Recently, a local church welcomed a well-known televangelist. Jesse Duplantis brought in hundreds of people the surrounding area. Sadly, it has become rare to have this kind of reception for church events. All area congregations can benefit from the energy created by this type of event. However, the wider church of Beeville (the wider church consisting of all traditional denominations) received a large dose of criticism from Pastor Duplantis.
The bulk of the prosperity gospel message preached that night centered around John 14. In verse 14, Jesus tells His disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Duplantis interpreted this verse, “So when you ask God for something, He gets glorified. Jesus gets magnified. The church has told you not to do that. They said, ‘No no, you just barely get by; that’s greed.’” Repeatedly, he blamed the church for teaching the ills of wealth.
The writer of a book called “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel,” Kate Bowler, wrote that, “The prosperity gospel told the Christian narrative as if it were an upward sweep toward ultimate and assured victory. Social, cultural, institutional or individual barriers crumbled before believers to make way for personal and collective breakthroughs.” For prosperity Gospel preachers, worldly success signifies great faith. They proclaim that power and wealth evidence God’s favor.
There is an inherent problem with this in Scripture. In Matthew Jesus tells the crowds, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” In Luke 12, Jesus warns, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Christ’s kingship does not suggest an upward sweep of personal victories. The culmination of Christ’s ministry took place on the cross. We crown rulers with gold. Christ wears a crown of thorns. We expect dignified nobility from royalty. Christ eats with sinners and embodies true humility. Instead of coercive power for control, Christ leads with justice, righteousness, compassion and most of all love. Jesus’ victory shows a reign that does not look like nobility or power or strength as we know it. The Gospel does not center around materialistic prosperity but spiritual prosperity.
Duplantis mischaracterized the teaching of the church. In defense of the church, it must be stated that the desire for upward mobility is not against church teaching. In fact, the church fights against injustice, inequality and exploitation. The church fights for those in need, those in bad health and those in poverty. The church simply teaches that love and desire should be in the right order.
As St. Augustine wrote, in “On Christian Doctrine,” “But living a just and holy life requires …to love things… in the right order, so that you do not…have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” The prosperity gospel has loves and priorities out of order. It teaches a love of material goods over the love of neighbor. The church is not above criticism. However, sometimes the church needs to be defended.
Journalist Edward R. Murrow once said, “I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.” There are many different ways in which faithful believers disagree on theological matters, but the claim that God’s purpose is to make one prosper by the world’s standards simply does not square with overarching themes of Scripture.
The Ministerial Alliance, a group open to all pastors and clergy in Beeville, regularly meet to uphold the ministry of all the churches in the area. Although the group has differing theological perspectives, the following pastors of the Ministerial Alliance sign on to this defense of the church:
Rev. Brian Tarver, St. Philip’s Episcopal
Rev. Dean Fleming, First United Methodist
Rev. Meagan Ludwig, First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Greg Traylor, Pastor, First Baptist Church Beeville
Rev. Maggie Mossler, First Christian Church
Rev. Geraldine Huckman, Minister Emeritus, First Christian Church
Rev. Dr. D. Jack Meyers, First Christian Church
Rev. Donald R. Taylor, Pastor Emeritus, Faith Lutheran
Rev. Gary D. Conklin, Faith Lutheran
John Blackburn, Episcopal Seminarian.