Writing for The Gospel Coalition today, Nicholas McDonald has an insightful post comparing the “prosperity gospel” with a pyramid scheme.
McDonald was previously involved in the prosperity gospel movement, (i.e. the counterfeit version of Christianity falsely teaching that Christ guarantees health, wealth, and prosperity to those who have enough faith and give enough money to a prosperity gospel ministry). After being enlightened by the truth of Scripture that such a gospel is false, he now shares 3 reasons why it’s really the worst pyramid scheme ever:
1. It’s based on the deceptive success of the guy at the top. – “They see the success of the guy at the top [the “pastor”], and think: It’s working for him, isn’t it? Yes, it is. And that’s because someone paid for that pastor’s house. Me. I paid, when I bought the book. So do millions of others, when they bring truckloads of seed-money to his doorstep each weekend.”
2. It’s a lie told to desperate people. – Missiologist Paul Borthwick tells of a trip to Ghana, where he witnessed a 300-pound preacher appeal to his body as proof that God had blessed him, and would bless his listener’s seed-money as well. “When you live in poverty” the missionary with Borthwick said, “you don't want to feel loved. You want God's power to make you prosper.”
3. It feeds our idolatry – “We don’t fall for pyramid schemes because we’re stupid. We fall for them because we want to fall for them. We want the money, health, and esteem they offer—and we want it quick.”
It is estimated that approximately half a billion people worldwide are caught up in some form of prosperity gospel teaching. About this, John MacArthur writes,
“The gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity.” (Strange Fire, p. xvii, Thomas Nelson, 2013).
*(For more on this, see our video interview with Dr. MacArthur here.)
But doesn’t Scripture teach Christians to pray for prosperity? “Yes,” writes Paul Tripp, speaking of David’s prayer in Psalm 51. Tripp then explains,
“[But] why does David pray for prosperity? For one reason: the glory and delight of the Lord. When God prospers people who are no longer living for their own little kingdoms, but are living for his, the result is the furtherance of his kingdom purposes on earth, which results in his glory. What David is requesting is completely different from the modern "health and wealth gospel" prayers for prosperity. Those prayers for prosperity have one fatal flaw in them. They are prayers for prosperity for the purpose of the delight of the person praying the prayer. Not so with David.”
Your turn: What is your experience with the “prosperity gospel?” Who are some of the most popular prosperity gospel preachers today? Share your reasons why you think they are (or are not) truly Christian ministries.