Word of Faith Wealth Theology: Part One

This entry is part 10 of 23 in the series Wolves in Wool

Continuing in their pursuit of “get what you want” theology, the next major assault of the Bible in the WOF teaching concerns their doctrine of wealth.   This doctrine teaches that each believer in Christ should expect to be wealthy and have the absolute best of everything our culture offers.

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Word of Faith Wealth Theology

Continuing in their pursuit of “get what you want” theology, the next major assault of the Bible in the WOF teaching concerns their doctrine of wealth.   This doctrine teaches that each believer in Christ should expect to be wealthy and have the absolute best of everything our culture offers.  And, to not be wealthy puts one in the same esteem as one who is not healthy in their world view: a spiritual failure.

“Yeah, God has pleasure in the prosperity. So he must have displeasure in the poverty. So if he does, then poverty couldn’t be from God. Yeah, but Brother Price, but God allows it. God lets it happen. You’re right, he does. He does, because you do. He can’t do anything about it.”
Fred Price, (Ever Increasing Faith 11/16/90).

God wants all believers to be wealthy

The essence of this doctrine begins, of course, with the idea that God wants his children all to be wealthy.  For, according to these teachers, wealth is a God-given right. 

“He wants His children to eat the best, He wants them to wear the best clothing, He wants them to drive the best cars, and He wants them to have the best of everything.”
Kenneth Hagin, Sr. (Quoted by D.L. McConnell, A Different Gospel p.175)

While this sounds both appealing and desirable, it is completely contrary to the teachings of scripture. 

Paul serves as a firm rebuttal witness to this idea, as he says,

1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NIV)
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

According to Paul, God’s children are to be content with food and clothing alone!  And, contrary to Hagin’s premise, Paul notes that the desire to get rich leads men into destruction, rather than God’s good graces.  He concludes the matter with the true biblical position concerning the pursuit of wealth, “ But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

It is important to note that neither Paul, nor any other biblical writers teach that wealth is inherently evil, or that to have wealth is to be in a sinful state.  What Paul teaches, however, is quite contrary to the WOF position, namely that God wants everyone to be rich.  Paul teaches that God wants everyone to be content with what God has provided for them.  One’s pursuit is not to be oriented toward riches, but righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

Yet, Fred Price insinuates that believers are somehow on God’s payroll, and should expect a financial reward from their service to God!

“most employers at least have enough common decency about them that they don’t ask somebody to work for them for free…. If a man has enough nicety about him to do that, can’t you at least believe that the Father God is not asking you to serve Him for free either?”
Fred Price,  (D.L. McConnell p.170 op. cit. F. Price Faith, Foolishness, presumption p.7)

To “serve him for free???  Does Price have no understanding of the scriptures?  Do they really think God owes them something?  Indeed, he does, but it is not a reward.  It is death to all who have sinned.  Man does not serve God for free or for pay, but in response to God’s goodness.    Because God has not given us what we have earned – the wages of sin (death) – Romans says,

Romans 12:1 (NIV)
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

Our service to God is a response to his mercy!  He saved believers from an eternal destiny of destruction and Hell.  That is all we have ever earned.  Yet, Jesus died on a cross to pay for our sins!  How can my service to him be considered as “free???”  To serve him is ”your spiritual act of worship,” or, as the KJV states it, “your reasonable service.”  Worship, or service to God, is a response, not an occupation which yields a wage.  God’s gift of eternal life has already been accepted by his worshippers, and it can never be repaid by one’s service.  Service, then, is one’s response to what God has already done.  It is not a means to a paycheck!  In fact, to preach service to God as a means to financial gain is the biblical marker of a false teacher!

1 Timothy 6:3-5 (NIV)
3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

At least Price, Hinn, Hagin and others make our jobs easy.  By proclaiming service to the kingdom as a means to financial gain, they have firmly established to the true church what they are.  Paul states clearly that they are those who teach such doctrines are “men of corrupt mind,” and those “who have been robbed of the truth.”

Yet, this text doesn’t stop the prosperity preachers from dictating contrary doctrines, out of their own extra-biblical sources.

“Poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous.”
Benny Hinn, (TBN, 11/6/90)

Once again, Benny, could we have chapter and verse, please?  One can only assume this teaching to come from the book of 1 Benny. 

Friends, any teacher, including myself, Billy Graham or Martin Luther, should establish their teachings on the basis of biblical exegesis.  The very definition of preaching and teaching within the confines of the Christian church necessitates that a teacher teaches that which comes from the Bible, rather than from their minds, culture, historical hand-me-downs or other extra-biblical sources.  To teach that which is added to the Bible, in fact, is the very essence of the definition of a cult.  Mormons, for example, are considered a cult by the bulk of Christianity because they have added to the scriptures their own book of rhetoric. 

