Why prosperity gospel should not be condemned but redeemed

Christian faithful in prayer at a church in Umoja, Nairobi, on January 1, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Everyone wants to prosper. Why then is the prosperity gospel badly talked about?  Several factors contribute to this irony.

It is generally accepted that it is immoral to create wealth at the expense of the poor. The poor are to be lifted and not exploited. Pastors who manipulate their congregations to fund a private ambition of becoming rich are deemed criminals. They are seen as using the good news road to smuggle in tainted riches.

 Some pastors have threatened their members that should they leave the church, the favour upon them will crumble and their work will collapse. They teach that one cannot use their pastor’s anointing only to “run-off” when they seem to prosper.

To retain any benefits gained one must retain the man of God from which the blessing was tapped. Given the prevalent anxiety of possible misfortune as a consequence of defying a man of God, people stick to these churches even when they can observe some ridiculous practices. Such is churching by instilling fear. It breeds a dependency on the benefit of the pastor. 

By its structure, the prosperity gospel does not take a bottom-up approach. The pastor has to prosper first so that they earn the authority to speak prosperity into the lives of others. The gospel does not work with poor pastors. Only when the pastor is wealthy can the congregants reach out and “tap” the anointing of wealth.  Such is the seed-transmitted wealth.

The pastor must be the symbol of prosperity.  In its extreme versions, the pastor must be the wealthiest. A wealthier person in the congregation is deemed enlightened and therefore risky because upon detecting the schemes of the pastor, they can oppose and expose the pastor and ruin the enterprise.

The pastor must be the symbol of prosperity. [iStockphoto]

But given that the story of the scriptures is a story of a continuous exodus – movement from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality, from the cross to the resurrection - the theme of prosperity is not to dismiss. The question, therefore, is not replacing the prosperity gospel but redeeming it.  A closer look at the theme of prosperity as part of the Christian experience leads to some redeeming perspectives.

Turning pronouncements into institutions:  A big flaw in the prosperity gospel as preached in contemporary tomes is its “freeze” which makes it not translate favorable prophetic pronouncements into actual sound institutions.  In its street form, the prosperity gospel would best relate with a gambling and shylock outfit!  But put in the context of holistic salvation, the prosperity gospel would do well to develop institutions that support God’s people in multiplying their wealth.

This pronouncements-into-institutions journey requires hard thinking and hard work too. And this is exactly the call. Avoiding it amounts to cheating. The prosperity school must lay down its fancy suits and synthetic hairstyles and get into the creative mud of imagination and innovation. To just “speak” prosperity to the people, seek their offering, and disappear into a limousine is totally ungodly.  It is God-inspired and exemplarily structured wealth-fanning institutions that would begin to directly challenge the poverty-creating institutions. 

Solutionist approach.  The prosperity school must see a sea of jobless young people not as a threat to its coffers but as an opportunity for its mission. Did David not see in Goliath an opportunity for grand triumph where Israel’s army saw death? God loves His creation. God creates not only people but also their environments and livelihoods. As Sauti Soul says “Mungu akileta mtoto, analeta sahani yake (God creates a child together with their plate of food)".  This should not be understood literally. It means there is enough food for everyone in the world to eat. But in reality, it often takes work to get the plate of food.

Sometimes it takes convincing those with more plates of the need to share them with those with none. Sometimes it necessitates legal instruments to wrench a plate from one hand and hand it to another.  Jesus made the disciples face the reality of a hungry crowd and told them “You give them something to eat.” 

A prosperity faith view should ask within its boardrooms and prayer rooms “How do we create job opportunities for the young people?” And don’t say the role of the church is not to create jobs! If you can pray all night for young people to get jobs, surely you can pray for one more night and ask for the capacity to create those jobs!

The prosperity school must see a sea of jobless young people not as a threat to its coffers but as an opportunity for its mission. [iStockphoto]

Rise against oppressive systems.  The sober form of the prosperity gospel should have the mantra “Prosperity for all.” Such is the spirit that rises against the vice of greed which steals opportunities from those who deserve them.   

Exorcising oppressive systems involves equipping oppressed people with a new mindset.  The mindset that “All human beings are created equal” should fit well in the prosperity philosophy. The social re-engineering that brings identity reorientation takes more than touch-and-go spiritual sprints. Old-time crusades will not do.

It takes pitching camp in local communities preaching revolutionising self-understanding and repositioned decoding of the environment. The current trend, however, is one where the church is happy to offer “the prayer for food” (read loot) at the oppressor's table and is happy to bless the gatherings of the oppressors - at a small token of cause. 

A fellowship philanthropist.  Just by its name, the prosperity school implies a network of high-net-worth people. The loving form of prosperity teachings should invest in creating avenues for this fellowship of the wealthy to channel wealth into communities on a mission of elevating the dignity of the people. 

The altar call in this fellowship of the rich should grant the members a chance to face the invitation “Who shall I send?” To the extent that money mediates abundance, the impoverished will then hear disciples of the prosperity school say “Here is the silver and gold to make you well.”