Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Part 4, Prosperity gospel

The Pelagian Code

The teachers of the prosperity gospel teach a wide variety of different ideas, but no teacher has had the same influence as Kenneth Copeland. His books have sold millions of copies, and through his TV appearances on the Trinity Broadcast Network he has reached and influenced millions of people along with dozens of other televangelists. Let us look at an excerpt from his book, the Laws of Prosperity9.

When God made man, He gave him a will that has power. It is actually a godlike will because man has the right to choose his own eternal destiny. Only a god has that kind of choice! Man was made in God’s image and given the will to make up his own mind. You can go to hell if you want to and God will protect your right…you don’t have to, but you can. On the other hand, you can choose Jesus Christ and the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 30:19, God said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” What a privilege! The choice is yours!

As you can see, we have a minor (?) conflict here with historic Christianity. In the Canons of the Council of Orange, Against the Pelagian heresy, we find written:

If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). (Canon 4)

This is another defining trait of the prosperity gospel. Pelagianism has been a bane of the church throughout her long history, and continues to crop up at will throughout the body of Christ. The majority of the prosperity teachers have taught “decisional theology10”. But historically speaking this is not what the church has taught, but rather has fought valiantly against this error. It’s too bad the Kenneth Copeland didn’t finish reading in Deuteronomy, because he would have read this:

And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. (Deuteronomy 31:16, NIV)

It would appear that God already knew what the people would do.

This common Eisegesis11 of scripture, either by isolating passages from their context or wholesale misinterpretation of the words in plain English, is an overriding trait of “word of faith” and prosperity gospel teachers. Many examples of this kind of interpretation can be found throughout Christendom, of which our reformation fathers fought long and hard to correct, but no other tradition has practiced eisegesis more fervently than the “word of faith” tradition.

Covenant Confusion

One trait held in common between “word of faith” teachers and the standard Arminian12 theology is embodied in the general confusion of the Mosaic Covenant13 and the Abrahamic14 Covenant. Since it is also influenced by premilliennialism15 and dispensationalism, decisional theology is the norm. The Mosaic Covenant is seen as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, Rather than the Mosaic Covenant being fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection.

In classic Lutheran Theology, the distinction between Law and Gospel was called “a special guiding light that serves till the end of time that God’s word may be rightly divided”16. The law is everything that God commands; the Gospel is everything that God promises. In this view, it is seen that the Christ fulfills the Mosaic Covenant and extends the Abrahamic Covenant to all who believe in Him.

The conflation of the two covenants can be seen clearly in brother Copeland’s book, the Laws of Prosperity, where he makes his case for these spiritual laws that he claims governs prosperity and who can receive prosperity:

Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…why did God bless these men? Why have so few men found the blessings of God in finance? We need to renew our minds to God’s reason for financial blessings. In the book of Deuteronomy, we see the predominant rule to remember in living a prosperous life: “And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee the power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

The predominant rule: God gives the power to get wealth.

Why? To establish His covenant.17

We can already see how brother Copeland is stretching the two covenants to fit each other. First, he takes a statement from God and turns it into law. It’s true that “the power to get wealth” comes from God, but brother Copeland is about to turn this away from being a work of God into a work of men.

Deuteronomy 29:9 says, “Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.” According to this, we should be prosperous in everything we do, but we must keep the words of the covenant.18

This is the beginning, from which brother Copeland quickly drives his readers off into the weeds and back under the law. As my Pastor, Gary Held, pointed out, “There is “wealth”, and then there is wealth. True riches are found in Christ, but only through trusting the Gospel. Material wealth can be accumulated by anyone, including (especially?) unbelievers. Arab oil Sheiks have no faith (in Christ) and have lots of material property”. I would add to that the example of Bill Gates. As far as I can find, he is not a Christian in any sense of the word, but is one of the most wealthy and most influential men in history. Brother Copeland believes that by obeying the law of the mosaic covenant one can become wealthy.

According to the author to the Hebrews, Jesus said:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.’ ”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10

Jesus fulfills the Mosaic covenant by His own body by doing the will of God. It’s difficult to see how Jesus’ atonement fits into the “word of faith” system, but from what this author can gather, it appears that Jesus simply isn’t necessary. Jesus’ finished work on the cross seems to be a side note to the prosperity gospel. Perhaps it’s the attraction of a "system", much like Romanism, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the beginning and the work that we do is ultimate means to the end?

St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, whom Paul was livid at their turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, wrote:

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:8-14)

St. Paul’s admonishments here concerning living under the law are clear. Living under the law brings back the curse of the law while living and walking by faith in Jesus Christ brings salvation. Even more startling is that, in that same section of his book, brother Copeland makes this claim:

You see, when you put the Word of God first in your life and it becomes your final authority, prosperity is the result. It is inevitable because the Word of God covers every situation in life. THE WORD IS FINAL AUTHORITY.19

Covers? Brother Copeland doesn’t explain what he means by “covers”. It would have been nice for him to explain how God’s word “covers every situation” but rather our brother in Christ is here trying to establish an absolute from God’s word that simply doesn’t hold. He makes a law statement by saying “put the word of God first and prosperity will result”. However, we read from St. Paul in his letter to the Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)

Perhaps St. Paul is referring to the suffering that can come with great wealth? The author can’t tell from reading Kenneth Copeland’s book, but it certainly seems to be what brother Copeland is implying. One thing is for sure: In the “word of faith” system, if an individual doesn’t receive his blessing after having put God’s word first, the reasoning will always be that the individual either didn’t have enough faith, or didn’t keep God’s word first.
9 page 11, the Laws of Prosperity, Kenneth Copeland.
10 decision theology proposes that the very act of deciding to commit one’s life to Jesus is what saves an individual.
11 Eisegesis, plural eis·ege·ses, the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas – compare exegesis. Merriam-Webster dictionary.
12 Arminian, Ar·min·i·an, of or relating to Arminius or his doctrines opposing the absolute predestination of strict Calvinism and maintaining the possibility of salvation for all. Merriam-Webster dictionary
13 Covenant made with national Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus
14 Covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 15
15 premilliennialism , pre·mil·len·ni·al·ism, the view that Christ's return will usher in a future millennium of Messianic rule mentioned in Revelation
16 Mueller, p. 533; Triglot Concordia, Formula of Concord p. 801, LCMS PDF document, Triglot Concordia, Formula of Concord, http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/TrigBOC.pdf, p. 342, “We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence as an especially brilliant light, by which, according to the admonition of St. Paul, the Word of God is rightly divided.”
17 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 35
18 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 36
19 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 38


the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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