Monday, July 23, 2012

The Prosperity Gospel's Biggest Proof Text


 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
(Mark 11:20-25 ESV)

Without getting into an exhaustive post about the origins and ideas of the Word of Faith movement, the purpose of this post is to take a look at the Word of Faith movement's big proof text from which much of its theology originates. The term "prosperity gospel" is one that has been used throughout the previous posts to describe the ideas that the Bible teaches the guaranteed health and wealth of Christians through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Synonymous with that term is the Word of Faith movement. This movement began in the 1940's and 1950's with a man by the name of Kenneth Hagin, who is often regarded as the Father of the Word of Faith Movement, and many of his writings and teachings helped shape what many know today as the prosperity gospel. Hagin began his ministry of health and wealth when he was miraculously healed from his sickbed as a 17 year old in 1934. According to Hagin,
"I was only 17 then and had no other Christians to fellowship with who believed as I did. I didn't have even one person, young or old, to stand with me to encourage me in this area of faith and believing God. I simply had to stand alone - but I tell you, I had a great time doing it! I am sure the one reason I didn't have some of the problems others had with the world, the flesh, or the devil was because I told everyone, "I am a new creature." That was my constant confession. Hold fast to your confession that you are a new creature. You will always rise to the level of your confession. The new man on the inside will be manifested on the outside because he will dominate the flesh."  -
                                                        "Understanding How To Fight the Good Fight of Faith, (7)

I believe this quote summarizes most of Hagin's work and Word of Faith's doctrines in more ways than one. I would like to elaborate further on this in another post, but here are the three ways that I think this quote captures all of Hagin's writings and WoF's beliefs on faith, confession, health, and wealth:

1) They are based on experiences.
  • With all due respect to Hagin, I believe that the sickness and suffering that he experienced at 17 was real and was as serious and as intense as he says. I also believe that he was genuinely healed from his sickness by God. But Christians are not called to base our faith on our experiences or base the Bible on our experiences, but rather let the Bible be the base from which we interpret our experiences and ground our faith. According to Hagin in this quote, it appears that he trusted more in his confession than in Christ and this is where the Word of Faith teaching bears left off the road of sound doctrine.Just within the book quoted, "Understanding How To Fight..", Hagin uses roughly 40 personal experiences to justify what he believes the Bible is saying about confession, faith, health and wealth. Many of these experiences are personal dialogues or "revelations" with himself and God that form into doctrinal principles that he says Bible supports.
2) They are based on what YOU say.
  • In the prosperity gospel, God promises healing, wealth, and success in the atonement of Jesus for all who believe. The way that one accesses this guaranteed prosperity is through faith and this faith is not "active" until one confesses and verbally says what they believe. By Hagin telling everyone that he was a "new creature" he was activating his faith to believe God for healing. His new man within would overcome the "flesh" or sickness. 
3) They are based on YOU
  • Much of what you hear or see within the prosperity gospel begins with you and ends with you. What this means is that it begins with God having your best interests in mind (health, wealth, success). Prosperity begins with your confession, is only coming to you  when you keep confessing it, and in the end only benefits you. Hagin, nowhere in his book "Understanding How To Fight" mentions anything about the eternal purposes of Jesus in healing people presently. It is interesting that in Mark 16:16-18, Jesus in the Great Commission, lists healing the sick as a sign that points to the message of the gospel and Himself. Hagin never mentions healing or God's blessing as a way to be drawn closer to God through the person and work of Jesus, but only describes these things as  "rights" and "benefits" from a "covenant". Healing and God's blessing in a material connotation is not mentioned in the Bible in this way at all. When Christ healed in scripture and when He heals today, it is to point to Himself (John 5:1-15, Matt 8:18, John 9:3-7), not so that we could point to ourselves. 

So here is the prosperity gospel's biggest proof text, Mark 11:20-25. The reason that I believe that this is their biggest proof text is because it is the passage of scripture that is constantly referenced in many prosperity teachers writings and sermons. Below, I have listed three quotations from three of prosperity or Word of Faith teachers concerning this passage. In these quotes we will look at their perspective on this passage, determine if it is accurate with the scriptures, and then see what the text says for itself. The quotes will be from Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Gloria Copeland, some of the prosperity gospel's original and most renown teachers.

