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Pentecostals: United by Prosperity?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 8, 2006

I just read this article on global Pentecostalism at ChristianityToday.com. The article states that most Pentecostals do not speak in tongues (which is the traditional unifier), instead Pentecostals are united in their belief in miracles and in material prosperity. Here’s a snippet:

As common as belief in miraculous gifts, however, is faith in the prosperity gospel. Renewalists overwhelmingly agree that “God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” In Nigeria, 95 percent of Pentecostals agree with that statement, and 97 percent agree that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith.” In the Philippines, 99 percent of Pentecostals agreed with the latter statement.

I consider myself a charismatic. I believe in healing and miracles. They don’t happen as much as I’d like, but I believe they happen. I even pray in tongues. My father and step-mother are prosperity Pentecostals. I am by no means a nasty outsider. But the quote above makes me angry and sad. I can think of few things in the global Christian movement that seem more detrimental to the Kingdom teachings of Jesus Christ than the Prosperity Gospel.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He and his wife Amy have been married since 1997. They are expecting their first child in April.


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Comments

20 Responses to “Pentecostals: United by Prosperity?”

  1. fargo john on December 8th, 2006 4:51 pm

    name it and claim it, brother. that’s what i live by.

  2. Surly Dave on December 9th, 2006 12:13 am

    Grab it and Stab it: That’s what I live by. Actually, I don’t mind the healing part of it. The material prosperity part drives me up the wall.

    I wish (pray) I had the faith and unction to pull the cripple from the wheel chair, see new a new limb grow where one had been lost, and heal lepers. But what a curse to tell someone that the reason they are in the wheel chair is because they didn’t have enough faith.

    I have a friend who is paralyzed from the waist down, and he had to quite going to revival meetings because people where always yanking him out of his chair. Then they’d say something like, “you don’t have enough faith”, to which he’d reply, “You were the one praying: Your the one with out faith!”

    But these poor people in the Phillipines: The only ones prospering are the unethical preachers who are laying down some heavy burdens.

  3. dlw on December 9th, 2006 12:29 am

    Well, I believe in the placebo effect and that it is preferable over taking often harmful meds.

    I could use some prayer right now as I have been sick for some time…

    dlw

  4. dlw on December 10th, 2006 8:10 pm

    As for wealth, I think can find biblical support for the notion that wealth is a good thing. The problem is when we mix individualism and wealth into a false gospel whose bottom line is that greed is good.

    But I think we are called to submit to private business authorities as much as we are called to submit to public governmental authorities, though I think part of the politics of Jesus shd be to affect greater decentralization in all spheres of life.

    dlw

  5. Luke on December 11th, 2006 2:32 am

    dlw:

    As for wealth, if it is easier for a camel to pass through they eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, wealth sounds pretty dangerous to me!

  6. Steve Hayes on December 11th, 2006 8:03 am

    The prosperity gospel was not part of the original Pentecostal message, and only began to gain ground ab out 20-25 years ago, when many Pentecostals opposed it. Is it not perhaps a form of syncretism, accepting the values of the world in the Reagan-Thatcher years?

  7. dlw on December 11th, 2006 11:29 am

    Luke, a rich man is one who hoards up their personal wealth at the expense of many.

    Is it wealth or selfishness that serves as the barrier to the kingship of God?

    dlw

  8. Luke on December 11th, 2006 10:23 pm

    dlw,

    God is clearly concerned with matters of the heart, and our actions are the clearest evidence of the condition of our heart. That is why we are saved by faith, but faith without works is dead (or perhaps, “fake faith”).

    Wealth may be a barrier to discipleship to Jesus because of its great capacity to corrupt. Few of us are enough like Jesus to be totally uncorrupted by it, and that is why I say it is dangerous. I would like to think that I love Jesus so much more than money that my obedience to God would not waiver due to a sudden influx of wealth. Many others would like to think the same of themselves. But we are probably all naive. So, I trust Jesus when he warns us of wealth’s consequences to our involvement in Kingdom work.

  9. dlw on December 12th, 2006 1:48 am

    Luke, Amen about faith without works being dead.

    Is it wealth that corrupts or inequalities in private ownership of wealth? The saying you allude to is about power, not wealth.

    I think part of our problem is semantics.

    I treat wealth as not personal per se as in about us personally being wealthy, but rather simply a matter of our stewardship over God’s resources. I hold to the OT view that wealth is a natural result of a life lived faithful to the God who created our world and us. So the goal is to set up rules that govern our political-economic conflicts fairly so that more people have more opportunities to acquire wealth/autonomy that they steward hopefully “wisely”.

  10. Van S on December 12th, 2006 4:09 am

    dlw,

    Wealth in itself can corrupt. The temptations associated with wealth don’t stem solely from the power differential that often comes along with wealth. Wealth is dangerous because it is almost impossible for the wealthy to resist the temptation to trust in their own resources other than God. Of course, the major injustices tied to wealth have much more to do with power: those with means securing their means at the expense of the poor, or at least living in comfort while the poor suffer. But the perils of wealth don’t end there.

