Is Prosperity Gospel Biblical? LIVE Q&A with Pastor Lance Ralston on May 2, 2024

Is Prosperity Gospel Biblical? LIVE Q&A with Pastor Lance Ralston on May 2, 2024

Is seed offering and Prosperity Gospel biblical?

No, the prosperity gospel is not biblical. It’s really a gross perversion of the gospel. The only way that it might be called biblical is that the Bible warns against it. Now, of course, the prosperity gospel in its current manifestation wasn’t around in the first century. But the wickedness at the heart of man which frames this movement is ancient. It’s simply called greed.

The prosperity gospel also goes by the names of the Faith Movement, or the Gospel of Health and Wealth. Sometimes it’s referred to as Positive Confession. Some modern promoters of it avoid any of those terms since they’ve been tainted by scandal and exposed by ministries like Enduring Word. Mike Winger has done a lot of work in this area as well. Like I mentioned, some popular media ministries push a prosperity message without ever coming out and admitting that’s really what they’re doing.

The roots of the modern prosperity gospel lie in post-World War Two America, when elements in the Pentecostal church adopted the metaphysical ideas of occult spiritualists. They redefined faith as a metaphysical force that could create reality. They said that faith isn’t just believing in and trusting on God, but that it’s a spiritual force that’s independent of God. They would even argue that God used it to create the universe. The gospel of prosperity doesn’t save us from sin into a restored relationship with God so much as it offers to make us godlike beings who can also create reality by harnessing the creative power of faith through positive confessions. The real gospel promises and prepares us for heaven, while the prosperity gospel claims to give the power to bring about heaven here and now. One popular prosperity preacher said, “As good as I can imagine heaven is going to be, by faith I can have that now.”

All of this flies in the face of the record of Scripture in history. Surely no one was more in tune with the gospel of Jesus than the Apostles, the very ones who in Ephesians 2:20 are said to be the foundation of the Church. History tells us that, apart from John, all of the Apostles were martyred. They were put to death for their faith. The only exception was John who eventually died of old age but was first persecuted and spent time in a brutal situation on the prison island of Patmos, where he received the visions that comprise the book of Revelation. Of those Apostles, the men who framed the very foundation of our faith and our understanding of what it means to live by faith, none of them owned a chariot, let alone a mansion or half a dozen mansions spread across prime vacation places of the Roman Empire. If they were supposed to be examples of faith as preached by modern prosperity hucksters, the Apostles failed miserably. But they were, in fact, premier examples of the faith into which Jesus called them. Here is what Jesus told His disciples about the life of those who followed Him:

Mark 10:28-31 – Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life. But many [who are] first will be last, and the last first.”

Matthew 10:34-39 – “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his [own] household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Someone might ask, “Didn’t Jesus say in that passage that those who give for the sake of the gospel will receive a bunch of stuff in this lifetime?” Yes, He said that. He said that they would receive a hundredfold. So please don’t miss that. Prosperity preachers love to quote this verse and then say something like, “Give to me and to this ministry, because by doing so, you unlock the promise and the principle of faith that brings prosperity.” They always define prosperity as monetary wealth, which can then be used to buy stuff. But if that’s what Jesus meant, what do we do with His reference to the reward of a hundredfold? If you give a house, do you get a tract of houses back? If you give ten acres of land, do you get a thousand in return? And how do you give brothers, sisters, parents, and children, which He speaks about in the second passage?

As far as I know, while well-known prosperity preachers do have multiple houses, and prime real estate, none have 100 of them. Such a crass, materialistic promise was not at all what Jesus had in mind. As the mention of people there makes clear, Jesus meant that following Him may involve losing earthly relationships, as it has for millions of Christians over the centuries. That word house in Mark 10 refers to the place where a family lives and lands refer to inheritance. It’s good to be careful to interpret Mark 10 in light of what it meant to those to whom Jesus spoke it. For many people, and especially the Jews, following Jesus has meant being banished from their families. Some families even hold a funeral service for a relative who becomes a Christian. It’s forbidden to even use their name, and they are written out of the will; they have no inheritance. In a time when the family home and lands were passed from one generation to another, in unbroken line of succession, this was a fate worse than death. It was a kind of living death to be written out of one’s family. That’s what Jesus was speaking of there.

