On January 20, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America. He will also become the wealthiest American President in history, with a net worth estimated by Forbes at approximately $3.7 billion.
If you ask Detroit pastor Bishop Wayne T. Jackson about that, he’ll tell you that Trump’s wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Jackson, who is pastor of Detroit’s New Ways Ministries and a well-known televangelist, is one of six religious leaders invited to participate in the Trump Inauguration. He is an adherent of the “prosperity gospel” which claims that God wants his followers to be wealthy.
Another of the religious leaders who will offer a brief (90-second) prayer during the Inaugural Ceremony is Paula White, a Florida televangelist whose controversial message promises that true believers will be blessed not just with eternal salvation, but also with health and wealth here on Earth. White — whose church President-elect Trump and his family have attended while in Florida — teaches that God has mandated that his followers give of their “first fruits” to the church, in order to hasten God’s favor upon their lives. As evidence that God wants you to give your money to her as a “first fruits” donation, Pastor White cites Ezekiel 44:30:
The first of all the first fruits of all kinds, and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings, shall belong to the priests; you shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, in order that a blessing may rest on your house.
Pastor White believes you should give until it hurts. “Your sacrificial offering will be a seed for blessings for the remainder of the year,” she said. “According to Ezekiel 44, when you present your First Fruits offering, it will cause a blessing to rest upon your house.” On her website, White encourages “first fruit” donations with a scripture I heard often at Assembly of God services years ago, Luke 6:38:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
But cherry-picking Scripture verses in order to buttress the prosperity message requires that one ignore other verses, promising that our reward will be in heaven. Remember Jesus’ message in Matthew 19:24, about the rich man who has difficulty getting into heaven–and who is compared to a camel passing through the eye of a needle?
In contrast to the prosperity gospel, also known as the “health and wealth gospel”, Christians are assured in 2 Timothy 3:12 that they will be persecuted:
Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
In Acts 9:16, the Christian is led to expect suffering:
“I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Jesus himself promised, not earthly wealth and health, but the cross. In Mark 8:34, we are told:
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
There are many other Scriptural passages which remind us that our reward is in the life to come. If we believe that earthly success is a sign of God’s blessing, then it follows that the person who is sick or poor or homeless is to be avoided, because he is not favored by God.
Can We Force God’s Hand?
Is God really a big Vending Machine, through which Christians can pop in a prayer and pull out a monetary prize? Adherents of the prosperity (or “health and wealth”) gospel seem to believe that we can force God’s hand — that by praying, we can make God give us good stuff.
- Creflo Dollar, another prominent prosperity gospel preacher, says, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”
- Kenneth Copeland has gone so far as to say that if people are not experiencing prosperity, it’s because they have given Satan control over their lives.
- And Gloria Copeland, in her book God’s Will Is Prosperity, writes, “Give $10, and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000… in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” Perhaps Gloria didn’t read on to the next verse, Mark 10:31, which says,
“Many who are first shall be last, and the last first.”
Three Ways the Prosperity Gospel Is Wrong
Reformed theologian John Piper, a critic of prosperity theology, cites three things which the health and wealth gospel gets wrong:
1: Wrong Timing
Prosperity preaching tends to bring into this life greater expectation of prosperity than is intended for this life and only intended for the next life. Scripture is crystal-clear that in the next life, the age to come, there will be no sickness, no poverty, no persecution, no calamity, no evil, no discouragement of any kind. In other words, the gospel does include health, wealth and prosperity. It is coming; namely, in the age to come when we are so spiritually mature and perfected that we are suited to enjoy these things to the full with no hint of idolatry.
2: Wrong Perspective
My second problem with the prosperity church is a lack of clear, deep, biblical teaching on the necessity of suffering in this life and the goodness of God in it and his control over it—not just Satan’s; God’s control over it—and the benefits that may come from it that God decides. We don’t. It is a missing note, it seems to me, that gives the legitimate promises of God’s earthly help a superficial ring because “through many afflictions[we] thus enter the kingdom.” That was Discipleship 101 in Acts 14:22b, as Paul taught the churches.
3: Wrong Comfort
All of this (everything I have said so far) tends to lead prosperity preachers to comfort people not with the presence of Christ in suffering and his rescue from suffering in the age to come, but rather to comfort people with the assurance that they will get out of suffering in this life if they follow the right prescription.
I hope, as do all Americans, that our nation will be successful — that our benevolent God will pour His blessings upon our land. I pray that the inauguration of President Trump will usher in a new respect for life, a new era of economic prosperity.
But can I, by my fervent prayer or my warm thoughts, require this of our Creator? No. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. It is His nature to want what is best for us; but only in God’s divine wisdom can we know what that is.