These teachers do precisely the same, methodically teaching their own agendas, using scripture as “support material.”  In true biblical preaching, scripture is the source material.  When scripture becomes secondary to one’s own message, it has been relegated to the realms of illustration, poems and stories.  In such cases, they have defined themselves as Paul warned; those who teach “false doctrines and (do) not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.”

Jesus was wealthy

A major supposed “support” for the WOF wealth doctrines comes from the twisting of scriptures which attempts to identify Jesus, himself, as being a wealthy man.  As Prices says it,

“The whole point is I’m trying to get you to see–to get you out of this malaise of thinking that Jesus and the disciples were poor and then relating that to you- thinking that you, as a child of God, have to follow Jesus. The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.”
Fredrick K.C. Price (Ever Increasing Faith, TBN December 9, 1990)

Price at least asserts that we are to follow Jesus!  Sadly, he has no concept of what that truth reveals.  According to him (and the rest of the WOF gang) the church has historically misunderstood Jesus financial status.  Jesus, they say, was in fact quite wealthy, which is why Price drives “a Rolls Royce.”

 John Avanzini goes the extra mile on this false doctrine, damaging at least three different biblical texts; falsifying them into their exact polar opposite that he may teach Jesus was rich.

Jesus had a nice house, a big house – big enough to have company stay the night with Him at the house. Let me show you His house. Go over to John the first chapter and I’ll show you His house…. Now, child of God, that’s a house big enough to have company stay the night in. There’s His house.”
John Avanzini (Believer’s Voice of Victory, TBN January 20, 1991)

The first example is his deduction that Jesus was rich because Jesus had a nice, big house.  Avanzini invites us to challenge him via the rare reference to a chapter and verse.  I do appreciate that change of pace.  Let’s accept that challenge, shall we?

John 1:35-39 (NIV)
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

Avanzini’s conclusions are that 1) Jesus had a house, 2) it was a nice house, 3) it was a big house.

John 1 teaches none of these conclusions.  The question asked of Jesus in verse 38 is not “do you own a house,” but rather, “where are you staying.”  My children do not own a house, but they stay in my house freely.  Nothing in the text indicates that Jesus owned this house, but only that Jesus had a place to stay in Bethany.  Additionally, there is absolutely nothing in the text that indicates the niceness of the home where he was staying, nor is there anything which notes the size of the home.  Verse 37 notes that two men went to stay with Jesus that day, not specifically even indicated that they stayed the night.  Yet, we’ll assume that they did stay the night, which very well may have happened.  If this is the case, just how large does a home need to be to accompany two additional men?  Could not a 500 square foot efficiency apartment in the South Bronx accommodate two additional people for an evening?  What about a small tent, for crying out loud?  Aside from the fact that this was not Jesus’ home, it is an asinine presumption to conclude a home to be “large” because two additional men stayed an evening in it. A grass hut in the poorest African village could accommodate the same.

Far more important than Avanzini’s egregious eisegesis (reading into the text), however, are Jesus’ own words on the subject.

Matthew 8:18-20 (NIV)
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

In response to a disciple offering to travel with Jesus, his comment was simple, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  In effect, Jesus warns this disciple that he had no home, and that following him is no picnic.  While Jesus surely had accommodations with his family in Nazareth, he personally had no home of his own; the supposed sign of his wealth given by WOF teachers.  One must only decide whether to believe Jesus’ own testimony or Avanzini’s.

Another infamous Avanzini perjury concerns Jesus’ supposed wearing of “designer clothing.”

“John 19 tells us that Jesus wore designer clothes. Well, what else you gonna call it? Designer clothes – that’s blasphemy. No, that’s what we call them today. I mean, you didn’t get the stuff He wore off the rack. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. No, this was custom stuff. It was the kind of garment that kings and rich merchants wore. Kings and rich merchants wore that garment.”
John Avanzini (Believer’s Voice of Victory, TBN January 20, 1991)

Sadly, what Avanzini refers to is nothing short of a mockery of Jesus’ shame on the cross. 

John 19:23-24 (NIV)
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.

The context of John 19, of course, is Jesus’ crucifixion.  As was customary, the soldiers took the clothing of the victims for themselves.  In Jesus’ case, only one garment was noted to be special; his undergarment.  The other clothes were distributed without issue, but the undergarment was noted to indeed be unique.  It “was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” 

Indeed, scripture teaches that Jesus did have a very nice undergarment.  It was apparently beautifully and impressively made.  Avanzini’s assertion, however, only communicates his lack of knowledge of historical biblical background.  All clothing was hand-made in those days.  None of it was likely to have come “off the rack,” but rather from a family member whose job was to make clothing for the household.  To have a garment which was unique by merit of it’s being “woven in one piece from top to bottom” speaks not to the expense of it, but rather the craftsmanship of its maker.  Mary, or any other woman in Jesus’ family would likely have made this garment.  Any of Jesus’ close friends may have made it.  The uniqueness of it speaks only to the skill and possibly the time invested in its construction, however.  It says nothing of the expense of the materials.  Yes, it was custom made, as most all garments were in that day.  Yet, the portrait of Jesus getting measured for one of Avanzini’s Armani suits is not being depicted in the text at all.

