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Exploring Prosperity Preaching Chapter 9


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Exploring Prosperity Gospel is a theological study of prosperity gospel. Although prosperity gospel is relatively new on the religious landscape, its worldwide media presence has enabled the dissemination of its message to people of all ages, ethnicities, races, and religious and denominational affiliations. The book traces its history to understand how prosperity preaching evolved and learn about the people responsible for its existence.

In chapter 9, “You Are the Righteousness of God,” we will test the Word of Faith teaching that asserts that believers have been declared righteous in God’s sight and therefore have at work in them the same unlimited ability and wisdom of God as Christ had. I contrast Word of Faith theology of the righteousness of God and the favor of God of prosperity preachers with that of Swiss reformer John Calvin. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I dissuade readers from conceiving of God as their personal valet.

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Exploring Prosperity Preaching Chapter 9

  1. 1. Prosperity Exploring Preaching Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom Debra J. Mumford Foreword by DeForest B. Soaries Jr.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  2. 2. Exploring Prosperity Preaching © 2012 by Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo- copying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. Judson Press has made every effort to trace the ownership of all quotes. In the event of a question arising from the use of a quote, we regret any error made and will be pleased to make the necessary correction in future printings and editions of this book. Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Scripture quotations marked kjv are taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Scripture quotations marked niv are taken from the Holy Bible, New Inter- national Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Interior design by Crystal Devine. Cover design by Wendy Ronga, Hampton Design Group. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data Mumford, Debra J. Exploring prosperity preaching : biblical health, wealth & wisdom / Debra J. Mumford ; foreword by DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. -- 1st ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ). ISBN 978-0-8170-1708-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. African Americans--Reli- gion. 2. Faith movement (Hagin) 3. Wealth--Religious aspects--Christianity. 4. Preaching. I. Title. BR563.N4M86 2012 241’.6808996073--dc23 2011051583 Printed in the U.S.A. First Edition, 2012.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  3. 3. Chapter 9 You Are the Righteousness of God “You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.” This statement is frequently made by preachers of the prosper- ity gospel when they are trying to get believers to under- stand who they are in Christ and the rights and privileges to which they are entitled. In one sermon, Creflo Dollar cited E. W. Kenyon, who wrote that sin makes cowards of people because they will not stand up for their rights. Dollar contended that people do not stand up for their rights be- cause of their sin consciousness. He asserted that Jesus was fearless in his ministry because he was righteous. Therefore, if believers can shed their sin consciousness, they will no longer be cowards and will then become the people God was calling them to be. How many cowards do we have in the house? And how many days will we continue to be cowards? How many days will we continue to allow sin to make you a coward? Sin is not the prob- lem. Jesus has already given an answer to sin. The blood has already taken care of sin. Sin is not the problem. Quit making sin the problem. We have an advocate with the Father. Sin is not the 97Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  4. 4. 98 Exploring Prosperity Preaching problem. And we have not only made it the problem, we’ve al- lowed it to make us the cowards. I’m not a coward. I have a right to everything he promised and declared in this book. Now I’m sorry that some people don’t read all of it. But he has declared, he has declared I have a right to get answered prayer. He has declared that I have a right to come boldly to the throne of God. He has declared that I have a right to have forgiveness of my sin. He has declared that I have a right to be solid in every area, whole in every area of my life. And he has declared that I am to be rich. Now I am sorry that you don’t want to stand up for that.1 Dollar was basically telling his hearers that the reason many of them do not claim their rights as the embodiment of the righteousness of God is because they are too scared to do so. They are supposed to go boldly to God and claim their rights. Their rights, according to Dollar, include being rich. Bill Winston also tried to teach his hearers about the value of righteousness. In a sermon titled “Understanding Our Di- vinity,” he told his hearers that when they were born again, “they assumed the same nature as God.”2 One of the struggles that new converts have is the renewing of their minds. Before receiving Christ, people live in condemnation. After receiving Christ, they live in righteousness. Christians, Winston taught, have been programmed to believe that they have limits. But the new person who lives in righteousness is connected to the ability of God and therefore has no limits. Whereas people used to think small, after con- version they need to develop a new mentality. Winston cited Peter walking on the water as an example of a new mentality. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he told Jesus to call out to him so he could walk on the water too. Undoubt- edly, Winston speculated, there were people in the boat who were calling out to Peter, trying to get him to come back. They were telling him that he was crazy. But Peter believed that he could do what Jesus did. That “I can do anything” mentality is the mentality believers should have.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  5. 5. You Are the Righteousness of God 99 Both Dollar and Winston used Kenyon’s teachings about the righteousness of God as the basis for their preaching. Ac- cording to Kenyon, when Christ was resurrected from the grave, he gave Christians the ability to become the righteous- ness of God in him.3 Righteousness is the ability to stand before God’s presence as if one had never committed sin. Since believers have been declared righteous, they have God’s own nature.4 Kenyon asserted that Christians no longer have to live with a sense of spiritual inferiority or with a constant sin conscious- ness; rather, believers should live with Son consciousness.5 Son consciousness creates within believers the understanding that once they accept Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, they have at work in them the same unlimited ability and wisdom of God as Christ has. Kenyon’s Son consciousness is consis- tent with his teaching that believers are as much incarnations of God as Christ was when he was on earth. According to Kenyon, God created human beings because of God’s desire for fellowship. However, Adam’s sin broke fellowship with God. Since the righteousness of humanity has been restored through Jesus, perfect fellowship between God and humanity can be restored if humanity allows sin consciousness to be eradicated.6 If humanity does not allow sin consciousness to be eliminated, Satan’s work in Adam will be proven more effective than God’s work in Christ.7 When believers realize they are the righteousness of God, they can take their places as sons and daughters of God and walk as fearlessly through life as Jesus did.8 The text these prosperity preachers cite as evidence is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (niv). Does being the righteousness of God mean that humanity actually assumes the very nature of God? Are Jesus and humans on equal footing in the eyes of God? Comparing Word of Faith theology to another mainline Protestant theol- ogy may be instructive.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  6. 6. 100 Exploring Prosperity Preaching Because of Christ’s Righteousness Alone John Calvin, one of the authors of Reformed theology and one of the theologians who emerged during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, can offer another theo- logical perspective. Calvin wrote extensively in his Institutes of the Christian Religion about the justification by faith wherein humanity is forgiven of their sins and deemed righ- teous by God through their confession of faith in Jesus.9 For Calvin, believers are deemed righteous because our mediator, Jesus, is righteous. However, while Calvin believed that humans are made righteous in the eyes of God through Christ, he adamantly rejected the teachings of Andreas Osiander, a German theo- logian in his day, whom he contended was assigning divine attributes to humans. He argued that humans were not “transfused” with “divine essence” upon conversion.10 While Kenyon believed that humans assumed God’s nature when they were made righteous and were just as much incarna- tions of God as Christ, Calvin believed that being declared righteous was the beginning of a lifelong process of sanctifi- cation. Humans, according to Calvin, spent a lifetime living into their righteous status. What was at stake for Calvin in making this distinction? Why spend so much time and effort on it? Calvin argued against humans being imbued with divinity when they were justified by faith because of the reality of sin. For Calvin, even though God declares humans to be righteous when they accept Christ, they are not free from sin. Christ was free from sin. Humans are declared righteous simply because of God’s grace.11 It was only by the grace of God, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, that humans receive salva- tion and justification. Calvin believed that the continued ex- istence of sin, even among the converted, are a reality check for Christians that they are not as much incarnations of God as Christ.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  7. 7. You Are the Righteousness of God 101 While we should not allow the reality of our sinful natures to weigh us down, having some sin consciousness is not a bad thing. Being aware of sin and our propensity to commit sin allows us to be continually aware of dependency on God for all things. (I explore this further in Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff.) The Favor of God Calvin believed that serving God has benefits. One privilege of being the righteousness of God for Calvin is being the recipient of the favor of God. For Calvin, the favor of God is God’s assurance of God’s divine presence in this life and expectation of life with Christ in the next.12 For Calvin the favor of God also includes God’s blessings on human works (day-to-day activities) and work they do for God. Blessings on works represent divine favor, because by their own merit, hu- man works do not measure up to divine standards. No matter how good human works are, they are still tarnished with sin. However, because God looks at human works through Jesus Christ, God is able to attribute to them value they ordinarily would not have. Calvin argued that in as much as the promises of the law reward works, they are of little value, because the law is im- possible for humans to fulfill. Though impossible to fulfill, the law still serves as a guide for godly living. However, when the promises of the gospel (which include free pardon of sins and being accepted by God) are substituted for the promises of the law, then God blessed the works of the faithful: But when the gospel promises are substituted, promises which announce the free pardon of sins, the result is not only that our persons are accepted of God, but his favor also is shown to our works, and that not only in respect that the Lord is pleased with them, but also because he visits them with the blessings which were due by agreement to the observance of his law. I admit,Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  8. 