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In this installment, I would like to offer some personal observations contrasting each side of this debate.

Pro-Prosperity

We believe God is a good God and always gives us good gifts and it is Satan — not God — who is stealing, killing, and destroying in the lives of believers and non-believers alike. We are prone to fight back with vigor and elán using the spoken Word of God (aka the Sword of the Spirit) in the power of His grace.

We define “humility” as submission to the Most High while regarding submission to evil is theologically foolish because we have God-given authority over Satan through the grace of God and Jesus’ finished work of the Cross.

We believe all God’s promises are true, His perfect will at all times and in all places, and available to all believers who will stand in faith upon them, regardless of their personal circumstances. In addition to the links just offered, I have taught further on this viewpoint here, here, here, and here which you may read at your leisure.

We tend to be non-denominational charismatics, specifically from the Word of Faith (hereafter “WoF”) camp of that demographic. While there are certainly exceptions, in my own personal experience such exceptions are rarer than hen’s teeth. Neither am I saying that all charismatic believers are pro-prosperity — I know several charismatics who have rejected the prosperity message, some of them close friends.

That being said, as I have touched on in previous articles here on Miscellaneous Ramblings, in no way do I believe or claim any doctrinal infallibility on the part of Pentecostals or charismatics — some of the worst biblical scholarship in existence has come from tongue-talkers, though non-charismatic cessationists and/or Calvinists tend to run-neck-and-neck with them in that regard.

Despite their many warts and blemishes — and yes, they do exist! — every major move of God in the earth since the dawn of the 20th century has been from that selfsame segment of Christianity. The Pentecostal Outpouring of the early 1900s created the existing Pentecostal denominations, while the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s crossed all denominational boundaries with God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Almost all of those so blessed during that second outpouring were given the “left foot of fellowship” (invited to leave their respective denominations), thus forming the current tendency for charismatic churches founded since then to be non-denominational, though even that has been changing of late. Examples of denominationalism springing from within the classic Charismatic Movement abound, Calvary Chapel and The Potter’s House being but two of them which come to mind.

One of the characteristics of the charismatic crowd is a openness and willingness to critically examine historical doctrinal teachings under the searing light of Scripture and rejecting all teachings which cannot withstand such scrutiny. The group who has done this to the greatest degree are the WoF folks, founded during the 1970’s Charismatic Renewal and coming into its own during the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s.

That being said, there are several teachings of the Word of Faith movement which I utterly reject, not as heretical, but simply as poor biblical scholarship. No matter how hard we may try, no segment of Christ’s Body has a total lock on Truth or an absolutely 100% accurate view on doctrine because we human beings have flawed perceptions and those perceptions will remain imperfect until Jesus’ return.

One of the unfortunate tendencies among WoF teachers is “error-by-emphasis,” a tendency to be so oppositional to the unscriptural teachings they find so distasteful in historical denominations that they swung the doctrinal pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

An excellent example is the concept of our identity in Christ.

Denominational churches taught for centuries we are sinners saved by grace alright, but effectively negated that truth with the erroneous concept we should be constantly focussed on our sins and remain in a perpetual state of guilt and shame over them. This sin-consciousness produced entire denominations who live in perpetual defeat and are so afraid of their Heavenly Father, they cannot/will not “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). Why? Because they feel unworthy to ask anything of God, afraid God is angry with them for constantly messing up.

Many such believers pursued dead religious works, trying to earn the favor of a God Who is not mad at them in the first place. So while lip-service was paid to “salvation-by-grace-alone,” the net result was a huge number of Christians operating under the delusion of having to “live by the rules” in order to please God so their prayers will be answered.

An example of this carried to its extremes arose from the Pentecostal revival of the early 1900s: the concept of “holiness.” Originally defined as living a consecrated life of obedience to the Most High (which is totally scriptural!), along the way Satan deceived folks into thinking it was about keeping a long list of rules (which is not scriptural in the slightest!).