The hundredfold return that Jesus spoke of in Mark 10 refers to all that one gains in terms of the kingdom of God. So, yes, following Jesus may mean losing our earthly family and our identity, but we are ushered into the family of God, and we become a brother or sister in Christ, with literally thousands of spiritual relatives.

The prosperity gospel is a religious cloak for the greed of false teachers who prey on the gullible and the uninformed.

1 Timothy 6:5 – …useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a [means of] gain. From such withdraw yourself.

They wrap their con act in the guise of religion, and they bilk [cheat or defraud] people.

Titus 1:11 – …whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.

2 Peter 2:3a – By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words.

Being covetous themselves, they appeal to it in others. They try to sanctify their greed by saying that it’s actually a manifestation of faith. This is an age-old problem in the history of not just the Christian church, but quite frankly, in religion in general. People look for a way to detach guilt from their sin. And it’s easiest to do that by relabeling sin as a form of righteousness. “It’s not greed, it’s faith. It’s not the idol of materialism, the love of things; oh, no, it’s the proof of my great faith.” Jude refers to false teachers in his short letter:

Jude 1:4 – For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:16-19 – These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling [words], flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

Paul warns about false teachers in other passages as well:

Philippians 3:17-18 – Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ.

Romans 16:18 – For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

Susan also asked whether the so-called “seed offering” was biblical. I suspect her question was prompted by a favorite passage of the prosperity preachers, 2 Corinthians 9:6-14, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions on how to give. It’s clear from the passage that he’s speaking about giving finances. As Paul planted churches around the Gentile world, he spoke about the desperate situation of Jewish Christians back in Israel. In response, the churches collected funds for their relief. The Corinthians had promised that when Paul came back, they would also give a donation for the relief of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Well, Paul was about to come to Corinth, so he sent a letter on ahead to remind them of their promise. He added a little lesson on how to give, concerning what kind of attitude that we should use as we give.

2 Corinthians 9:6-14 – But this [I say]: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [So let] each one [give] as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God [is] able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all [things], may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have [sown] and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while [you are] enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for [your] liberal sharing with them and all [men], and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you.

A major difference between what Paul says here and the way that it’s used by modern prosperity preachers is who the gift ultimately benefits. Paul asked for gifts for the relief of needy Christians. On the other hand, prosperity preachers are explicit in their call that you plant your seed gift in their ministry, and some go so far as to imply that their specific ministry ensures a return, because they have an inside line with God. They show pictures of some of the works that they do here and there, like an orphanage or some kind of a literacy program in the third world. What they don’t show are their half dozen 15,000-square-foot mansions, their stable of luxury cars, their horses, and their personal jet. Someone is prospering, all right, but it’s the prosperity preachers, not the so-called “seed sowers.”

Paul never intended what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 9 to be a formula for prosperity. We do not give to get. This is not some kind of spiritual investment scheme. Paul simply means that when and as we give, we do so as an act of faith which marks our dependence on God. God loves it when we do that, because it gives Him the opportunity to prove how faithful He is. He will take care of us. He will meet our needs. The key word there is needs, not wants. God is not going to become the means to someone’s end of getting rich. All those prosperity preachers are destined to the harshest judgement, as Jude makes abundantly clear in his letter.

What are your thoughts on pragmatism in the church?

Great question. Let’s define pragmatism first. I once heard someone say, “Pragmatism is a good ol’ American philosophy.” It’s the idea that as long as something works, it’s true or it’s good. In this case, good is not defined by some kind of ethical standard that arises from the character of God, but rather simply if it works. The means justify the ends. As long as it works, it’s true. As long as it works, it’s good.

