I recently wrote an article about my experience with the prosperity gospel. While writing that article, several thoughts came to my mind. Is it okay to condemn a movement simply because it didn’t work for me? Would I embrace an idea because I have seen it work for others? Are results the only litmus test for truth? In this follow up post, I’ll try to answer some of those questions.
I must confess upfront that there were days when the prosperity gospel “worked” for me. I remember sowing seeds that seemed to have brought bountiful harvests. I had testimonies of supernatural open doors after I obeyed certain principles. I experienced certain unexplainable breakthroughs, the kind that leaves one at a loss for words.
I believed every material blessing I saw in my life was a product of spiritual laws at work. Nothing happened by chance. I had to sow before I could reap, and I had to prepare for my harvest. Can a farmer expect a harvest when he hasn’t sowed any seeds? Or expect much harvest while sowing on unprepared soil?
I had to get out of the grip of this false gospel to better understand God’s Providence. It was years before I realized that God’s blessings could be made complex—with the introduction of man-made laws and craftily devised principles—just to support false theology.
The obsession with financial and material blessings—what many simply call results, products of applying the right principles—has been the Achilles’ heel of many Christian circles in Nigeria. The poor want to be rich, and the rich want to get richer. People flock around those who claim to know the secrets to ending their struggles or taking them to the next level. Sadly, what works has replaced what is true.
But it is not enough that something works. The Christian is directed by something more than results. He is led by God’s word. Not “fulfilled” prophecy. Not testimonies. Not visions and dreams. But by God’s word, which is able to make him “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
I think Moses’ warning to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 13 mirrors this truth. Moses warned God’s people about certain prophets or dreamers: “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass. . .” (Deut. 13:1-2). This prophet or dreamer would perform signs and wonders that would come to pass. Occasionally. And these signs would be capable of dazzling onlookers.
Moses went on to say “. . . and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. . . that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God” (Deut. 13:2-3,5). If this prophet performs signs in your midst, but directs you to worship something or someone other than Yahweh, then you shall not listen to him.
In the past, I believed that the true test of one who claimed to be a minister of the gospel was the results he would command. Can he speak a word into my life and it’ll come to pass? Can he speak and make things happen? Results were important to me. And I saw a true prophet as one who had results in his ministry. But God was teaching Israel that even a false prophet could occasionally hit the mark.
God had revealed Himself to His people through Moses. They weren’t strangers to His laws. They were not ignorant of His commands. They knew who He was. They were knowledgeable folks. And this knowledge was meant to guide them when false prophets would attempt to woo them into idolatry through false signs and wonders. Because what works—results that could be mind-blowing and amazing—may not be from God.
I don’t abhor the prosperity gospel simply because it did not work for me. I do so because it woos people into serving a different god, one invented by their own carnal desires. It takes the Scriptures and makes it fit the imaginations of misguided men. The prosperity gospel is simply a false gospel. And a false gospel is no gospel at all.