A third claim to Jesus’ supposed wealth is said to be the fruits of Jesus’ supposedly affluent ministry. 

“Jesus was handling big money because that treasurer He had was a thief. Now you can’t tell me that a ministry with a treasurer that’s a thief can operate on a few pennies. It took big money to operate that ministry because Judas was stealing out of that bag. If you have a treasurer, that means you have a lot of money.”
John Avanzini (Praise the Lord, TBN, September 15, 1988)

Once again, Avanzini speculates a very sloppy conclusion.  He states that Jesus must have been handling big money because 1) ” If you have a treasurer, that means you have a lot of money” and 2) ” because that treasurer He had was a thief.” 

To “have” a treasurer only denotes that a person has been assigned the responsibility of keeping the finances of a group.  It in no way demands a certain sum of money to exist, but only an accountable party to have been established to oversee a group’s cash flow- however large or small.  Boy Scout troops and community watches have treasurers.  They certainly would not be construed to be handling “big money” for that reason alone. 

Likewise, to have a treasurer who is a thief also does not indicate a large sum.  It only indicates the acquisition of a dishonest treasurer.  A treasurer who steals $5 from a $50 kitty is as much of a thief as one who embezzles millions.  Being “a thief” is not defined by a compulsory dollar amount which one must have stolen.  A thief, by definition, is one who takes something which does not belong to him; regardless of the amount. 

Actually, Avanzini’s reference to Judas’ greed serves more to prove that Jesus’ itinerate ministry did not have “big money,” for Judas gave up his ongoing treasury theft for a singular payout of thirty silver coins. 

Matthew 26:14-15 (NIV)
14 Then one of the Twelve–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.

These silver pieces were most likely shekels or drachmas.  The shekel, being the larger, equated to roughly 1/2 ounce of silver, or a total of 15 ounces of silver for all 30 pieces.  Mathew’s readers would have readily understood the price of 30 pieces of silver to equate to the compensatory price of a slave some fifteen hundred years earlier in accordance to the Law of Moses.

Exodus 21:32 (NIV)
32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.

Thus, by all practical understanding, Jesus was sold cheap by Judas; the price of a common slave.  In today’s market, silver sells for about $10 per ounce, to put it in some perspective.  It Jesus’ day, the 30 pieces of silver were perhaps worth a bit more, but not a huge sum of money, none-the-less.  The question that must be asked then, is simple.  If Jesus was handling “big money,” and Judas was stealing regularly from that “big money” stockpile, why would he sell Jesus off for what amounts to a few hundred bucks???  Judas, a thief, was clearly an opportunist.  It makes no logical sense that he was stealing from a pot of “big money” yet sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  This is especially true coming from the mouth of John Avanzini, who can afford to drop that entire amount in a single meal.

Scripture teaches quite contrary to the WOF assertion of Jesus’ wealth.  Jesus was in fact, poor, as numerous scriptures indicate.

He was in fact poor from birth, being designated by God to be raised by virtual paupers.

Luke 2:22-24 (NIV)
22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Jesus’ parents offered a pair of doves for Mary’s purification.  Normally, one offered a lamb.  Yet, Luke informs the reader that Joseph and Mary gave either doves or pigeons, the offering of the poor.

Leviticus 12:7-8 (NIV)
7 He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. “‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8 If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”

The law clearly states that the normal purification was to be a lamb.  Only if the mother is too poor to afford a lamb is she allowed by the law to offer doves or pigeons.  Mary, clearly, was just such a woman.  

Furthermore, as has been established by Jesus’ own confession, he had no home of his own, but lived an itinerate lifestyle.  The fact that Avanzini claims he had a home is only contradictory to Jesus’ own words, proving that Avanzini is willing even to call Jesus a liar for his unrighteous goals.

Another scriptural proof of Jesus’ financial standing is seen in that Jesus was buried in another man’s (a truly rich man’s) tomb rather than his own.

Matthew 27:57-60 (NIV)
57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

If Jesus had “big money,” why was he not put in his own tomb?  If Jesus had money for his own tomb, why would a rich man put Jesus in his own tomb?

Every scriptural teaching which hints at Jesus’ financial position is consistent.  Jesus was not rich.  He was the son of a poor father, a carpenter by trade, followed by a three year itinerant preaching ministry during which time he had no home nor a regular income beyond the donations of some of his followers.  He died with only one possession of noted envy; a nicely woven undergarment.

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