This heresy is everywhere, in every church, on TV, on the internet, and likely sitting on the toilet tank of many American bathrooms. The prosperity gospel is at the center of the charismatic church movement and comes fully loaded with the glitter and gold of what the human heart desires: success, wealth, health, and happiness, positive vibes, and good feelings. It is often the cause behind why churches abandon historic liturgy and seek music and liturgies more emotion-driven even if hardly faithful to the Word of God.
Another name for the prosperity gospel is the “Word of Faith” movement, a movement birthed in early to mid-20th century Pentecostalism. A preacher named E.W. Kenyon was the man who came up with word of faith and it was rooted in “New Thought,” the Unity School of Christianity, and the Mind Science cults (including the Christian Science religion).
A man named Kenneth Hagin took a lot of Kenyon’s work and beliefs (plagiarized them, actually), and from his work and efforts, grew the modern word of faith movement through the Kenneth Hagin Ministries which is also the Rhema Bible College. Prominent names in the word of faith movement include: Oral Roberts, Kenneth W. Hagin (son), Ken/Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Robert Tilton, among many others. Rick Warren also plays fast and loose with some of the word of faith movement’s ideas. At the core of all their teaching and preaching is the theology of E.W. Kenyon, “New Thought,” and the Mind Science religions.
Word of faith is essentially a form of Gnosticism. Mind Thought and related cults assume that “true reality is spiritual” and that “the spirit is the cause of all physical effects,” and “a positive mental attitude and positive confession has the power to create its own reality: health and wealth, or sickness and poverty” (Dan R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: Updated Edition. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011).
This same doctrinal bedrock is the core tenant of the prosperity gospel (a facet of word of faith). It teaches that a person suffers from poverty, sickness, and lack is because he inadvertently created a reality through negative thoughts and words. The solution, for those who preach this, is to create a new reality through positive, faith-filled thoughts and words. A very common practice for prosperity gospel preachers is to tell their followers to “look in a mirror and speak ‘blessings’ over your life by saying things like, ‘I am wealthy, I am healthy, I am prosperous, I am the head and not the tail, I am great, I am like God.'”
A prosperity gospel preacher will NEVER say anything negative about his life. This is how you know him. And the simplest way of avoiding this teaching and the teachers who teach and preach it is to know your Bible! Does the Scripture ever once teach that we can overcome negative and hard circumstances in life by speaking positive, faith-filled words in a mirror to ourselves? No, and in fact the Scripture is very clear that in this life we should expect suffering and hardship because of sin. This is why we begin the Divine Service with the Confession and Absolution. It may be repetitive and “boring”, but it is a sober and true acknowledgment of our sin and the sinful things we have thought, said, and done before God and to our neighbor. Because of sin, we deserve God’s punishment, but because of His grace and mercy, we are forgiven our sins in Christ. THIS is the Christian reality that God has made for us by Baptism, and not the illusions of the prosperity gospel which say, “I am not poor, I am not miserable, I am not a sinner” (Joyce Meyer)!
If you have books or resources by word of faith or “prosperity gospel” theologians, it is for your best interest that you get rid of them. They will not help you or make you stronger in faith, because behind all of them is a great 20th century lie conceived by the father of lies.
God Himself meets our needs, tends to our suffering and sickness, and sooths us with the heavenly salve of salvation, never promising wealth, health, or success in this fallen world, but always drawing us to hope and take comfort in the life to come, in the Means of Grace, and in the sure fact that He is with us and has suffered with us.
There is more to say about this heresy, and this only scratches the surface. You can read the full article in the August 2023 edition of Lutheran Witness. You can subscribe online or order the printed subscription. If you already get Lutheran Witness, you’ll find this article on page 12.