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The History of Greed in Prosperity Theology


If you’re familiar with television evangelists that need your money to do the work of God, then you’re already familiar with a version of prosperity theology.

The Doctrine of the “Wealth and Health” Movement in Christianity

It’s a Christian religious doctrine that decrees that financial wealth for Christians is the will of God. Faith, positivity, verbal evangelism, prayers, and donating to Christian ministries will directly increase your own wealth. Those who believe in the “gospel of success” believe that if they have enough faith in God, he will bestow you with material wealth, success, and happiness.

Everyday Modern Versions of Prosperity Theology

Hashtag blessed, right? We’ve all seen Christians on social media that say if you share this image, Like this status, donate to this megachurch, or pray hard enough; God will bless you with everything you ask for like a genie in a lamp. If you don’t give money or “share this email within an hour,” God will punish you. This is another form of prosperity theology. It’s just a more socially accepted version.

Does God Want Christians to Be Rich?

People believe that the Bible is a binding contract between God and his good Christians that states that if you put money into God, he’ll give it back to you like a slot machine. If you pray to God enough, he’ll see that you’re well taken care of in life. And that includes your bank account.

The doctrine of prosperity theology insists that it’s God’s will for pious Christians to be happy. If you or a loved one is sick, poor, or sad, it’s because you haven’t believed in God hard enough. Those afflictions can be remedied with more prayers and donations.

Branches of Christianity that preach forms of prosperity theology often turn to Bible verses such as:

  • Malachi 3:10: “Bring to the storehouse a full tenth of what you earn so there will be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord All-Powerful. “I will open the windows of heaven for you and pour out all the blessings you need”
  • Matthew 25:14–30: the Parable of the talents
  • John 10:10: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”
  • Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”
  • 3 John 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth”

Most other forms of Christianity view these pieces of Scripture (in which words could mean several things depending on the ancient translations) as more metaphorical in meaning, and that God will bless his followers with more spiritual positives like love and peace. They believe that the “riches” that are promised in the Bible are God’s love and divinity.

But those who believe in the power of prosperity theology are of the opinion that these Biblical passages are meant to be taken literally, with God granting good Christians their reward in terms of material and monetary gain.

The Historical Origins of Prosperity Theology in Christian Evangelism

The concept of performing the right actions to get the right results from God is not a new one, and it’s seen in varying degrees in most organized religions across the world and throughout history. Prosperity theology as most of us understand it, has its roots in the old fashioned Healing Revivals.

These Revivals were popular in the Great Depression, saying that if you gave this touted “man of God” your money, he’ll pass on the message for God to restore your health and wealth. They continued into the 1950s, and eventually turned into TV evangelism.

The Faces of Prosperity Theology, Wearing Masks of Holiness

The key to these Revivals and their later reincarnation as televangelism events is a charismatic leader. A man who can rile a group of people up and inspire them to offer up their money. The Christians who donate their money firmly believe in the power of divine healing; that if they give enough money and offer up enough prayers, they’ll be cured of their illnesses and poverty.

Billy Graham, William Branham, Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, T.L. Osborn, Reverend Ike, Jack Coe, and A.A. Allen are a few of these charismatic leaders who have been connected to forms of prosperity theology through Revivals, divine healing sessions, evangelical movements, and public speaking at mass gatherings of Christians. They offered sermons, testimonials, healed people, and asked for donations on behalf of God.

Trying to Pray Away Poverty by Preying on the Vulnerable

This is why you see many mega-churches (and even whole branches of Christianity) that are formed around a central, charismatic leader. They are the proverbial sellers of snake oil. They offer lofty promises of health, happiness, and wealth in exchange for your hard-earned money and commitment to God.

And just like the cure-all salesmen of old, these self-proclaimed prophets of the Lord don’t sell God’s salvation to the upper classes. They hawk their wares to the most vulnerable people: the sick, elderly, poor, and uneducated. Often the believers are minorities or immigrants who turn to God for help when they’re paid significantly less than others in the workplace.

By Speaking “Words of Faith,” Followers Seek to Get Rich Quick

Pastors preach that through “Positive Confessions” or “Words of Faith,” believers can literally speak their riches into existence if they have enough faith and if God wishes it to be so when they say the words out loud.

Prosperity theology preys on the desperate Christians who need something to believe in, or a way to feel in control of their health problems and financial state. It’s passed off positively, with assurances of God’s love, forgiveness, and the chance to be a part of a welcoming group led by a warm and friendly leader who cares about all God’s children. They promise to help.

But love can’t be bought– divine or otherwise. And financial wealth comes only from properly saving, investing, and a lot of hard work. Not by throwing your money at a church leader.

 

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