The Times Online (England), Mar. 16, 2003
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Thousands of Christians in Britain are being deluded by a new style of preaching that promises untold wealth to the believer whose faith is strong enough, according to a report.
Followers of the so-called prosperity gospel — known by its critics as the “blab it and grab it gospel” — are encouraged to believe that it is acceptable to pray for material wealth.
An authoritative report by the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s evangelical Churches, raises concerns about teachings that if the believer gives a sum of money to the preacher, God will multiply it by a hundred times or more in favour of the giver.
Preachers use mailshots, television and churches to persuade Christians that, by giving them money, believers will not only get out of debt, they will also become rich.
Churches have traditionally repudiated wealth in favour of a modest lifestyle. The prosperity gospel plays on an equivalent belief that traditional religion will ensure fertility, abundance and longevity.
It is proving attractive to wealthy Christians in the West, particularly in America, because it assuages their consciences. Some preachers teach that material blessings, along with physical health, are confirmation from God of a righteous and holy lifestyle.
Some of the poorest churchgoers are said to be deluded into believing that, if they give what spare cash they have to a particular preacher, they will receive the money back “one hundredfold”. But it is then the minister who becomes rich, often flaunting his wealthy lifestyle as proof of how well the prosperity gospel works.
The report says that prosperous, charismatic preachers can replace Christ as the object of adulation and admiration.
The prosperity gospel developed in America after the Second World War, its proponents teaching that health and wealth are not only good and godly but the inalienable right of every believer. Preachers did not merely ignore the examples of St Francis and Mother Teresa, they condemned them, teaching that poverty was the work of Satan.
“Lacking the traditional British embarrassment about money, Americans are more likely to see wealth as something to be invested and exploited,” the report says. “The movement has been an unabashed advocate of material prosperity and this has naturally invited the charge that it promotes a lifestyle and ethos fundamentally at odds with the values of the kingdom of God. Analyses of the movement abound with anecdotes about luxury cars and Rolex watches.
The emphasis on debt reduction in prosperity teaching is clearly a response to a serious and widespread social problem.”
The prosperity gospel has proved paticularly fertile for leaders among black-led churches, among the fastest-growing churches in the world. One recent survey showed that more than half of all churchgoers in London are black or Asian.
The prosperity gospel became a cause of concern among the evangelical movement in the 1990s because of the activities of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, which had offices in this country and was affiliated to the Evangelical Alliance.
Members of the Evangelical Alliance council were alarmed by his fundraising methods, particularly when he allegedly linked the level of donors’ contributions to his own ministry with the extent of God’s blessing on the donors’ lives. The concern was about “the suggestion of so automatic an equation between material offering and divine favour”.
Under pressure from the council, Mr Cerullo resigned from the Alliance in 1996. The report was commissioned by the Alliance partly as a response to this, but also out of concern that the huge expansion of the prosperity message in America was about to be paralleled in Britain.
Already, rapidly expanding black Pentecostal Churches in Britain are being strongly influenced by preachers from Nigeria, where believers have proved particularly susceptible to prosperity teaching. In addition, preachers often use Christian channels on cable and satellite television to raise money for themselves by preaching that what the believer donates to him and his wife, God will magnify a hundredfold. The prosperity gospel shares the conviction held by many pentecostals and fundamentalists that the world is in the final days before the Second Coming and the “rapture”, when the faithful are lifted directly to heaven.
The report notes similarities with pagan superstition that “what you say is what you get”. Preachers teach that believers must convince themselves that God has already made them a millionaire, preferably by giving money to the preacher himself. If the person fails then to become rich, it is because their faith was not strong enough.
The study Faith, Health and Prosperity was carried out by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals. Andrew Perriman, the editor, left Jamaica at the age of eight with his mother and two of his sisters to live in Kentish Town, North London, and went on to become a pastor within the New Testament Church of God, one of Britain’s fast-growing black Pentecostal Churches. He said that the prosperity gospel was reaching people as much through satellite and cable television and other direct means as through the churches.
The founding Bible text for the prosperity gospel is Mark xi, 23, where Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”
St Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians xiii, 9 is taken literally: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Texts such as Proverbs vi, 2, “You are snared by the utterance of your lips”, are used to teach that ill-health and poverty are the believer’s own fault and that a Christian who prays for wealth and gives all their spare cash to the minister and who then remains poor has been ensared by Satan.
Where gospel texts appear to contradict the message of the prosperity gospel, such as in Mark x, where Jesus told a rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, a grammatical loophole in the text is used to argue that Jesus did not in fact tell him to give all the proceeds of the sale to the poor, but was simply telling him to turn his solid assets into liquid assets and give some away.