The prosperity gospel is basically saying that God will bless you with money. A lot of money. In the West (especially in the U.S.), prosperity preachers often prove how blessed they are through buying luxuries, mansions and jet planes. This grotesque gluttony has spread to the African continent, where superstar pastors are “prospering” en masse while their church members are starving.
That was what I knew about prosperity teaching. And then pastor Jerry brought me to a shack church in the South African bush, where most church members are unemployed as well as have lost family members in AIDS. And he preached prosperity. God will give you a job. God will change your situation. God will lift you out of poverty.
I even started to like the prosperity message and preach it myself. Because it’s true, God wants to prosper the poor and break the chains of poverty. The Bible was written in a developing country, and the prosperity it talks about is not about cars or suits but about getting good harvests so that you’ll survive the winter, and to have a job so that you don’t have to be a beggar. Biblical prosperity is not about bringing people to a state of luxury, but to deliver them from poverty to a state of generosity and sharing, so that it may be equal for all (2 Cor 8:13).
However, I then discovered that many pastors here believe in the “traditional” American prosperity teaching. They’re inspired by televangelists like T.B. Joshua and Benny Hinn and defend their affluent lifestyle. Some of them probably dream to get this lifestyle themselves. But isn’t that understandable when you have grown up in a shack without anything, struggling to survive?
Understandable, but not defendable. It is because of people like Benny Hinn that so many live in poverty. The luxurious consumption is located in an economy separated from the poor, except for when it comes to exploitative labour. That is why the whites managed to create their own rich society in the midst of South Africa’s poverty, separating themselves from the poor.
How do we differentiate between good and bad prosperity teaching? It’s very hard to do, especially since the bad prosperity teaching was what came first. The easiest thing to do is perhaps to quit using the word at all and preach equality and justice instead. God will raise up the poor and humble the rich, He will bless the former with money and the latter with simplicity. Then we all surely will be going well, even as our souls are getting along well (3 Jn 2).