The problem with pragmatism is that it tends to evaluate good only in terms of the immediate reaction or response or result. As we know from long experience in history, what seems good today might not appear as good tomorrow. In fact, a temporary fix today might be setting up a later disaster. Here’s a classic example. We’ve seen videos of bridges that blow up because they’re engineered improperly, and they start bouncing and eventually explode. Let’s say there’s a river and people need to cross it, so they decide to build a bridge, but they build it as quickly and as cheaply as they can. Once the bridge is opened, people can cross from one side to the other and save a lot of time and a lot of fuel. But in their process of going about it, in what seemed like the pragmatic manner, they end up making a bridge that ends up blowing up, because it was done with pragmatism: simply the desire of a quick fix to get a quick result.

So, what about the use of pragmatism in the church? As we go about ministry, in the life and functioning of the church on a day-to-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year, decade-by-decade basis, we need to make sure that we are doing ministry the way that the Bible shows us it needs to be done. That isn’t always seemingly the most efficient way. It doesn’t always seem to align with current values. But God’s word taps into an eternal truth that doesn’t change, as opposed to the culture, which is constantly shifting.

Here’s an example. Some years ago in the evangelical church, there was something called the “seeker sensitive” method of ministry. The idea was that the church needs to be aware and sensitive to the needs of seekers and the unchurched. In that light, they decided to stop using biblical phrases and biblical terminology, and to start using more contemporary terms that unchurched people might know and understand. They brought in cultural forms, music, and movies that they’re used to, in order to use them as bridges to communicate to those people. Now, certainly, we want to be able to speak to our culture, and we want to make the truth relevant to them, but we must do it in a manner that remains faithful to God’s timeless, eternal Word and truth.

When we start approaching ministry in a purely pragmatic way, considering only what is going to fix a problem immediately, we don’t consider the larger context of God’s eternal plan. We end up applying fixes and getting engaged in ministries and activities that are in fact hindering the cause of the Gospel. In many ways, this has been the history of the church, not just in modern America and the evangelical church. This has really been the case of the European church during the Middle Ages. In those days, there was a thriving Christian community in Syria known as the Church of the East. Meanwhile, the church in Europe was really struggling, but the church in Syria was growing. They were incredibly missions-minded, and they continued to reach further and further east into Asia. And they eventually made all the way to the Pacific Ocean to China. There’s even some evidence they had gone to Japan early on by the seventh century. The problem is, they took their culture with them. They didn’t understand the process of contextualization. They were so wedded to their own culture and expression of Christianity that they didn’t understand the cultures where they went. We spend time digging into the word to see how God became Man to communicate to mankind the eternal truths of God.

Ultimately, they ended up not being as effective as they could have been. The cultures to whom they brought the Gospel later saw Christianity as not being for them. It was thought of as Syrian and foreign. And they ended up kicking it out. That’s what happened in China and Japan. The Christianity that originally formed there was not Chinese, it was not Japanese; it was Syrian. And it ended up getting kicked out. It was very pragmatic on the part of those Syrian missionaries to do what they were doing, but it wasn’t biblical. They weren’t contextualized and they weren’t incarnating of the message, as God incarnated the message to us in the person of Christ.

So, pragmatism is a problem. If you’re attending a church, it’s good to look at its systems and its ministries and to ask, “Why are we doing this? What is the fruit? Does it align with Scripture?”

​​Should churches provide annual financial accounts for the congregation to view?

Great question. Yes, I personally believe that churches should make their financial budgets and their year-end statements available to their congregation. Transparency is always good, especially when it comes to finances. You know the old phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In our world, money is power. It’s the mechanism by which we transfer power from one place to another. Money is power. In order to keep that power from corrupting, I think that it is good for churches to be transparent in their finances and their accounting.

At our church, we have an annual business meeting. It’s required in our bylaws to do that. Everybody is welcome to come. We go over the finances of the year: how much money came in, how much money was spent, where it was spent, how we spent it. That gives the Body an opportunity to see what’s going on. We make the financial reports available a week ahead of time so that people can view it before they come to the meeting. Then at the meeting, they’re able to ask questions. We as the leadership know that we’re going to be facing people, they’re going to be looking at the numbers, and that we’re going to be answering questions. It’s a good check. It makes us be very careful and cautious about how we spend, and what we spend on and what we spend it for. So, I think it’s a good idea. I would encourage any church to do that. If you attend a church that doesn’t make those available, you might simply ask why. I think that would be a good step. It’s a good practice to do.

