Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Charismatism: Word-faith - Health and Wealth non-gospel part 2

[continued from here, here, here and here]


A related issue of the propsperity health-and-wealth "gospel" of course is propserity. Depending on the way it is expressed, this aspect could be stated bluntly as saying that God wants believers to be rich, and that being poor is a vice, or it could be "softened" by saying that God wants us to live lives abundently (supposedly based on ) and thus God has promised to bless us abundantly.

We would look into the issue in "all its glory" first, before considering various nuances and modified versions of it.

As it has earlier been seen, Robert Tilton considers poverty a sin, as it does not draw on the resources of heaven. Since God is rich, we who are the sons and daughters of the King should be rich too. John Avanzini even dares to imply that Jesus and his disciples are rich[1]. Coupled with all these teachings is the idea of "seed money" aka the hundred-fold principle[2], whereby whoever gives to God by giving to the faith teacher's ministry will receive from God a hundred-fold back for what he has given to Him. Not too bad an investment, isn't it?

That being said, let us analyze their teachings according to the Scripture, and thus see whether what they teach is indeed biblical.

To support the idea that God promises material blessing, the following verse is often cited:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

It must be conceded that the context related to financial issues, as verses 10-15 shows. However, that said, does it mean that Paul had in mind that Christ died so that all believers might become materially rich? NO! The larger context also makes it clear that the issue is one of supporting the brethren who are in financial and material difficulties, with the intended result being that "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack." (v. 15). Note that those who are said to gather much will have nothing left over, hardly the idea of material prosperity. And of course, it cannot be discounted that those who are being helped are facing sever hardship materially. After all, it is illogical to maintain that Christ died so that all believers might be rich so that they can benefit other believers who are poor; are not these poor believers also given the promise of financial blessing also?

As it can be seen, the context is of churches helping each other out, and we must interpret the verse in this context. In verse 8, it is stated that their love is proven to be genuine through this generosity on their part for the brethren. And verses 11 and 12 make it plain that they have this desire which Paul exhorts to be completed in action. Therefore, the richness states in verse 9 must be the fruit of the Spirit which produces such love and compassion for the brethren. This is further confirmed in verse 2 where Paul states that the churhes of Macedonia, that "their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part". If we really think of material propsperity here, then this verse makes no sense, for how can extreme poverty overflow into a wealth of genrosity? Poverty cannot generate wealth! Only by realizing that this verse and verse 9 also talks about spiritual wealth can we begin to make sense of the chapter.

Avanzini goes to the extreme of even teaching Jesus and his disciples as being rich, which seem contradictory to Scripture even on the surface. After all, how can Jesus say then that he has no place to rest his head — no permanant resting place which can be properly called home (Mt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58)? How can it be said even by their interpretation of 2 Cor. 8:9 that Jesus became poor for our behalf in order that we might be rich, since it is even denied that Jesus became poor in the first place? And with regards to the disciples, how can one reconcile this teaching with the writings of the Apostle Paul who states in 1 Cor. 4:11 and 2 Cor. 6:10 that the Apostles and the ministers of God's Word are poor and poorly dressed? Or how about Peter and John in Acts 3:6 who said that they do not have silver and gold to give to the lame person? Even if you would then say that this is such that the "ordinary members" would become rich, based on a distortion of 2 Cor. 6:10 (which refers to spiritual richness), that doesn't seem to be a case in the Word-faith circus whereby it is the 'pastors' who are rich (even filthy rich) while the members are mainly poor.

Nevertheless, let us look at the ridiculous argumentation they have came up with.

Avanzini teaches that:

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

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. [3]

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[4].

This is truly an astonishing argumentation, which seems to contradict the express teaching of Scripture we have considered earlier showing Jesus to be poor. Of course, the archeological evidence could be used also, as

Archeological excavations of Nazareth from the 1950’s show the village of Jesus' day were occupied by poor agricultural people. As Jesus grew up he worked in the trade of a carpenter, not a trade known for its wealth. How did Jesus become rich with a step-dad who was only a carpenter? There is absolutely no indication anywhere that he was wealthy from his family or from traveling with His disciples. By the way, He took no tithes [5].

This said, let us look more in depth into the verses and examples mentioned by Avanzini.

