By Mike Willis
I stand amazed at the financial empires which the TV evangelists have been able to build. Through their abilities to raise funds from their listening audiences, they have been able to purchase television time, erect buildings for their corporate offices, build a recreational facility (Heritage Park), operate a university (Oral Roberts University), operate a hospital (City of Faith medical center), and many other bold financial enterprises.
At the heart of the message of the TV evangelists is a gospel of financial prosperity that is tied to one’s giving to the Lord, the TV evangelist serving as the point of contact with the Lord. The covenant of giving may be called “The Key to Prosperity” (Evelyn Wyatt, Wings of Healing), “The Laws of Prosperity” (Kenneth Copeland), or “The Miracles of Seed-Faith” (Oral Roberts). Inasmuch as some of us are unfamiliar with the message being taught by TV evangelists, I want to present their message in sufficient detail for us to grasp their message:
1. Evelyn Wyatt. Claiming to have received a direct revelation from God in a vision, Mrs. Wyatt wrote,
The Scriptural pattern for receiving is to give. . Too often people are inclined to reverse the principle by expecting to receive first, then give, but note the words of Jesus again. First He said, “Give,” THEN, “it shall be given unto you.”
The plan that God showed me is simple and direct, and carries a promise of continued blessing for everyone who will make a covenant with Him to give a special offering each month for a year (“The Key To Prosperity”).
2. Kenneth Copeland. In The Laws of Prosperity, Copeland wrote,
You begin to know that God is the source of your success, that He is the one giving it to you, that there is an endless supply behind you and an endless supply in front of you. All you must do is be a channel for it, and giving is the key that opens the door . . . . Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord! (pp. 66, 67)
You give – then it will be given to you again. The key is to give continually. As you are working in the Word and God’s prosperity is being produced in your life, you will reach a point -when your bread is coming back to you on every wave. It is your job to put it on the water. It is God’s job to see that it comes back! You do your job and let God do His; then you will be continually receiving. The more you give, the more you will get; the more you get, the more you will have to give. God intended for these things to work this way. When you get to this point, more will be coming in than you can give away! (p. 34)
3. Oral Roberts. The three steps to Oral Roberts’ plan are (1) look to God as your source, (2) give that it may be given to you, and (3) expect a miracle. He claims to have discovered this plan of giving through a study of Jesus.
He began everything He attempted with giving first. He connected giving with seed and laid down the example as the Christian’s life-style. I was forced to change my thinking. Before this I had given after I received. But I redirected my principle of giving from a debt owed, to a seed I sowed. It was revolutionary but entirely scriptural (The Miracle of Seed-Faith, p. 28).
In a conversation with Jesus in his prayer tower, Oral learned more about “seeding” a miracle.
This was a whole new thought to me. Although giving was a key part of the Blessing-Pact, it had not become quite clear that giving was the seeding for our miracle from which God our Source would multiply back with such an increase it would be bigger and more powerful than our mountains of needs and problem (A Daily Guide To Miracles, p. 63).
Through statements such as these and testimonials on TV shows, the TV evangelists are communicating to their audience that financial prosperity can be obtained by showing enough faith in God to make a donation to their ministry.
Fundamental Flaws In Seed-Faith Giving
1. Poverty is cured by the atonement. Many faith healers have preached that in the atonement Jesus provided healing for the body (Isa. 53:5 – with his stripes we are healed). Some have gone a step further to say that the atonement also delivers us from the “curse of the law – poverty.” Kenneth Copeland said,
Jesus bore the curse of the law on our behalf. He beat Satan and took away his power. Consequently, there is no reason for you to live under the curse of the law, no reason for you to live in poverty of any kind . . . . Poverty is under the curse of the law, and Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the curse and has established us in abundance, not bare necessity! (The Laws of Prosperity, pp. 51, 54)
Oral Roberts wrote that Jesus meets our present needs – water for thirst, food for hunger, strength for weakness, riches for poverty, kiss for sorrow, gladness for misery, and love for loneliness. “So Jesus reached up and took heaven and kissed the earth with it and opened it and gave to the children of men. He came with outstretched hands filled with God’s blessings, with an open heaven behind Him. He came into people’s lives at the point of their need, performing miracles and setting them free” (A Daily Guide to Miracles, p. 227).