  11. Luke on December 12th, 2006 12:01 pm

    BTW, Mark, I like the way you’ve split your blogroll into more manageable/meaningful chunks.

  12. Van S on December 12th, 2006 1:36 pm

    Thanks Luke. I also deleted some of the links from sites I don’t visit much, as well as sites that don’t update frequently. I’m hoping to add to my “anabaptists and anarchists” section in the near future. :)

  13. dlw on December 12th, 2006 1:48 pm

    Wealth in itself can corrupt. The temptations associated with wealth don?t stem solely from the power differential that often comes along with wealth. Wealth is dangerous because it is almost impossible for the wealthy to resist the temptation to trust in their own resources other than God.

    dlw: I think viewing wealth as corrupting, apart from differentials in ownership of wealth, sounds a bit gnostic-oriented.

    Once again, why would trusting God not lead to the accumulation of resources that can be used to bless one’s household and others? These things are not bad, they are fundamentally good. (Just as the Honey Roasted peanuts I am snacking on right now are good!)

    Of course, if we don’t trust God then things will go to pot, but it is not wealth as I am using the term that leads for us not to trust God.

    Van:Of course, the major injustices tied to wealth have much more to do with power: those with means securing their means at the expense of the poor, or at least living in comfort while the poor suffer. But the perils of wealth don?t end there.

    dlw: The perils of existence are not reducible to our material existences and well-beings. However, this does not make wealth corrupting. Show me the chapter and verse before I go back on Gen 1:31.

    dlw

  14. Van S on December 12th, 2006 5:05 pm

    I’m not sure quoting verses will help here. Obviously, I’d quote Jesus talking about wealth. Anytime you read passages about storing up treasures on earth, etc., you seem to see it purely through the lens of justice. If I adopt your hermeneutic, I’m still not sure it allows for the accumulation of personal wealth…after all, we are instructed by John to share whatever extra we have with those who lack. If we followed his advice, it would still amount to a radical divestment of personal wealth. This is something I am not personally doing, because of personal weakness. I affirm, however, that all are called to live a life of simplicity. Wealth is only perilous if we hoard it, tis true. But having a really nice car is hoarding every bit as much as owning three coats in the presence of the one who has none.

    One thought about being close to gnosticism. Sure. My views are definitely “more” gnostic than yours in this regard, but that isn’t the same thing as embracing gnosticism.

  15. dlw on December 12th, 2006 7:39 pm

    I think it is a metanarratival question. My point is that in the beginning all God created was good. What is wealth besides the right enjoyment of that which God created or that is formed from that which God ultimately created? We may have fallen, but that doesn’t make that which God created as not good or corrupting.

    In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which I prefer, the word wealth or wealthy shows up 114 times. 101 of these are in the OT. 4 are in the Gospels and the rest are in the rest of the NT.
    http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/index.php?search=wealth&version1=77&searchtype=all&bookset=4&limit=none&startnumber=26&startnumber=51&startnumber=76&startnumber=101&startnumber=1

    We first see wealth with the rising fortunes of Israel and the declining fortunes of Laban. It is the source of conflict between them, but it is also made clear that the fortunes reflect a sovereign act of blessing and curse by God according to the relative righteousness of Israel and Laban.

    We then see the import of personal wealth relativized as each Israelite was freed from slavery by God for the same price in EXodus 30.

    We then find in Deuteronomy that it is the LORD your God who gives you [all] the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant. So gaining wealth collectively is not evil, but rather something that is ultimately enabled by God as part of God’s plans for redemption of humankind.

    We find much later in Habakkuk 2:9, “Woe to him who unjustly gains wealth for his house to place his next on high, to escape from the reach of disaster.” Here the emphasis is on how one gains wealth and the view of wealth as a hedge against suffering. Clearly, the passage implies that it cannot be wrong to justly gain wealth?

    Of the four passages in the gospels, they really are only two passages. The first are Matt 13:22 and Mark 4:9 that refers to the parable of the sowers and those who are sown among the thorns. If this parable is about the history of Israel, it seems likely that he is talking about those Jews in exile who became very wealthy and fell away from the faith due to the seductions of [great] wealth. The second set of (Luke 18:23-25 and Mark 10:23) follow the passage about the young rich man whose love of his many possessions keep him from following Jesus. The problem is concentration of wealth, not wealth.

    So how are we to have extras to share with others if we view wealth as not good? 1 John 3:16-7 does not imply that there is no need to manage one’s generosity. One can smooth one’s compassion strategically over time. One does not shut off compassion for others by this. I’m not going to empty my bank account so I can give a lump sum transfer to World Vision, as I need the funds to subsist and to pursue a position for this next year whereby I can acquire the means to give more and use my gifts.

