December 13, 2018
How it Started
If we traced the present prosperity movement back to its springboard, we would find Kenneth E. Hagin and his many teachings on spiritual gifts and church leadership. Many of today’s prominent evangelical teachers sprung from the lineage of the Kenneth Hagin faith movement. While the public’s distaste for prosperity teachers does not disqualify Hagin or his teachings, it does help us to discover how we got where we are today. Hagin told the story in his books of a spiritual encounter that brought healing, inspiration and revelation of Jesus Christ while he was bedridden as a little boy. His experiences led him to establish a teaching/evangelistic ministry in 1949 and a school in 1974.
Hagin’s teachings excited a sluggish church movement where preaching the gospel did not seen to work out very well for the preacher or the people. As preachers were working as itinerant preachers, travelling around to churches declaring the word of God, they suffered lack of provisions in their personal lives. Pastors were experiencing the same general problem of lack while trying to be faithful to God in ministering the Word. Evangelists would stay in the homes of church members or leaders who welcomed them in their spare room with free meals. They were often ill paid for their services by poor churchgoers or duped by the hosting church leader. It was a system in need of repair as the faithful were sometimes being mistreated by those to whom they ministered.
Kenneth Hagin wrote in his books about his own experiences with being defrauded and suffering lack while trying to faithfully serve God. He wrote of how he went to preaching engagements in faith believing God for traveling expenses, housing and funds to support his family back home. He recalled the difficulty he experienced when pastors did not give him his fair share of the offering raised from his preaching and how he suffered financially. He wrote that he addressed the problem to God and was given revelation into God’s plan for financial prosperity. God never intended for his servants to suffer poverty while ministering for Him and He began to show Hagin His true plan for their financial well-being. Hagin, of course, began to teach his own followers what he had learned and the Word of Faith Ministry was launched. Ministers would stand on God’s word and believe God to respond with a supply of their needs if they were faithful. Not only did they begin to operate in a faith walk with God for meeting their needs but they taught the people to believe by faith as well for their own financial blessings. Because the people believed that they, too, would be delivered from poverty if they gave the preacher of their resources; they began to give greatly in expectation of a sizable return for their generosity, as they still do today.
God was surely faithful to bless the giver who trusted Him according to His word. Kenneth Hagin became a well-known preacher/teacher and prospered with his new teaching. He appeared to be humble and obedient to God in execution of the word. People were seeing the miraculous moves of God through faith and the Word reinforced the teaching of Hagin. Kenneth Hagin began to have large followings and multitudes of meetings to teach spiritually hungry believers who needed real answers from God. Hagin was not the first teacher of faith, healings or miracles, but most of today’s sensational teaching sprung through a host of his followers. There were other well-known evangelists, faith healers and word of faith preachers during this period as well. Some widely known preachers of faith during that time were Kathryn Kuhlman, A. A. Allen, William Branham, Jim and Tammy Bakker and Oral Roberts, and others.
Error Detected and Addressed
We know that he best laid plans and intentions can go awry. Where some ministers saw answers to prayers and help for their true service through Hagin’s teaching, of course, there were some who saw an opportunity for great wealth and fame through teaching the bible to uneducated followers of Christ. There were so many churches where few really understood the word but they taught in faith what they had been taught and many people followed in fear of the consequences of disobedience. Many local churches taught the saints about the horrors of hell without much emphasis on the grace of God. The new liberty and blessings taught by the Word of Faith churches were a welcomed alternative. The Word of Faith churches and movement grew in size and followers. In 1974, Hagin began his school called Rhema Bible Training Center that greatly promoted the Word of Faith teachings, commonly called the prosperity movement.
Hagin wrote a book addressing how his teaching was being distorted and, in some cases, straight out erroneous or false teaching for nefarious reasons. He made an effort to give correction to the churches that had strung up from his original teachings. This book was entitled: “The Midas Touch: A Balanced Approach to Biblical Prosperity”. Hagin, who born in 1917, died in 2003 shortly after publishing this scathing book repudiating the misdirection of his message. Shortly before he died he called a meeting of his closest followers, who had carried his teaching into large national and international ministries and movements of their own, to come hear his message in repudiation of their erroneous teaching. Hagin had convened a special meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the campus of Rhema Bible Training Center, the Fall of 1999 to rebuke followers for manipulating the Bible to support what he viewed as greed and selfish indulgence. The topic was: Excesses and error present within the “prosperity” message being taught by the major Word of Faith ministries. The report is the meeting was attended by well-known teachers of today: Kenneth Copeland; Creflo Dollar; Jerry Savelle; Jesse Duplantis; Mac Hammond; and Steve Parson. There is a long list of prosperity preachers today that sprung up from the original teachings that are a who’s who of the religious world. They are also the who’s who of the world’s millionaires and privileged possessing multi-million dollar homes, cars, ministries and personal airplanes.
The wealth of prosperity preachers, the poverty of the givers and the distaste to believers because of these preachers appear to be a 180 degree turn from the original teaching and intents of Kenneth Hagin. The end results we see today in the practices of prosperity preaching must have been the incentive for Kenneth Hagin to call the meeting with his followers in 1999. He must have foreseen the error and damage to the church and the gospel message that we are experiencing today. Prosperity teaching has gone from the modest teaching of faith to the fragrantly outrageous swindling of the people (2 Pet. 2:3).
In 2007, the United States Congress through Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), tried to rein in the abuse but several of the preachers in question stood up in rebellion to the inquiry, questioning the validity of worldly authority into their spiritual affairs. Some of them refused to disclose their financial accounting. It is true that spiritual authority exceeds worldly authority when the spiritual authority is sound and righteous; but when spiritual authority is in error, it is God who brings judgment to His stewards. God can use any person or means to bring correction. When the wicked reign long and there is no outcry by the people, it is not proof that God is pleased with them. Jesus taught: “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch (Luk 6:39)?” They are both thrown on the trash heap. God does not always reconcile his accounting books overnight. There is a throne of judgment awaiting each of us to be judged by the Lamb of God for our deeds (Rev. 7:4; II Cor. 5:10).
Distorting the Bible Authority
Ministers can choose to evade the biblical process where God ordains oversight for local pastors. Unbiblical positions of pastors who rule over worldwide or multiple churches are not authorized in scripture by Jesus. Preachers often in error use titles of pastors, while they minister as world-wide evangelists. They misuse the title of prophet while pastoring and evangelizing nationally and internationally. They may call their office pastor while running multiple churches, national and international businesses with regular interactions with politics. These are all unlawful actions of the church simply because they are not authorized by Christ or scripture. If you wonder why Christ has not corrected this behavior, it is because He gave authority to the church to correct spiritual behavior. Jesus will be our final judge of obedience. Apostle Paul called out Apostle Peter’s sin. The prophet, John, called out Herod’s sin. Prophet Nathan brought a correcting message to King David. Even Israel challenged some of their own tribes to war because of setting up another altar (Jos 22:10). When no correction is brought by God’s people, He throws them all on the trash heap as He has done over and over in scripture. Korah’s theft and rebellion under Moses’ leadership brought death into the whole camp (Num. 16). There are nations and governments today that still stand after betrayal of their covenant with God but to what avail? We have seen various countries and nations that once stood strong on biblical values that now have horrible internal violence and reputations on the world stage. Many of these formerly Christian nations appear God-forsaken, turned over to a reprobate state or set for enemy destruction. This is the conclusion of rebellious nations. What a horrible fate for anyone who has ever loved God but a rebellious heart and a seared conscious is insensitive to the things of God. Reprobate preachers can continue in religious activity, having no standing with God and rule over people at their mercy without the presence of God (Tit 1:16). Even though it seems merciless for God to leave them in this condition, God never leaves a true believer, who will be led away from such places. This is the end Hagin probably sought to prevent occurring for those he taught.