Where should a Christian tithe if they aren’t members of a church? Is it only a tithe if it’s financial, or can you tithe your time?

I have a question about obedience on tithing. Where should a Christian tithe if they aren’t members of a home church? And can a tithe be your time, or does it have to be financial? For instance, in the biblical days it was your first fruits – food, harvests. Not necessarily monetary.

Let’s talk about that last part first. In the ancient world, at the period of time where they are told to bring their first fruits, there wasn’t a lot of coinage in use. There was a barter system. One person raised sheep while another raised vegetables, and there was an understanding of how many bushels of vegetables equaled one sheep. That was the system. Everybody knew that. Just like today, we know $1 equals $1. We see a product listed at $15 on the price tag. I have the sense of what the value of $15 is, and I decide if I want to take my value of $15 and give it to the store in exchange for that item. So we go through that same evaluation. We look at something which is too expensive, and decide, “I’m not going to pay that price for that.”

In that light, coinage and currency is kind of a shorthand version of the barter system. In the ancient world, they didn’t really have currency, so they used barter. Everybody would evaluate questions like, “Am I going to take four bushels of vegetables for four sheep? Is that a good deal? No, I want five,” for example. That’s how things were done then. Later, people found that it was actually more convenient and more transportable to convert products into currency and coinage. Instead of bringing a sheep, they could bring the coins acquired from the sale of the sheep and use them anywhere they wanted.

When the Bible originally talks about the first fruits of a harvest, it’s because they didn’t use coin coinage much at that point in time. But later, as societies evolved and coinage became more common, people would do that very thing. They would go to the market in their village, sell their produce, take the coins go to the temple, and tithe with their coins. That’s why in the gospels we read about people bringing coins to the temple and placing them in the box. Remember the story of Jesus and the disciples watching as the widow brings her mite and leaves it there.

So really, tithing is the idea of giving from what God has blessed us. In our culture and setting, we get paid a salary or a wage. The income we earn is the fruit of our labor. So that’s the way that we should tithe. The word tithe means a tenth. It’s interesting that you don’t ask the question, “Should we tithe?” There’s kind of an assumption there that we’re already tithing and that it means a tenth. The idea is that God gets the first part of what we earn.

People wonder if they should tithe on the net or the gross income, whether God should get His share before Uncle Sam gets his tax dollars. Well, tithing transcends the Law. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek long before the Law was given to Israel. This principle was understood by people: when they give to God, you give this amount. But I believe that it’s not a law; rather, it’s a principle.

Many, many people who have adopted the principle of tithing will give the testimony that it opened a new dimension in their relationship with God and observing His faithfulness. Tithing is a way to say, “God, You own it all. You’ve just given it to me to be a good steward of, so I’m going to give you the first tenth, as a reminder to myself that all of it belongs to You. And then I’m ultimately dependent on You for provision.”

Should the tithe be given to a church? Generally, I think that believers need to find a home church and be plugged into that church. We need a spiritual community, a family with which we connect. More and more recently, I’ve seen questions from people saying they’re having a hard time finding a healthy church. We’ve had a number of people move away over the last four years from our church here in Southern California. I think we’ve lost around 30-40% of our congregation. Some have moved away because of job transfers, but quite frankly, most have moved away but just because they’re so disheartened over the political direction that California has taken. So, they moved to Idaho and Tennessee and Texas and Montana and Arizona and Florida and other places. They’ll send us emails, and they continue to watch our live stream. They continue to consider our church as their home church. We urge and encourage them to find a church, but often they say, “I’m having a really hard time finding a faithful, Bible-teaching church.” A few of them continue to send their tithe to us because we continue to be their church, even though at a distance, via the live stream.