In Jn. 19:23-24, the Roman soldiers split up Jesus' clothing among them, and cast lots for his tunic, the odd one out. Somehow, the fact that the Roman soliders would divide the clothing and cast lots for the remaining tunic meant that Jesus' clothes were designer clothes? Avanzini must really have a very creative and imaginative mind indeed! And what does he expect the Roman soldiers to do with the clothing? Throw them away? I am sure rich people like Avanzinin would do that since they have too much money to spend and too many clothes to choose from, but the Roman soldiers who do not earn that much are unlikely to have such a luxury. Needless to say, such an infernce is invalid and is more of an argument from silence. In fact, it is pure eisegesis since nowhere in Scripture is it stated that Jesus is rich but it is stated many times that he was poor.

What about Jesus' purported 'big house'? In Jn. 1, it is stated that two disciples of John the Baptist followed Jesus and stayed in his home for the night as it was late (Jn. 1:39). Does this somehow mean that his home was big? Well, if one requires as much private space as Avanzini and most modern Americans, probably yes. However, Jesus lived as a Jew in the Jewish culture, of which the Middle Eastern and Asian cultural mindset is much more dominant. Avanzini should perhaps go and visit some of the homes of Chinese in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, or even student dorms there to see how it is possible to squeeze a few people in one place. And most of all, no one seems to mind it a lot and complain about the lack of private space. As it can be seen therefore, Avanzini is arguing from silence in a way totally alien from the culture in which Jesus lived, and therefore he is in error.

The last proof offered up which perhaps is more believable is the fact of Judas being the treasurer of the group. However, Avanzini made the assumption that only rich people and groups have treasurers, but this is not true! Any group which functions as a group would consolidate the funds and appoint a treasurer to do the task of keeping accounts, regardless of whether the amount was big or small. As an example, classes for children in schools often appoint a class treasurer to collect money for various class events and joint projects etc, but is anyone going to claim that large sums of money were involved? Yes, they look like a lot for these children, but the amount is not truly a lot in the world, like for example few hundred dollars. How much can you buy for feww hundred dollars in Singapore, for example? Not even the down payment for the cheapest home here, or even a small car (well maybe one restaurant meal for a few people)!

The next error that Avanzini makes is that he assumes that people would only steal large amounts and not small amounts. Presumeably, his brain is so lofty he can only think of large amounts of money and not small figures. But one thing is for certain: he doesn't seem to know what poverty is and how poor thiefs are content with stealing even one dollar from a person, even though Avanzini certainly can dispense with a mere one dollar since he is so rich that its loss will certainly not affect him in the slightest. With such a 'true' prosperity mindset, it is no wonder that Avanzini can only see Jesus as being prosperous since in his eyes, only rich people can have the financial capabilities to do ministry, and they must of course do it his style with lavish spending on hotels, meals etc.

We would next look at the so-called 'seed money' concept or the 'hundred-fold principle', based on an absurd distortion of Mk. 10:29-30, which states:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will 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. (Mk. 10:29-30)

This verse in context, far from supporting Avanzini's position, actually says nothing of the sort! It is talking about how God will recompense His followers for the essential things like a place to stay (house/home) and relationships which are broken because of the person coming to faith in Christ. God will provide for that person abundently for his needs (not wants), and this provision would come with persecution, of which the latter seems to be conveniently ignored. Which does indeed bring about the next point: Didn't Jesus promise us the abundant life? Yes, He indeed did, but the abundant life as defined by who? Surely we must read the Scriptures in context to look at what it meant. In Jn. 10:10, the abundant life Jesus is said to give is contrasted with the intention of the devil to steal, kill and destroy, and the larger context is that of Jesus being the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep. Therefore, it can be seen that the abundant life is defined spiritually in a saving relationship with Christ first and foremost, not primarily defined by meeting any "emotional needs" or worse still, "physical or financial needs".

But some people may maintain, even then, doesn't God say He would provide for us and bless us, even materially? Well, God may do so, and He may not do so either. The same God who brought prosperity to Job also took it away from him; the same God who made Jacob prosperous in Laben's household also allowed the Macedonian believers to be poor (2 Cor. 8:2). The fact of the matter is: Christianity is NOT about riches, but about salvation from a literal hell from the literal wrath of God. And it is this problem of the Word-faith movement we would now look at.

[to be continued]


[1] John Avanzini, "Believer's Voice of Victory" program on TBN (January 20, 1991), as quoted in John Avanzini (

[2] John Avanzini, "Praise the Lord" program on TBN (November 5, 1990), as quoted in John Avanzini (

[3] John Avanzini, "Believer's Voice of Victory" program on TBN (January 20, 1991), as quoted in John Avanzini (

[4] John Avanzini, "Praise the Lord" program on TBN (September 15, 1988), as quoted in John Avanzini (

[5] Was Jeus Rich? (

No comments: