Prosperity theology is the belief that the gospel message includes the right to be healthy, wealthy, and successful in every way. (Those who propagate the philosophy have to hope that they never come down with a cough during an interview or an all day broadcast.) Faith, they say, is all that is needed to be well off physically and financially. The leaders of this movement take advantage of the naïve and easily manipulated. They are on television all the time, giving incredibly passionate and emotive oratories for the purpose of soliciting money. Very few people can talk and command an audience better than these folks can. They are indeed very well off financially because they steal money from innocent and well-intentioned listeners. The preachers promise that the listener will be healed or experience some kind of blessing (typically that they will get a gift from God seemingly out of nowhere for twice or three times whatever they send to the preacher). They market holy water and other little gimmicky items that are supposed to have some spiritual power or meaning. This again is an old lie from history. The Roman Catholic Church was selling artifacts and promising healing for a price. The rich and powerful again take advantage of the weak and undiscerning.
Prosperity theology has no basis in Scripture. A few verses about God’s healing are used to create a new doctrine of healing for all and in every way if people will just have faith. Those who are sick are constantly scorned for not having faith (just as Job’s friends did day after day to Job and were eventually rebuked by God). Faith is taken out of its proper place to mean that we can tell God what we want Him to do for us (this is getting more into Word Faith Theology, a belief closely related to prosperity theology, and typically one can hardly tell the difference). This theology leads people to come to some crazy conclusions. For example, some might say that the reason that the Christian Jews suffered in the holocaust was because they didn’t have enough faith. Or, the reason that the planes crashed into the World Trade Centers was because the Christians on the planes did not have enough faith. Others might argue that the reason a good Christian person dies of cancer is because he or she doesn't have enough faith. The reality is that Jesus suffered, Job suffered, Paul suffered, and the disciples suffered. In fact, eleven out of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith. Did they not have enough faith to be rescued? Absolutely that is not the issue. They had enough faith to hold to the cross despite their execution. I don’t know how one can have more faith than that.
For a person with even a basic knowledge of the Scriptures, prosperity theology is easy to refute. Yet many are led away and enticed by their own evil desires. The reality is that the viewer or listener is putting his or her faith in their own ability to buy their way out. Their trust is in their own self-righteousness, in their own ability, in their own funds, and in a man or woman talking to them on television. Their faith is misplaced, having not trusted in the Lord. The Lord doesn’t need a preacher to answer a prayer or to provide a blessing. He can be approached by anyone in prayer at any time. He can heal at any time if He so chooses. We need to be like Daniel’s friends who, when threatened to be put in the fiery furnace, believed that they would be saved but affirmed that they would still trust God even if God ordained that they would burn to death (Daniel 3:16-18). Faith doesn’t control God, but it rests in His grace and lovingkindness.
I am not saying that everyone who believes prosperity theology is a charlatan. Many are, but many are just deceived, having good intentions. They will be judged for their error and for leading many astray into a false hope. The gospel is not about physical graces but about spiritual grace. What is the point of gaining the whole world but losing our souls (Mark 8:36)? Christ came to save us from our sins, not to give us everything that we ever wanted in this life. The best is yet to come. We must wait for it in faith and hope. God will not disappoint (Romans 8:23-25). In the meantime, let us be wary of those who want us to experience heaven now and of those who seem to have a special inside track with God. They do not. We are all priests, able to approach God in prayer and worship. He is not partial, listening to even the least of us. May we put our faith totally in Him, in good times and in bad (Matthew 5:45).