In the early 80’s, I began reading Hagin books and listened to his tapes. I attended a Hagin conference once, bought his Rhema bible, watched prosperity television programs and attended some conferences by his ministers. While diligently seeking God through local church attendance, personal study , outreach ministry, donating funds and attending conferences; it all came to a miserable end. Fortunately, I also had a connection with God that picked me up from where I had fallen and led me to the right path. I observed as the movement grew by leaps and bounds and continued to examine the teachings because there were few others who could provide advanced biblical knowledge during that time. My heart and prayer goes out to all of those still caught up in the error of this movement from which God delivered me.
Many people whether believers or non-believers have discovered the error of this group of Christians but the movement has become so big that it even encompasses top government leaders enthralled in this practice. Some evangelicals who endorsed the current U.S. president are leaders in this movement, who now appear to have been blinded-sided by the accusations of unlawful collusion with a foreign nation, sexual immorality and financial misconduct. Some of these evangelicals mirror the president in their multiple marriages/divorces and their pursuit of greater wealth and prestige. The U. S. President is believed to have had some early training in the positive thinking teaching of Norman Vincent Peale, a forerunner of faith teaching which led into the greater leaps of faith for wealth by the prosperity movement. Jesus warned against the lust for material things and this vulnerability and lack of moral compass seems to be the glue that holds this group together. They have denied the true love for God, gospel truth and moral conscious in their pursuit of greater wealth. Religious followers seem to envy these prosperity preachers’ extravagant homes, churches buildings and lifestyles and they pursue these leaders and methods like lottery tickets, believing their lucky day too will soon come.
Kenneth Hagin’s book rebuking his followers was called: “The Midas Touch: A Balanced Approach to Biblical Prosperity, 2003.” It is reported and evidenced by subsequent behavior of Hagin followers that they did not take heed to his rebuke or his advice to change their ministry approach. Hagin did not deny of his original teaching on prosperity but reproved the ungodly balance in pursuit of profit for preaching.
The current prosperity teaching is a practice of religious abuse or abuse of power. Jesus very blatantly rebuked the religious leaders of Jerusalem for this very practice (Mt. 7:15; Mt. 2314-27) and the Old Testament priests (I Sam. 2:16) had a similar abuse of religious authority. The authoritative position and power of religious leaders over people make correction a very difficult prospect. The greatest tragedy of this practice of abuse is that it brings a reproach on God’s name. Believers willing to give to God are disappointed when their giving is not fruitful as promised. These preachers then accuse the giver of lacking enough faith to receive a blessing like they did. They bring a reproach on the church and the name of Christ.
One way of looking at this practice is revealed in the saying that “a fish rots from the head down.” It implies a failure of an organization’s leadership. Corrupt leadership in church effect the spiritual condition of the people and makes it difficult for members to escape its snare. Because the church is the head of a community of people and the head of God’s authority in earth, its corruption rots everything in its path. With the influence of prosperity preaching in the high ranks of government, its influence runs throughout the nation and at every level. What the evangelical preachers did in offering God’s favor, adding authenticity to the current president, was to add spiritual corruption to our nation when they put an anointing on a scandalous candidate to be head of our nation as President of the United States of America. Their prayers gave spiritual empowerment to a corrupt vessel. Is there any wonder the nation is struggling with spiritual battles of good and evil throughout the land. ‘Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain (Psa 127:1). Our current difficulties mirror the problems of biblical King Saul while he walked in disobedience with God and brought failure and trouble to the whole nation. King David was both a spiritual and political leader in Israel and his sin brought death and destruction to Israel (2Sa 12:9). King David’s punishment brought death to his child, disinheritance to his heir, violence of war and a period of humiliation from his beloved son. In another sin of David, God’s wrath poured out a sentence on the people of David’s kingdom:
2Sa 24:13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. 2Sa 24:15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.