    I agree that it is a misuse of wealth to have a really nice car, since this mainly serves to draw attention and aggrandizement to a person. But that’s not wealth! That’s selfishness, which does not follow necessarily from wealth.

    Heresy is heresy. One does not need to be a full-fledged “Gnostic” to hold to certain views of theirs that are not consistent with the biblical worldview of Jesus. It’s not about your salvation, but rather about your missional witness.

    That’s why for me, I have no problem affirming the value of the development of wealth, particularly for the two thirds world, and opposing the “Gospel of Wealthers” mainly on the basis of their hyper-individualism.

    dlw

  16. The Anti-Manichaeist » Blog Archive » Obama on Bobby on December 12th, 2006 10:24 pm

    […] ps, I’m debating Mark Van Steenwyck and others at MissionThink about whether wealth is good or inherently corrupting, apart from the distribution of wealth. […]

  17. Van S on December 13th, 2006 12:47 am

    Perhaps this is semantics. I understand “wealth” as “accumulation of goods.” In a world of scarcity, accumulating goods for personal enjoyment always runs the risk of being unjust. Furthermore, wealth moves beyond enjoying the good life to opulence. I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money and having good things. I have a problem with people making a lot of money and having good things and enjoying almost exclusively themselves. In a world crowded with people who lack the basics, I don’t see how it is good for us all to enjoy God’s creation when we should share.

    I recommend you read “Wealth as Peril and Obligation” by Sondra Wheeler–she does a much better job than I do at getting at some of this stuff.

    Wealth is never in-and-of itself bad or even dangerous. Wealth is a construct. In Jesus’ time it was very difficult for someone to come by wealth without being complicit in injustice. And in light of the vast difference between the wealthy and the poor it was, I believe, sinful for the wealthy to enjoy their wealth while the poor suffered among them.

    Plus wealth in itself always runs the risk of creating a false sense of self-sufficiency, especially in an individualistic society. By no means is “stuff” to blame. I’m just not convinced that those with lots and lots of stuff aren’t guilty of loving their stuff, otherwise they’d share.

    I agree with you read of the Old Testament, for the most part, but we live in a much more interconnected world than we did then. Wealth is much riskier, since we live in a world of rampant commodification–where we don’t know where our goods came from or how they were produced. We consume things as though they came out of heaven, not realizing that much of our prosperity was produced by the exploited.

  18. dlw on December 13th, 2006 1:40 pm

    I think in the Bible itself there is evidence that a semantic change occurred in the meaning of the word wealth. I wonder if this an error in translation or not?

    So we are agreed that it is individualism/ selfishness in the face of severe wealth inequalities due to unjust systems that are the key problem?

    It could be a chicken and egg problem. What comes first, having too much stuff or being too individualistic? I think it could go both ways. Somehow I think Economics(particularly of the Milton Friedman libertarian variety) has helped to confirm the rampant hyper-individualism of our time.

    I agree that our heavily interconnected world makes it harder to discern right conduct. I tend to support the FAIRTRADE foundation, which I learned about while in Sweden. I also learned about Ruth Valerio’s book L is for Lifestyle that gets at ways we can simplify our lifestyle as Christians and become more aware of global poverty and interconnectedness.

    When I was in Ukraine and our pastor-friend told me about how the people in his congregation asked about why so few were getting wealthy while so many were poor. I pointed him to the passage of Lazarus and the rich man and said that is what we can point to. I honestly think that it is necessary to shame wealthy people. I think that is more effective than simply capturing the state and forcing them to redistribute their wealth, though I think if we change enough hearts, it should be possible to pass limited redistributive measures.

    But I think we need to be empathic with the people in the two-thirds world who want the convenience and security of having some wealth, as I and my family currently enjoy. I believe that my family is able to enjoy some wealth as well as use it for ministry, not because the US is special or a Christian nation but rather because of the past impact of Christianity on the US. So I don’t begrudge them for wanting some wealth as well and instead focus my critique on the hyper-individualism that the US is exporting to the rest of the world.

    dlw

  19. Van S on December 13th, 2006 2:17 pm

    I agree for the most part. I am sympathetic to those who have wealth–since I am comparatively wealthy. My critique is definitely focused on those who have enjoyed wealth for a while and don’t share, rather than on, for example, recent immigrants to come into resources suddenly and don’t yet know how to find a center.

  20. dlw on December 13th, 2006 6:08 pm

    I’ve no doubt that those who come into resources need to be exhorted by their local communities to exercise wise stewardship of them.

    I like John M Perkin’s approach to the question of wealth/ownership as just one part of his wider system of Christian Community Development.

    He’s not trying to make people bigger consumers, but rather get them to contribute to the ownership of their community. He wants to both affirm their dignity(apart from how much stuff they have but also in their ability to steward resources well) and build the asset base of their community.

    dlw

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