Kenneth Hagin
Our confessions rule us. That is a spiritual law which few of us realize. Jesus said, "...whosoever shall say... and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith" (Mark 11:23). Notice the last phrase again, "he shall have whatsoever he saith." What we say is our confession. What we say is our faith speaking - whether it is on the positive side or the negative side. Jesus said that whosoever shall say, he shall have whatsoever he saith.... I tell people all the time, "If you are not satisfied with what you have in life, then change what you are saying. You have created what you have in  your life with your own words."
                                                                                         - Understanding How To Fight, 112

Kenneth Copeland
Jesus said in Mark 11:23, "For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain , Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." Notice the last words, "he shall have whatsoever he saith." Faith is released with the mouth. Even our salvation is based on the confession of our mouths that Jesus Christ is our Lord (see Romans 10:9-10). You can have what you say! In fact, what you are saying is exactly what you are getting now. If you are living in poverty and lack and want, change what you are saying. It will change what you have!...Since then I have learned the powerful force of the spiritual world that creates the circumstances around us is controlled by the words of the mouth. This force comes from inside us....In mark 11:23, Jesus is talking about saying things that have not yet come to pass. The mountain had not yet been removed when it was spoken to. Jesus said for us to believe that those things which we say will come to pass and then we will have whatsoever we say. When I learned these facts, it became easy for me to confess, "I have it now...I can see it through the eye of my faith."
                                                                                      - The Laws of Prosperity,  80

Gloria Copland
"Get ready to release your faith right now for whatever you need from God. Mark 11, verses 22-24, will work for any need. And Jesus answering them saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Whosoever shall say unto this mountain. According to Jesus, in order to change things you are to speak to the mountain. The mountain is the obstacle or need in your life. Let's assume that your need is financial - you just simply need more money to live and to give. Say this: "Poverty, I speak to you in the name of Jesus, and I command you to be removed from my presence and my life. I will no longer tolerate you. I forbid you to operate against me in any way." You do not talk to God about the problem. Talk to Him about the answer - the Word of God....Most people want God to talk to the mountain for them, but HE WILL NOT. He has given the believer that authority; and if you want results, do it His way. TALK TO THE MOUNTAIN!"
                                                                                 - God's Will is Prosperity, 103

So what can we conclude from these interpretations?
  1. This passage speaks of confession
  2. We can have whatever we confess, both negative and positive
  3. We can speak to circumstances, and they will change
Is this what Jesus is communicating in Mark 11? Does this interpretation fall in line with the other parallel passages in the gospels (Matt 21:10-22)? Remember, in proper Biblical interpretation, we cannot simply pull a passage from scripture and make a doctrine of it, we must interpret the scriptures in their context. The way that this verse initially looks and sounds, it seems that it says exactly what these interpretations say.  But what is the context?

Context:(Mark 11:1-19)
It is the last week of Jesus' life before the crucifixion. He enters into Jerusalem on a colt, being celebrated in what we know as the Triumphal entry, where people are laying their coats on the street for Jesus to ride on and palm branches are being waved by excited men, women, and children crying out "Hosana! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final time of his life with His disciples and heads towards the temple. That night he stays in Bethany, a city outside of Jerusalem, and in the morning, on the way back to Jerusalem, Jesus makes a breakfast stop at a fig tree on which he finds no fruit. Without hesitation, Jesus curses the fig tree by simply saying to it "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." He then proceeds to enter the city. Whereas Matthew 21 records the fig tree's immediately withering and the disciples immediately asking Jesus about it, Mark records that Peter made an observation about the tree on the next day and Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples about what has happened to the tree.

The context tells us that this was the last week of Jesus life and therefore He would not be with the disciples much longer. Up until this point whatever they needed, Jesus provided and they hadn't had to ask for anything (John 16:24). Jesus teaches the disciples this lesson on prayer because when He leaves them, they will need to talk to the Father in the name of Jesus, rather than Jesus talking to the Father on their behalf as he has done over the last 3 years (John 16:26). Therefore upon seeing the disciples astonishment in the case of the fig tree, Jesus tells the disciples to "Have faith in God." It is upon this statement that Jesus begins to elaborate on the confidence that His disciples can have in facing the most impossible situations. Because God is on their side in Jesus, the disciples can do as Jesus did to the fig tree and even speak to "this mountain" and tell it to be thrown into the sea, if they do not doubt, but believe that what they say will come to pass. Unlike the previous interpretations, this faith and confidence does not stand alone, confident in its own ability to produce results, but rather, this faith works itself out, not through isolated demanding and confession of something, but through prayer - looking to God's ability to do all things, and this kind of faith asks for God's will to be done believing that we have received what we ask for. This text does not teach that our faith has creative and destructive powers, it teaches that God has creative and destructive powers and it is through confident prayer and trusting in Him that we can believe and receive whatever we ask for.