8. 102 Exploring Prosperity Preaching therefore, that the works of the faithful are rewarded with the promises which God gave in his law to the cultivators of righ- teousness and holiness.13 While the favor of God for Calvin is given to the faithful according to the promises of God found in the law, godly favor does not necessarily equate to material wealth. Calvin believed that Christians can be faithful and blessed with the favor of God yet still be poor. For both prosperity theology and Calvin, the favor of God is a result of humanity being declared righteous by God. The difference between the two is that for prosperity theology, the favor of God manifests itself in the form of material wealth in addition to other blessings. In one sermon, Jerry Savelle shared with his hearers that when he became a Christian in 1969, someone gave him a book by Bob Buess titled Favor: The Road to Success. Until Savelle read the book, he had no idea that God thought so highly of humanity. He had always been taught that human righteousness was as filthy rags before God. When he read the book, he discovered that God made humans a little lower than God-self and crowned them with glory and honor: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:4-5, kjv). Savelle also learned that God has favorable thoughts about men and women. Through favor, God ensures that Christians become winners rather than losers. He referred to Genesis 12:2 in which God told Abraham that he would make his name great to demonstrate God’s promise to bless the people of God with divine favor. In Savelle’s view, the fa- vor of God and the grace of God are the same. While Savelle does not limit the favor of God to works associated with the law, he teaches that holiness and obedience to the word of God are necessary for believers to receive the blessings ofTaken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  9. 9. You Are the Righteousness of God 103 God. For Savelle, the favor of God includes entitlement to material wealth. Savelle also teaches his followers that the favor of God will change rules, regulations, and policies if necessary.14 He cited an example of a time in his own life when he and his wife were trying to enroll one of their daughters in school for the first time. According to state law, because of the date of her birth, his daughter had to wait an additional year before she could begin school. Savelle and his wife began to pray and declare divine favor. When it came time to enroll their daugh- ter, the school official told Savelle that he did not understand what happened, but the law had changed and they were now able to enroll their daughter in school. Savelle declared this to be an example of God’s divine favor at work in their lives. In the case of promotions at work, Savelle said that he knew people who did not have the seniority or the expertise that would qualify them for promotion. God nevertheless made a way for them to be promoted. Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff Bill Winston and other Word of Faith preachers tell their lis- teners that they are just as much incarnations of God as Jesus was. Indeed, when we examine John 14:12, we read that Jesus did tell the disciples that they would be able to do the same works (and even greater) than Jesus was able to do during his earthly ministry. However, as it relates to spiritual equality with Jesus, humanity still has to deal with the problem of sin. Therefore, humans are not Christ’s spiritual equals. Being recipients of the favor of God is especially good news for people who do not generally get much good news. People who struggle to meet their basic needs on a daily basis, who have been unemployed or underemployed for extended periods, and who don’t know how they are going to pay the rent or mortgage are glad to hear that God will bless their lives if they live by the word of God. People who encounterTaken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  10. 10. 104 Exploring Prosperity Preaching discrimination in their workplaces based on race, ethnicity, or gender are overjoyed to hear that they can claim the favor of God to help them advance in the midst of opposition. These are the types of situations in which the favor of God is most needed. Having the assurance of God’s blessings may help to give people in these circumstances the confidence they need to live boldly in the world and to dare to dream. While it is good news to hear that God is able to work miracles on behalf of the people of God, Savelle’s claims raise serious concerns. Christians who expect every law with which they take issue to be immediately changed and every regulation or policy that is disagreeable to them to be instant- ly eliminated are in for great disappointment. Even in cases of tremendous injustice, changing laws and policies can take months, years, decades, or even centuries. Chattel slavery of the West African–North American slave trade existed in this country for two hundred years before it was finally abolished. During that time, a lot of faithful Christians prayed, worked, and believed for its elimination. Even with all of that effort, it lasted for two centuries. After the abolition of slavery in the United States, it took many more decades of prayer, pain, and protest to achieve