The Prosperity Gospel, or the Health and Wealth Gospel, as defined by Wikipedia as "a Christian religious doctrine, which claims the Bible teaches that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. The doctrine teaches that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always cause an increase in material wealth". It's a teaching system that is growing in popularity, and is also attracting a body of critics. In my opinion, those critics have a strong point.
One preacher in particular - Joel Osteen - has a huge following, and teaches that health and wealth follow faith in Jesus. Here's a transcription of part of one of his sermons:
Suspiciously, when I first heard this extract, it was part of a sermon given by Pastor Mark Driscoll titled 'The State of the Pulpit', and I was able to find a link to the sermon itself on YouTube, yet now I can't. Joel's speech begins at about 1 minute 44 into this video:"we have arrived to live in total victory. I want you to get that down on the inside, not partial victory, to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. Thats not total victory. If God did it for you in one area, he can do it for you in another area. Get a vision for it, don't get stagnant. I know people that have plenty of money, they have good health, but they can't get along in relationships, there's always strife in their home. Thats not total victory. Maybe God's blessed you, you have a good family, a good job, but you have pain in your body for years and years, you used to stand against it, you used to believe you could be free, but it's been so long, you've just decided, this is my lot in life. Joel I guess this is my cross to carry. See, too often we accept things - defeat, mediocraty, addictions. People tell me Joel, that's just who I am. But with all due respect that's not who you are. You are a child of the Most High God. He has paid the price that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions. Free from fear and worry. Free from discouragement and depression. Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self esteem. God wants us to be totally free. The scripture tells us to take hold of all Christ died and rose again for..."
To examine this in detail, look at this statement:
"we have arrived to live in total victory. I want you to get that down on the inside, not partial victory, to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. Thats not total victory. If God did it for you in one area, he can do it for you in another area.""If God did it for you in one area, he can do it for you in another area". This is true. He's God. He can do whatever He wishes. However, just because He can do something doesn't mean he will do something. This may sound like a small semantic difference, but it's not. Osteen gives the impression that because we don't live in what he calls 'Total Freedom' we are not living in Christ. His description of the total freedom that living in Christ offers differs so much from how Jesus lived his life. Jesus had no home, no capital, had (earthly) family issues, and suffered for who He was, as did his disciples suffer for their faith in Him.
That is not to say we shouldn't pray and ask God to help us with our worries. Not at all. We should pray for his help, and God hears all prayers. 1 Peter 5:7 says casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you". However, God is under absolutely no obligation to us to answer those prayers in the affirmative. He owes us nothing! The model prayer given to us by Jesus in Matthew 16:9-15 states that "... Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done". So when we pray, God will answer that prayer according to His will, not ours.
The Chinese Christian Pastor Brother Yun suffered greatly for his faith. In his book "The Heavenly Man", Brother Yun says:
"I have a problem with the “prosperity” teaching prevalent today, which tells us if we follow the Lord we’ll be safe and comfortable. This is completely contrary to Scripture as well as to our experiences in China."This man and his family, as do many other believers throughout the world, suffered greatly for Jesus. They often face financial hardship, are disowned and rejected by their family and communities, and have suffered physical and mental torture that most of us, by the grace of God, will never be called to suffer. Now in accordance with Osteen's teachings, they must be doing something wrong!
The Bible states that "You will be hated by all nations for my names sake." (Matt. 24:9). John 15:19 states that "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you". This passage certainly indicates that as Christians, people will hate us. This certainly is not the perfect relationships that Osteen promises us.
When Jesus called his disciples, He called them to give up all they had to follow Him. Matthew 4:18 - 20 describes how Jesus saw Peter and Andrew, the two fishermen brothers, and called them. "They immediately left their nets and followed Him" (Matt. 4:20). These two men made their living from fishing, and as such, their nets were there livelihood. In following Jesus, they actually gave up their means of financial support.
The passage continues with James and John being called by Jesus. Just like Peter and Andrew, these two brothers were also fishermen, and verse 22 describes how they left not only their nets, but also their boat and their father.
If we examine an Old Testament character - the father of Israel - Jacob, in Genesis 32, he encounters a manifestation of God. The result of which is a permanent injury to his hip. Surely this would have caused him bodily pain? Yet he was used by God to create the Jewish people. So living in God didn't guarantee him a pain-free existence.
Many Christians I have spoken to, and I myself, have been ridiculed or rejected by family and / or friends for following Christ. Does this mean that I'm not a true Christian, or I'm not 'living in total freedom'? Not in the slightest!
So we have examples of Christians, and Christ Himself not being rich, not being fully healthy, and not having only good, happy relationships with others. This is contrary to Osteen's teachings.
My problem with this is that many Christians who follow Joel Osteen may come to the conclusion that as they still suffer illness, or are still financially struggling, or have strained relationships with others, they are not doing something right, or Christianity is lacking for them. Instead of encouraging believers, they come away discouraged.
This section of Osteen's sermon:
"He has paid the price that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions. Free from fear and worry. Free from discouragement and depression. Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self esteem. God wants us to be totally free. The scripture tells us to take hold of all Christ died and rose again for..."tells us that God wants us to be free from all afflictions. Yes, Jesus did pay a price for our freedom. But He paid that price for our freedom from sin, not from poverty, lack, illness etc. Jesus never made such a promise, ever. He promised us we could overcome (spiritual) death, the wages of sin, through our faith in Him.