So what about the word "whatever"?
Both Copelands and Hagin believe that what falls under the category of "whatever" is: life circumstances, circumstances in the world, and anything you aren't satisfied with. If you are sick, then you can ask for health; if you are poor, then you can ask for wealth; "if you are not satisfied with what you have in life..." then ask for whatever you want in order to be satisfied. Your words essentially have power over anything and everything. Gloria Copeland goes even further when she says that God will not override what you say.
"God is not going to override your authority either. He has given you authority in the earth. He has given you instructions in His Word to put you over in every situation. He will let you die sick if you choose to do so. You would have to ignore every healing scripture in the Bible and all that Jesus bought for you when he bore your sickness and carried your diseases, but you have the authority to go ahead and die."  - God's Will is Prosperity, 104-105
 There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking God for money or healing or success in some area in life in prayer, but is this what Jesus meant in this passage- That we will get whatever we ask for whenever we ask for it? Clearly, whatever means whatever, but is there any qualification to "whatever"? Can I say to the ATM " No one will ever draw money from you again", when it refuses to give me two $10's instead of a $20? Can I say to my Saturn ,"Tomorrow you will be a Ferrari?" Can I say "I'm going to live until I'm 240 years old" and God be unable to overrule that statement? In a sense, I am joking, but I'm really not joking. I believe in Jesus, I trust that God can give me a Ferrari, and I sincerely believe that the ATM in the lobby will stop working, at least until it gets a feature that allows for smaller bills. What is to stop me from receiving that? I have made a confession about something that I am not satisfied with, and I fully expect for it to be done. In all seriousness, whether these things happen or not, there is a reason requests like these are made all of the time and remain unanswered. New jobs, new houses, sickness, restoration of a relationship, poverty - these are all things that people immediately think of when we think "whatever" in this verse. In addition to these things, there are many more that could be said and there are things "confessed" in a much more sincere and serious way that seem to never come to pass. Why? Is Jesus saying that we can only ask for mountains and fig trees? Is there a limit or restriction to what we can ask for?

In order to answer these questions, scripture must interpret scripture. Our prayers and requests before God as Christians must be within the sphere of God's will. 1 John 5:14-15 states "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Its easy to see where John, Jesus' closest disciple, gets this statement from. He writes it as if the words had just come from Jesus' mouth that morning at the fig tree. The thing that stands out from this verse, which helps to balance Mark 11:22-25 is that the prayer and asking that we are told to do must be according to God's will.

Now you may say, "Well, its God's will that I be healthy all the time and wealthy and be successful and victorious in life." I would ask, where do you find this in the Bible? Where does God ever say that His will is that all who believe in Jesus be physically healthy all the time and materially prosperous and never suffer? Yes, God does bless His people with prosperity at times and yes, He does heal, but nowhere does He guarantee this to anyone in the Bible - it is a gracious gift when He gives it.  While these things are weighty matters to us and of great concern to us, scripture tells us that God's will is much more concerned with weightier matters - the condition of our soul, our sanctification, and our being conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:27-29; Romans 12:2; 1 Thess 4:3). This does not mean that God wants Christians to be poor and sick. Word of Faith often responds with this accusation when it hears that God doesn't guarantee healing and prosperity in the atonement of Christ. This also doesn't mean that God wants all Christians to be wealthy. God may will for some to be wealthy in order to accomplish His will in their sanctification (1 Tim 6:17-20). In the same way, God may will that poverty be used in order to do His sanctifying, Christ-conforming work in the life of a believer.( 2 Cor. 8:1-5). Suffering  in the life of the believer is even used to work for the good of the Christian's sanctification (Romans 5:3-5). The proper application of  Mark 11:22-25 and 1 John 5:14-15 is this : We can have confidence and assurance to pray and ask for whatever we need in order for God to continue His sanctifying, transforming, and Christ-conforming work in our lives - and God will grant it. That can be health, it can be money, it can be good things, it can be the lack of money, or health, or "good things" when we trust in them more than we trust in God. What we cannot do is use passages such as Mark 11:24 and make them  bow to our own selfish desires and what we think God's will for us should be. James, the brother of Jesus, warns us against this in his epistle when he states "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." (James 4:3).

In conclusion, after thoroughly reading what these teachers had to say about confession, faith, and prosperity, I didn't see any statements that pointed to the person and work of Jesus Christ. To the Copelands and Hagin, Jesus' death and the extra benefits that they believe it gives are only a means to an end, that end being their happiness and contentment in this life. Healing is never mentioned for the purpose of exalting Christ's mission of spreading the gospel in the world. Prayer is never mentioned for the purpose of dependence upon God to know His will, and prosperity is only mentioned as a right that Christians are obligated to rather than a conduit to distribute to those who are without on the basis of God's graciously giving to us in Christ. Mark 11:22-25 is often used within the prosperity gospel in order to convince people that God wants us to have whatever we want, and all we have to do is speak it. We can see that what Jesus wants is for His disciples, both then and now,  to confidently and humbly depend on and pray to God, believing that He will give us whatever we ask, namely, all things necessary for His glory and our joy in this life, for the ultimate purpose of being conformed into the image of Jesus.

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