movement is really exploding in Brazil, as people move from the Catholic church and some of they mysticism stuff down there. He is a Wesleyan Methodist pastor himself, but says his big concern is that so many of those leaving the Catholic church is that they are falling prey to some of the more extreme Word of Faith folks who have really made huge inroads in under developed countries.

    Good stuff, thanks for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Wally. I appreciate you expanding our thinking. Truthfully, that’s been one of my fears for those in far places who don’t have access to good Bible teaching. Not many seminaries that teach God’s inerrant word and how to communicate it in order to guard those in their charge from the varies false doctrines that have gained popularity. Not many pastors who can knowledgeably teach against false doctrine.

      It’s such an odd time–communication has never been so global before, which is good for the dissemination of both truth and error. We need to be praying for our brothers and sisters abroad, that they might stand against the devil and in the face of false teaching, to stand.

      Becky

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      • Funny you said that about the Seminaries. Brother Davi, my friend, is really looking hard to find some good training of that sort that he had people can do online. One problem he is having is some of the places have strict English entrance requirements and he and some of his members speak, and write it, but not necessarily at the University level. So, this is problematic. If not that, then some have costs they can’t afford. If not that….they are just not teaching good stuff. It’s a problem as you stated, and yes we sure need to pray for them as they really need it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • We do need to pray. And we need to support the good seminaries that are out there or any pastor who gives his time to disciple another shepherd of God’s people.

          There’s a Spanish speaking seminary in Guatemala, which may not be any better for your friend, since I assume he speaks Portuguese, but he might look into it. They might even have suggestions to offer him. They are definitely Bible believing and well established. I don’t know about the quality of the teaching, but I suspect it is good because of its background. Not a sure barometer, but not meaningless either. Anyway, I’m referring to Seminario Teológico Centroamericano SETECA. Here’s their web site: https://www.seteca.edu/

          Becky

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          • Thanks Becky

            I will send that to him!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. This is very well stated. As I recall, a man named Job had three friends who embraced this sort of theology. They had the nerve to tell Job that if he just trusted God and obeyed his commands, he could avoid the kind of poverty, tragedy, and poor health that had afflicted him. At the end of the book, God tells the three that they have messed up, big time, but that God will forgive them when Job prays for them. J.

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    • Job is a great example—or I should say, his three friends are. As you said, they embraced this same “prosperity gospel,” believing that their physical well being was an exact reflection of their spiritual efforts. They didn’t say “faith,” but they identified righteous deeds and even thoughts and attitudes. So Job’s woes were a cause of his secret thoughts and his neglect for doing good, as much as for any outright sin he was guilty of.

      Great point that God said He would forgive them for not thinking of Him aright. Great, great point. If the prosperity way of thinking was true, they would not have had a need for forgiveness.

      Becky

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