While lip-service was again paid to the doctrine of “salvation by grace,” in practice it became a form of judaizing, a heresy the Apostle Paul confronted head-on and thoroughly refuted in the Book of Galatians. As this particular move of God institutionalized into the classic Pentecostal denominations we know today, this judaizing mindset became doctrinally entrenched there and remains to this day in most of them. As a result, anyone who cannot keep all the rules perfectly is automatically regarded as “less-than,” both in their own eyes and the eyes of their denominational peers.

To counter those doctrinal problems, WoF teachers over-emphasized the scriptural truth that we are children of the Most High, joint heirs with Jesus, completely righteous in the sight of God by the blood of Jesus and His finished work of the Cross. In other words, we are not only saved by grace and grace alone, but because of His imparted righteousness (aka The Great Exchange), we can “come boldly to the throne of grace…” with the total assurance we belong there.

The net result of such an over-emphasis was a bunch of believers who were deluded into thinking they could do no wrong, or at least if they did admit such, they would blow it off as being under the blood of Jesus, never coming to grips with the selfish parts of their personalities and behaviors which were causing pain to others. To my own former shame, I lived in such a delusional state for a couple of decades, so I know whereof I speak!

As any mature believer recognizes, the correct position on sin, guilt, and shame is we live in a tension between free grace and the scriptural requirement for us to crucify our flesh. But I digress…

As for suffering, we have explored what the Scriptures actually say about suffering and discovered sickness and poverty are not inherent to Christian suffering unless they are the result of persecution for the cause of Christ.

The prosperity message comes from just such a scrutiny of the denominational teachings of the past, challenging underlying their assumptions by asking and answering questions such as:

  • Is it really God’s will for believers to live in poverty?
  • What exactly is God’s will concerning finances?

Anti-Prosperity

The vast majority of the anti-prosperity crowd tends to come from non-charismatic mainline denominations, most of which were founded centuries ago and are rapidly becoming irrelevant and moribund in the modern era as they have drifted from their roots towards — and in several cases, into — outright apostasy .

A recent example of such drift is a recent referendum held within the United Methodists to accept transgenderism, same-sex marriage, and gays in the pastorate. From what I hear, it was defeated by the narrowest of margins. The Methodists in Russia and Africa tipped the scales towards a scriptural stance on these issues; had US-based Methodists been left to their own devices, the measure would have passed. Again, I digress…

On this side, you tend to find folks who believe God is the cause of both good and evil in our lives and Satan is merely a useful tool in His hands. In other words, they believe God is a cosmic child abuser whose abuse is lovingly dispensed for our ultimate spiritual good.

Such believers are prone to be victims of whatever evil occurs to them, accepting such evil as God’s will — a teaching mechanism intended to bring us into Christlikeness, if you will — and praying for the grace to endure, rather than fighting back against their true enemy, Satan.

They believe “humility” is peaceful submission to whatever evil circumstances are afflicting them, deluded into thinking they are submitting to God because, after all, that’s where everything comes from, both good and evil. They quote verses from the Book of Job out of their scriptural context to support this error.

While they give lip-service to the concept that God’s promises are indeed true and available to all believers, they simultaneously believe God makes exceptions for reasons unfathomable to us human beings, but ultimately for our eternal good. As a result, they live in a constant state of questioning whether God’s “Wheel of Blessing” will cause their number to come up regarding answers to their prayers.

These are key elements of Calvinism.

Theologians in this camp always seem to be looking to the past, elevating the writings of extra-biblical church fathers, Reformers, and famous revivalists to near-inerrantly-authoritative status. An interesting side-note is one of their doctrinal heroes, John Calvin, himself stated “Scripture is always interpreted through the limited lens of the contemporary cultural mindsets of the interpreters,” or words to that effect. However, they tend to ignore such inconvenient truths, even when stated by one of their primary spiritual influences.