The atonement on Calvary did not cure our financial woes. If I am in debt when I obey the gospel, I will be in debt the day after I obey the gospel. Jesus has not promised to deliver me from financial bankruptcy through obedience to the gospel. The blood of Jesus is no more a cure for my financial woes than a cure for my physical hunger and thirst. Promising men that their financial woes win be cured by obedience to the gospel is to promise them more than God promised.
2. Giving for seffish reasons. The teaching of seed-faith giving encourages one to give in order to get something from God. This is demonstrated by these chapter titles in Oral Robert’s book the Miracles of Seed-Faith:
How I Learned a Lesson Early in My Ministry to Look To God As My Source For A Loan
How Two Young Men Through Applying The Principles of Seed-Faith Became Tulsa’s Third-Largest Builders
How A Friend Got His Dream Job Through Applying The Key Principles of the Blessing-Pact
The TV evangelists promise their audiences that their problems (whether they are financial, physical, emotional, marital, etc.) will be solved when they have enough ffaith in God to plant a seed for God to multiply back in his harvest. The “seed” should be planted in the TV evangelist’s particular “garden” (ministry). The desire for something from God is used to motivate the listener to make a donation to the TV evangelist’s ministry. The motive of giving to God is reduced to selfishness – one gives to God in order to receive a greater gift from him.
In The Health and Wealth Gospel, author Bruce Barron demonstrated how this message is being used as follows:
Jerry Savelle, in one service recorded for cable television and designed to help raise money for Copeland’s proposed World Outreach Headquarters building in Fort Worth, invoked a literal application of the hundredfold return in an unusual and potentially exploitative manner. With a live audience watching, Savelle handed Copeland ten checks for one thousand dollars each and stated:
Each of these $1,000 checks I am now giving to you will return one hundredfold to me, according to God’s word. One for my church, one for my school, one for my mission work…. and this last one for my wife and myself personally. Folks, these checks will return a total of $100,000 each! Can you say “Praise the Lord”? What are you waiting for? Get on your feet and get in on this! Let’s take the biggest offering ever! I want it now! Who will do what I did! Who will sow in famine and reap one hundredfold? Well, come on! Come running, you sower! (p. 140)
In Abundant Life (July 1980, p. 4), Roberts wrote, “Solve your money needs with money seeds. ” This teaching on giving appeals to man’s carnal greed as his motive for giving and thereby undermines the gospel.
3. Through seed-faith giving one manipulates God. One distinction between magic and religion is this: in religion one submits himself to the higher will of God; in magic man manipulates a higher power to get things for himself. In seed-faith giving, one plants a seed (a financial gift) which God must cause to grow into a harvest (one’s desired result). Hence, one is able to get anything he wants from God by seed-faith giving. He manipulates God through seed-faith giving.
4. Financial poverty becomes a proof of spiritual poverty. Should one have a financial need which is unmet, he either does not know about seed-faith giving or lacks the faith to practice it. In either case, his own financial needs manifest his spiritual poverty.
5. The doctrine of seed-faith giving is believable only to those who live in an affluent society during a period of inflation – a period during which the general affluence of the country touches the lives of all citizens, including those who send donations to TV evangelistic. In such a society testimonials of success are easily found. If one could persuade thousands of people through TV preaching to donate money on the promise that they will receive a unexpected return on their money, he would expect that someone would write saying that he had received unexpected money. Such letters are then used as testimonials to encourage other to participate in seed-faith giving.
The Seed-Faith Concept Misapplies Scripture
The TV evangelists have appealed to Scripture to teach their message of seed-faith. In so doing, they have abused Scripture, twisting and perverting its context to fit their message. Here is a partial list of Scriptures which have been abused:
1. 3 John 2. “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Oral Roberts said that this Scripture was “the greatest discovery Evelyn and I ever made about health, prosperity, and spiritual blessings” (A Daily Guide To Miracles, p. 35). John’s personal wish for Gaius is distorted into a divine promise of financial prosperity for all believers. There is nothing in the text that promises financial prosperity upon the condition of faith in seed-faith giving.
