A Balanced View of Wealth

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We as Christians need not suffer financial setbacks… The Lord spoke to me and said ‘Don’t pray for money anymore. You have authority through my Name to claim prosperity.’… Our lips can make us millionaires or keep us paupers” – Kenneth E. Hagin

Being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity” – Robert Tilton

The above quotes – called “Prosperity theology” – is a crucial aspect of Word of Faith teachings which found a niche in many African churches in the 1990s. It emphasizes material wealth as God’s will for every Believer.

To provoke a divine release of this great wealth, Christians are taught to give Faith seed, visualize prosperity with their mind’s eye and claim their prosperity through positive confession.

Some of the richest pastors in Africa adhere to this teaching. For instance, a popular Nigerian preacher is estimated to have a total net worth of $150 million with property including four private jets.

Those on the other side of the spectrum, however, believe pastors and Christians in general should be poor because there is something intrinsically wrong with wealth.

Thus, wealthy Nigerian pastors are targets of increasing attacks and ridicule by the media. The economic situation in the country has geared up many social media denizens to seize on these Christian preachers at the jugular.

The way I see it, we are faced with two dangerous extremes: one tending towards idolizing wealth and the other, towards glorifying poverty.

Heresy is often an outgrowth of either an exaggeration or suppression of Bible truth. Therefore we need to carefully examine prosperity and try to maintain a Biblical balance.

Granted, under the Law, God’s blessing was often associated with material prosperity:

“You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:18 ESV).

Individuals such as Job were ultimately blessed with wealth:

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).

Abraham was “very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold” (Gen. 13:2).

The same goes for Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon and others. Does this imply that every Christian today must be wealthy? Not exactly.

While the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth in itself, it condemns “those who put their trust in riches” (Prov. 11:28) “and boast of their great wealth” (Ps. 46:6).

It doesn’t say money is the root of all evil , but “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

The Bible also commands wealthy believers, among other things, not to be arrogant nor put their hope in wealth, which is uncertain, but to put their hope in God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” and be generous and willing to share (1 Tim. 6:10, 17, 18).

From this, it can be inferred that not every believer will be physically rich but God generously provides for His people. We see this expressed in 2 Cor. 9:8

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

God doesn’t inflict poverty as a blessing upon believers but promises His abundance. Where many “Word faith” teachers have missed it is that, they interpret abundance and poverty by the materialistic standards of contemporary Western civilization.

Like Christ, our primary purpose as Christians is “not to do [our] own will, but the will of Him who sent” us (Jn. 6:38). It’s from this perspective that “poverty” or “abundance” should be defined.

Poverty, therefore, is having less than all one needs to do God’s will in one’s life, while abundance, is having all one needs to do God’s will and something over to give others.

Godly prosperity is not provided for us to squander on our carnal desires, but for every good work (helping others, supporting the preaching of the gospel, etc.). And the standard for each believer differs in relation to God’s will for his or her life.

The Bible furnishes us with several examples of Godly people who weren’t materially rich even though they followed God’s will. During the period of famine, prophet Elijah depended on a poor widow whose miraculous supply of flour and oil sustained him. Neither Elijah nor the widow became rich, but God met their needs (1Kgs. 17:8-16).

Amos was a shepherd and humble labourer (Amos 7:14); Naomi and Ruth were poor widows, yet they had God’s blessing (Ruth 2:12).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was “highly favoured” by God, yet she was not wealthy, as evidenced by the Temple offerings she gave (Lk. 2:24; Lev. 12:8).

It’s wrong to always conclude that someone is poor because he/she lacks God’s favour. There is a higher level of wealth than the material.

There may be times when a believer will be temporary tested with insufficiency and there are some Christians who deliberately renounce material wealth that poses an encumbrance to their faith, like those who leave their wealthy backgrounds to serve Christ.

This is what Proverbs 13:7 talks about:

There is one that makes himself rich, yet has nothing: there is one that makes himself poor, yet has great riches.”

Moses turned his back on wealth and luxury because he “esteemed the reproaches of Christ than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Jesus said to the church in Smyrna:

I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!” (Rev. 2:9) Though they were materially poor, they had riches far more valuable than silver and gold.