If possible, I would encourage you to keep looking for a church. If you simply cannot find a place to connect, you might want to consider tithing to ministries that you find helpful and supportive. Another option would be to put it in savings, with the intention that it’s not your money, it’s God’s money, and you’re waiting on Him to show you where to give it. I have known some people who have done that when they’ve moved. They’ve sensed that they need to tithe to their church, but they haven’t found their church yet. So, they have put their money in savings, or they’ve zeroed it out in their bank account, and they’re keeping a record of how much it is. They’ve set those funds aside, not as their own anymore, but belonging to the Lord. They’re simply setting those funds aside until they find a church, and they are continuing to look for that place. When they do find a home church, then they’re going to give that lump sum, because it has already been given to the Lord. So, that’s an option too. There’s a lot that you can do.

How can I explain “the body, soul, and spirit” to a non-believing friend?

Can you help me with a wording on how to explain to a non-believing friend “the body, soul, and spirit,” and how they relate to each other?

That’s a great question. And quite frankly, it’s not an easy one to answer. There is some debate in evangelical Christianity about how many parts make up the human. The general consensus is either two parts or three parts. If we’re thinking of two parts, there is the material and the immaterial, which would be the soul and the body. They would consider the soul and spirit as effectively the same, or synonyms for the same part of the immaterial part of man, while the body is the physical part.

The other idea is that we’re three parts: body (physical), soul (immaterial), and spirit (also immaterial). I would agree with the second group. I believe that we’re three-part beings. Here’s why.

In one of Paul’s letters, he writes that his readers would be sanctified in their body, soul, and spirit. Paul seems to be identifying three aspects or dimensions of sanctification. If he intended there to be just two parts, I don’t think he would have differentiated between the soul and the spirit.

Looking back to the very beginning of Genesis, and the creation of man, we read that God took the dust of the ground and formed a body. And then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The word breath and breathe there is the Hebrew word Ruach, translated and in Greek as pneuma, which means breath, or wind, or spirit. Breath and wind we can kind of understand but how does that relate to spirit? It refers to the idea of unseen life and movement. God makes a physical body of the dust of the ground, and He breathes the breath of life or the spirit of life into the nostrils of this body. Then it says, “And man became a living soul.”

Our connection to the physical universe is our bodies. Our connection to God is the spirit. Note that Genesis never says about His creation of the animals that He breathed into them the breath of life. Man is the only creation that receives this special endowment from God called His breath, His ruach, His Spirit. So, now we have the Spirit of God, bearing His image in man, in his body, and it says, “And he became.” The idea there is that when the breath entered the body, man became a living soul. This word for soul was explained by one Bible teacher the following way: The soul seems to act as kind of the transmission between the spirit and the body. The body is like the vehicle of the car, the Spirit is like the engine. And we all know how the engine connects to make the body go: it’s the transmission. The transmission is where the engine and the body of the vehicle connect. We are made up of our physical body, and the spirit, this special thing that we get from God that makes us different from the animals. The result is that we become a human being with a soul, a soul being comprised of the mind, the emotions, and the will. When you put those three things together and you have the soul, the personality, that unique thing that each of us have which is different in every single person. We also have similarities to other people, but the soul is unique to each individual, and it makes us unique human beings. The mind is not just the brain; it’s the whole process of our thoughts, our emotions, and how we have those inner feelings and inclinations which move us. Then there is the will, which is a separate faculty we possess that allows us to be able to make decisions. In his book, Mere Christianity, CS Lewis identifies the difference between the will and the mind. We can all relate to this. Note how you when you’re thinking, you have varying thoughts and you kind of go back and forth. “Should I do this, or shouldn’t I do this? Should I go for tacos, or should I go for burgers?” Typically, you go to one or the other when you have two thoughts. But there’s another voice that comes in. If all we had were those voices, they would just argue, and we wouldn’t do anything. There’s a third voice that comes in and decides which one of these I’m going to go with. That’s the will. That’s part of the soul, the critical decision-making faculty that we all have. I think that’s a good way to describe how you would go about explaining the difference between the body, the soul, and the spirit.