legal equality for African Americans in the form of basic civil rights in the United States. For example, the Montgomery bus boycott alone, which began on December 1, 1955, to en- able African Americans to ride in any section of the public bus system they chose, was a thirteen-month mass protest. Throughout that period, good Christian people were praying, walking, organizing, and sacrificing their time and efforts for the good of the cause. Many of these people had tremendous faith and believed God could do all things. Yet it took time to realize their dream of equality. The boycott ended with the United States Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. It was just one of a series of protests launched over the years that ultimately culminated with civil rights being extended to African Americans. ThoughTaken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  11. 11. You Are the Righteousness of God 105 God hears the prayers of God’s people, sometimes the positive outcome of our prayers is not immediate. As it relates to receiving promotions even though one is not qualified for the job, this too is problematic. First of all, people of God should always pray and ask God to reveal to them God’s will for their lives. This means that though we may want a promotion, we should first discern whether the promotion we desire is in line with God’s will for us. After discerning God’s will, Christians should then pray for help to achieve the qualifications necessary to get the job. No one should want to work in a job for which she or he is not qualified. Not being qualified for a position sets people up for failure. We certainly want to start a job with all of the knowledge and skills necessary to do it well. However, indiscriminate belief in the favor of God, in which one claims divine favor in all situations, such as get- ting a premium parking space, the best tickets to a football game, or moved to the front of a very long line can serve to turn our omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God into our own personal valet—a God who is at our beck and call to make our lives more comfortable and eliminate any inconveniences we may encounter in our daily lives. God does not exist for our convenience. We exist to bring glory to God. God helps us to bring God glory by giving us every- thing we need to live happy, productive, fulfilling lives that are accountable to God in every way (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally). The favor of God can also be a license for mediocrity with the expectation that God will somehow bless even our fee- blest, most token efforts. If we adopt this perception of godly favor, we believe that we no longer have to work hard to realize tangible results. We only have to pray and believe that God will work out situations on our behalf. For example, a medical student who prays for God’s help to pass an exam for which he or she has not adequately prepared could claim God’s divine favor to earn a passing grade. However, if thatTaken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  12. 12. 106 Exploring Prosperity Preaching student were enabled to pass without acquiring the neces- sary knowledge, that student would be robbing any future patients of a physician who is truly competent in the profes- sion. None of us would want to be the patient of a doctor who relied on divine favor to get through medical school. None of us would want to be operated on by a surgeon who did not quite master the breadth of knowledge necessary to be an excellent surgeon. We want doctors who worked hard, studied diligently, and gained the knowledge and skills neces- sary to treat us effectively. Just as we have high expectations of our physicians, we should also have high expectations of ourselves and all people. We should always strive to do the best we can in every aspect of our lives. God will help us, but we must also do our part. God will be there when we need God most. Among other issues raised in this chapter, I examined the concept of divine favor. Divine favor is good news for people who have been and are being treated unjustly in any way. African Americans are intimately acquainted with injustice, especially as it pertains to race. Yet, in the next chapter, we discover that Creflo Dollar contends that race does not matter. Notes 1. Creflo Dollar Jr., “Ruling and Reigning through Righteousness,” Cre- flo Dollar Ministries, 2001, audiocassette. 2. Bill Winston, “Understanding Our Divinity,” http://bwmbroadcast. org/player/flash?stream=BW591_2.mp4 (accessed September 17, 2010). 3. E. W. Kenyon, Jesus the Healer (Lynnwood, WA: Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, 1940), 8–9. By “righteousness of God,” Kenyon means a state of being without sin before God. At the moment the believer accepts Christ as Savior, he or she is declared righteous. 4. Ibid. 5. E. W. Kenyon, Identification: A Romance in Redemption (Lynnwood, WA: Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, 1941), 49–50. 6. E. W. Kenyon, The Father and His Family: The Story of Man’s Re- demption (Lynnwood, WA: Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, 1937), 219. 7. Ibid., 220.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.
  13. 13. You Are the Righteousness of God 107 8. Ibid., 223. 9. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.2, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002, Calvin%20Institutes%20of%20Christian%20Religion.pdf (accessed De- cember 13, 2011). 10. Ibid., 3.11.5. 11. Ibid., 3.11.11. 12. Ibid., 3.2.28. 13. Ibid., 3.17.3. 14. Jerry Savelle, “The Favor of God #2.” Jerry Savelle Ministries video podcast, iTunes, downloaded October 6, 2011.Taken from Exploring Prosperity Preaching: Biblical Health, Wealth, & Wisdom by Debra Mumford © 2012 by Judson Press. All rights reserved. Not to be sold or distributed in any manner.