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CNN: Believer Bitter Over Prosperity Teachings

Posted by Job on July 5, 2008

See this story which Slice of Laodicea directed me to. 

The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor’s living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches. And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Florida, area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.

Only the blessings didn’t come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn’t strong enough.

“I wanted to believe God wanted to do something great with me like he was doing with them,” she said. “I’m angry and bitter about it. Right now, I don’t watch anyone on TV hardly.”

All three of the groups Fleenor supported are among six major Christian television ministries under scrutiny by a senator who is asking questions about the evangelists’ lavish spending and possible abuses of their tax-exempt status.

The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the “Gospel of Prosperity,” or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

All six ministries under investigation preach the prosperity gospel to varying degrees.

Proponents call it a biblically sound message of hope. Others say it is a distortion that makes evangelists rich and preys on the vulnerable. They say it has evolved from “it’s all right to make money” to it’s all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet. “More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis,” said Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. “It’s a growing problem.”

The modern-day prosperity movement can largely be traced back to evangelist Oral Roberts’ teachings. Roberts’ disciples have spread his theology and vocabulary (Roberts and other evangelists, such as Meyer, call their donors “partners.”) And several popular prosperity preachers, including some now under investigation, have served on the Oral Roberts University board.

Grassley is asking the ministries for financial records on salaries, spending practices, private jets and other perks. The investigation, coupled with a financial scandal at ORU that forced out Roberts’ son and heir, Richard, has some wondering whether the prosperity gospel is facing a day of reckoning.

While few expect the movement to disappear, the scrutiny could force greater financial transparency and oversight in a movement known for secrecy.

Most scholars trace the origins of prosperity theology to E.W. Kenyon, an evangelical pastor from the first half of the 20th century.

But it wasn’t until the postwar era — and a pair of evangelists from Tulsa, Oklahoma — that “health and wealth” theology became a fixture in Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin — and later, Kenneth Copeland — trained tens of thousands of evangelists with a message that resonated with an emerging middle class, said David Edwin Harrell Jr., a Roberts biographer. Copeland is among those now being investigated.

“What Oral did was develop a theology that made it OK to prosper,” Harrell said. “He let Pentecostals be faithful to the old-time truths their grandparents embraced and be part of the modern world, where they could have good jobs and make money.”

The teachings took on various names — “Name It and Claim It,” “Word of Faith,” the prosperity gospel.

Prosperity preachers say that it isn’t all about money — that God’s blessings extend to health, relationships and being well-off enough to help others.

They have Bible verses at the ready to make their case. One oft-cited verse, in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, reads: “Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Critics acknowledge the idea that God wants to bless his followers has a Biblical basis, but say prosperity preachers take verses out of context. The prosperity crowd also fails to acknowledge Biblical accounts that show God doesn’t always reward faithful believers, Palmer said.

The Book of Job is a case study in piety unrewarded, and a chapter in the Book of Hebrews includes a litany of believers who were tortured and martyred, Palmer said.

Yet the prosperity gospel continues to draw crowds, particularly lower- and middle-income people who, critics say, have the greatest motivation and the most to lose. The prosperity message is spreading to black churches, attracting elderly people with disposable incomes, and reaching huge churches in Africa and other developing parts of the world.

One of the teaching’s attractions is that it doesn’t dwell on traditional Christian themes of heaven and hell but on answering pressing concerns of the here and now, said Brian McLaren, a liberal evangelical author and pastor.

But the prosperity gospel, McLaren said, not only preys on the hope of the vulnerable, it puts too much emphasis on individual success and happiness.

“We’ve pretty much ignored what the Bible says about systemic injustice,” he said.

The checks and balances central to Christian denominations are largely lacking in prosperity churches. One of the pastors in the Grassley probe, Bishop Eddie Long of suburban Atlanta, has written that God told him to get rid of the “ungodly governmental structure” of a deacon board.

Some ministers hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works. Atlanta-area pastor Creflo Dollar, who is fighting Grassley’s inquiry, owns a Rolls Royce and multimillion-dollar homes and travels in a church-owned Learjet.

In a letter to Grassley, Dollar’s attorney calls the prosperity gospel a “deeply held religious belief” grounded in Scripture and therefore a protected religious freedom. Grassley has said his probe is not about theology.

But even some prosperity gospel critics — like the Rev. Adam Hamilton of 15,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in suburban Kansas City, Missouri — say that the investigation is entering a minefield.

“How do you determine how much money a minister like this is able to make when the basic theology is that wealth is OK?” said Hamilton, an Oral Roberts graduate who later left the charismatic movement. “That gets into theological questions.”

