By The Rev. Dr. H. Gene Straatmeyer
Television news caught my attention several years ago. It seems that one of the “Prosperity Gospel’s” mainstays had backed out of a Fort Worth low-income, housing project in which he and his wife had a 49% interest, leaving the new corporation broke and owing huge amounts of money. What the now defunct company’s spokesman didn’t understand is why the Rev. Kenneth Copeland and his wife Gloria refused to talk to him before or after the pull-out and why shortly afterwards they purchased a $20 million jet – some accounts said two jets, one for the Rev. and the other for his wife. The Cessna website described the plane as “The fastest, midsized, business jet available, perfect for cross-country travel in luxury.”
According to Copeland’s son, the Copelands own as many as 26 airplanes. Pete Evans and Todd Bates, writing in a Christian magazine called the “Wittenberg Door,” say that among the planes are two Cessna Citation X jets, a Citation 550 Bravo, a Grumman Gulfstream II, a Cessna Gold Eagle, a Beech E 55 and assorted lesser craft. Copeland even has his own airfield – really – about 20 miles northeast of Fort Worth. Evans and Bates write that as far as the new jets go, God has spoken, at least the Copelands think so, and thus it can be concluded that “the widows and orphans have now invested just about $50-60 million in Kenny’s Heavenly Air Force.”
In spite of these obvious excesses, the numbers of those who preach this particular perversion of the Gospel seem to be increasing. It is even starting to infiltrate churches that have not held this theology in the past. Some think that presently it is a more important doctrine for Pentecostals and Charismatics than speaking in tongues – at least among television preachers!
One of the ways these preachers who have been bitten by greed raise millions – and this method is growing in popularity among them – is to ask people to plant a financial seed in their ministries. Only then can God prosper them – prosper usually means make them rich.
I first heard of “sowing-a-seed” in Africa where a wealthy Nigerian Pentecostal pastor with his own jet asked even the poorest of the poor in his congregation to sow a financial seed in addition to their regular tithes and offerings. He told church members that if they didn’t sow, they wouldn’t reap – in other words, they would remain poor.
One prosperity evangelist from Tampa, Florida has gone so far as to tell his flock that if they give to the church building fund, they can expect God to give them a new house in return. If Martin Luther was still alive, he might nail another “96th Theses” to that preacher’s door.
J. Lee Grady, the editor of the Charisma and Christian Life magazine, seems to be one of the few Pentecostals who is publicly critical of the prosperity preachers. He says that sowing seeds and then hoping to get something in return “is treating God like a slot machine.”
Jimmie Bakker, one of the early prosperity preachers, said after his imprisonment, “For years I helped propagate an imposter, not a true gospel but another gospel…The prosperity gospel did not line up with the tenor of the Scripture. My heart was crushed to think I led so many astray.”
William Martin, a sociologist on the faculty of Rice University in Houston says that “most people who follow TV religious leaders put so much trust in them that they want them to thrive. The preacher’s wealth is confirmation of what they are preaching.”
Those who hold to the prosperity gospel may be like the Scribes and Pharisees who Jesus described as hypocrites because their outward piety didn’t match the inward reality of their spiritual condition. On the outside they appeared to be “Christians” but in reality their heart was “full of greed and self indulgence” (Mat. 23:25).
We all need to remember that judgment day is coming when explanations will have to be made as to how we carried out the stewardship of our lives and possessions. Will the jet argument hold up? “Lord, we bought jet planes in your name and with your money!” I don’t think so because in Scripture (Mat. 25:31ff) the Judge has already responded, “There’s a problem! I was homeless and needed affordable shelter when you walked away from building houses for the poor and purchased jets instead. When you neglected the homeless and the poor, you neglected me.”
My wish is that those enmeshed in the prosperity gospel could see the heresy of their ways. However, this won’t be easy since they will find it difficult to give up what they have been taught to be true. They don’t see the greed which is slowly but surely invading their souls and slowly but surely becoming a terminal spiritual illness. That’s why it is listed as one of the seven deadly sins!
Is there any way to stop this perversion of the Gospel? Isn’t it time for Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians to join others in speaking out against this doctrine of greed – the Gospel of Prosperity?