(Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City. This photo is taken from TravelerFolio.com)
The term "prosperity theology" comes in all shapes and sizes. A form of it is known as "Word-Faith" theology; another form is locally known as "Cultural Mandate". Nonetheless, they all share one similar ideology.
The Lausanne Theology Working group has produced a rather accurate definition of prosperity theology. No matter what form it takes, it still known for its "teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings."
It is very common for those who adopt prosperity theology to assert that wealth is God's blessing for his people so that they will be able to bless others. Prosperity theologians/teachers always claim that we are channels of God's blessings; God blesses us with wealth so that we can bless others with it.
There are many prosperity teachers around the globe. A local example is of course Kong Hee, the founder of City Harvest Church. On the 23rd of April 2009, he posted an article in response to several common critical statements concerning some of the questionable teachings being propounded by Charismatic Christians. One of these common criticisms is this, "Charismatics twist Scripture to justify an opulent lifestyle."
Here's Kong Hee's response to that criticism:
Not true. The vast majority of Charismatics are not fixated with wealth or materialism. Like most Christians, they believe that God provides for their need, not their greed. Having said that, Charismatics are not abhorrent to wealth that comes through diligent work or God’s blessing. Most believe that prosperity is God’s plan for the believer simply because of the abundance of Bible texts to support that. Take for example, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The word, “rich” (Gr. plouteo) means to become financially wealthy and increased with goods. For most Charismatics, success and wealth are means to help the poor, better society, and fulfill the Great Commission.Sounds right? Of course it is. I totally agree that wealth is a gift to be given to others. Only recently I told a friend who has a well-paid job, "I don't care how much millions you make in a month. What's important is how much you give away to help meet the needs of others."
What Kong Hee wrote resonates well with the famous paraphrase of John Wesley's sermon, "First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can."
It is right with this theology. However, we also know that most Charismatics turn this good theology into a rhetoric to cover up their own vices. They use this theology to accumulate wealth for themselves.
When wealth is given to them, they suddenly forgotten and hence abandoned the theological purpose of their given wealth. Instead of helping to meet others' real urgent needs, these prosperity teachers keep the gift for themselves, for their own enjoyment. They live lavishly irrespective of moderation and the impoverishment of those in desperate conditions.
Kong Hee knows about this good theology. It is unfortunate that he does not live up to it. From how he uses his God-given wealth, we know that he is just using this good piece of theology as a rhetoric for his personal acquisition for a luxurious upper-class lifestyle.
We have to be clear that we are not questioning the source of Kong Hee's income. His wealth could be obtained through his business dealings and not from the tithes of his congregation. The same goes to his wife, Sun Ho. Their incomes from their business engagements are legitimate and nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, the theological purpose of wealth as God-gift that is meant to be given (a theology which Kong Hee himself believes in) still applies.
Kong Hee is just one local example among many other prosperity theologians and preachers around the world who misuse good theology as rhetoric to cover up their own aspiration for lavish living.
Earning big bucks is one thing. How to spend it is another. It is impossible to give a theological justification to rent a SGD$28,000/month mansion, drive a Mercedes Benz CLK550 and own a SGD$2.6 million luxury apartment.
"[I]n 1731 [John] Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor.One may argue that John Wesley did not have family and hence he can afford to gave away so much. While Kong Hee and other prosperity preachers have family to take care. But this argument is missing the point.
In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.[...]
One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds. Because he had no family to care for, he had no need for savings. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had 100 pounds at any one time." (Charles Edward White, What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money)
The point is that Christianity does not teach that God wants everyone to live as beggars or in the slump. Instead, as underlined above, God gives material wealth to some of his people. And to those who are given the gift, they should not forget the purpose of their gift. And the purpose is never about spending on luxurious living for themselves or their family. It is to help others, as Kong Hee himself preaches.
I am not against luxurious living or lavish lifestyle. It is alright for everyone to go for better living-hood through legitimate means. However, no one can do that or justify it by misusing theology as a self-serving rhetoric to achieve that. And it is this practice that is questionable.