There is evidence of change. Joyce Meyer Ministries, for one, enacted financial reforms in recent years, including making audited financial statements public.

Meyer, who has promised to cooperate fully with Grassley, issued a statement emphasizing that a prosperity gospel “that solely equates blessing with financial gain is out of balance and could damage a person’s walk with God.”

14 Responses to “CNN: Believer Bitter Over Prosperity Teachings”

  1. Melanie said

    I was just like Cindy. I used to watch TV Ministries and “plan” to send money to them. As soon as I turned the TV off; I came to my senses. It was money I did not have. I didn’t believe God wanted me to be in debt. I’m sorry that Cindy didn’t realize that. We’re supposed to give out of our overflow not out of our necessity. That’s a fact. Eventually, I was able to give a little to a few ministries. I always got Blessed and over time, my finances drastically improved.

    You would really help your audience if you told them they’d be wise to develop a personal relationship with God and find out what “He” wants them to do with their money. If they are unsure, they should wait for confirmation. People who have problems like Cindy’d…”probably” have financial woes on a constant basis because they aren’t good stewards over their finances. I used to be that way. It was hard to change but I prayed about it.

    The television ministries that you mentioned do a lot of good; but people who are “bent” on putting them down either never knew it for lack of research capabilities or know it and won’t tell it. I’m wondering which category you fall into?

    Also, how is that you feel that God gets glory from your putting down other Christians? I’m just curious.

  2. Job said

    Melanie:

    “Also, how is that you feel that God gets glory from your putting down other Christians? I’m just curious.”

    Two things.

    1. Apostates, heretics, and blasphemers are not Christians. The Bible makes that clear. Please read the epistles of Peter, Timothy, John, and Jude.

    2. Even among Christians, issuing warnings and rebukes to Christians when they are wrong is not only appropriate, but it is REQUIRED. If you see your brother sinning and refuse to try to help him, you cannot claim to love him or God. If you loved him, you would try to stop him from causing himself grievous spiritual harm by sinning. If you loved God, you would want your brother to stop offending God – for God hates sin! – with his wayward actions. Further, read Galatians. If Paul was able to correct Peter, we should correct each other. And before you state that Paul received his authority to correct by being an apostle, please recall that Peter was an apostle as well. So yes, God is glorified by my A) standing up for His truth and B) helping get a wayward Christian back o the right path.

    Incidentally, if it is wrong to “put other Christians down”, exactly what is it that you feel pastors are supposed to do? Preaching is only part of a pastor’s job. (As a matter of fact, not all preachers are pastors, and all pastors need not necessarily preach.) When you look at the original context and especially the original language, the pastor is the SHEPHERD of a local congregation, and the members of the congregation are HIS SHEEP. As you know, sheep get into all sorts of trouble, and frequently need the shepherd to get them out of it. Sheep often get lost, and need the shepherd to go find them and bring them back into the fold. Sister Melanie, if “putting other Christians down” does not glorify God, then how is a pastor supposed to keep his sheep in line? What is he supposed to do if his members start cheating, gossiping, lying, idling, boasting, or committing adultery if condemning their sinful behavior does not honor God?

    That people even have this attitude that we are not supposed to criticize Christians when they do wrong and are wrong shows how far the current church has gotten not only from the early church, but even from the Christianity of a mere 40 years ago! Unless God sends another “Great Awakening” type of revival, it really makes me wonder what the mindset of Christians is going to be 40 years from now.

  3. Melanie said

    I never could understand what made people criticize other Christians. Now, I know that you really feel justified in doing so.

    If you chastise your brother…it’s supposed to be between you and your brother. Paul and Peter never put out a special report to tell the world when Brother so and so messed up.

    I’m not trying to be funny or offensive. It’s just that it lets me know that my prayers have to be more fervent. For you, I’m praying that God will gift you with a heart open to compassion for your fellow brethern and not just when it suits you. That’s not love.

    We all fall short, my prayer is that whatever we need to focus on…that each of us will. I’m not supposed to be even writing to you. I just do it as a courtesy. I repent of God because I want God to get Glory from my writings that they may not be in vain. I pray for you that God will take you to higher levels and that you will walk worthy of the vocation to which you have been called. In Jesus Name and by his blood. Blessings

  4. Melanie said

    P.S. The Christian mindset will be just fine in 40 years. Jesus will be back way before then. Get ready.