The bible examples of King David show the damage to a nation when the leader sins. The impact of the leader’s sin is shown in the Old Testament kings and the effect on the people under their authority. Where the power and authority of the leader should bless the people, we have seen that they can be a curse to the people instead. People under authority of leaders are advised by God to pray for those over them and the example above proves why it is so important. Our destiny can be wrapped up in the leader’s destiny. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and the love of money is the root of all evil. Therefore, when these charismatic leaders take sole authority, their greed for money makes them a cancerous double assault against the church and infect our world.
The false set up of most of these churches makes it difficult to correct because the pastor is often both the leaseholder and chief financial officer. God’s correction has to be exercised either from within the church through true believers or from outside authority. The sole power of these leaders has made both types of correction very difficult. Hagin probably did all he could to correct this error and he cannot be held responsible for the high jacking of his teaching. It takes truth to reveal error and the more truth is revealed the greater chance some victims may have to escape. The persistence of American news reporters in revealing corruption in our government despite the President’s criticism has been the saving grace to our American democracy in the midst of the Russia scandal. Church dissidents must be equally persistent to correct their church corruption or flee idolatry to prevent their own destruction. We have seen recently some churches that have stood up against church abuse by the pastor but it is difficult and rare. Churches that are set up with proper oversight can save their people from abuse by bringing correction to a straying leader. We see Apostle Paul bringing proper correction to the churches he established in II Corinthian Chapters 3 through 15 and there should be elders in each church to help guide and correct the local assembly. Teachers, pastors, bishops nor evangelists are given world-wide or final authority in Jesus’ church. The book of Ephesian clearly states that the church structure was built on the foundation set by prophets and apostles with Jesus Christ as the final authority revealed by the Holy Spirit.
Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone…
Jesus clearly committed the church to His apostles who established and guided the church by the words they received from Christ, the Lord. Old and New Testaments reveal the sacrifices made by prophets and apostles under the strict tutorage of the Lord’s guidance and how He led them as they led His people. The close relationship between God and His apostles and prophets, along with the discipline He mete out to them, make these leaders of a different quality than local pastors. Local pastors can advance to higher offices but Christ does the calling and sets the order of His church. The gospel is based on sacrificial service to God by those that follow Christ but the prosperity preachers are seeking their wealth and privilege now here on earth for their service and denying the principle of sacrifice and suffering that comes to test every believer as Apostle Paul taught and revealed through his life. Prosperity preachers neglect this teaching because they falsely emphasize an easy life of comfort in Christ that many desire.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Jas 5:10
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 2Ti 3:12
The nation of America has had the knowledge and freedom to exercise biblical truth but is now seeing the matured fruit of the prosperity gospel message metastasize in chaos, darkness and confusion for the nation. The prosperity movement has been accepted by a President who appears to believe the greatest gift is wealth and is being guided by religious leaders who are motivated by their own wealth and fame. The bible clearly ask: How can two walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3). They have followed a false gospel and false god through temptation of wealth and fame, which temptation Christ refused (Mt. 4), and it has led a whole nation toward imminent ruin and jeopardy by an angry God that the nation swore to obey. The punishment for choosing another god is severe…ask biblical Israel who were sold into bondage again and again (Deu. 28:36; Joe. 3:8). Wisdom pleads for the Christian believer to search out the truth and turn from error, which Satan always sweetens with just enough truth to entice the unlearned. Kenneth E. Hagin both taught and wrote a book to bring the erroneous teaching to the attention of those that would follow succession of his ministry but the truth was already written in the scriptures that Christ instructed all men to read for themselves. Jesus always taught the believer to live by faith in the Word of God but He warned against the pursuit and love of money (Mt. 4:4; Mar 8:36). The choice has always been and will always be: choose whom you will serve.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Jos 24:15 (KJV)
You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around. Mt. 6:24 (TLB)