Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Part 6, Prosperity gospel


Reverend Hugh Beck, Lutheran campus pastor at Texas A. & M. University, writes in his book, What Should I Believe:

Some people understand the Bible to be basically a code book which, if properly deciphered, gives one access to the very mind of God. Some people understand theBible to be basically a sort of catechism with answers for any and every question that may come to our attention. Some people understand the Bible to be basically a presentation of certain beliefs and doctrines that are to be dug out of various parts of the Bible without regard to the setting in which they appear, are to be pieced together into a whole, and then must be believed in just that way.22

A classic case of this kind of eisegesis can be found in Kenneth Copeland’s the Laws of Prosperity. After conflating the two covenants into one, he lays down his system for prosperity. He writes, “In Deuteronomy 28, we see the blessings that come from obeying the Word of God. For instances, verses 11-12 state, “And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord swore unto thy fathers to give thee. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure.” You see, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with prosperity because He swore it in the covenant. Praise God!23” We can see clearly here that Brother Copeland has confused the Abrahamic covenant with the Mosaic Covenant, which St. Paul clearly distinguished in his letters as separate and even conflicted covenants!

Brother Copeland continues, “God did not curse Adam; He built a garden for him and provided everything he could possibly ever need or want. Satan is the one who brought in the curse. When Adam united with Satan, everything in the earth was cursed.24” Here we begin to see an air of dualism, with God and Satan being equals. In the paragraph before Brother Copeland states, “Then beginning with verse 15, we find an outline of the curse of the law. “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statues…that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” This curse spells complete and total poverty in every area of life. Poverty is not a blessing from God. To believe that it is, that it carries with it some sort of humility, is to believe that God is the author of the curse, and He is not! God is the author of the blessing.”25 Brother Copeland’s version of God appears to not be sovereign, and incapable of punishment on His own. At this point the author of this paper would have to ask brother Copeland, “Who brought on the plagues of Egypt?”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:13-16 NIV)

Just one clear example from Scripture that God is the one who brings both blessings and curses. The author to the Hebrews wrote in chapter 10, verses 30 and 31, “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He was quoting several passages of Old Testament scripture:

It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free. He will say: “Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in, the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them rise up to help you!(Deuteronomy 32: 36-38)

Brother Copeland’s confusion of the two covenants is, the author of this paper believes, a fundamental confusion of Law and Gospel. St. Paul makes a clear distinction between the two covenants in Galatians, Chapter 3, verses 16 through 18:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (Galatians 3:16-18 NIV)

But, Brother Copeland states clearly in his book:

Let’s stop and consider for a moment that when God made His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He promised to take care of them and their descendants. They were free men! Consequently, every Jewish slave who bore the lash under Egyptian rule was a free man! There was only one problem… they didn’t know it! Therefore, God called Moses and gave him the ability and authority to write down the covenant God had made with Abraham. This way, the people would know what had been done and what had been agreed to. Moses went forth in the name of the covenant, performed miracles by the power of God in the face of Pharaoh, and led God’s people out of bondage. They could have gone free 400 years before, but they didn’t know their covenant!26

Moses wrote down the covenant made with Abraham? Does brother Copeland mean to suggest that Moses wrote down the Law? Or the covenant? Abraham’s covenant is based on promises made by God, and in that covenant only one command is given, and that’s circumcision. In the quote above, brother Copeland seems to suggest that there were certain agreements made and Moses wrote them down before Mt. Sinai, indeed, before the people even left Egypt!

Let’s look at the covenant that was made with Abraham, known then as Abram. Chapter 15 of Genesis.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (NIV Genesis 15:12-16)

Now, here we have God stating quite plainly that the people would most definitely be enslaved for four hundred years. In fact, God’s reasoning for them staying in Egypt for four hundred years was “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. God’s judgment on the people of land of Canaan would later be carried out by Israel led by Joshua as they conquered the territory, just as God had promised. Brother Copeland seems to think that the people of Israel could leave anytime, had they known they were free.

Look also at what God himself did to seal this promise. In Verses eight through eleven, when Abram asked God how he would know he would take possession of the land, God tells him to get a “heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon”, that Abram then slaughters, cuts in half (minus the dove and the pigeon), and arranges the pieces opposite each other. This kind of arrangement was later talked about by God through the prophet Jeremiah, Chapter thirty-four verse 17, “The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.” This ceremony was a solemn ceremony whereby an agreement was made between two parties, and then the covenant was sealed in blood when the two parties walked between the pieces signifying that if one or the other party breaks the covenant, they would become like the dead animal. God takes his covenants seriously.

So when Abram has set up the animals in this same covenantal fashion, he falls into a deep sleep. Then after God makes his promises to Abram, God passes between the pieces of the animals alone.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram… (NIV Genesis 15:17-18)

Abram was asleep. He didn’t walk between the pieces with God, but rather God walked between the pieces alone. The promise that God made, He covenanted in blood to uphold Himself, by Himself regardless of whether the people believed it or not. In fact, God meant all along to uphold this covenant through blood (Jesus’ blood) and His own death. Interesting, since in Christ, God Himself did actually die. What this means is that the covenant that God made with Abram was fulfilled in Jesus death and resurrection. The promise was broken by the people, but God upheld the promise in the death of Jesus and his resurrection. This is why the writer to the Hebrews can say that this covenant is based on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)

St. Paul says that these two covenants are distinct from one another. In fact he says that, “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise”. How could the law be introduced 430 years later if it had already been introduced 430 years earlier? The answer is that the law wasn’t given until Moses.

St. Paul says that these two covenants are distinct from one another. In fact he says that, “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise”. How could the law be introduced 430 years later if it had already been introduced 430 years earlier? The answer is that the law wasn’t given until Moses.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. (Romans 5:12-13 NIV)

This verse is being taken out of context, but the point is to show that St. Paul, at least, believed that the covenant laws as they were given at Mt. Sinai were not given till that time, rather than believing that they were given to Abraham 430 years earlier.

So thus far we can see some characteristics of pagan beliefs creeping into the prosperity gospel.

Confusion of Law and Gospel
Dualism, pitting God against Satan as equals
Positive thought theology imported from Christian Science
Faith defined as “a force”, or force at least defined as a characteristic of faith
Man is seen a having a god like will

There is a disconnect between historic Christianity and the word of faith prosperity gospel. They teach a mitigated gospel not too different from Roman Catholic teachings.

In fact, one could make the argument that the prosperity gospel isn’t even remotely Christian other than in name.

22 What Should I Believe, Hubert Beck, Published by Concordia Publishing House, ISBN 0-570-03800-6 page 61
23 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 41
24 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 41
25 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 41
26 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, page 43


Eric said...

As an Aggie I *love* opening myself up for Aggie jokes... so here goes. ;)

When you write Texas A&M University, you need to leave out the periods after the 'A' and the 'M'. Those letters refer to a time when the school was officially called, "The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas". Now its official name is simply "Texas A&M University". So the 'A' and the 'M' don't actually represent anything other than 'A' and 'M' -- strictly speaking they are not abbreviations any more. Those letters are still in the name today mainly to avert any confusion that might arise from the use of a similar name by that upstart, johnny-come-lately, little secular school down in Austin. You know... the one with that big lazy cow. :)

Thanks for the article. It is always useful to spend a little time dealing with the heresies of Brother Copeland.

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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