Today, many Christians enduring persecution and affliction for Christ’s sake may not be materially rich, but they are heirs to wealth of a higher order.

God’s people are never “forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps. 37:25). Knowing God personally is itself, a treasure. It may not bring material wealth, but it brings an inner peace, joy, contentment and good health that all the money in the world can’t buy.

Another error in the Word-Faith’s prosperity theology is how certain Bible verses are remotely interpreted to unduly emphasise material wealth.

For instance, a verse oft quoted is: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11)

The Hebrew word translated as prosper here is “shalom.” Normally this word is translated “peace”, but it has a much wider range of meanings than the word “peace.”

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes it as: “Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment . . .  Unimpaired relationships with others and with God.” So the prosperity God is speaking of here is not merely material wealth but complete wholeness.

Another bible verse used is: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2)

The Greek word rendered as prosper is euodou which means to “succeed in reaching” or “to succeed in business affairs.” This is not strictly referring to prosperity of a financial nature, but success “in all things.” God’s blessings are not limited to money.

Granted, Jesus for our sake “became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t carry a lot of cash, but at no time did He lack anything. He regularly gave to the poor (Jn. 12:4-8); paid taxes (Mt. 17:27) and fed thousands of people (Mt. 14:15-21).

Though the methods were unconventional, He exemplified abundance – not poverty – but in the context of God’s will. He became poor for our sake at the cross. It was there he suffered hunger, thirst, nakedness and He was even buried in a borrowed tomb.

But this does not directly imply that every Christian will be materially rich.

Peter, for example wasn’t wealthy. He told a lame man:

I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”” (Acts 3:6 Holman).

From the statement of apostle James, it’s clear that there were poor people in the first century church (see Jas. 2:-5). Evidently, they didn’t understand 2 Cor. 8:9 to mean that every Christian must have great wealth as some teach it today.

Some questions might be ringing in some of my readers: “What could be wrong if I believe in the mandate God gave our father in the Lord to liberate men from the shackles of poverty? What could be harmful if I key into the wealth transfer agenda and claim my money by faith? What of the many testimonies of those who sowed a ‘faith seed’ and then became millionaires after one week?” I’ll say:

1. Both the bible and church history furnish us with examples of people who started out well but later deviated from their divine mandate.

They switched from grace to man-made methods; they displaced the cross from the centre of their lives; they made their stomachs their gods and diluted their teachings with ear-tickling lies that appealed to fleshy hearts.

We are not to hang our truth on any man’s mandate, but “examine the scriptures” carefully and apply our God-given reason in what we believe (Acts 17:11).

2. It’s an error to believe that we can somehow “force” God to answer our prayers by slotting in the right positive confession to gratify our carnal desires. God is not a heavenly vending machine.

Our giving to God should be in love, willingly from our hearts and for His glory, not for Him to make us millionaires in return. God doesn’t operate NaijaBet or Mobgidi Lottery.

3. To believe that being poor is a sin fuels arrogance towards the poor that causes one to unfairly blame them for their own unfavourable circumstances.

If you are poor, they believe it’s because of your negative lips; you ought to wield the right words and follow the requirements set by the Faith teachers and boom, you’d become wealthy! This is presumptuous (see Prov. 23:4-5).

4. Prosperity theology breeds modern day Gehazis rather than Elishas.

Many Word Faith teachers and their followers have been known to be overtly consumed by an overwhelming desire to be rich at all cost; evade taxes; exploit people financially; place members under burdensome financial obligations; ridicule the poor and needy; steal and resort to fraudulent Ponzi schemes all in a bid to meet up with their pet beliefs (Matt. 16:26)

5. Because material wealth is perceived as a vital sign of God’s favour, many who subscribe to prosperity theology tend to easily backslide and doubt God whenever they are in a financial difficulty and they’ve followed through their “kingdom regimen” but their condition isn’t improving.