Such believers — especially Calvinists — seem to major in the topic of suffering, apparently under the mistaken impression suffering-with-joy is the entirety of our Christian experience, an error-by-emphasis on their own part. While suffering-with-joy is indeed an integral part of any Christian believer’s ethos, it is absolutely not the be-all-end-all characteristic of the Christian life they portray it to be.

They major in us taking up our crosses but you rarely — if ever! — hear them teaching on what Jesus provided in his resurrection along with salvation.

So rather than truly living and preaching “sola scriptura” (only Scripture) — one of the battle cries of the Protestant Reformation — they merely give lip-service to the concept, using their religious traditions and the writings of long-dead theologians as filters through which they see what the Bible actually says.

As a result, even those who are not theological liberals remain hostile to all things charismatic and are predisposed to challenge anything which does not conform to their narrow view of how Scripture should be interpreted.

This means you will find in this group a bunch of theologians who can interpret Scripture accurately on any topic except these five:

  1. Certain aspects of the character of God
  2. Human free will
  3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues
  4. Divine healing
  5. Divine prosperity

Whenever these topics are in play, they seem to throw the playbook for proper biblical interpretation (aka exegesis) and immediately fall back to their own personal prejudices and religious traditions (aka eisegesis), deluded into thinking they are being totally scriptural.

They also tend to display what we Southerners call “elitist Yankee snootiness,” though such intellectual arrogance is certainly far from contained within any single geographic region. Theologians from this camp tend to appoint themselves “guardians of the faith” and declare anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them is a heretic. Such spiritual hubris is endemic within this crowd, with certain leaders exalting themselves to be spiritual judge and jury over the Church and its practices. Sorry, gang, but that job has already been taken and none of you is even remotely qualified to replace Him!

I read a Christian book awhile back detailing the moves of God which have occurred throughout church history. Here is the pattern it portrayed over and over again, starting with Jesus Himself, and continuing up through the present day:

  1. God initiates something new in the earth (the “new guard”) because existing religious institutions (the “old guard”) have become stagnant and moribund.
  2. The old guard persecutes the new.
  3. The new guard takes off anyway — because after all, it was God Who initiated the whole thing in the first place — and transforms God’s people.
  4. The old guard fades into insignificance as the new guard achieves critical mass and cultural supremacy within Christendom.
  5. The new guard gradually institutionalizes, becomes stagnant and moribund, thereby becoming a new old guard.
  6. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

In fairness, there are more than a few WoF ministers who gleefully take potshots from their pulpits at such folks, judging them as spiritually ignorant/deceived/etc., so neither side has innocent hands in the war of words.

Non-Denominational Non-Charismatic Churches

In all fairness, there is a burgeoning movement of non-charismatic churches into the non-denominational space, primarily coming out of the various Baptist denominations. I’ve attended 3 of them, one in Las Vegas, Nevada as a guest, one is our former church in Tucson before we moved north, and the final one is our current church which we have attended for the last 8 years.

One of the interesting characteristics of such churches is their assimilation of many WoF concepts into their teaching, primarily our identity in Christ, recognizing negative circumstances as attacks of Satan requiring spiritual warfare using our God-given authority in Christ, verbally confessing God’s Word, and standing in faith on God’s Word in the midst of trials, tribulations, and temptations, expecting victory over them.

Just tonight we heard an excellent message on faith from one of our teaching pastors which sounded like dozens I have heard over the years in WoF churches and it was far from being the first such instance.

It was awesome!

Summary

There are always exceptions to every generalization ever made, but these are the broad strokes.

I know it appears to some folks the WoF movement is composed of Type A extroverts and traditional churches composed of Type B introverts, but that is an invalid over-generalization. While anyone who knows me even for a few minutes will instantly detect I’m a Type A extrovert (my friends and opponents alike all know I can be assertive to a fault), as I just mentally inventoried my own circle of close friends — the vast majority of them fellow ministers, I might add — it astonished me just how many of them are indeed sensitive introverts, yet almost all of them are in total agreement with me doctrinally.

Go figure!

Thanks for reading!