The Gospel of Prosperity

Light of truth

In recent decades, the Indian Christian landscape has witnessed the emergence of preaching the Gospel of prosperity in Charismatic movements and retreat centres. The charismatic Christianity covertly advocates the Gospel of Prosperity whereas Pentecostal Christianity does it overtly. Our preachers usually abstain from explicit money mongering, but there is in their preaching the bitch, avarice, leers “enviously out of everything they do”, to borrow a phrase of Nietzsche. If the preacher remains a repressed fantastic desiring-machine of the market, the preaching will only produce money. This form of Pentecostal Christianity is said to be a variant of conservative Protestantism. Catholic charismatic movement has taken in Marian devotion and adoration of Blessed Sacrament, but the basic doctrine of Pentecostal theology remains. It proposes that “faith is the key that opens the door to prosperity.” Luther’s concept of calling (vocation) and Calvin’s doctrine of predestination are basic to Pentecostal movement. Who is predestined is unknown but worldly activities like business entrepreneurship became accepted as the medium whereby such surety of being chosen could be demonstrated. Grace of God made manifest in health and wealth. Significantly, the Prosperity Gospel Churches espouse a contrary paradigm of poverty alleviation to that maintained by the Catholic Church and other historic missionary churches. The American belief that pious religious belief should obtain the faithful material wealth stretches much farther back. Even ignoring the Puritans and the Quakers commercialistic Christianity, Russell Conwell directly preached prosperity more than 100 years ago. Other pseudo-Christian occult prosperity rhetoric flourished throughout the early 20th century.

These emergent religious movements regard the social teaching of the Catholic Church as somewhat demonizing wealth as well as glorifying poverty. Their own version of social doctrine proposes prosperity and abundance as God’s design and favour to every faithful and tithing Christian believer. A Christian is entitled to prosperity and material abundance. He or she must necessarily become rich and successful, otherwise something is very wrong. The Prosperity Gospel preachers validate their creed by flaunting prosperity of all kinds, including wealth, health, success, and ever-soaring profits in business. Poverty is portrayed by them as the work of Satan; hence it has to be absolutely demonised. To be poor is a sign of one’s personal sin and a consequence of insufficient faith. It is the lack of money, not the love of it, which is the root of all evils.

There is serious theological deviation in this movement. The Gospel of Christ is edited and deformed. If liberation theology edited the Gospel according to Communist Manifesto, charismatic theology edited the Gospel according to Capitalist Manifesto. Christianity is deformed according to the American dollar. Charismatic preaching and retreat centres can become an easy way of making money for self-proclaimed godmen and their religious institutions. It is a worldly religion made according to the Gospel of Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism.Pope Francis has often warned against the perils of this theology that can ‘overshadow the Gospel of Christ.’ Christianity becomes a salvific ideology of individualism. Christianity is deconstructed according to the American dollar. It eliminates the crucified from the centrality of Christian life. It is in essence a belief in blind fatalism of Calvinist predestination. Solidarity with Jesus, God made man, “draws humanity to become with him the heirs of God …It is the foundation of the People of God under the new dispensation, which makes of this People the Body of Christ. The consequence of this solidarity rendered effective by God is that whatever is done to human beings is done, in a certain way, to Christ” as Congar wrote. His thought is above all for those “who suffer destitution in all its forms” or even more precisely for “so many poor people who, throughout the centuries, have been beaten, hanged, crucified.” It is in this context that the prosperity gospel flourishes. Its axioms mimic those of 21st-century economics. Just as stocks are expected to yield dividends for the shareholder, so the believer who tithes generously, prays regularly and proselytises expects to see a return on investment in the form of abundant health and wealth from God.The refusal to build the Church around and for the poor constitutes a contradiction of the very essence of the Gospel and a rejection of God’s will to place the poor at the centre of the history of the Church. The Church is to pose the question in terms of survival. But this is not the question. The point is not to survive, but to serve. The Gospel radicalism converges in a mighty embrace of the poor and the suffering in a tragic sense of the crucified Lord.

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