We are not to hang our faith on material things (exotic cars, mansions, yachts, private jets etc.). Material wealth is not always a sign of God’s blessing and lack of it is not always a curse. The point is, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possession” (Lk. 12:15).

Finally, we shouldn’t serve God for what He gives, rather for Who He is. He will meet our needs if we are faithful to Him.

Evaluating Movements within the Church

For decades, many doctrinal trends or movements have emerged within the Christian church.

We’ve had the House Church movement in which Christians met in homes instead of church buildings.

There was the Inner Healing movement which involved “healing of memories.” Branhamism – based on the teachings of William Branham – was another one. Then we had the Third Wave movement which emerged from the Charismatic movement.

Not all movements are entirely harmful. The Holy Spirit can enlighten Believers and give them more insight into certain Scriptural truths which in turn revives the Body of Christ.

On the other hand, Satan can use false movements to lead Christians astray. A genuine movement, due to apostasy, can also degenerate into a false one.

Evaluating movements within the church is a crucial part of Christian discernment. For a movement to be so described, it must have influenced people across denominational lines. Now, let’s examine some popular ones:

1. The Emerging (or Contemplative) church Movement.

This is a movement with divergent beliefs – a mixture of Orthodox, Catholic, liberal Protestant and Evangelical theology. It is termed “emerging” because it embraces a postmodern worldview in which the church is expected to adapt to the culture or spirituality of the world systems, thus it’s “emerging.”

The Emerging movement teaches “the theory that denies absolutism and insists that morality and religion are relative to the people who embrace them” (Modern Reformation Magazine, 2005, 14:4).

In other words, they are not sure about what is right or wrong, neither does it really matter, because whatever moral path you embrace is true for you.

One of its leaders, Brian McLauren, dismisses parts of the Bible as Paul’s “personal opinions” while Rob Bell, another leader, says he has discovered “the Bible is a human product.”

On Oprah show, Rob says “the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.”

The Emerging church practices meditation, mysticism, yoga, use of prayer altars, candles, icons, centering prayer, visualization and other occult techniques.

They also reject the substitutionary atonement of Christ as “a form of cosmic child abuse by a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he didn’t commit.”

2. The Word of Faith (WOF) movement

This movement teaches that faith is a force which can be applied by Christians (who are “little gods”) to speak positive, creative words just as God did at creation.

Armed with this “God kind of faith,” one can dispel all sickness, poverty and control all of life’s circumstances.

Though there are slight doctrinal variations within the WOF camp, their teachings on “positive confession,” Christians being gods, denial of Jesus as the “only begotten Son” and His spiritual death in hell largely came from Essek Kenyon, a Baptist preacher.

There is a strong evidence that he borrowed these doctrines from the Higher Life Movement (see Robert Bowman Jnr. The Word-Faith Controversy, Apologetic Index, 2001).

Kenneth Hagin repeated much of Kenyon’s teachings. From him, they spread to Copeland, Paulk, Tilton, Dollar and other key WOF preachers. Through Christian TV and books, their teachings are being widely disseminated in Africa and other continents.

Most, if not all, of WOF teachers claim to derive their teachings from Jesus Himself through visions or special revelations (thus, theythey termed “revelation knowledge”).

WOF leaders adjust certain Bible passages to rhyme with their peculiar doctrines. For example, Joel Osteen said God made Zachariah dumb “because God knew that Zacharias’ negative words would cancel out His plan. God knows the power of our words, He knows that we prophesy our future.”

But no one who lets this passage speak for itself would come to this conclusion.

He also said, “Your words have creative power.” This is often laced with an alteration of Mark 11:22 “You shall have whatever you say!” Thus, man is in control while God takes a backseat.

WOF doctrines make adherents deny symptoms of sicknesses and shun medical treatment as a denial of faith. But this has proved to be potentially dangerous.

The movement’s obsession with material wealth also raises some ethical questions. Notably, their teaching that Jesus was dragged into hell to atone for sin utterly changes the place of redemption from the cross to hell (Col. 2:15).

3. The Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM)

This is a philosophy or a shared concept that Jewish traditions or Judaism are far superior, and are a sure way for Christians to have a deeper relationship with Christ, sanctification or even salvation.

It’s a diversified movement made up of individuals or groups, ranging from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research to pop Judaism.

Some adherents are called “Messianic Jews.” But a theme common to them is the idea that restoring the Jewish roots or following Jewish traditions is the only authentic form of Christianity.

The Sacred Name movement, for example, teaches that “Yahweh” is the only name to be used for God, and “Yahshua” for Jesus (varies from group to group – Yahuwah, Yeshua, Yahwah, Yahoshua etc). The use of any other name is deemed idolatry or blasphemy.

They adhere more to the Talmuds than the New Testament. The Talmuds contain later traditions, customs and practices formulated when the Jews had no temple, priesthood or animal sacrifices and were completed about 400-500 years after Christ (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, 1965, p. 374).

The HRM also observe Jewish feasts, festivals and laws, even though such requirements are not binding on Gentile Christians (Acts 15:19, Col 2:16-17).

First century Judaism had different sects – the School of Shammai, Hillel, the Sadducees, the Zealots, Herodians and the Essenes – therefore it’s subjective to hold to any Jewish tradition as a valid path to spiritual fulfillment.

This trend is hard for many non-Jews to adjust to because it makes Jewishness next to Godliness, whereas, saved Jews and Gentiles are one body in Christ (see Eph. 3:1-8).

4. The Ecumenical Movement.

This is a unity of all non-Catholic churches with the Catholic church which came from the Vatican II Council (1962-1965) stating that “there may be one visible church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth to the whole world.”

In 1967, some Pentecostals began holding prayer meetings with Catholics in Pittsburgh and Notre Dame where many Catholics spoke in tongues. This led to the Catholic Charismatic movement and was attributed to the Holy Spirit uniting the church.

One of the first prophesies in these meetings was that “what Mary promised at Fatima was really going to take place” (Edward O’Connor, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church, Ave Maria Press, 1971, p. 58).

Later, ecumenical meetings began incorporating Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, New Agers and animists in praying for world peace. Today, ecumenism has spread across denominational lines and church societies with the idea that all religions worship the same God, only differing in the details.

Though many ecumenists today (like Rick Warren) drone on uniting religions through social work or activism, in reality, it has failed to create unity. It also dismisses clear Bible commands against ungodly partnership with unbelievers or heretics (2 Cor. 6:12).

Fruits of a True Movement

I. The Fruit of Exalting Jesus

The Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus Christ (Jn. 16:13-14), therefore, a true movement glorifies or exalts Jesus Christ.

Christ is the Head of the church and must have the preeminence in it. The Holy Spirit does not exalt human personalities or traditions in place of Christ.

II. The Fruit of Respect for Scripture

The Lord Jesus Himself called Scripture “the Word of God” and said “the Scripture cannot be broken” (Mk. 7:13, Jn. 10:35).

God does not take His Word lightly, and He doesn’t esteem those who don’t tremble at His Word (Isa. 66:2). A true movement takes the Bible as its final authority, while a false one tries to subjugate it to its experiences, visions or agenda.

III. The Fruit of Repentance

Repentance is one of the first messages of the New Testament (Mt. 3:2, Mk. 1:15). It is a decision to turn away from sin and submit totally to the Lordship of Christ.

There cannot be a genuine revival in the church without total repentance. A movement that dismisses repentance or replaces it with “positive” words is not from God.

IV. The Fruit of Love for Fellow Christians

Jesus gave an identification mark of true Christians and that is “if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).

It matters little what the spiritual experiences or gifts a movement boast of, if the mark of love is absent, they are all in vain (1Co.r 13:2). One of the ways to know a false movement is to observe how its adherents treat or speak of other Believers outside their circle.

V. The Fruit of Loving Concern for the Unsaved

Jesus said the Holy Spirit is to empower Christians to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). A person who is truly saved and has the fire of God’s Word burning in his bones will always be eager to reach others with the Gospel truth.

When this zeal is absent, it indicates that fire has left the cooking place. Many Christians have been led astray by becoming witnesses unto a doctrine, a system or a denomination, rather than being witnesses for Christ.

Observe the movements I mentioned so far, are most people in them meeting up to all these standards? The Holiness Revival Movement is a case in point. Do they love other Christians? Are they witnesses to Christ or a man-made tradition?

I have been intrigued by the King James Only Movement. It’s adherents are witnesses of a tradition rather than Christ. They slander and attack the motives of other Christians. They’ve not repented of promoting falsehood in the name of truth.

These are ways to know what underlie trends in the church; if they are godly or ungodly.

Was Jesus Tortured in Hell?

Christians generally agree that Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the fish prefigured Jesus’ three days and nights in the belly of the earth (Matt. 12:40).

However, in the 20th century, some respected Christian preachers began to dogmatically teach what presumably transpired within the period of Christ’s death and resurrection – that Jesus paid the price for our sins not just by dying on the cross as the Bible says, but also by suffering in Hell and becoming “born again.”

Frederick Price wrote that:

“..the punishment [of Christ] was to go to hell itself and serve time in hell separated from God…Satan and all the demons of hell thought they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of Hell itself to serve our sentence” (Ever Increasing Faith Messenger, June 1980, p. 7)

First of all, before Jesus died, His last words were “Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit” (Lk. 23:46). How did He then end up in Satan’s hands?

God laid all our iniquities on Him (Is. 53:6) and as He died, He cried in one final triumph: “It is finished!” which is translated from a Greek word, tetelestai, which can be rendered “it is completely complete.”

That is, He paid the full penalty that sin demanded at the cross – to God – not to Satan.

Those who teach that Jesus atoned for sins in hell argue that they are unveiling what has been covered up and hidden in tradition for 2,000 years through “revelation knowledge.”

The logical conclusion is that if you reject this doctrine, then you are swallowed up in traditions.

In an edition of the Believer’s Voice of Victory, Kenneth Copeland insists he will keep teaching this gospel:

He, that is Christ, allowed the devil to drag him into the depths of hell as if he were the most wicked sinner who ever lived. Every demon in hell came down on him to annihilate him. They tortured him beyond anything that anybody has ever conceived.”

Yes, Jesus Christ descended into hell. “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither will thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).

“Now he that ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9).

But His descent into hell was not to become a tortured sinner and be reborn, but to conquer the power of hell and liberate captive souls from Satan.

Hebrews 2:14-15 says “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

He descended into the paradise compartment of hell to liberate all the saints who had died from Abel to His time, who were held in that compartment (Lk. 16:23). Therefore “when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive” (Eph 4:8).

He took the saints to heaven. He descended into hell as a Victor – not as a victim – to conquer Satan, death and hell.

Copeland continued:

In a thunder of spiritual force the voice of God spoke to the death-whipped, broken, punished spirit of Jesus in the pit of destruction and charged the Spirit of Jesus with resurrection power. [Then] his twisted, death-wracked spirit began to fill out and come back to life. He was literally reborn before the devil’s very eyes” (September 1991, pp. 4-6).

These ideas are not found in Scripture. The Bible is very clear that Jesus paid for our sins at the cross where He shed His blood and not hell.

“And having made peace through the blood of his cross…” (Col. 1:20)

“And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross…” (Eph. 2:16)

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree…”(1Pet 2:24)

If Jesus paid for our sins at the cross, why would He then end up in hell, in Satan’s hands with the debt of sin still unpaid?

In Him “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). He also spoiled principalities and powers and “made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Col. 2:15).

It’s blasphemy to reduce God the Son to a lost sinner in the pit of Hell being tortured by Satan and demons.

If Satan had to torture Jesus in hell for Him to redeem us, that would also imply that Satan is a co-redeemer with Christ.

Gloria Copeland also wrote:

After Jesus was made sin, He had to be born again” (God’s Will for You, p. 5).

Now, why would Jesus need to be “born again” when He wasn’t a sinner? If He needed to be born again, then He is not a Saviour!

These are serious errors that must be rejected. And this usually happens when people go beyond Scripture and mix in strange ideas under the guise of “new revelations.”