2. Mark 10.29-30. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” This passage was literally interpreted by Jerry Savelle on Kenneth Copeland’s broadcast which was mentioned earlier. Savelle’s $1,000 check was expected to bring $100,000 back to him. If Savelle was as literal with all things mentioned in this verse as he was with money, he could donate his house to the ministry and receive 1000 houses back, donate his physical brother to the ministry and receive 1000 physical brothers, donate his mother to the ministry and receive 1000 mothers in return (would Savelle like to show how this could be done biologically?), donate his wife to the ministry and receive 1000 wives (shades of Joseph Smith), or donate one of his children to the ministry and receive 10W children in return. I suspect that these TV ministers might understand brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, and children to refer to spiritual relationships, not physical. However, when financial matters are mentioned, the meaning of the terms immediately shifts to literal houses and dollars. Their theology contradicts solid exegesis of the text.
3. Galatians 6.7-8. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” The reaping of this text has no reference to reaping in this life; it refers to life everlasting in the world to come (Mk. 10:30). The corruption is eternal damnation in hell. To use this verse to teach that one shall receive financial prosperity by making a donation to a TV evangelist’s ministry is to pervert this text.
4. 2 Corinthians 9.6-11. Rather than reproducing this text, I will encourage our readers to read it from the Bible. This text is more plausibly used than any other so far cited. Nevertheless, this text plainly states that the harvest which is reaped from sowing is “the fruits of your righteousness” (9:11). In his commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, Fred Fisher correctly stated, “The result of their liberality would be progress in righteousness on their part. Thus, Paul revealed that he was not thinking of material rewards for giving, but of immaterial ones” (p. 393).
5. Old Testament texts. The TV evangelists cite a number of Old Testament texts to justify seed-faith giving – giving which is done in order to get a blessing from God. Several things need to be said about these texts in a general way: (a) Promises made to Israel as a nation are applied to specific individuals. God made many promises of prosperity to Israel as a nation on the condition that she would be faithful to God. We are not to understand that every individual saint in that nation had to prosper in order for that promise to be fulfilled, for such is definitely not what happened. (b) General truths, such as in the Proverbs, are given specific application. The Proverbs condition many temporal blessings upon obedience to the word of God (e.g., diligent labor produces prosperity). The wisdom literature also recognizes that time and chance happen to all (Eccl. 9:11); consequently an individual may do all that the word of God says and still not be prosperous because of circumstances beyond his own control.
Hence, the Scriptures used to prove the doctrine of seed-faith giving are distorted and perverted by the TV evangelists.
Seed-Faith Teaching Ignores Scriptures
Those who preach the seed-faith principles of giving ignore “some plain statements from the Scripture which are not in harmony with their doctrine.
1. Scriptures which foretell that the righteous shall suffer for righteousness sake. Though he was a perfectly obedient Son, Jesus did not have a place to lay his head (Lk. 9:57). Jesus taught that the righteous might have to give up their lands and houses because of Christ (Mk. 10:29). The Hebrew Christians lost their possessions because of their faith in Christ (Heb. 10:34).
2. Some faithful saints were not prosperous people. The apostle Paul not only suffered persecution, he also experienced hunger and thirst and nakedness, even though he was a faithful Christian (2 Cor. 11:27). Saints suffered in the famines which struck the general populace (Acts 11:27-30), even as did the unrighteous.
Seed-faith giving is a fund-raising device created by TV evangelists to motivate the general populace to donate money to their ministries in order that they can pay their bills. The principle of seed-faith giving is not only absent from the Bible, it is also contrary to the Bible teaching about giving. In the biblical sense, these TV evangelists fit the description of the false teachers of 2 Peter 2:3 who “through covetousness … with feigned words make merchandise of you.”
Seed-faith giving preys on the unfortunate. Those who are attracted to this message are the poor and desperate, who sometimes send their last dollars and “expect a miracle.” Like their Pharisee counterparts, the TV evangelists who preach seed-faith giving “devour widows houses” (Matt. 23:14), as they build their financial empires on contributions sent in by poor and desperate people.
Seed-faith giving is a doctrine of the devil which is causing the general public to lose confidence in religion in general. As such the doctrine must be opposed and resisted wherever it is taught.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 12, pp. 379-382
June 18, 1987