  5. I don’t when Jesus Christ will come back. Certainly, we are in the latter days before of the propetic events occuring. As for criticizing other Christians, there is nothing wrong with expressing sincere dissent with a Christian about an issue. Some dissent or correction is needed from time to time among any Christians. It gets to be inappropriate when slander or intention lies become wrapped around in the equation.

    By Timothy

  6. John Kaniecki said

    Melanie,

    Hi hope you are well. What do you think the epistles of Paul, Peter and John are about. A great deal of teaching is dealing with apostate brethren. 3John Verse 9 even names one, Diotrephes. If somebody is preaching a false gospel we have every right to teach the true gospel!

    Love,

    John

  7. Melanie said

    Forgive me, I’m not “legalistic.” Alls I know is that we’re all the body and if something is wrong with one part of the body it effects us all. There’s a very fine line of criticism for “the body”. Unfortunately, saints are often influenced by non believers in their criticisms in the body. I take the high road; if others choose another course that;s between them and God. We agree to disagree. All the best. I won’t continue on…it produces no fruit.

  8. John Kaniecki said

    Melanie,

    Hi hope you are well.

    There is a difference between a legalist and speaking the Truth in Love.

    When somebody comes we should not accept them. Read Galatians 1:8.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about prosperity. In fact a large part about it includes suffering. “Yea and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” 2Timothy 3:12. Are they teaching you that on the cable tv shows?

    Love,

    John

  9. Melanie said

    Hi John! I don’t watch cable television. I’m a Prayer Warrior and most days I fast from television. I spend most of my time praying (a lot), reading and studying the word, working on my blogs; (I have many), helping hubby with his businesses and getting my certification. So, I don’t have the luxury of watching the shows you may be referring to. My compassion comes from my heart. God instilled. I haven’t been called to criticize my brethern. Sorry.

  10. Melanie,

    Is someone who tells you that you can buy a gift of God or they can sell such your brother?

    I say as Peter said, they are not a brother, but one in need of repentance. If they hold to their perverted doctrines, may their silver perish with them.

    Acts 8:18-23 (New American Standard Bible)

    18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,

    19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

    20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!

    21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.

    22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.

    23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

    I say as Paul said, that those who claim godliness as a means of gain are of a depraved mind and deprived of the truth.

    1 Timothy 6:3-5 (New American Standard Bible)

    3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,

    4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,

    5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.

    Melanie, I believe that every word of scripture is the Word of God, that it is exactly what God Himself says on these matters.

    I look forward to your response to my question.

  11. Melanie said

    Let’s see: Truth Seeker, Job, John and “Independent Conservative.” Is it all the same person? Hmm? Sounds like a tagged team conspiracy. Pretty transparent. I get it; won’t be back.

  12. ha haha !!!!! Actually, I’m not Job or John. These are seperate people and we have our own minds. I don’t just believe in no criticism of evil. I believe in legitimate dissent and strong criticism against false doctrine.

    By Timothy

  13. Helen said

    I find your discussion rather interesting. The fact is I know you are both believers, Born again, a part of the same body. You both see things differently and I am thankfull that God is a personal God and His love is great enough for the both of you. I realize that none of us are going to understand everything thia side of heaven and God will complete His work in us as believers until He comes but the one thing I know is the world will know that we are of God by our love. That is to be the defining characteristic of the church. Not the love that the world gives but a setapart kind of love that goes beyond our own understanding of scripture and me thinking I’m right and I know what God has shown me. I know different believers that are on either side and they both love God and are seeking to honor Him. Lets leave it to God to bring us all into Christlikness and love each other while we are in that process. God Bless

  14. Larry said

    Well if you read in the scriptures there was a woman who didn’t have any money at all and Jesus said to her she gave more than all the rich people were giving because she gave out of faith. If you only give off of your over flow you’re not giving by faith because the Bible say “Without FAITH it is impossible to please God.” So give out of your over flow shows you don’t trust God. Right now is the most important time to start giving. Don’t you find it strange that after they investigated these pastors that the economy fell tremendously? I sow off of what I don’t have and because of that men are now giving into my bossom more. God didn’t give off his overflow he gave his “Only” begotten Son Jesus. See we think that God doesn’t want us to give but truth be told if you want more than just finance but favor along with your financial seed you must give. He gives seeds to the sower wich means your finance he doesn’t want you to just live off of your job he wants your harvest to be greater. Even if it’s just 1 business he wants you to have great wealth. “Beloved I wish above ALL things that thou may PROSPER and be in good health even as thy soul prosperith.” 3 John 1:2

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