Part 1: Ancient Roots
By Dr. Augustine Thomas, OSB
What is wrong with the Prosperity Gospel? Many people love and follow its teachings and believe they are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, but are they? Are they following Christ or another religion that sounds like Christianity?
Make no mistake, this is a different religion than Christianity and has been known by many names in modern times, such as Word of Faith, Hyper Faith, and the Prosperity Gospel, just to name a few. The Prosperity Gospel taught by Kong Hee, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many others has a known beginning that can easily be traced from its roots up till now. That beginning isn’t good and it never was Christianity. The early Church, as we read in the Bible in Acts 8.9-24, was firm in its belief that Simon the Sorcerer started the Christianized Gnostic religion that almost destroyed the Church that is the basis for the Prosperity Gospel. He became so notorious that we get the word Simony from him, meaning the buying and selling of favors and position in Church. Simon had been worshipped as a god and there was even a statue of him made by the Romans so they could worship him. His magic tricks were apparently amazing. Justin Martyr, writing around 160 A.D. said that Simon went to Rome and did such extraordinary magic feats “He was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you (the Romans) with a statue” (ANF 1.171). Simon “did many mighty works works by magic and deceived many. They remain deceived” (ANF 1.182). For him, it was all about prosperity, getting rich, and being famous as a god. He saw the actual miracles the Apostles performed in the name of Jesus and wanted that power so he could continue to get rich and be worshipped. When the Apostles refused his offer of money for the power, he became angry and left their company and started his own copycat religion.
He taught that he was the god. He married a prostitute and claimed she was the creator god who had been captured by the angels she made and imprisoned in a human body. In order to save her god ‘appeared’ (this is important for later) in Simon. For Simon, all spirit is good and all human flesh is bad, and the two cannot mix. Simon was not a real man, but appeared to be so. We can hear Prosperity teachers claiming “I am a god, I am a god!” in this.
Simon taught a religion blended of Christianity, the occult, paganism, and near Eastern religions. He taught dualism, that is, the material world is hopelessly separated from the Father, good and evil are equal forces, the flesh is evil and the spirit good, and more such things. He rejected the Jewish scriptures and said that a savior, himself, had appeared (not real, only appeared real). His words had power and his interest in the occult began to show.
Today, this religion is alive and well and is often accompanied by an interest in the occult, horoscopes, in which the ‘spiritual’ activities of necromancy, magical words and gestures, produce physical effects. In the Prosperity Gospel it can be seen as repetitions of Scriptures in a magical way to affect reality, “throwing” the Holy Spirit, communicating with spirits, uncontrolled laughing (the Kundalini spirit), and much more.
Gnosticism taught that this illusion of the material world could be manipulated by speaking the right knowledge but only those who have this knowledge (gnosis) can do this. One thinks of the Prosperity Gospel in which what one says has power over the material world and only those with true knowledge know how to operate in this environment and get what they want.
His thought led to full blown Gnostic religion. This religion had babies, so to speak, that the early Church had to fight against in order to preserve the true Faith in Jesus Christ. The early Church held seven ecumenical councils of the entire Church to describe fully what is Christian and what is not.
The next part will explore these further developments of the Gnostic religion and how it still influences the Prosperity Gospel, today.